I put the empty top bar hive in the back of the car just before the snow started and it has stayed there since. Today, however, after 20mm of rain yesterday, nearly all of the snow has gone so I headed for South Chard where my new apprentice, Sarah Holdsworth of Bee Happy Plants, who has regularly written in the BBKA News, has her nursery.
I went a different way this time as my gps wasn’t working and almost drove in a circle, approaching it from the opposite direction and locating it by seeing the local pub on the wrong side of the road! As I eased the car in, I was ‘greeted’ by her pack of hounds who left muddy paw prints on my car. Sarah appeared and spoke sharply to them so they calmed down. She put the biter indoors (no, he hadn’t bit me).
We unloaded the car and took the hive and the fence posts that make the stand across to what is to be the apiary. It was almost noon and the sun was shining so I was able to take note of the direction for aligning the entrance towards it. I had brought a small spade and mallet but Sarah supplied a sledge hammer and steel stake and impressed me with her skill at wielding them.
Two fence posts crossed over make an X shape and the third, shorter one, set at angle, forms a brace against fore and aft movement. Two such braced Xs form the stand and the U shaped hive sits stable in the V shapes that form the upper half of the Xs. Aren’t we lucky to have an alphabet with such usefully shaped letters! The posts were fixed together using wire similar to that used in coat hangers and, again, Sarah impressed me by supplying some much better tools than I possess to twangle the wire.
We set up the hive, breaking or cutting off all the old comb, leaving just a footprint to get the bees started on the right lines. Most of the bars have not been used yet and I was able to show Sarah the line of wax, drawn with a soldering iron, that gives them a start. We saw a wax moth (lesser) and I explained that the wax moth is the beekeeper’s friend.
With the bars in place, the sheet of wriggly tin was put on top, weighed down with a couple of heavy bricks from a night storage heater and, as belt and braces, lighter wire across the top.
We looked at the old comb and Sarah noted the different sizes and shapes. I pointed out to her a profile showing how the cells are set at a dihedral angle to stop the nectar running out before the bees have dehydrated it. Sarah, before she turns the wax into a candle, is going to measure the cell size; putting a ruler across ten cells the shortest way and dividing by 10. To our eyes, those in the middle looked fairly small and I’m guessing that the answer will be close to 5.2mm. Maybe Sarah, when she reads this, will give the correct answer.
We need bees to populate the hive. I am reluctant to move bees further than necessary but,as it is only about 20 miles as the bee flies, I might. We don’t know of any beekeepers in her village but she has often noticed honeybees, black ones, foraging on her plants, so we’ll wait and see what, if anything turns up naturally before I move bees there. I shall be a little cautious if a swarm does move in as I note from Bee Base that there has been EFB within about 5 miles.
Sarah did, kindly, offer to clean the paw prints off the car, but I refused as it would only show up how dirty the rest of the car is! I promised her I would put my poem about honeycomb on the blog so here it is. It will be in my book as soon as I can finish doing the pictures.
A cohort of the little people
clusters together to form a cell;
not just one but many, to form a wall,
a home, a larder, a nursery.
They have no tools but their own bodies,
the sweat of which provides the clay for bricks and mortar.
They have no guidance but their own: no architect, no foreman.
The weight of their own bodies, holding hands,
provides the plumb line
so they can build vertical and true.
The cell base is three adjacent trapezoids:
one hundred and twenty degrees by sixty.
Slightly bowed, it also forms the base of three cells
offset on the far side of the wall.
Three trapezoids form a hexagon;
one of nature’s more efficient shapes,
repeated on a larger scale
at the Giant’s Causeway.
The cell walls run straight and true,
but offset at an angle sloping up,
so that the contents do not spill.
How large? They must decide what size.
They did this long before the metre was invented!
Five to the inch for workers;
Four to the inch for drones,
as they have done for fifty million years,
as fossils prove.