It has been a strange but enjoyable day today. My bossy apprentice, Jane, on the pretext that I’m ‘arty’, had demanded my presence at a group session painting cows; not real cows, but paper ones created by local artist, Kate o’Riordan. Jane, whom I didn’t know to be a seamstress, is in the process of making matching costumes to go with the heads with the objective of them appearing on TV before too long. Watch out for them on the news!
Three or four of us (there was some coming and going) sat round tables in a wildlife cottage garden, complete with its own ancient Chapel, close to Bulbarrow Hill whence hang gliders drifted. We drank tea, ate cake, nattered and joked while we applied acrylics to transform the layered paper shapes into Jerseys and Friesians.
Before very long, the conversation (as it always does) turned to beekeeping and Kate revealed that, not only is she very keen to have bees, but also are the other tenants in her block of flats. Jane explained that I take on apprentices and, very soon, Kate decided that she would like to become one.
At one stage during the afternoon, she asked the time and, without looking at my watch (which was well up the sleeve of my overall), I told her correctly. I explained that I seem to have that knack, but don’t think it unusual as my kids used also to be able to do so. This led the conversation to the occult and I took from my pocket my pendulum which I use for dowsing, not for water, but usually for directions or for things that I have lost. Kate then took the gold ring from her finger and tossed it into the longish grass behind me, challenging me to find it with the pendulum. It worked! She was impressed!
Jane has moved her (currently beeless) hive to the garden and we explored to find the best position for it: next to the shed where it will get some sun and yet be out of the way. The high hedge will ensure flight lines are well over the heads of neighbours and the shed will mean they aren’t zooming past the front door.
Kate loaded several crates of cows’ heads into the back of my car, remarking with approval on the aroma therein: old comb and propolis mainly, I think. Jane says it smells like me! Maybe it’s time I cleaned it out as wax moths keep getting caught in the cobwebs.
We drove to Kate’s flat in Sturminster Newton and, over cups of Lapsang, talked about bees and the possibilities of her keeping them locally. She had another site in mind if the garden wasn’t suitable. We explored it: closely mown lawn, high hedges, some sunshine. It’s possible, but the garden is very open, there are other users who share it and, although they are currently supportive, views might change rapidly when things go wrong and the bees are in a bad mood when kids are playing. Bearing in mind Murphy’s Law I advised against it.
Then we drove to another site she had in mind, a wild wood a couple of miles away, owned by the local big estate. After we had walked a quarter of a mile or more down a path towards the clearing she had in mind, Kate realised that this would be too far from the road to be practical as there is usually a lot of fetching and carrying involved with beekeeping. Her transport is a bicycle.
Then she had another idea and directed me down the road to Fiddleford where friends live. They have a long sloping garden behind their house on one side of the road and an orchard on the other, close to a stream that feeds the local mill. Her friend was in and, having explained the mission, we explored the garden. It was lovely! The scent of an old rose filled the air; there were masses of fruit trees of all sorts (Mr is an enthusiastic home brewer of cider etc),and even a couple of rabbits in hutches.
I concluded that a couple of hives at the top end of the garden would be out of the way, would catch the sun at times, pollinate more effectively the fruit trees, avoid the potential frost pocket or floods of the lower orchard, be within cycling distance of Kate’s home and had shed space for equipment storage. I was asked whether the bees would be a nuisance and said that, soon, the lady would want to place a deck chair next to the hive and sit there with flask and book, chilling and watching others work.
Fees were discussed and I explained that the traditional rent for a hive is a jar of honey per year. The footprint of a hive being 18″ square and a jar of honey selling at £4, that works out at about £77,000 per acre per annum! The lady will discuss with her husband whether Kate can keep bees there but I’m sure the answer will be positive.
Next, we must arrange for Kate to come and play with some of my bees, just to see whether they might burst her bubble of enthusiasm before she is committed.