Bees, Crofting Life

Mother Nature’s recipes

Lockdown restrictions have been easing at variable rates. And I discovered the bees have been keeping up with the the changes too. How? Well, Hive One decided to have the biggest street/air party you could have imagined. Had they really won the Honey Bee World Cup? Were they aware it was still only so many households with a maximum number of people? Mind you, these bees were all from one hive bubble so if anyone was that bothered, I’d have left the police to hand out the fines (honestly officer, that’s not a hive two bee, can you not tell??). But this wasn’t just a wee cheeky lockdown catch-up, they had decided they needed to cut the ties and find a new abode. Yes, they swarmed. And what a way to do it.

Now the garden has been severely hit with our cold whether. Lots of potted plants grown from seed are (or were) still in the polytunnel. And now they very suddenly needed the outside. The Antarctic-come-forty-days-of-rain seemed to have finally past. The ground seemed to have been fully detoxed by taking in more fluid than you would have imagined. But the weather didn’t ease gradually. No, it suddenly changed. The polytunnel started hitting the high 30s and the potted plants wanted out ASAP. Suddenly transporting plants out of the tunnel was getting urgent.

And it was while in the process of copious trips back and forth to the veg garden, a noise suddenly arose; a noise akin to a whole group of Hell’s Angels deciding to drive past (which would have meant they were coming off the hill and down a common grazing track; highly unlikely but if true, would have been phenomenal). So I very tentatively had a look at where it was coming from (because, who knows, Hell’s Angels might one day come down from the common grazing). There was not a motorbike in sight, but above the hives, the bees looked like they were negotiating Birmingham’s spaghetti junction in rush hour just before a bank holiday. They were everywhere. All lockdown restrictions had suddenly been lifted and there are no limitations on their social gathering (please note, this is not the case, please adhere to government advice and don’t plan a street party after reading this; just because the bees did it, doesn’t mean it’s right and no, you can’t have 5,000 meeting up in your garden). Nor had they won the World Cup. In fact, a hive was in the process of swarming. Thankfully into the hedge next to the hive. Great! Now what am I supposed to do? What did they say on how to deal with a swarm on that beekeeping course? How was I supposed to remember? I did what you always do in an emergency; I called in the experts.

Swiftly, the experts responded and very soon I had a beekeeping pro. With the calmness of a yoga teacher (not doing some funny pose, but the ability to look like there was just relaxing music going on rather than the buzz of the M25 in rush hour), the swarm was plopped into a new hive. The old hive was then checked. And then the other hive. And what an eye-opener. Not in the sense of needing to keep your wits about you due to half a hive absconding, but to watch the Pro handle the bees.

With both hives now fully checked and the new hive observed again to make sure all was well, the relief was good. Well, apart from losing the oldest Mini Crofter who was nowhere to be seen before finding out he had decided to nip down to the neighbour’s to see their new ‘toy’ (aka a fairly reasonable piece of machinery). Having coaxed this info out of the Micro Crofter (so I didn’t run any risk of misplacing a child), I thought, great, I’ll nip down and milk a cow (because it’s always easier with one child than two and I am always up for utilising these times). Everything set up, cow in, machine busy working when suddenly rush hour hit again! I glance up thinking, this can’t be right, the noise again was in the air. And that was with ear defenders on but I could still hear it. And my ears did not deceive me, there was the Birmingham spaghetti junction of bees coming down the track (thankfully taking the otherside of the byre) and I watched them head down the road before quickly running back to dismantle the milker from Tilly, cleaning up and sprinting up to the hives. But each seemed ok, they all had bees. I phoned the Experts again (start thinking of the term ‘muppet’ across forehead). Advice was to go check the new hive. Sure enough, now there was hardly any bees going in and out of the swarm’s hive. As much as I thought they would like their new house being delivered to them, no, they must have watched The Snail and the Whale and wanted to go see the world. And off they had gone.

A major bee search then started. Involving multiple neighbours, neighbour’s visitors, really anyone I could rope in. Now, this wasn’t just a nice and easy search and rescue. This was a search and rescue while lugging a two year old about with you. Which required good stamina and an ability to pass a mental hurdle that you really can carry the weight of half a bag of chicken feed about with you while searching high and low (my right arm has still not fully recovered). The determination to keep going was aided by the frequent concept that I could hear bees. The burn was very deceptive; giving off a slight humming noise that constantly drew you back to it. The hillside was examined. I may have been persistent but I can admit the trees were not tooth combed. But alas, no swarm was found.

By the end of that day, I would have been more than happy to be Baloo from the Jungle Book. Not to be some big fluffy, overweight bear. But to be singing about bees buzzing in the trees making honey just for me, and not chasing them over the Scottish hillside.

Now, all is not lost. Our two beehives are still functioning. We had been hoping to split the hive. The bees beat me to it this time. I am hoping to be more prepared for the other hive. But, in the mean time, I’m just away to go check back on that pregnant cow…

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