Thursday, 7 June 2012

We Love Bees - No, We REALLY Do!

This morning, at five o'clock, we were creeping about in the garden here at MMM getting ready to transfer the top bar hive to the out-apiary which shall henceforth be known as Little MMM, the reason for which I shall explain later.

Yesterday, we raided the top bar for honeycomb because there was no way we were going to be able to lift the hive, full as it was, let alone carry it through the garden, onto the drive and heft it into the back of the car. It was touch and go whether it would actually fit into the back of the car even with all the seats removed. As it turns out, it didn't...not quite...but we managed because we are determined bee-keepers and that hive WAS going to be moved, even if we had to march it the six miles to Little MMM ourselves in some kind of 'Sponsored Bee-Hive Walk'.

The bees were remarkably good about us stealing a third of their comb. We replaced our theft with fresh bars for them to build on. I think they appreciated the extra space we created. And there were still, despite three swarms, gazzillions of bees in situ. I am sure they will swarm again this year, but now they can do it in the comfort of the middle of the countryside on a farm where we won't get narky neighbours making narky comments.

For yes, in the middle of swarm three on Tuesday, there was a knock on the door and a next-door-but-one neighbour in the opposite direction to bee-friendly Lynn, said, in a sort of aggressive way, 'Your bees are swarming.' His tone of voice was what made us decide that the top bar needed to be moved.

I am feeling aggrieved by this 'neighbour.' Have I once complained to him about his pyromaniac bonfire habit? Or his screaming children who shriek at anything and everything and sometimes just for the sheer hell of making as much noise as possible? Or his three barking dogs? Or his cats chasing the hens? Or his foul-mouth effing and blinding dragon of a mother? Or his late night barbecue parties that keep the neighbourhood awake with more screaming and swearing? Or his flagrant disregard for the hosepipe ban that is currently in force in this area?

No, I have not. And even though I know thoughts of revenge can cause irreparable damage to the beauty of the soul, boy am I thinking vengeful thoughts at the moment. I'm giving myself a stern pep talk to make sure these vengeful thoughts don't take hold and I'm sure all will be well. But I'm not sure the next time I bring in my washing and it stinks of bonfire smoke that I shall be wholly responsible for my actions. Gggrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! (Oooh! That feels surprisingly better!)

Back to the bees. We plugged the three hive entrances last night. Now, because Andy built the hive in a lovely artisan sort of way, it isn't exactly bee-tight in the roof department. So we inserted the whole hive into a duvet cover. We figured that if we set off early to avoid the traffic, had all the car windows open, and drove in our bee-suits, then we'd be okay to manage should the bees suddenly decide to decant themselves from the hive into the duvet cover and from the duvet cover into the car. I don't know why we thought 20 minutes was the optimum Houdini-escape time for a bee, but there you have it. We did.

But as it was, all went very smoothly! We had to tie the tailgate to the bumper because it wouldn't quite shut properly, but the journey was smooth, we didn't get stopped by police, we got to Little MMM, we struggled the hive from the back of the car, removed the duvet cover, I only slipped once whilst we were carrying it to its new position, it only took half an hour for my heart to stop pounding following the slipping event, and when we removed the plugs from the entrance holes, a few bees emerged, danced about a bit, then went back inside because it was way too cold and way too early to be going out for breakfast.

Mission accomplished.

Back home I set about separating the honey from the comb that we collected yesterday. Got six or seven pounds, ran out of jam jars. And then I had an idea. I put the leftover sticky comb at the far end of the garden along with the spare hive that yesterday had a few bees hanging around it. Within five minutes, masses of bees swooped on the honeycomb in Operation Clean-Up. And where were these bees coming from? Swarm Two which is in Lynn's willow tree. So bits of it aren't dead after all!

Still in optimistic mode, I am hoping the swarm will be enticed into the spare hive. Or at least that the sudden input of instant energy might give the bees that are still alive the courage to move on and find their own new home.

And Little MMM? Well, six years ago, Andy and I attempted to start our dream of living in the countryside by bringing a bit of the countryside into our town-home. We got the allotment. We got the hens. We got the bees. Then suddenly, it seemed as if 2012 had taken it all away from us. Bye-bye to the allotment. Bye-bye to the hens. And now, no more bees.

But we do have the bees! Four hives! We have expanded. We have a Little MMM honey farm! And we are getting some more hens. And there is food growing in our back garden - veg and herbs and salad and fruit. Through the losses, changes have been made.We tried to make our dream fit what we had. It can't be done. This is transition. This is the first step to getting that little house in the country with the enormous garden.

And most importantly, we have a wealth of skills we didn't have six years ago. We can grow our own food from seed. Andy is fast becoming a Master Baker Extraordinaire and Occasional Wine-Maker. I can replace a prolapse in a hen. We can grow willow and weave it into willowy stuff. We are becoming pretty good at being owned by bees. We can make jams and marmalades and cakes and biscuits. We can build stuff and decorate stuff and ooh, do lots of other useful malarkey, too.

It's starting to happen, our dream of country living. I know it. I can feel it.

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