|Spot the queen|
"The bees might not be very happy today. It's been a tough winter for them", this from the expert beekeeper to the novices - not me, I was just there to observe, appropriately suited and booted. As it happens, the bees weren't angry. I think that just like the rest of us they were glad to see some sun and feel some warmth in the air, though in their case a little puff of smoke tends to have a soothing effect.
There was a sense of apprehension nevertheless. Many hives have lost thirty to forty percent of the bees this winter, and there had been little visible activity in these four hives. The novices were told to look for the queen, drones, and brood and weren't quite sure what they might find when they looked inside the hives. Then the work started.
|Smoking the bees|
The idea today was to move purposefully so that the bees weren't upset by the fiddling around in the hives, but in spite of this the atmosphere was calm. The frames were checked systematically then each was returned in strict order. They needed to work quickly, which needed confidence and knowledge: some had more than others.
|Capped cells - sign of brood|
Some old frames were taken out for burning, and other super frames which had been left in with last year's honey were also removed. Queens were identified, some more easily because they had been marked with a blue spot. Nobody claimed to see any drones or princesses. Redundant frames were removed, replaced by clean ones.
|Now spot the queen|
By the time the frames were back in the right place, there was no more than a gentle buzzing around the hives while the church bells clanged in the background. The beekeeper still looked anxious. "Has anyone been stung? No? Well it's about time you were, don't you think?" Then he looked round the garden at the trees: wild plum, - they'll like that; hornbeam - when will that flower?; daffodils - not much use. If it's a good week and the fine weather keeps up, those bees will multiply. They'll check next week.
|Bees buzzing by|
We dropped into the Mudchute plot on the way home. No asparagus yet, but plenty of flowers for a posy for a friend. On the way back to the car, we saw a thrush and a pretty little wheatear in Millwall Park on the grass, a summer migrant perhaps on his way to find a mate.
|Allotment posy: hyacinths, narcissus, ivy, wild plum, aspidistra leaves|
In the late afternoon, on the bus to visit my friend, we could see that the park was heaving with people making the most of the warmth. The scent of the hyacinths overwhelmed the upper deck and I got to talking to the man next to me about his twenty years living in Japan, how the people celebrated cherry blossom time with parties and drinking, the reflection of the mountains in the pools of gardens where he lived, the calligraphy competition on which the children spent an hour a day for one week a year.
Later that night when we got home, I asked John what it was that he liked about the bees. Well, they're amazing, he said, forty thousand bees, one organism.