In a matter of days ,those who care about such things will go to the polling stations and vote to either remain in the European Union or to leave it forever. I will vote to stay within this fellowship for many reasons, not least because I see our world, not simply as a group of tightly cloistered individual nations , but ultimately as as scattered collection of humanity that needs to be gathered together in unison rather than being locked back down behind individual tight borders. The choices people will make says more about their own fears than about any visions of the future of the human race and how it will manage together to deal with its legacy for future generations of our species.
Meanwhile there’s much to be learned by simply watching the skies….Some creatures have wheeled in across the borderless airspace from Africa and Europe to spend the summer with us , before returning to warmer climes for the wintertime and some choose to stay all year round…..passports unneeded as yet and exact origin unknown in some cases.
The magpie balanced delicately at the very apex of the eaves, lifting his long ,elegant tail at a heavenward angle to salute the high blue skies and release a long squirt of ordure as accurately as a well-aimed hose-pipe; the guano arched downwards , no doubt to easily find my freshly hung towel flicking in the light morning breeze on the spinner-line below.
“Ye little shit”, I thought , although the bird now unconcernedly composing his feathers and himself was as large as a goodly -fed chicken.
A family of house martins were wheeling much like spitfires or aerobatic pilots at an air show.It was a pleasure to watch their easy grace in unison as they possibly feasted on my outgoing or incoming honeybees on the wing . Then again maybe they prefer smaller fare which doesn’t come fully-loaded with a poisoned dart sitting snugly in its jacksie….Aw well …everyone and every thing has to eat and the way things are arranged, they are breakfasting in flight while I’m down below watching them as I dine outside in the sunshine on some porridge bananas, mandarin oranges, honey and cinnamon.Life is good. I thought they were swallows or swifts at first but the shorter stubbier tail gave the game away.They seem to have set up an aerial territory above my bee-rich environment.It is said that like swallows, they feed on the wing on all kinds of aerial plankton such as swarms of insects and airborne spiders , much like fishes do in the ocean and studiously avoid stinging insects generally, using the colour-coding to avoid eating anything they might have difficulty swallowing , but I’m not so sure if they can see all that “beware” flummery considering the speed they dine at. There’s bound to be some very busy bee-activity just above my garden with several thousand hive -inhabitants coming and going. It certainly doesn’t seem to stop other garden birds and their opportunistic ways.To hell with the stings when these sweet bonbons taste so sweet, dusted in coloured pollen and stuffed with nectar. They’re always scuttling and scampering on bee-raids throughout the hives. If truth be told , I’d say there are now more birds living around my garden this year than there ever have been before.
It’s wonderful the sense of freedom a stretch of sunshine and clement weather bestows on us here in Norneverland. The garden becomes another room to dine in . I’ve been otherwise busy with a few tasks that I’ve been meaning to do . Ever since I installed honeybees into the equation some years ago I’d also cleared away the old home-made compost bins that had been running for near-on thirty years in that quiet corner of the garden. They’d been very effective in the past and I regularly dug out wheelbarrows full of rich dark soil every summer to add to the flower- beds ,but they were in the wrong place for my beehive plans so I dug them up, dismantling them , making room for that first beehive. I had no real idea how that one hive would eventually grow into many. At one point there were eleven separate hives but the number has since fluctuated.There is now a manageable four. I’ve also built a new raised bed down at the trellis which separates the apiary…er …”honeybee area” from the rest of the garden .With something like that to address , the installation of a new compost bin made sense, so son -in -law donated one of those green “readymades” that had been lying in a corner of his back-garden ,that I have a feeling he’ll never find a use for otherwise…
This is verging on “swarming season” for my honeybees. When a hive grows and the queen deems it suitably robust and full-grown enough to divide itself and leave the potential for a new hive behind and grow anew, the queen will send out signals to begin constructing queen cells to bring on a potential hive successor. Meanwhile if the weather is just right and all other elements are in place she will leave the hive for the first time since her bridal flight and set out to begin an entirely new colony of her own.This is an exciting time for the queen and the colony.She might depart for pastures new and fail. Her scouts might lead her to another location , possibly in a hollow tree or the corner of someone’s shed.It is also an exciting time for me and my neighbours. They might wish her and her brood a hasty bon voyage and be glad to see the back-end of her ,but it is my job to hopefully find her and re-house her in the manner which she has become accustomed to . It might be a better fate than leaving her to the rigours and tribulations of the modern world where her future might not be as valued.
I’ve discovered by trial and error that it is personally, near impossible to stymie the swarming urge once it starts. Many can successfully split hives to reduce their size and produce two viable hives from one ,but it doesn’t always work and can easily simply produce an average hive and a weak one. Even then, the bees might want to swarm and swarm again, further depleting their original strength.These are known as “cast” swarms and are usually small. One such swarm rapidly flew off around the side of my house last year …never to be seen again. It whipped past the window as I put a forkful of food into my mouth and was gone . This usually happens on a particularly hot day.I simply hope that I am around when the deed occurs but that’s not a guarantee of successful recovery.Many bee-keepers find the elusive queen early in the season and clip the tip of one of her wings. If you can imagine how fiddly that is you’ll get some idea if that’s a tactic you’d choose. It means bare-hands and no protective gloves, but if the deed is done right , it’ll mean that the queen can only fly in a circle so you may have a greater chance of keeping her local and within reach.Apparently it doesn’t hurt and is much like trimming a fingernail , but it’s not a course I’d personally care to pursue.Besides there’s a good chance that a clumsy beekeeper could trim a little more than a piece of wing ; the queen might finish up walking with a sailor’s list or worse.
Before I abandoned the bees for a visit to see the Golden Granddaughter and her mother and father and take in the African Oye Music Festival in Liverpool at the same time , I’d been checking the hives on a regular basis because it was at this time last year that I was climbing trees chasing absconding swarms. I’d noticed that one of the more recent hives was building up a very strong colony. The bees already needed double-brood boxes and I’d loaded on three honey-super boxes. I was surprised when I lifted the second box to discover how heavy with uncapped honey, this already was. It was akin to hefting an old-fashioned, wooden crate of beer, such was the work the bees had put into it already within a short period of time. It was still uncapped and unwaxed ,so I could n’t take any of it.I was thinking that it would be just my luck for this strongest hive to swarm off when I was gone and take my best queen and possibly all this lovely honey with her.I was pleasantly surprised when I came back to find them still working away , spreading that crisp white wax over the cells like some perfumed eiderdown. Theyhadn’t completed the task but I have high hopes that I’ll be able to steal at least this one box. If they are filling this one , they must already have plenty of stores down below, although I haven’t bothered disturbing this great queen and her subterranean workings to find out.
I’ll leave them to their machinations for a few days more, by which time we’ll all know whether or not the populace have voted to stay in the family of the EU, or like my honeybees , have decided to leave the home they’ve known these past forty years and fly off to an uncertain great unknown. I can’t help but think that for all this talk about immigration and its supposed downsides ,many seem to have forgotten that every one of us have emigrated at some point from the hot plains of an ancient Africa to go out and colonise the remainder of our world.