SUMMERTIME IN NORNEVERLAND

Field of Lysimachia punctata or Yellow Loosestrife flowers in sunny day

What an awful July this has been.It hasn’t  rained all the time but the sun hasn’t shone much either.If the sun doesn’t shine the flowers do not open their petals and my honeybees lose interest.No that’s not right. They’ll go out and forage but they’ll have to fly ever  further to find what they need and if there’s no sunshine to warm up the hives, they’ll have to consume more of the stores to keep up their bodyheat.That means more work for less payoff. All that amounts to a poor honey crop later in the year. The honeybees have a very narrow window of opportunity in a land like Norneverland where even the idea of “Summer “is a very nebulous concept.

We joke here about having “four seasons in one day” .That’s because we have only a vague idea when any one season really begins or ends.We know that Summer ends when the leaves begin to fall off the trees and we know that Spring begins when life comes back to the plant world and  buds break open and leaves unfurl . Those few months between the two events might be variously warm , cold or rainy. Sometimes we are surprised by a wave of sunshine and find ourselves unable to cope. Shop -keepers , in despair finally get to selling their summery fashions; people talk of a “heatwave”. Is is seen as a novelty, rather than as summer weather.

“Our summers all go in like that now “, says the wife ,obsessively clinging to distant June memories of lazily sunbathing in never-ending childhood summers.

I got out to inspect the beehives this morning, in one of those rare mild moments between ten o’ clock and eleven bells.There was still a sparkle of dew on the grass as I walked to the hives with the smoker belching calming clouds of white mist.The  yellow loosestrife was still blazing in colour,, hopeful for more sunshine but bees are funny .Even though I might have masses of wildflowers planted about the place , the bees  might choose to fly further afield anyway, just as we’d go for a bit of a drive. The garden may have some of my own bees futtering about but it’s  as likely there’s a collection of any number of solitary bees or someone else’s honeybees foraging my own  flowers.

I kept an eye on the sky because it’s better to open the hives when the air is warm in case the new brood are chilled. Nobody mentions how warm it can get inside one of those bee-suits. The sweat trickles saltily into your eyes and if you burn cardboard in the smoker your eyes weep. I’ve taken to using a sweatband but it’s not always successsful.In the event , thankfully, there was a brief sunny period. With the number of hives increasing , inspections take about an hour now. It’s best to work steadily and slowly around honeybees. It’s a bit like Tai Chi in that respect but bees don’t like sudden movements .

Looking out now some fifty  minutes later , with the gloomy overcast greyness and a blustery wind singing in the trees, you’d hardly believe it was the same place at all.I finished before the first shower could wet my suit.

Daughter Number Three called from London, glad to be “back in the heat” after her holiday at home…My wine and beer stores decimated ; the fridge all but depleted totally.As they say ..I wouldn’t have it any other way ….I know …why did I not stay in London forty years ago when life was much simpler…and London is always warm i summertime? There’s no point in worrying about that now, after a lifetime, though. We all make our individual choices in the end.

Back to the honeybees, They’ve settled down now after their  swarmy time seems to have passed.Seven functioning hives, in all ,this year, it would seem. Four of them appear to be fairly strong and there are three starter hives whose fate will be decided as the summer progresses.One is particularly aggressive ,so I’m assuming these are not wholly happy little honeybees. Even when some cool smoke is puffed in they are on the defensive and do  not appear to be  filling the frames very quickly with new life .There may be a problem with a poor queen in there because I see they’ve built another queen cell. It’s hanging there like an unshelled peanut, larger than any other cell.That might mean that they are hedging their bets and are preparing for a future takeover if things don’t improve.

That was one of the swarms I picked up .All the other hives seem placid enough now. I’ll wait and see how it develops as the summer progresses.I might combine this obviously failing hive with the stronger one beside it and all the foraging bees can drop the contents  their pollen and nectar there instead ….the nearest available space. If their own hive isn’t there , they’ll be glad to dump their loads anywhere they can gain entrance to.I’ll feed them some sugar water in the meantime and hope the weather and their disposition  improves. The last time I tried to introduce a new “bought” Buckfast  queen to a hive , they didn’t take too kindly to her and dumped her outside a few days later. She sat forlorn with that bright white marking on her back but she was never allowed back in.She was a stranger to them and they were having none of it even though i’d set her up in a queencage for a day or so  .That wasn’t money well -spent , considering the price of a queen bee.If a queen doesn’t cut the mustard , she’ll be killed or ousted .Life …red in tooth and claw.it’s better to let them rear their own.

The four stronger hives appear to be building consistently but slowly  and  they don’t need any more honey super boxes since last week.They aren’t filling a box every week so it’s a very gradual thing this year.

The weather would need to improve sometime soon if I’m to get much honey, though.

Norneverland in the summertime.

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