Bees... after the pollen has settled

They’ve been with me for almost 2 weeks now, or perhaps it would be more truthful to switch that to “I have been with them”.

Worse than babies or a new pet, bees make time stand still.

The nature of my work requires me to sit hunched over a desk, resulting in the need to uncoil, straighten out and ultimately stand up. I’ll slide the kettle over, maybe slip outside and sniff the air. Now the bees are here I find my hand reaching out to my bee suit and my feet, on their own track of logic, heading off down to the bottom of the field.

I was told that as I approach the hive I need to talk to the bees, familiarise them with my voice. My first visits were I suspect equivalent to Joanna Lumley on helium, soundbites of excited, squeaky plumminess interwoven with self-conscious babblings. After two weeks my tone has dropped back down to my normal ‘posh’ drone.. perhaps slightly more appealing for the bees. After all, who really wants to be spoken ‘at’ by a wild eyed and caffeinated gibbering human.

As I head towards the back of the hive rather than trying to calm them down I find that I am the one who’s breathing more slowly. At about 20 ft, the uncomfortable tug of the bee suit is forgotten, at 10 ft the council tax bill can wait, 6 ft and a rude silence from a client is of no consequence.. and by the time I place my hand on the side of the cedar frame I am wholly ‘there’ and nowhere else. And breathe.

Walking around to the side, hand still on hive, still talking, I find myself crouching down, eyes level with the hive entrance.. many little open doors created by a sliding bar of machined wood. The bustling activity of these little creatures, wholly engrossed in their purpose..such a counterpoint to the calmness thats slowly enveloping me.

Today, it’s time to check right inside the brood chamber. This is about as intimate as it gets. Removing first the peaked roof and then the cover board, an extraordinary wave of perfume rushes at me. It’s pollen, nectar, honey, propolis. It’s bee.

Using the parrot beak hookend of my hive tool I gently ease it in amongst the fizzing little bodies and lever the edge of the frame into a position where I can slowly work my finger between bee and box and, wedging it beneath the edge I slowly lift one end of the frame up. It feels a fairly destructive move: in their constant effort to fill any and all gaps, the bees have welded these vertical rooms together with their cement like propolis. I work on the other end gently nudging little legs, abdomens and faces out the way and at last I have both ends securely in forefinger and thumb of each hand. Letting out my breath, whispering, apologising, I slowly lift what must be 2 lbs of frame. It’s carpeted in bees, a complete and perfect study of a superorganism at work… and there’s honey…




Bees... Yeah, but I'll never make wax candles, okay?*

Sunday 13th April 2014… blue, blue sky. What a backdrop. 

They came with the golden glow that is Pat Brown.

Approimately 15,000 workers and one queen. We all dressed in varying degrees of protected readiness and made our way down to where K had set up the hive; nestled amongst Spring’s sparsely covered branches of a lake side Beech. I readied the smoker nearly burning fingers as I lit newspaper (an ancient OFM, good quality) and gradually stuffed the smoker’s inner cylinder with dried grass that Pat had collected on our way down through the field.
(Note to excited self: Must collect more, and store in paper bag as instructed by Pat.)
With the suck and puff of air pulled through the bellows, the flame – slowed and steadied by the compacted grass – continued to burn at a simmer. Eventually, without any more encouragement, a thick creamy coil of smoke curled lazily from the spout.


Pat opened the lid of the nucleus box and with gentle, slow and loving attention to every nuance of bee behaviour she removed the six waxed and drawn frames. They were loaded with bees, drawn cells, uncovered babies and capped worker and drone cells. A few cells were filled with honey.. their supply until they make fresh from their new surroundings. We transferred all of the frames in exactly the same order as they were originally, pulled cells on one frame rippling intimately  into the perfect curve of its companion frame.

The children stood back a little. 

I couldn’t stop looking. Shocked, entranced, deliriously happy, humbled. I wanted to take off my gloves (ridiculous) and stroke frames, cells, bees (really ridiculous since although they appeared calm, they were preoccupied and a little agitated from their 3 hour journey from Gloucestershire). The smell of the pollen, wax, cedar frames, propolis.. such the headiest of cocktails.

They’re Buckfast bees. I like that. Not sure why, but the name conjures less monk… more imagery of  a relaxed, laid back kind of bee… possibly reclined on a bale of hay, a piece of fresh grass twiddling in it’s mandibles, ‘ears’ stoppered with headphones piping in a little Al Green.

We stood watching as courageous bees started to exit the hive, backwards, hover 2 inches, land, and then stick their little bottoms in the air, almost performing a come-hither waggle! I’ve now learned that this is their way of encouraging their comrades to return. This is where your queen is. So stay close, this is home!

Done with the gawping (for now), we gently brushed one another down, removing any little interrogative foragers off our suits to ensure no one got lost. 

Pat’s 79, sparky beyond what’s deemed normal for someone of that age, and everything I aspire to.
She warned “I can be a bit bossy, but I’d rather you know what you’re doing!” Blue eyes perceptive and quick, wink from a creased-from-too-much-smiling face. We laughed a lot over bread and cheese, and then she was gone… the children asking under their breath if she could be their third grandmother.

It’s now Wednesday 16th April. Every day I’ve been down at least twice to check on them; not necessarily for the benefit of the bees, but the pull is irresistible. 

However yesterday was a turning point. I saw a bee hovering to touch down on the landing strip…she was LADEN with pollen.
They’ve arrived.. 
Click on this link if you fancy a peek. If you have any hints/tips/books to recommend regarding bees then please do get in touch. I’d be delighted.
* Maybe one day…