...and speaking of the delicious bite of joy...

… Since last writing of the painful mess I’d made, I can now confirm that I’ve a new queen!

She’s a soft, curvaceous young woman from Slovenia… a Carniolan Queen.

Her new prospective harem had been milling around, without proper jobs and so got busy filling the entire brood box with honey.. every single frame was stuffed and actually dripping. The temptation to remove my veil and gloves and do a Baloo was tempered by an acute sense of guilt for having got them into this sticky mess in the first place! They desperately needed someone to lavish attention on and steer them back to colonial supremacy.

To introduce a new queen you have to stretch the courtship out into a sedate series of obstacles. Bees, apparently don’t ‘do’ blind dates well, and tend to mob and kill the intended bride, no matter how beautiful. It was a nail biting procedure.

(Quick story here: my dear grandfather, having waited for over a month for a new queen to arrive in the post from some far flung place, was so overjoyed on receipt, he promptly dropped her and stepped on her!)

I collected her in a small perforated box, stoppered with a block of white bee candy and a plastic cap. Inside this little box she was attended by a few of her original workers who groomed and fed her as I wedged her carriage between two brood frames. The queen less workers were able to greet her, check her out, but keep an enforced respectful distance. After a few days I removed the plastic cap. At this point the white block of candy was accessible to the queenless workers. Rather like some ‘Harry met Sally’ b (sorry) movie playing out, as the Queen dined from the inside, they now were able to eat at the candy from the outside, and at some point meet in the middle and greet each other like tentative lovers..

Well this must have happened, as yesterday, nerves bubbling to the point of a kettle whistling, I headed down the mallow daubed field to check on the state of the hive. To my utter relief and joy, frames has been cleaned of honey and were being filled with new brood and pollen.

So there you have it, the rhythm and equilibrium of the hive has been restored.

And now, at last, I can consider the ‘room’ above, the extra larder where they’ve been making liquid gold. For my first season, I’m delighted to know that I will have a little honey… enough to feel incredibly grateful, and guarantee a little bit of this Summer to spoon onto a Winter’s breakfast of porridge.

The queen has been christened as Mrs Mallow.

She packed her bags last night, preflight...


… and here was me, thinking I’d missed the drama, that this first season of bee keeping was actually mostly pure pleasure, only marred slightly by the boil in the bag sensation during scheduled visits in hot weather. But I could put up with that, bearing in mind the golden rainbow of reward I’d already visualised (and tantalizingly sniffed) arcing out of a table top honey spinner in August!

But the truth is, my queen had other plans that didn’t fit quite so neatly with mine, and in between these most recent of hive checks she’d managed to send the whisper out to her team and slipped out unseen, unheard, no doubt to hang out at some intermediate bedsit (be it branch, shed, post box or car bonnet) while her seekers flew forth and found a suitable new home.

I’ve been told this year has been extraordinary in that swarming started as early as March in some areas; due to the mild winter many have enjoyed, the spring flowers came early, which meant queens laid, and hives filled.. and queens got bored/pressurised by their entourage into reproducing and moving on.

I need to confess here that she hadn’t left me queen-less. She’d gifted me a capped queen cell, and her remaining ladies were nursing what appeared to be two more uncapped queen cells. But (and here’s the stab) because I hadn’t sussed that’s she’d gone, and wanted to avoid a swarm, I destroyed what was in fact the ONLY viable queen cell! It was at this point that it suddenly dawned on me that she and half her entourage had already flown, and I was looking at a reduced hive, with no new eggs. I carefully saved the remaining uncapped queen cells and waited… and waited.. until it became painfully clear that they were empty.

I wasn’t prepared for the shock of how utterly torn up I felt about this total cock-up on my part. I felt dreadful, wholly responsible and genuinely bereft. It’s a surprise, because, that’s the sort of emotion I feel for my children when I’ve irretrievably messed up somehow.

No ‘how to’ beekeeping book could’ve warned me about that. But maybe my skin is too thin. Maybe I’ll ‘toughen up’ a bit by next year when I’ll hopefully have a couple more broods to play guardian to. This would be helpful. Can’t walk around with a slap face every time the bees don’t follow the yellow brick road.

But then, if I did toughen up, I suspect the flip side of utter joy and wonderment wouldn’t bite so deliciously and profoundly as it does, when things go well.