Musings from a beekeeper in isolation.

Monday 23rd March 2020

The Prime Minister announces at 8.30pm that the UK is to go into ‘lockdown.’ People are permitted to leave the house once a day for exercise, to shop for essentials or to go to work – only if that work cannot be done from home. The country is told to ‘Stay At Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives.’  

Tuesday tests the country’s resolve and throws out buckets of spring sunshine. After a winter of strong winds and rain, the air is still and there’s a bright heat in it.  Along with the sunshine, out have come my bees. To see them skipping about in the sun outside their hive is a shot of euphoria straight into my veins. The heaviness, as if gravity has doubled, melts away.  They dance like dust motes in the air and it’s a joy to watch. There is order in the world; Mother Nature is still in charge and she’s sprinkling her magic, you just need to know where to look.

I think:

  • YES! My baby bees have survived their first winter.
  • Summer IS coming.
  • The world can repair itself.
  • I must give them fresh water.
  • Now, what do I do?

All bee meetings have been cancelled, all my beekeeping friends are at home in isolation. Instead of Cecil, or Tom with their sixty years of beekeeping experience I’m left to rely on my husband, whose experience is in the low single figures. I try not to panic.

Thursday 26th March

During ‘homeschool’ I surreptitiously read BBKA (British Beekeepers Association) March newsletter – there’s a good article on the ‘spring hive inspection for the novice.’  I checked with husband last night and he said if it’s warm enough I can open the hive today. Conveniently ‘school’ is complete by lunchtime and the sun is shining. There are enough bees about to warrant me putting on my bee suit for the first time this year! I think I actually give a little skip of excitement.  I shout behind me into the vacuum of the house asking if either boy wants to join me. My offer is rejected in favour of an inevitable screen and for once I can’t be bothered arguing. 

I put on my suit and debate over whether I need my smoker, then I remember BBKA article said to bring it. A dozen puffs or so later and it’s smoking nicely. I head out to the hives. I give a little puff around the first entrance just to let them know I’ve arrived. I begin to chat to them and tell them how pleased I am to see them.  No social distancing required.

Friday 27th March

The weather turns cold again. I put the insulation back into the roof of my hive and tell the bees to keep warm. Spring is the most challenging season for bees, cold can still kill them and they need to get enough pollen protein collected to feed the new brood. I’m anxious for them. I hope my initial celebrations the past few days were not premature. 

Tuesday 31st March

The sun is back, the weather forecast is warm and settled for the week. I remove the winter insulation from the hive again. The sun shines briefly and I see the bees out. I don’t have time to watch them, but I cheer them on from a distance. 

Wednesday 1st April

The tulips I planted last October for the bees are beginning to bloom. Among them are the most wonderful pinks and reds. I get down close to study them. Each one a faint colour at the nub of its outside petals, then deepens and strengthens to become a bold pink or red at its tip. They stand out from the far end of the garden, like bright upside-down exclamation marks.  I can’t help but touch one, the petals are satin soft. Nature’s reminder, if we look after her, she’ll look after us.

            It’s still dry. The irony of this settled weather during this enforced lockdown is bitter-sweet. My hive is busy with honeybees. I watch them, as close as I dare without my suit. Maybe it’s the tulips? Something’s got them excited and out, despite the fresh breeze today. My husband’s hives are quiet in comparison. Maybe they’re not so fond of tulips? 

Thursday 2nd April

I head to Sainsburys at 8am to avoid the queues. It’s a depressing hour. Empty shelves speak of panic and selfishness. Eyes glare at me from masked faces. I’ve never noticed how much invisible communication is done with the whole face, when all that’s left are eyes I feel blind. A woman glares at me when I reach past her to get something from the fridge. Shoppers avoid one another as if they are in flight. Everyone is treated with suspicion. Like a nasty game of ‘plague in the playground.’  I wash my hands as soon as I get home.

It’s a damp and breezy morning. I can hardly remember the last time we had rain. There’ll be no bees out today. I dig out some bee books and decide to swot up. The bees and the turn of the calendar month has spurred me into action. Life must go on. Summer is ahead and I need to be prepared.