Early spring. The freshest greens of the year, blossom, and over the last few weeks, sapphire skies.
After six months of slumber, our bees are active again. It was time for us to open the hive up and peer inside. Stretching my arms, I hold the first frame of bees to the sky. Sunlight pours onto nectar- gold on liquid gold.
I had never lived in a city, and I’m a long way from my northern roots. But Bristol is now my home. Some things weave you to the fabric of a place, and our hive of bees have helped to do just that.
A hive manages to turn the gardens of a congested, grubby city into energy enough to give life to 50,000 bees. And of course to us beekeepers, some precious jars of honey. Along with the honey, they make comb, propolis (a glue they make from trees) and store pollen and nectar to power the hive.
In our human world, we have times of happiness and sadness, gains and losses. But in the spring garden, I know that bees will be flying, the chickens will be laying and seeds will be bursting. They give a constancy, a backdrop to dip in to at any time.
Watching the bees entering and leaving the hive is deeply soothing. Some things are inherently good for us. To me it seems it’s the things we have always been doing- eating, drinking and life at its basic- both people and the wild.
Nearly all of our interactions with animals are with ones that are either domesticated or fearful. But the bees are neither, as well as venomous. So we treat them with respect, handling them gently and sensing the mood of the hive. Everything a bee does is for the good of the colony, to the point of working themselves to death. Their task is determined by their age. When they emerge as a day old bee, they clean. As they age, they go on to feed young, fan the hive, build comb, guard the entrance and finish as foragers. In the summer months they will last for only six weeks or so, before dying of exhaustion.
In the warmer months we inspect the hive every week or two. Each frame has to be freed from the gluey propolis with a hive tool and checked over. We are looking for eggs and larvae- signs the queen is well and living, for food stores to power the bees, and for their health.
A hive is intoxicating. Scented honey, deep musk, wood, and a thousand invisible pheromones.