It’s winter in the apiary. The bees are tucked up, warm inside their hives, benefiting from their labours in the heady summer days of last year. The thousands of bees that contributed their lives and millions of foraging flights to collecting nectar and stockpiling it within the hive as honey can rest knowing their lives were well spent. Their queen and sisters are slowly eating their way through this precious larder, using the honey to fuel the heating of the hive throughout these cold months. The bees vibrate their powerful flight muscles to generate heat. They use this ability to regulate the temperature within the hive and in this cosy way survive the harsh days of winter. It is this amazing ability that sets them apart from other insects. Bumblebee colonies for example all die out except for a few pioneering queens who find a warm spot to overwinter and come spring have to find a nest site and raise their first brood of daughters with no help at all. Honeybees, on the other hand, come the first days of spring bounce into action with a thousand strong workforce out collecting copious amounts of protein rich pollen to feed a new generation of sisters, who in their turn will do the same.
The winter can be a nail-biting time for the bee-keeper, waiting and hoping for all your colonies to make it through these dark, damp months. So when, given a warm sunny day the bees saunter out to take care of business the beekeeper breaths a sigh of relief. The first piece of business to attend to is that of defecation. Those who, on the first sunny day, rush to hang their freshly washed sheets out on the line and who happen to live close to an apiary have learned this to their horror. I personally have never come out to fold my beautifully dry sheets only to discover them caked in thousands of tiny bee poos and I can only imagine the disheartenment. If it is any consolation the poor bees, who have been holding it in for possibly months presumably feel buoyant – frankly I imagine it isn’t much consolation.
I’m consoling myself with thoughts of dandelions in flower and the coming of the nectar flow. Here’s hoping we can all hold it together till then.