Things have gone quiet here on the blog front lately, and as usual it isn't for the lack of anything to write about, but because life has suddenly become so busy that there hasn't been time to sit down and put some words + photos together.
When I first met Chris and he told me he kept bees, I didn't really have any concept of what it meant. He became known as 'bee-man' when I talked about him to my friends, and it was one of those things that sounded interesting in a vague sort of way. Mostly I loved his enthusiasm for it, the way that he made bees sound so engaging and his plans for a bee empire. I helped with the honey collection at the end of last summer, but didn't really get involved apart from that.
Bee-keeping season rolled around in the spring, and it was time to start inspecting hives again. Chris decided to do it at the weekend and invited me along to watch (with my camera, of course). I borrowed a bee suit and away we went.
Bees are amazing. They are surprisingly calm when you lift the lid and start having a look, and many of them will just carry on with their work while you do yours. I watched Chris doing his inspections and took lots of photos.
Chris pointed things out to me (can you see the queen in the picture below?) and after a while I stopped taking so many photos and started to hold a frame, or help by using the smoker. I started to pick up the terminology, and understand what we were looking for. It was a very proud moment when Chris asked me to lift out a frame by myself and check it, before carefully lowering it back in. These bees are his babies, and I was honoured to be trusted with them.
Since those early inspections, it has been a steep learning curve as our original four hives started showing signs of wanting to expand, so Chris carried out some 'artificial swarms'. This left a queen egg in the old hive, and took the old queen and half of the bees into a new hive. Four became seven, and all was looking promising. Then the swarms began! And this is what has kept us so busy over the last few weeks:
Sometimes bees decide to swarm by themselves, and they will cluster on a tree or post while they look for a new home. When this happens - and someone spots it - Chris gets a phonecall and we drop everything and rock into action. The theory behind swarm collection is simple - the bees follow the scent of the queen, so get as many as you can into your basket and hopefully if the queen is in there, all the other bees will go in too. In practice we rarely seem to get the queen first time, and not all of them have been in such convenient locations as this tree. 'All of them', you ask? Our original four hives, with artificial swarms and 'incomers', are now a total of 17. Not all of them will produce honey this year, and we are braced for one or two to do less well, but even so - I keep having to pinch myself. 17 hives?!
I confirmed my status as bee-keeper rather than bee-photographer last weekend. Chris got a call for a swarm, and he couldn't go. The only way for us to get it was for me to go by myself - so I did. With a bit of help from Chris' mum (also a bee-keeper) who kept a close eye on me, I did it! These bees (above) are now safely in their new home. Their queen isn't laying yet, but there is still time and we are hopeful that they will do well.
In the midst of all this excitement, I totally missed that June 6th was the third anniversary of my most major surgery. As we sat on the Downs earlier, enjoying a picnic lunch after a morning of bee-inspecting, I couldn't help but reflect on how far I have come and how much my life has changed. Even this time last year, if you had told me how I would be spending my time and how good I would be feeling, I would have thought you were being ridiculous. I count my blessings every day, and there are many.