Today I strapped the Little Paddler onto my back, picked a few flowers and headed off to see the neighbours. I love visiting. I don’t do it often enough. I don’t think that people in general visit often enough. It’s too easy to send off a text message or a quick check in on Facebook. But I miss the act of sitting down and chatting face to face with people. I used to volunteer for a while with the Samaritans. People could write or email in or ring, but some dropped in to the building to speak to someone in person. It used to often strike me how normal people looked when they came to the door. I would have walked past them on the street without a second glance. I could have spoken to them or sat down beside them somewhere and not have had a clue about the weight that was crushing them slowly. Sometimes, they had been wearing their mask for so long, that it took a while before they could let it slip and show you what was really going on. I even find that to an extent with my ‘real life’ conversations. Sometimes it’s only after many chats that the real problem comes to the surface. As a great pal of mine likes to say: Sometimes, you just have to sit with people. So I like to visit people and sit and drink tea and look at the flowers and chat.
So today we visited and we sat with the neighbours. They are an elderly couple living on a small farm nearby. When we first started calling, the man wasn’t very talkative. I was being sized up and appraised to see what sort I was. I hope I am passing this scrutiny. Some days he is home for his tea when we call, some days he is off driving the roads in his tractor with his faithful sheepdog in the cab. Today he was at home and in a chatty mood. We talked about all sorts. Then he asked about my bees.
My poor, poor, neglected bees. I have barely looked up nor down at them this year. I should really have my Apiguard on them to treat for the varroa mite. Actually, that might be this week’s top priority. I have taken no honey off of them yet and will probably only take one or two frames from the two bigger hives. I think I will leave the two smaller hives alone. I told him that the local beekeepers despair at me and my efforts. I am never going to make a living from my bees. In fact, I doubt they will ever be a source of income whatsoever. I thought for sure this was going to be a black mark against my name.
But then he started to tell me about his father and the bees he kept about a hundred years ago. Imagine! Beekeeping traditions a century ago! I was fascinated. There were no suits and smokers. How would you not get stung to bits? I have a lot to learn (Lesson 1). His father would never work on a hive in a bad mood (Lesson 2). And he would always wait for a still, warm, sunny day to do any work with the bees (Lesson 3). He would go into the orchard where he kept his fourteen hives and go over to the first one and watch the bees at the door. Then he would lift the lid of the hive and slide the crown board over slightly to peer in at the bees. Perhaps a little puff from the pipe in on top of the bees, before sliding the crown board back over and closing the hive up. He might have done this to three or four hives before finally opening up a hive to inspect fully and take some honey off. Those first few hives, the bees would have been in a bad mood and he could tell it just by looking for a minute or two. And a good thing too because he wore no suits or veils or even a hat. The bees would be crawling up along his arm and he’d pay as much attention to them as if they were flies. The secret apparently is to stay calm and no sudden jerks or knocks to the hive (Lesson 4). And never kill a bee. First off, it’s bad husbandry and secondly it sets the other bees on the war path (Lesson 5). My neighbour recalls that they would be given out to as children if the killed a bee. He reckons that if you kill a bee in the process of checking your hives, then you can’t have been much of a beekeeper in the first place. And do you know what? He may well be right. As a beekeeper, I really have no other way to go but up.
What I was really, really interested in was the talk of sections. I love the idea of honeycomb sections and often thought about getting them but my local beekeeping experts advise against it. Why would you bother? Why would you not just use the frames with unwired foundation? But I just love the idea of honeycomb sections. I can be a bit nostalgic about things at times. Mr. Fairweather too. I used to find him sitting out beside the hive when I got my first one, with his cup of tea in hand. He would simply sit, watching the girls fly in and out with their leg sacs bulging with pollen. Besides, sections would certainly make my harvesting easier. At present, when I harvest, I get a frame and stand it up in a large roasting tray, uncap the honey and wait for it to flow out. Not the tidiest or quickest of operations. Sometimes I run out of patience and I break off a bit and chew it up to get the honey out myself. Fresh honey is so delicious. Mr. Fairweather won’t look up nor down at store bought honey but absolutely loves our ‘home grown’ honey. The neighbours reckon that sections are easy to manage and much nicer than using frames. And do you know what? They may well be right (Lesson 6). After my visit, I feel a bit more able to tackle my bees. I shall potter along experimenting and learning as I go. I shall definitely investigate sections and where to get them. But above all, I shall be doing more visiting. Like the BT ad used to say: It’s good to talk (Lesson 7).