One of the things missing in our results driven world, is a sense of wonder – it is easy for everything to become over familiar and we lose our innate, childhood sense of wonder and can even develop a low grade of depression where everything seems grey.
I recall some years ago daffodils appearing near my bees and caught myself saying to myself, “Oh no, not again.” I couldn’t believe my reaction – the irritation that they were back again! I had become over-familiar with them and as with all things familiar I failed to see them. It was Hegel who warned that, “that generally the familiar, precisely because it is familiar is not known!”
It is a good question to ask oneself at the end of a walk, at the end of a day: what did I really see? I am often surprised at how little I saw. My eyes function automatically all day without seeing anything – while you were looking out from yourself, you never or really attended to anything.
So the challenge is to open our senses to the reality hidden in the most ordinary things and events – see the extraordinary in the ordinary things and events of life. “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking out new landscapes but in having new eyes”. Proust. The problem is that technology has sidelined our senses and they are now so underused that we are oblivious to the hints and messages coming through them.
As this beekeeping season approaches, maybe we could take a step back from our management techniques, our plans and take stock of our sense of wonder – it was G.K.Chesterton who said wisely, “We are perishing for want of wonder not for want of wonders. And there is no shortage of things to wonder at in the world of the honey bee.
Bees, like all life, are responding to the lengthening days. On the shortest day of the year December twenty first there was only seven hours and forty four minutes of daylight. By the first of February it was up to nine hours and six minutes of daylight and this triggers increased activity in all colonies.
Now into March – this is one of the most vulnerable months of the year for the bees. Make sure they have enough food – starvation is one of the main causes of death in colonies at this time of year. It is still too early to give syrup but you can feed fondant if needed. If in doubt feed a bag of fondant. Fondant comes in a plastic bag. Cut a hole underneath and place over the hole in the crown board. If you take off the plastic the fondant will dry out. Towards end of March you could use a contact feeder with 2-1 syrup mix. In March brood rearing is increasing significantly and adding to the workload of the bees…..more pollen needed, water needed to dilute crystallised winter stores…winter bees dying off and slowly being replaced by young bees. Some people add a layer of insulation (probably better earlier) to help the bees retain heat – most heat is lost through the roof. You can place a super on the crown board and fill it with insulating material such as old papers, sawdust shavings, an old blanket. This will retain heat making it a bit easier for the bees to keep the temperature up. The ratio of adult bees to brood can be low sometimes making it even more difficult to maintain suitable brood temp. The insulation could stay on till April.
Once we reach Saint Patrick’s day I will be watching for a good day to do a first inspection – the temperature would need to be somewhere near 15 degrees. Opening a hive leads to heat loss and could result in the bees killing the queen or balling her. All beekeepers develop their own methods of management. It is important to keep learning and modifying your techniques. Once you have mastered the basics you can gradually develop your own methodology. There is a lot in beekeeping that you won’t find in books and will only learn with experience. Inspections must be done for a specific reasons and be part of a management system – there is no point performing them without understanding what you are trying to achieve. One of the fascinating things about keeping bees is that there is no guarantee that any method will work every time!
Be ready to mark the queen if she is not marked and remember the following questions to answer during an inspection:
Do you see the queen?
Is there sealed brood? Is it in solid slabs with few missed cells?
Are there any signs of disease in sealed or open brood?
Has the colony got adequate food supplies?
Is it as strong as its neighbours? If not why not?
Has it got adequate room?
The Bee Research Centre at the Hebrew University in Israel reports that if you give bees a ‘menu’ they will instinctively choose dishes that provide the right balance of nutrients; sugary nectar plus pollen full of protein, fatty acids and micro nutrients.
They conclude that, “bees are dying for all kinds of reasons – there is the ongoing debate as to the causes. We believe there are multiple causes and they synergies. The three most important factors are the use of pesticides and poisons in the environment; the Varroa mite and the viruses it transmits and the lack of proper nutrition or malnutrition caused by shrinking amount and variety of wildflowers.
Nutrition is the basis of everything, because malnourishment leads to a weaker immune system that cannot fight the effects of pesticides and viruses”.
I am looking forward to seeing the first dandelion appear…no sign of one yet! I hope they haven’t all been nuked by sprays. Meanwhile here is a recipe for a honey tea cake.
Honey Tea Cake – it is a hard cake. Take six pounds of floor, three pounds of honey ,one and half pounds of sugar, one and one-half pounds butter, six eggs, one half ounce baking soda, and ginger to your taste.
Directions- have the floor in a pan or tray. Pack a cavity in the centre. Beat the honey and yolks of eggs together well. Beat the butter and sugar to cream and put into the cavity in the flour then add honey and yolks of the eggs. Mix well with the hand adding a little at a time during the mixing the half ounce saleratus dissolved in boiling water until it is all in. Add the ginger and finally add the while of the 6 eggs well beaten. Mix well with the hand to a smooth dough. Divide the dough into seven equal parts and roll out like gingerbread. Bake in an ordinary square pans made for pies from 10 X 14 tin. After putting into the pans mark off the top in one hand inch strips with something might n sharp. Bake for an hour in a moderate oven. Be careful not to burn but bake well. To keep the cake stand on en din an oak tubm tin can or stone crock – crock is best. Stand the cakes up so the flat sides will not touch each other. Cover tight and keep in a cool dry place and don’t use for three months at least. The cake improves with age!