Spring has well and truly sprung. The last few posts have been about how rapidly everything in the garden seems to have taken off. With the plants sprouting, so have the number of jobs I have to do. We plan on getting some more chickens – this time to eat, so I need to build another henhouse for them, we need to fix the well and get some sort of irrigation system ready for the baking hot summer, the barn needs renovating, shelves still need to go up, the list is endless. However, some things are getting done – I repaired the potting shed roof and strimmed the garden – a big job which takes at least a couple of days. I have left some areas unstrimmed however. My excuse is that these areas should be left to nature, encouraging the insects, wild flowers, birds, pest predators etc.
We have also got one of our next major projects up and running – bees!
We’d got word from a friend of ours that there was someone in the Dornes area, not far from here, who had bees and hives for sale. We headed down there with great anticipation and came back with a hive full of bees and all the necessary equipment. We were also quite proud of ourselves in conversing with this guy all in Portuguese (we are still very ashamedly poor at the local lingo). As instructed, we set up the hive in a good place at the bottom of our garden and let the bees settle for a couple of days. Only then were we to inspect the hive.
We have a beekeping guidebook and it explains what to do on this first inspection: try to spot the queen (she is slightly longer than the normal ‘worker’ bees), see that she is laying i.e. try to spot eggs in cells and grubs in various stages of growth and also to see if there was any honey. Basically just to check that everything seemed OK. The book also said that when you buy a nucleus – which is a starter colony containing only a queen and a few attendant bees, you don’t need to smoke them as they will be very calm.
We chose to inspect them first thing in the morning as we knew they would be still asleep (or whatever the bee term is). So, Jackie settled at a safe distance, camera in hand ready to record the moment. I must admit I felt a bit like Dustin Hoffman in Outbreak approaching the hive all suited up.
And then our troubles began.
We had not actually bought a nucleus, but a pretty full hive. Morning is not a good time to open up the hive as everyone is at home rather than out foraging. We had Iberian bees which have a reputation (well warranted I will vouch for already) for aggressiveness.
While I was gingerly taking out a frame to inspect it, clouds of bees took off in front of me. I could see them all over my veil. I almost felt they were going to bite through the gauze. However, I maintained my calm. Then, I heard a scream. It was Jackie running down the garden. “It’s in my hair, it’s in my hair. Arrrrrrrrggggghhhhh!” I didn’t see her for a while but she had only suffered superficial wounds. One sting to the scalp which was not painful. I carefully put the frame back in the hive and then replaced the top. Unfortunately there were bees all over the rim, so a few got squidged, which also makes them angry. I then retreated. I didn’t find the queen and am not even too sure what I saw.
But the story doesn’t end there. Later, in the afternoon, I was strimming the garden quite some distance from the hive and I heard a buzzing followed rather quickly by a sharp pain in my hand – one of the blighters had got me after all!
The bees obviously are not going to give us their honey without a fight but we remain determined. Next time we are using the smoke!
We also made a video for our English teaching site podcastsinenglish.com. Unfortunately (perhaps) most of the more exciting moments were not captured on film and the section with me examining a frame is necessarily ‘artistic’ (and accidental) as by this stage Jackie, the camerawoman, had dropped the camera and retreated to the safety of the house.
To anyone who knows about bees there is also a glaring error in the narrative. The queen doesn’t lay the eggs in honey but in an empty cell. After it hatches, the other bees then feed the larva with royal jelly and pollen. The honey is put in cells purely as a store for the winter months.