The Smallholding in May

By Chris Dolley

The warm, dry weather continues and, with it, memories of 1976. That year started like this and, then, it didn’t rain until September. Already our lawn has patches of brown in it and our water butts are empty. But … with a little watering, the vegetable garden is looking great and everything is a few weeks earlier than usual. We’ve finished our asparagus, we’ve been eating strawberries for a fortnight, we’ve even had our first peas.

And then there’s the bees. We have no idea what they’re doing. According to the textbooks, Queens are supposed to lay eggs happily until they run out of room in the hive. That’s the signal for them to think about swarming. I’ve filled the old hive, time to hand it over to a new generation, and fly off with my household to start a new colony in a new hive.

Beekeeepers don’t always like this. Swarming can annoy the neighbours, and it sends the old hive into a period of rebuilding – when honey production stops, and, like all inter-regnums, it’s a period of uncertainty that the colony might not recover from.

To control swarms, beekeepers have devised cunning plans to fool the queen into thinking she’s swarmed by moving her and her retinue into a new hive before they’ve swarmed. The trick is in the timing. When the queen is about to swarm she lays several new queen eggs. By opening the hive every five days and looking for the distinctive queen cells, the keeper can pre-empt the swarm and move the queen. The first new queen to hatch will then, probably, kill the others – it’s the first rule of being a queen, there can only be one. She will then fly off on a mating flight and return to the hive to start laying. The beekeeper then has two hives and all is well with the world.

Except… bees don’t always read the textbooks. We’ve been checking the hive every five days and looking for queen cells. Nothing. But… the queen has stopped laying and numbers are down. Either she’s swarmed, or she’s dead, or she’s been overthrown.

Overthrown? Apparently Queens can go off lay, neglect their duties and stay in bed all day reading magazines and eating honey. The workers do not like this. They have meetings, pass resolutions, and … rise up. Workers know that in the last resort they can create their own Queen by selecting an ordinary larva and feeding them royal jelly. This larva, aka the people’s princess, will then become queen.

At the moment, we’re not sure what’s happening with our hive. The workers seem happy but whether that’s because they’ve revolted and formed a worker’s collective, we don’t know.

Watch this space.


Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf

Out Now! What Ho, Automaton! – Wodehouse Steampunk. Follow the adventures of Reggie Worcester, consulting detective, and his gentleman’s personal gentle-automaton, Reeves. It’s set in an alternative 1903 where an augmented Queen Victoria is still on the throne and automata are a common sight below stairs. Humour, Mystery, Aunts and Zeppelins!
French Fried true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.

International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth.

Coming Soon! Shift, Medium Dead, An Unsafe Pair of Hands

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The Smallholding in May — 7 Comments

  1. Well, those are French bees. I bet they’re doing that revolution thing. Maybe you should look for a tiny diamond necklace in the híve. 😀

  2. Check the coffee houses! If there is a Declaration of the Rights of Bees, uh oh!