Land of milk – but no honey

Pub Talk regulars may recall how back in May, dearest beloved and I made our first tentative steps at beekeeping. Now, with autumn upon us, I feel the time is ripe for an update.

To begin with, all went swimmingly. The bees were peaceful and spent their days contentedly going about their tasks of creating wax comb, packing its hexagonal cells with pollen, making honey, and tending to the queen’s every need as she dutifully went forth and multiplied.

Then, a few months later, a ministry inspector arrived for our first routine colony health check. He was impressed, as we had been, by the docile nature of our bees and their lack of disease. He was less impressed by the reign of our queen. Turns out she was only producing drones – male bees that spent all their days idling about and eating honey, waiting in vain for a mating opportunity, while the rapidly diminishing stock of female workers flogged themselves to death to keep the hive alive. The colony, our inspector informed us, was dying, and would soon become unsustainable. The drone-laying queen and her layabout sons would all have to go and be replaced by a new swarm.

With a heavy heart the bees were dispatched, then replaced by a fresh nucleus colony purchased through the local branch of the British Beekeepers Association. The new arrivals have excelled at comb making and filling, and our new queen is rearing the right sort of bees.

The colony seems to mean business, and its recent feisty attitude during hive inspections suggests there might be a bit of a battle before we discover who’s really in charge. I’ve received one sting through the arm of my bee suit, and while we won’t be harvesting honey this year, somehow I feel that when we try to next year, it might not be given up without a struggle…

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