On Monday I was getting a bit fed up of all this social isolation. For one reason or another, lately it has got more intense. Fifty days after the last time I'd seen him, or seen any friends really, Dan turned up on his brand-new Honda CMX500 Rebel. Being especially risk-averse at the moment, I'd asked him not to come until things felt safer, but happily he ignored my request and turned up in the afternoon. This was a very wise decision; it turned out that we were both succumbing to the very real sense of day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month boredom that everyone is struggling with under this prolonged and strict third lockdown. Suddenly, here, well within the guidelines, we could at least have a walk, a real-life conversation and talk about plans for the future.
The weather is warming up lately. For the first time in forever, there is a big ball of yellow fire in the sky and it feels like spring is coming around. We've had temperatures of around 10°C and real sunshine. Unless we act soon we'll have missed the boat to establish an apiary on the nearby farm. I had been offered the use of what I thought was a small strip of land. It turned out to be about a hectare (2½ acres) of woodland, beautifully situated and a beekeeper's dream. Immediately we specced out two cedar hives and a hefty stand for them to go on, Dan got a pair of wellies and a bee suit, and we made plans to get the apiary established, including getting everything set up on APHA BeeBase.
Everything necessary had come by the weekend in a single 75kg delivery. I invited Dan over to decide where to position the bees on this land, to help hammer the hives together, and to meet the new week-old Sussex bull calf that we have on the farm.
Come Saturday, temperatures were just into double digits and the sun was out. We headed over to the wood and found the perfect spot in the middle, a secluded clearing that would easily accommodate a dozen hives. We checked out the nearby plants to see if they'd make good diverse food sources for the bees, whether there was water nearby, the effect of the sun, rain, wind, air circulation, and so on. Everything looked excellent. With the first signs of spring everywhere, we took the opportunity to walk further over the fields and back along the lanes overlooking the nearby valley, seeing deer, birbs and borbs. We saw honey bees and a bumblebee or two already foraging among the many flowers that had already come out. Back home, the kitchen table was brought outside with a selection of tools, cups of tea, and snacks that Dan had fetched from the local farm shop. After eating some excellent sausage rolls, we put together a hive, but without frames. Soon the sun that had been on our faces and necks all day began to go down and it was time for Dan to head home. Overnight, stacked-up hive parts were scattered around my house and giving the whole place that characteristic scent of cedar and beeswax.
The next day, he came back with his woodworking tools and by mid-afternoon we had two full hives, filled with frames, both of higher quality than I'd ever produced. We walked all the new equipment to the woods and in so doing, established our apiary. Before long, with any luck, bees will inhabit those hives. Swarming season isn't for a while but somehow I doubt this will stop Dan from going out on swarm-hunting rides on his new bike.
In contrast to the months that had come before — all of those long pandemic months — the weekend outdoors felt real and spontaneous and productive. I'm looking forward to all the things we'll be learning about bees this summer and all that that involves.
So, to say the very least, February ended well.