Bees At Night!

07th September 2014

Image from the cover of the documentary film Vanishing Of The Bees

“Beekeeping. Wonderful! You must write a book about it,” insisted a literary friend, a few years ago, adding: “But you must have an angle, something fresh.” I blathered on about flowers and seasons and the fact that I knew almost nothing about bees. This all fell on deaf ears. “Why not...” an intake of breath, “...bees at night!”

“Bees at night? Bees don’t do much at night. I think they just hang out in their hive.”


“Well, you know what I mean.”

We never spoke about the bee book again.

At home, life has taken a turn for the nocturnal. I am trying to get my own queen bee – a strong-willed two-year-old – to sleep through the night. After ten days of the gentlest of sleep training, the tide of battle is turning in my favour. But there are still the 5am wakeups, with the prosecution arguing that ‘light IS on in sky’. The defence rides it out, trying to convince toddler to go back to sleep, and it almost happened last time but then the wretched birds started singing and I was done for. These have been lovely, autumn mornings, the season rushing ahead of itself in this year of early spring and summer. Berries turn a crisp red against the greens of the dale. At any other time I’d have been happy to see the first light on them.

My three hives, which started the year so strongly, have been decimated. Inexplicably, all three queens were lost over the summer. I was away for three weeks and when I came back, two hives were empty and the last (the largest and most industrious) had a dwindling number of bees and no queen. It was a grim moment, going through the empty hives and finding nothing but a few foraging wasps, taking the last scraps of honey from the combs. Not that there was much to take. Strangely, despite the longest and warmest spring and summer, little stores had been built up.

Don, my fellow beekeeper, and I knew that the only chance for the surviving hive was a new, mated queen. I ordered one and she arrived in the post, and was quickly installed. Two weeks on and she should have been laying brood. Instead, she was hanging around at the bottom of the hive with a handful of bees. Guessing that numbers were too low to allow for rearing of new bees (which therefore curtailed her laying), we put out an emergency call to other beekeepers and thankfully found a small hive that we could unite with our own bees. I had to go away for a few days, so Don kindly picked up the bees. When I returned, the two hives were ready to be united.

We met at the hive site as the sun had just set. Uniting two hives isn’t very complicated. You put one hive on top of the other, with a few layers of newspaper in between. In the few days it takes for the bees to chew threw the newspaper, the idea is that they will have got used to each other and will essentially become one group. We worked quickly, laying the newspaper (Yorkshire Post, appropriately) over the old hive and placing the box containing the new hive on top of it. Tawny owls were calling from trees up the hill. Disgruntled bees flew around us, angry missiles of dusk and darkness.

And there it was - bees at night! Not a book. Barely a blog. As fleeting as a whisper, just before 5am, that this would be the night of uninterrupted sleep. As fleeting as that moment in late spring when all three hives were bursting with the promise of life. Now, once again as the cold seasons enter the dale, I have to watch, and wait, and hope.


Photo comment By Kit: I'm glad to say that the hive is doing well. The united bees appear to get along, and the queen has been laying.

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