When I used to keep bees Autumn was the cruelest time for drones, dragged mercilessly from the comfort of their hives by fierce worker bees, to be chucked out into the cold autumn weather. It’s hard being a male in the bee world, death by bee sting for those drones refusing to leave. Workers need to seal the hive from winter winds, collect and protect their food supplies. This is no place for Drones, who take rather than give to the colony. September worker bees will live through the winter months to support their queen and colony until the early spring sun warms the hive, with snowdrops and croci flowers, heavy with pollen, food for bee larvae and pupae. Then the workers know it’s time to alert their queen, directing her to cleaned wax cells to lay her eggs. Fertilized eggs for female, her new colony, it’s too early to lay drones. Here, the worker bees rule.
Autumn is a busy time for beekeepers. We’ve collected all our colonies and settled them into our winter Apiary beside the River Ure, where the river bends. Oh yes. We know advice from beekeepers is “don’t keep bees beside a river because of possible flooding.” But our bees are on what’s known locally as the “High Bank,” well away from floods, a place of magical mystery, thick with Himalayan balsam still in flower, which provide a late source of nectar for our bees to fan into honey, their food for the cold winter months. A row of lime trees border the High Bank, sheltering our colonies from the cold North wind, protected also from the wicked East wind by a thicket hedge. All our hives have been brought together, from the heather moors, the field beans and from my allotment, where they have expanded to strong colonies from the abundance of summertime pollen and nectar.
Fifteen colonies were prepared for winter. All had feeders over their Brood Boxes and Supers providing each colony with a gallon of thick syrup to supplement their foraging for nectar around this wild place. Each colony was cocooned with a quilt beneath the roof and a covering on the North and Eastern side of their hives. All on stands and belted tight should they be blown over or knocked by a predatory animal looking for food. Their entrances narrowed and nailed to help their sentry bees prevent wasp attack and hibernating field mice entering, looking for somewhere warm with stores of food to over winter.
One evening I remember the setting sun throwing its pale rays over the fallow field. Shivering in the chilly evening breeze we turned from watching our bees. All was calm. Breathing the aroma of damp soil and water it was time to journey back across the big field. In the dimming light the sky of a sudden was full of geese. Canada Geese in migration fly towards this field to descend in RAF Formation, landing quietly, gabbling, and fluttering, settling in for a night’s rest. More geese in V-Shaped flight formations zoomed onto the field, followed by more, and more, and more. Soon the field was full of geese, resting overnight, before taking off at the rise of the sun to fly to their winter homelands. We felt the season’s change to winter in this wild world as we quietly stumbled awkwardly over the rough field in the rapidly failing light, trying not to disturb these birds. Alfred Hitchcock’s film, “the Birds” comes to mind. Flights were still arriving as we reached our car parked by the Keeper’s Cottage. We watched them settle onto the fallow field in wonder. How did they know which field was their resting place to gather on their migration routes? Why this particular field? Life is strange but beautiful. Total bliss.