The bees of the cotswolds
The traffic light turns green but the Mini Cooper in front of us doesn’t move. The lady gets out, she wears an olive green suit with some smudge on it here and there. “Can you please help me push? I have a meeting and can’t be late but my Mini seems to have let me down again.” Tony and I jump out of the car and start pushing. The Mini starts and the lady waves with her big arms out of the little window of the Mini. Tony and I run back to our car.
We are driving through the scenic Cotswolds. Here and there Tony points me on all the wonderful flowers, their names and whether the bees like them or not. The bees. We are on our way to one of our bee locations. A farm on the other side of the Cotswolds, not so far from Wales. Tony is a bee keeper and the owner of Brackley Bees. He has around 500 bee families. Spread mostly around Brackley but some are located a bit further.
“That’s the house of Jeremy Clarkson” he says when we pass a beautiful house of light bricks, a hedge of stones and a typical English garden with all kind of beautiful and colorful flowers combined with several types of green plants. The cars are probably in the garage next to the house. We are driving for a while now. The BBC dj interviews a woman who is attacked by cows. “Strong beasts those cows” Tony says. Tony is a nice fellow, a wonderful Englishman, the type I love the most. Difficult to understand, full with nice jokes and a happy chap. We work together since a month now and it is almost unbelievable that a month ago I had no idea that male bees are called ‘drones’ or that the Queen is a lot bigger than the worker bee and therefore not able to sting.
We finally reach our destination. Bee-suits on, gloves on and get the smoker smoking. Tony cuts the grass and I start smoking the homes of the bees. Smoking makes the bees eat and with a full tummy they are less likely to sting us. The suit keeps the worst stings away but some bees are searching for the best place to sting and get through. While the bees are eating we take off the honey boxes to see whether they made a lot of honey or whether they have disappointed us. The amount of honey depends on whether there are any likable flowers in the area.
It is still quite early but the sun is already up and heating me up like an oven. The suits make it almost unbearable to continue with the work, but the sooner we are done the better. I get through the lowest box, the box of the queen. There she is, walking proudly, moving her beautiful orange body with ease through the busy frames. There are thousands of bees in the hive but still it is quite easy to recognize her. She is called ‘the queen’ but just like the Queen of the Netherlands she has no real ‘power’. She is there simply to lay eggs and if she doesn’t lay in the right way the worker bees will let her make a new queen and kick her out. She will then move with a couple of bees to start a new hive somewhere else, she will swarm. When bees swarm they do not sting.
The queen is here to lay eggs and the drones are here to mate with the queen. This they don’t do in the hive but at a special place which is called the ‘mating place’. Here drones of different hives fly around and when a queen arrives to mate they mate with her while flying. The queen will fly back to her hive and starts laying eggs. The life of a drone is not as bad as a one-day fly but also not as great and long as a turtle. The sun is very important to the bees, they navigate with the sun and know the time of the year due to the height of the sun. When fall is at hand, the days are getting shorter, the bees feel winter is coming, they produce a lot of honey and need less mouths to feed. It is now that the worker bees, all female, close the doors to the drones, all male. The drones die at the floor, lonely, cold and starving.
Bees are workers, day in day out, hours of working, no lunch breaks, no tea breaks, just work. Flying in and flying out. Collecting pollen, stuffing pollen, making honey, laying eggs, growing eggs. A community that works together as impressive as Orcas, as toughtfull as the Chimpanzee and as organized as ants. As a beekeeper I spend my days checking, researching, watching and trying to understand these amazing insects and their lifes, the flowers they like and dislike, the queens they love and hate, the way of communication and understanding.
Unlike the bees we do have breaks and today we decide to spend our diner next to the river with fish and, a bit too salty, chips. A small can of beer, the setting sun and some fanatic rowers in the river.