So this is what happened next.
The bees staggered on through 2015 without actually producing any spare honey. Or indeed, as it turned out, enough honey to keep them going through the winter.
But come spring 2016, I inspected the bees for the first time and found that they were no longer with us. As my beekeeping friend remarked, “They are all in good health, apart from the fact that they are dead.” (I should point out that he’s a retired anaesthetist, so he has an unusually technical approach to the concept of life and death.) In other words, the good news was that there was no outbreak of disease. The bad news was that the poor buggers had probably starved to death. The worse news was that if I’d supplemented their feed properly over the winter, they might have survived.
So I was now presented with a choice: do I get some more bees and try again or do I give up?
Tempting as it was to pack it all in, I have a mild aversion to that kind of thing, even when it is the most sensible course of action.
So I ordered another colony, which I duly picked up in mid-July. I decided to take the opportunity to move the hive a bit nearer the house, so I might feel more inclined to pay more attention to it. One of the occupants took the opportunity thus presented to sting the adorable Mrs Hiveminder, which wasn’t a promising start. Indeed, the whole hive seemed particularly aggressive, and I shied away from any attempt at a proper inspection. I wondered once again if perhaps I really should give this whole thing up, but on reflection I decided to see what happened once the winter was over.
This time, I did at least keep them properly fed over the cold months and when spring 2017 arrived they were still relatively thriving.
They still seemed aggressive, though, and I had to abort my first inspection because I felt unsafe.
I wondered if the problem was me, however. It had been so long since I’d last gone into a hive that I’d possibly forgotten what it felt like to have a whole load of bees buzzing around you. So I went along to one of the monthly “Around My Hive” meetings that the local group holds. These are excellent events, even if it’s only to look at the odd bunch of folk gathered there are realised that you have at last found your own people. There’s also cake. I like cake.
What I found at the meeting was that I wasn’t scared of bees after all. I inspected the frames as they were passed around to each of us and I didn’t freak out as I’d expected to. I felt fine.
Emboldened by the re-discovery of my indomitable courage, the next day I went back to my own hive for another try. It was a terrifying experience. Once again, I gave up without pulling out a single frame.
This was not good, and once again I wondered about giving up. But the thing was, I’d really enjoyed that AMH meeting. It was fun listening to everyone talking about all the problems they were having with their bees and it was nice to feel part of such a pleasant, eccentric community. The cake was good, too.
So I asked my retired anaesthetist friend to come and take a look, so that perhaps we could consider re-queening with a less aggressive monarch (hive policy comes from the top – change the queen and the behaviour of the entire colony will change overnight, apparently).
Of course, what happened is that when we took a look, the bees were perfectly docile. We went through the entire hive together without being remotely bothered. These weren’t angry, aggressive bees after all. They were simply bees who had picked up my fear and reflected it back at me. With a more experienced beekeeper on hand, I felt calm and so they did too.
The final proof came yesterday, when I went in again on my own and everything was still fine. The problem was me all along.
I’m going to give this beekeeping thing another go after all.