Wednesday, 10 April 2013

A Long Awaited Thaw

No one else seemed to notice. Certainly not the TV Weather Oracle who only a couple of days ago predicted more and more snow and cold weather. And an all-night frost --- every night, something more typical of February than mid April. However, a week ago when I walked  through my field I felt the land glow with an unexpected warmth, particularly curious since a layer of snow still covered the yellow grass. But there it was, the land's first stirring after a prolonged sleep. Later while planting trees I saw the first buttercups poke through the dead grass. Nasty weeds, but in this case the first most welcome sign that our Narnian winter was not going to last until next Christmas, but would end soon.

My father, who could not make the “th” sound as in “thaw”, would say that “The saw is on the way.”

Overhead, flock after flock of screaming geese flew by. Farmers around here watch them carefully as their appearance usually precedes warmer weather.

And then in our garden, the blackcurrant bushes were budding. Daffodils pushed up another inch. You could tell the difference in only three days. If the Weather Oracles paid more attention to what the land has to tell them instead of to graphs and charts, maybe their soothsaying would hit the mark more often.

Nobody, not even old-timers remember anything like this winter, mythological in its endlessness and severity. A sense of hopelessness ran parallel, a feeling that it’s useless to do anything because the snow will only bury you and your dreams.

Most distressing for us was the loss of our bee colony. Our first one, which we housed in a hollow log. The bees were happy enough there, but I suspect that the long winter did them in. Every few weeks bees have to go outside for a cleansing flight. If temperatures are too low, say below 8 degrees for a long time, the bees are trapped on their comb. They tend to get dysentery, and are at risk of dying. Once their numbers drop below a critical threshold, they can no longer stay warm, and the rest of the colony dies. At Cottarton, for almost two months the temperatures didn't get higher than 3 degrees. 

However, the bees left us a message, a "thank you" for providing them with a home, in the form of  two large honeycombs filled with honey, enough to fill three large jars. Upon tasting that honey, you feel that you're taking in a spoonful of sunshine. And so it is. Bees are essentially solar creatures who imbibe and store the sun’s energies. After tasting the honey, Amber declared that we would not give up. We were going to keep bees again.

And so I cleaned out the log hive with a blowtorch, to destroy any nosema spores that may have contributed to the colony’s demise.  I ordered a Warre Hive that may be a better home for long winters. More on that later. And I ordered a bee nucleus. They’ll be here in June --- by which time the nectar will flow. 

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