THE GARDEN  by Harry McAvinchey


beehive  colour sketch #1 july 2012

I love this. Bending down on my hunkers picking a few strawberries and raspberries  for  the porridge bowl. This time of year. June. This time of morning too .That  wide-open stillness. Not too much background noise. The birds fighting and yippering in the bushes.  Nagging each other.I noticed two young thrushes yesterday fighting over one of my strawberries on the lawn.The cheek of them!  At first I thought it was  a big crumb of bread that one of them had dropped flying over. I momentarily saw the whiteness of  the succulent flesh. Then it dawned on me .The little beggars are poaching my strawberries. The cheek of them!

They wouldn’t have done that last year .Not a tiny ,remote  chance of it. Not with that little black-hearted tomcat Otis about. He would have been patrolling his patch like a gamekeeper. Keeping everything in check. Nice and tidy. Otis isn’t here now though and I can see Nature beginning to encroach more on his old domain.

 The honeybees seem to be doing fine. In fact , they’ve managed to multiply since last year.They swarmed early in May .Caught me on the hop a bit. I had made some preparation for this inevitability but you can never be fully prepared  for  a wee wild thing like a honeybee. It would be like turning your back on a tiger. You’re in a different game entirely. It’s not like keeping a little terrier dog or a budgie.. Not by a long shot.

 Last year there were two hives at the bottom of the garden, gently futtering along…nicely manageable. Now there are six. I caught the original vagabond queen and her first ,escaping swarm. I happened to be around before she got too far away; before her scouts had reported back on a nice hollow tree or a suitable , comfortable  hole in someone’s roof or garden shed.They’d need somewhere to jettison all that honey they’d purloined from the hive’s stores.  I got her into a new hive brood box set- up and she was off to work  like Gangbusters, building up a whole new colony. That was the start of it. I had to get  a few new homes set up damned quickly after that . I had to separate the original hive that she had left with all those virgin queen cells….young, potential,  untarnished princesses  all  ready to break out and fight each other or stab and deathly sting  each other in slumber… Well, you know how females can get jealous…the way they’ll fight over a little thing like power or the right shade of lipstick! You don’t want to be inside a beehive when a nice little virgin princess has the chance…the only chance she might ever have ….to fly off above the treetops and have mad, riotous ,violent sex with about a dozen or so randy drone male  honeybees. …the local bad-boy biker gang of the skies. Well, you would  too, wouldn’t  you, if after all that mile-high club sex, you had to settle down to  a quiet life of day and daily egg-laying in the confines of your own little palace; attendant bees  capering  and  catering to your every whim …possibly never seeing proper , daylight or freedom again…..well  unless I should do an inspection or until  the time was ready for your first Big Breakout. Even then you’d never see much, being surrounded on all sides with virtually half or more of the entire 50,000 strong family ……. Much like  any young royal , really.

Before you could clap your hands , suddenly I was a full-blown bee-keeper with six rocking hives in various stages of progressive consternation. Maybe they’ll all make me a little honey this year. You never really know how they’ll get on. It’s all in the flowers , to paraphrase.

Now , where was I? Oh , yes, Otis. Otis didn’t bother much with the bees .Oh, he’d been inquisitive at first while he explored the garden initially. He was only a tiny little thing at the start. Cute as bedamned . I called him Otis after the soul singer Otis Redding. He was that kind of cool cat. He grew into a masterly long haired handsome fellow and he acted much like an affable little dog.We had a strong bond there. Anyway, he took a quick look at the bees in the corner , but when the guards started to take an interest in him, he soon backed off. Even with that thick black coat, it wasn’t worth the hassle. He wasn’t that daft. He kept the garden bird-free and worked his patch as a  policeman, killing any rodent that dared set foot on his beat. He kept things very quiet and neat . One morning after about two years of pleasant co-habitation…him working as gamekeeper for his daily bread and my wife and I accepting his company  and routine nagging as part of our everyday life, suddenly he wasn’t there any more. He went out one morning early and didn’t come back. I had  many companion felines in my life, mostly all tomcats , to offset the male/female ratio in an otherwise female dominated household. i had buried at least two  before, but I never got to see how Otis finished his tenure. A fox may have got him. I saw a red-haired reynard late one evening , so that’s a possibility here  on the edge of town, just  a short walk from the countryside. I looked for him but….he didn’t come back. Funny how badly a grown man can miss a little creature like that……

Otis would be the last ever. He was a special sort of little fellow. Quite unique and irreplaceable . There are responsibilities of life and death involved in keeping any pet and neither my wife nor I was prepared to go there again.

Like I  said, the garden is becoming a lot noisier now. I may have to set up a bird table sometime soon. There’ll be a lot more of them about, I think.

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