Was it that the queens were piping as they scuttled for the darkest recesses in the  brood box or was that just the obvious hubbub of fear and calamity in the whole hive; a general and understandable ruckus of several thousands chattering, beating  wings ,in unison. I was  temporarily breaking up their homes ,after all . The winter had ended and the hives were gradually becoming  more active .It was time for the first quick look of the season.The bees don’t care much for my intrusion , but March can be a lethal month for honeybees and the first hopes of Spring sunshine can soon change to icy snow flurries and that can spell death for a starving colony. Bees can find food sources, the way we can forage a good restaurant .They will fly up to three miles in any direction to bring that nectar and pollen back home. What if the blossoms are slow to appear , though? What if there is a dearth of food to sustain an active colony with some new,  youngsters  to raise?What if their search is in vain?

That’s what I was looking for . Six colonies seemed to have survived the winter intact but would there be enough honey left in the stores before the sun’s warmth brought out the dandylions or the blossoms on the hedgerows?The piping is supposed to be made by  the bees  ejecting air through its spiracles, the breathing openings in the side of its body, like some  wee bee- skirling ,bagpipes . Scientists say it is a sort of language that supplements the chemical pheromones and the directional waggle -dancing  by which they appear to communicate , even in the darkness of the constant night the queens mostly live in .The piping, when you hear it, makes the queens sound like little hens laying eggs ; that squawky , squally , demented trumpeting you’ll hear in a barnyard when hens are footering and scratching about or possibly passing a large ,uncomfortable daily  egg.. …

It’s all on a smaller scale , of course and at  a lower volume, but still perfectly  audible to the human ear.. When the roof is lifted from the hive, initially there may be no sound other than a soft hum…a hushed intaking of many airs…. but when the first wooly clouds of cool piney smoke drift across the top of the  honey super -frames, the sound of much agitation grows.Any bees that been chewing on the honey comb dive quickly into the darkened alleyways between the spaced frames and run for safety . A wave of  flurried  sound rises as an agitated buzz  meets the incoming smoke .Without the smoker , they’d doubtless meet this lumbering intruder as they would face a bear attempting to steal a sweet treat and throw themselves to their death in defence of the tribe and their queen.Each sting , a tearing, suicidal  death blow acted on themselves.

I would rather none of them died on my account, so the smoke shoos them away.They’d long ago secured the frames for winter with that sticky propolised sap they’ve stolen from the trees last Autumn like so many small masons pushing back the first wintery chills.The frames crack with a tight, dry  snap as they are levered apart with the hive -tool.On one hive they’ve done such a good job that the wax , honey and propolis almost form a tight indominitable  block. They’ve made it impossible to inspect anything with some degree of destruction. That’ll have to be sorted later when it’s a bit warmer or  I’ll never be able to work with it otherwise.The honey super frames seem to be heavy still, heftily  weighted with stores and most of that pure white, snowy  covering  wax remains intact, smelling soapily of church candles and a vague cinnamon. There must  be still sufficient  honey below , surrounding the brood in the lower  brood box, if they’ve left this alone.The smell of fresh honey issuing from the depths  is warm, wonderful and inviting.

Generally , they all seem to have come through the winter with some stores intact, although one of them may need a little attention to make it stronger. I made sure to feed them up until September and left them with heavy stores.Now I’ll have to see if they might need some sugar syrup before the blossoms come on strong.For the meantime , I’ve left a damp bag of sugar in each hive .

There is now much talk about whether or not the bees should be fed in Springtime at all .Some say that it only encourages the colonies to grow too quickly and swarm too readily in May.Sometimes I think it doesn’t matter what the beekeeper does , so long as they have food of some sort . They’ll swarm anyway if they haven’t enough space or if the queens getting too old to lay properly . I think , on balance I’ll leave them alone for another  few weeks until it’s warmer . Then I’ll steal a little of that honey if they haven’t eaten it all.Of course I’ll exchange  it for more of that sweet , white sugar which they seem to gobble down greedily.

The tooting and quacking of the queens only subsides when the hive is put back to rights  and the roofs replaced ;the workers get back to the business of re-cementing  the cracks I’ve made in the palace -walls. Let’s wait and see how this summer develops…..

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