Bees

Allen had observed that in the late afternoon of a summer’s day, the direction of the out-going bees became disorganised. But Lizzie could tell from the colour of the pollen sacs on the legs of the returning bees that there had been no major change in the type of flower they had visited over that day. Even if the wind had changed in strength and direction, the bees would have compensated for it when passing on their instructions to out-going foragers with a dance in which they waggled their abdomens while moving in a figure-of-eight. They had concluded that the bees tired towards the late afternoon and made mistakes, sending the out-going foragers in the wrong direction. This observation of an example of Nature’s air traffic control system carried a warning for those at the airport.

This was not so much a problem for the bees in the Spring, as thickets of pussy willow around The Pits provided an early supply of pollen for them; but it was later in the season, when they had to forage further. The later, smaller, swarms, however, struggled to make enough wax and store enough honey from the little nectar available beyond their daily needs and to survive the winter often needed to be fed sugar, extracted by Lizzie from the local sugar beet. Lizzie used to chant a verse in a sing-song voice:

‘A swarm of bees in May

Is worth a load of hay

A swarm of bees in June

Is worth a silver spoon

A swarm of bees any later

Is not worth a tater.’

She could also identify the nectar from which the honey had been produced, partly from her local knowledge of the flowers in bloom at the time of the year, but also from the appearance of the honey. Her favourite was the pale amber-coloured honey from the autumnal flowering ivy. Some weeks later she made use of the resulting ivy berries to make a vinegar which she had ready, along with some dried angelica to chew, should the ‘plague’ ever return.