Sunday, 12 March 2017

Bees and Books

My shortened version of Milton's Paradise Lost will be published by Faber and Faber this week. There is a piece about it in today's Sunday Times Culture section. I shall be talking about it with David Grylls at the Oxford Literary Festival at 6.00 on Wednesday 29 March (details on the Festival website).
Bee news is bad. I lost two of my three colonies over the winter. One was destroyed by mice and they seem to have got in through a hole drilled in one of the lifts by a woodpecker - the first time I've ever known this to happen, though I've often read about it. The other I'm pretty sure, from the state of the frames, died of starvation - and yet there was a super on the hive with ample stored honey. I guess that it was too cold for the bees to reach it. The kind of winter we have had, usually mild (so the bees stay active and eat a lot of their stores) with sudden cold spells (when they are caught out and can't leave the central cluster) can be fatal, and was in this case.
However, the other hive is in great shape and taking in loads of pollen. I have a pack of Ambrosia candy on the hive in case they run short of food in March.
On 26 January - just over six weeks ago - I had a hip-replacement operation in the Nuffield Orthopaedic in Oxford. All went well, and I am now getting around with a stick - and a mercifully painless hip. I now have an associate beekeeper, John Heathcote, who lives in Milton-under-Wychwood, and he is looking after the bees at present. He kindly asked if he could help with the bees last year, and he has proved to have a real talent for it. He is an electrician - which means that he is careful, meticulous, and used to handling dangerous things - ideal qualifications for a beekeeper. He is also very observant and has cheered my convalescence with bulletins about the changing landscape. Out near Bruern Abbey a few weeks back e saw a wonderful sight - hundreds of goldfinches gathered in the trees, all giving voice. Apparently this phenomenon is called a "charm" of goldfinches.

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