I’ve been looking after the Bees at St. Peter’s House for a few years now but in advance of our Beekeeping for Beginners course I’m swatting up on my Beekeeping knowledge. Bee’s are fascinating insects with a colony being a carefully balanced superorganism that needs to organise itself or else all will perish. Each Bee has their own role and function within the colony with the Queen Bee being the one that draws most attention – She’s the Queen Bee who rules the hive.
The Queen usually only leaves the colony once on her mating flight. This is when she flies to a predetermined place and mates with Drone Bees. After this flight she returns back to the colony and stays there for up to five years, laying eggs and growing the colony. She may of course be usurped in this time by another queen and be forced out of the colony. In contrast the workers bees, of which there can be up to 60,000, will leave the colony hundreds of times in their short life. After an initial period of three to four weeks being hive based the final three weeks of the Worker Bees life will be foraging and bringing pollen and nectar back to the colony. It’s non-stop hard work and after six to seven weeks the Worker Bee will die of exhaustion.
They’re two extremes within a colony. One who leaves once and lives for five years and another who leaves hundreds of times and lives for only six weeks. Two interdependent types of existence that keep the colony balanced, both busy but both with very different functions to keep the hive healthy.
I’ve previously spoken of St. Peter’s House as a hive of activity but I wonder what we have meant by that? A Bee hive can have up to 60,000 Bees in it – of these 200 are Drones, 1 is a Queen and the remaining 59,799 are workers. The majority of the Bees are workers and their lives are a balance of caring for the colony and going out to forage so that the colony can grow. Manchester has adopted the symbol of the Bee, due to the industry of the industrial revolution and all the energy associated with that, but I do wonder whether it is an unhelpful legacy for us. Many of those worker Bees of the industrial revolution lived in the slums of Manchester, were at high risk of disease and injury, and their life expectation would have been low. Manchester heavily influenced Engel’s writing – he was effectively writing about the worker Bees – and the world was not a just place for the working classes then with the gap between the Queen Bee and the Worker Bee being vast. Perhaps coronavirus has shown us the gap is still vast today.
Sadly one of our hives has died over the winter months. The colony was weak to start with, it didn’t get the care that it needed over the lockdown months and then the cold winter months were the final straw. Gradually the colony faded away and whilst we tried to keep it alive it was no good and now we’re accepting the reality that it died and we need to build again. I do wonder whether that resonates with you after this long time of social distancing, lock-down and social isolation. When it first started many of us had good intentions – the lockdown language lessons, the lockdown Couch-to-5k’s, the Sour-Dough making but now we’re feeling a bit fatigued, some of those good intentions have died and many of us are ready for the new season to begin and we find ourselves waiting for an unknown future.
We wait for the new season to come and all that we can do is prepare for that season. I’m cleaning and painting Bee Hives at the moment, there is no urgency – the new Bees won’t be with us for a few months and so I can spend my time on the task. Making sure that the hives are well prepared for the new colonies, cleaning them well, not rushing as I patiently wait for them to arrive.
And so I ask myself, how can I be well prepared for the new season of living life with Covid-19 (I’m increasingly thinking there will be no post-Covid-19). What can I do in this season of waiting. Perhaps I can’t prepare, perhaps I need to take a step back let go of control and just wait. That can be counter-intuitive for many of us, we want to be busy Bees but when we lean into the season of waiting we may discover that there is beauty in the waiting, in the not rushing, in the listening and in the being still.