Beekeeping During a Pandemic

Beekeeping During a Pandemic

Most beekeepers would agree that no 2 years are the same in beekeeping and after 10 years of differing weather patterns, honey yields and bee behaviour this definitely rang true. However, in 2020 things got even weirder than anyone was expecting.

At the time the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic were really hitting home in London, the 2020 beekeeping season had just got started. I’d made the first full hive inspections a few weeks before restrictions were announced and luckily got a lot of the early work sorted. But by the time swarm season was upon us we’d be instructed to stay at home unless forced to leave. Emails circulated in the beekeeping fraternity regarding these new rules and their impact on our responsibilities toward our bees. So, after a few weeks of indecision it seemed right and wholly justified that I should be visiting the bees sooner rather than later. I was responsible for their welfare after all. The trouble was I’d been spooked about taking public transport and without a car the best option was to cycle to the apiary. The other issue I had was that I wasn’t feeling too great. It had been going on for weeks already, but fatigue and chest pains weren’t on the Coronavirus symptoms list so it couldn’t be that and I decided it was all in my mind and I should just get on with it.

That day felt particularly tough. I put it down to being unfit after the winter break and decided to take the tube the following visit. The trains were running at less than half their usual capacity and they were eerily empty. Sitting there exhausted, listening to my heart rate jump about, I rehearsed the spiel I was going to give the police about my ‘essential journey’. No one even came near me and I spent another busy day at the apiary working with the bees.

The following week things got even more interesting. I’d had a video consultation with my doctor who diagnosed me with Covid and after still not feeling right after a month asked me in for blood tests. All came back negative bar one, which they wanted to do again. The same day I had the repeat test I received a call from the surgery asking where I was and could I get a taxi into hospital immediately - they were expecting me. I spent that afternoon/evening in a Covid ward, worried stiff listening to the coughs and bleeps all around me. The Covid test I had that day came back negative too thankfully but it had been over a month since I first felt unwell.

I’ll never know for sure whether or not I had Covid in the weeks leading up to the hospital visit, but what I can be sure of is that the bees didn’t care. They, like most of the natural world were unaffected by the upheaval going on around them and they positively thrived. I’ll never know for sure either if my lack of visits had a positive impact on the bees but, for the first year ever, not a single colony swarmed. Maybe it was just a coincidence or the result of well bred queens, but it was certainly unexpected and something that I was very grateful for as my visits were cut in half. Usually I’d inspect the hives weekly in order to deal with any queen cells which could trigger a swarm but with my visits down to fortnightly or longer I was sure I’d lose a few bees.

As the 2021 beekeeping season begins we’re slowly coming out of yet another lockdown. The negative impact on our mental health will be felt for years to come I’m sure, but beekeeping is a practice that has the ability to soothe the mind. It has for me at least. Being out in nature, in the sunshine, moving with the rhythms of the seasons is something that I’m very much looking forward to. This year more than ever.


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