At lunchtime I sat on a simple oak bench under the warmest wall in the farmyard. I read a bit, closed my eyes in the strong sunshine a bit, and noticed the steady humming of bees all around me.
Rob the bailiff joined me and explained that every summer as the old brick walls heat up, the mason bees arrive and creep into the wall to nest. As the bricks were hand-made some 200 years ago from clay dug out of Brick Field, and shaped and fired on the Farm, they are rich in variation. As we watched, the mason bees hovered, hummed and delved into the wall. I could not resist a draft:
the mason bees prospect
this warm red wall
bee-buzz the same in all
the summers since
this clay was dug
into toasted crevices
and cracks of firing
they sing then vanish
Strangely, minutes later, as I retrieved my abandoned woolly jumper from yet another bench, I met Janet (who works in the farmhouse) carefully teaspooning sugar-water onto a leaf in front of an exhausted bumblebee. Even as we watched, it moved more strongly, sucking up the reviving liquid. Janet thoughtfully sheltered it with a green branch of Sweet Cicely while it gathered strength.
Within the hour I was watching Malcolm extracting honey from the combs in his beehives in the corner of Lawn Field. Together with an wonderfully interested family I listened and asked questions. Here’s an extract from my notes, which include a lot of what Malcolm actually said:
to the hives for honeycombs, the combs glisten with honey… this is an old comb, and the oil seed rape honey granulates so quickly…we’ll spin it, see what comes…this one, it’s not worth spinning that, I’ll give it them back… .the spring flowers have just finished, next come the summer flowers, the brambles and the clovers are just starting, that’s your second extraction… heather honey is hard work, it has to be stirred in the cells...
I am conscious of how much very good poetry has been written about bees in the last few years… but today I could only see how hard it is to resist.