Bees are fastidious creatures and do not like having rubbish dumped in their houses

One of the most fiddly yet agreeable tasks of the winter is to refurbish the frames that fit into the lifts of the beehives, nine to each storey. Each wooden frame measures 5in by 14in and contains the honeycomb drawn out by the bees from a central sheet of wax foundation.

In an ideal summer, combs come out the hive loaded with liquid honey, each cell lightly capped with wax. To release the harvest, all one has to do is slice off the capping with a hot knife and spin the combs in a centrifuge, so that the honey is flung out and the cells are left empty but intact. The frames can then go straight back into the hives, or be kept in store, for the bees to use again.

Yet ideal conditions seldom prevail. All too often nowadays, some or all of the cells turn out to be full of honey from oil-seed rape, which is white and stiff, like candy, and cannot be extracted. As a result, you are left with a frame full of goo unshiftable by human hand. The only remedy, I have found, is to stand frames along the fence of the orchard and wait for the bees to recycle the fruits of their own labours. After a week or so, the combs are clean, and the frames can be put away.

Unless, that is, badgers find them. Last summer the reject frames survived one night intact. On the second morning the orchard looked as though it had been hit by a bomb. The grass was trampled flat. Frames had been dragged about and flung in all directions. Some had even been heaved through the sheep-netting and carted half-way up the field.

From the violence of the onslaught, I suspected that the raiders had been displeased by the thin wire which runs through each comb in a zigzag, to give it strength. Probably this had caught in their teeth as they guzzled; nevertheless, they had managed to devour the contents of about 40 frames, rape honey, wax and all.

Hence the need, at this time of year, for repair work. It is easy to buy new sheets of wax foundation from specialist suppliers, but to fit them into place requires dexterity and patience. Each frame has to be partially dismantled: slim panel pins have to be eased out, and the thin little bars which have to be detached are easily broken. The whole contraption is usually encrusted with old, dry wax which has to be scraped off; bees are fastidious creatures, and do not like having loads of rubbish dumped in their houses.

Gently does it, then. Each frame takes several minutes to restore, and I find I can complete only half-a-dozen or so before starting to feel that I should be doing something more urgent. With 50 or more to be tackled, the prospect can seem daunting.

The pleasure of the operation derives from producing order out of chaos, and from letting one's mind range ahead to next summer's honey harvest. Every winter brings a great fear that the colonies will not survive - that they will freeze or starve to death - and I can scarcely believe that they are going to come through.

I know that bees survive cold weather by forming a cluster which continually adjusts itself, the insects rotating from cool periphery to warm centre, and vice versa. Yet a severe frost fills me with dread on their behalf, and when they re-emerge - as they recently have from all five hives - it seems a minor miracle. Now, with a feed of candy in the top of each hive, they should go from strength to strength.

As I work on the eaten-out frames, I wonder why badgers do not knock my hives over, especially in winter, when food may be scarce: they must be able to smell that the brood chambers still contain stores of honey. Attacks on hives have been known, and badgers frequently dig out wasps' nests to get at the grubs, apparently impervious to stings. Besides, a well-used badger run passes straight through my orchard, so I know Brock is about most nights. Maybe some unwritten pact is in force between us: he knows that I do not harass him in his sett at the corner of the wood, and in return he does not harass me.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor