It’s cold here. It’s cold almost everywhere in the northern hemisphere as far as I can tell, but the polar gales, the snowdrifts, the frozen pipes and frozen roads and frozen fingers – they seem to have set up their capital in the Balkans, in Pristina, in my little, inadequately insulated house.
Last week we reached a new low – of minus twenty four degrees. The amounts of snow and the terrible temperatures are worse than they’ve been for a generation in Kosovo. In our school on Saturday we prepared apples to give, along with the usual cup of chamomile tea, to each of the little grey-faced children shivering on the benches. There was a power cut and the pipes had frozen so we bought mineral water to wash the children’s apples. I left one on my desk, and an hour later when I looked at it, I saw it had a delicate ice crust.
As I say, it’s cold here.
And of course I’m thinking about the bees. They don’t go out when it’s cold, but over the winter they keep alive by forming a ball in the centre of the hive. The temperature of a beehive is the same as the human body and the bees work as a team to maintain this temperature. They take it in turns to be on the outside of the ball where it is colder, and when they are getting very cold they circulate into the centre of the ball where the accumulated body heat of thousands of bees warms them until it is time again for them to take their turn at the extremity, exposed to the winter. I imagine this being rather like a huge tremulous human heart circulating its life-force and pulsing instinctively, despite the cold, in the hope of spring.
They sustain themselves by eating the honey that they worked so hard to store up over the summer. Of course, the wicked humans have removed some of this honey for their own sticky ends, but if the beekeeper has done a good job she has left enough honey to see the bees through winter. If she has calculated wrong (for example, if the beekeeper failed to predict a winter of minus 24 degree temperatures, with the additional need for calories that brings with it) then some energy supplies need to be added to the hive. This can be sugar syrup or a paste called ‘bee fondant’, the recipe for which is one part liquid honey to two parts icing sugar. You can lay this on the hive in a large sustaining slab, rather like icing an exotic cake. And yes, if you’re feeling in need of a few extra calories yourself, you can nibble a bit, just to keep your strength up.
My book, Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo is available on Amazon