Storm, Swarm, return to Norm (Tuesday 9th August 2022)

What a difference 6 months makes. Ditto: three years. And, oh, how time flies. Back in February I lost my last remaining colony of honeybees to Storm Eunice. The previous year had been an odd one (not only for me but others beekeepers I’d heard of, around the world): starting 2021 with 6 healthy colonies, I ended with just the two, with one of these becoming queenless, so I’d combined them together and they survived well overwinter – until Storm Eunice arrived, and that was that. Prompted by a friend I set up a Crowdfunder, aiming to raise sufficient funds for a replacement colony, and was amazed at the generosity of friends and strangers: enabling me to get going again.

In my Crowdfunder pitch, I stated my intention to thank each contributor with a jar of honey from the new bees. However, honey production is unpredictable, so I’d given myself (and the bees!) an 18-month timeframe, to avoid undue pressure. So, what a joy it has been to find I’ve been able to do this sooner rather than later, thanks to these wonderfully busy bees very quickly producing an impressive stash of honey, largely due to these past few weeks of wonderful warm weather. I’ve taken only enough to reward my Crowdfunder supporters and others who’ve helped me. The rest is staying on the hive for those busy bees: they’ll continue to make more in the coming weeks, so that, come autumn, they’ll be well-stocked with honey to get them through winter, ready to get going again next spring.

In the meantime, of course, I also caught two swarms, taking my total colony collection from zero to three, in a matter of weeks. The first one, I caught via the magic of a bait hive, set up in the back garden at home. The second one I retrieved from a nearby garden, following a shoutout for ‘help’ on social media. This second one I’ll write about another time. The first one was a small swarm, with a beautiful red-brown queen who got straight to work, laying eggs as fast as her daughters could build the comb for her to fill … they have, however, taken some time to expand, and have struggled with wasps robbing their precious food stores. They’ve remained living in a small hive atop the playhouse in my back garden, where I’ve been enjoying watching them going about their busy-bee-ness; checking in on them every now and then until, this week, I felt they were ready to move on, and I relocated them into the ‘spaceship’ (as I call my Eat Natural Pollenation hive) at Crows an Wra (not far from Land’s End).

It’s not the prettiest of beehives, and there have been some issues with it (a novelty design trailed specifically for this project). I had to bodge-up a reinforcement roof covering (because the original roof let water in), and it could definitely do with a new paint-job … but the heavy metal legs are sturdy (meaning it won’t – fingers cross! – go over in future wind storms) and it is dry and secure inside … I’ll keep using it until it can no longer be used. And then make a new plan …

I actually haven’t been back to this apiary site since retrieving the toppled hive back in February, and was not entirely surprised to find the place overgrown with gorse and brambles: though I was a little shocked to discover just how much it had grown – towering at nearly 2m high!! Astonishing, the difference, since I first sited my bees there back in August 2019. Fortunately, my glamorous assistant (aka husband) came along to help; clearing a path to leave the spaceship nestled securely in a protective enclosure of thick gorse and brambles – providing shelter from the wind AND a source of pollen-&-nectar bee-food. Win-Win.

Museums, who needs ’em? (Sunday 10th July 2022)

You really do have to wonder what goes on in the minds of County Council representatives, and their chums in the finance department.

‘Where can we save a few thousand quid, hmmm?!’

‘How about we quit funding the the Royal Cornwall Museum?’

‘What, Cornwall’s premier museum in the centre of Truro, Cornwall’s Capital City?’

‘Yeah. That’.

‘What, you mean the Royal Cornwall Museum, which is not *just* a visitor thing, y’know, like, where you go to look at a load of old stuff, but a secure depository for a whole array of priceless items evidencing 4,000 years of Cornish history and heritage – including the Courtney Library and Archive: a unique collection of 40,000 printed books, pamphlets and periodicals, as well as transcripts, manuscripts, individual archive collections, original newspapers and engravings, maps and more …’


‘Right … ok … and if we cut the funding, the place will close?’

yeah. If we cut the finding, the place will close. Of course it will. Can’t keep it running without funding, doh. So, yeah, all of that really important, valuable, irreplaceable STUFF will be lost …’

‘Oh’. I see. Right. Well that would be a terrible loss. But, what the hell, eh, yeah, go ahead, cut the funding – excellent idea!

And so it is.

If you think this is wrong, and want to help challenge this insane decision, you can sign the petition here: make your thoughts heard.


Well, he’s only gone and done it again! (Tuesday 28th June 2022)

By ‘he’ I mean my husband, local Community DJ and author Rob Spooner, with ‘it’ being the publication of Radio Therapy: A Musical Memoire as the sequel to FM247 Radios in Motion.

Watch this space for news of how and where to buy – and in the meantime, if you can’t wait, send a message via the ‘contact’ link to arrange purchase direct with us.

Swarm Troopers (Thursday 23rd June 2022)

Just three days ago, I documented the arrival of not one but two colonies of honeybees, reinstating me as an actual beekeeper since Storm Eunice toppled by last remaining overwintered hive back in February. Here I likened honeybees to busses – wait long enough for one and two then arrive together. Well, it turns out I was wrong. Three is the magic number. Why? Because, within hours of writing that blogpost, up popped a call via a Facebook community group: ‘Help! A swarm has landed in my garden!’ Lucky for me, I was the first to respond, and they are now happily settled in a polynuc, awaiting relocation to a full-size hive as permanent home. Retrieving a swarm is such a magical experience – I’m yet to meet a beekeeper who has tired of watching a colony ‘march’ willingly into a box (the trick is to get the queen in first – once she is safely in there, the rest will follow).

This is a slightly bigger swarm than the one that arrived into the bait hive, but smaller in number than the purchased colony. And, again, they are beautifully dark in colour, some with a fine deep golden stripe/others with slightly wider gold band – and a lovely calm temperament. And what a wonderful midsummer Solstice gift – from zero to three colonies in three weeks flat! I have not yet seen the Queen in this one – I sneaked a peak inside, briefly, this evening (to get a ‘feel’ for size and temperament), but I won’t be disturbing them for a week or more (other than to add supplementary feed and precautionary varroa treatment), leaving them in peace to get on with the important business of drawing out comb (building ‘furniture’) so that the Queen can start her essential work of laying eggs to produce more bees. There is just the one other job for me at this early stage: I’ve never previously named any of my Queen bees, but feel I want to from now on – starting with this one, who I am dubbing ‘Amanda’, after the lady whose garden she and her entourage decided to land in.

Back to Bee-sics (Monday 20th June 2022)

Honeybees, it transpires, are a bit like busses. As in, the old cliche about waiting a long time for one and then two arrive at once. Well, not two individual bees, but two colonies – one, finally purchased with generous Crowdfunder donations (after bit of dilly-dallying to make the right decision on which bees from which local honeybee-breeder) and the other, a wild swarm that I caught in the garden at home using the ‘bait box’ technique. I am beyond excited, and feel that I now have an essential missing part of me back in place. Beekeeping really does ‘get’ you like that!

And so to introduce my new ladies.

Firstly, the swarm. I’ve known of the ‘bait box’ technique for a long time. It really is simple: just an empty hive-box with a frame of old comb inside (ooh look girls, a ready-furnished house!) and a few drops of lemongrass essential oil (to mimic Queen bee pheromones). Position the box up high up – well, in this instance, on the roof of my grandchildren’s playhouse in the back garden here in Penzance. And then wait. I’d read about it, and heard from others who’d done it, but I’d never previously tried it myself. Thus, I was amazed to find that it really does work – and it only took four days, from set-up to move-in!

Swarming is the honeybee colony’s method of reproduction: when a colony grows too large for it’s present location, it will split into two; half(ish) stay behind, raising a new queen to continue in situ, and the rest then leave together (swarm) with the old queen, to set up a new home elsewhere. In readiness for this, a number of ‘scout’ bees go in search of a suitable new location. The idea of a ‘bait hive’ is to present such a location, all set up and ready to move into. The arrival of a swarm is indeed a sight – and sound – to behold. And quite scary if you’re not a beekeeper; a noisy cloud zigzagging back and forth, around, and around.  The mayhem soon settles; within ten minutes they were (mostly) all safely inside, having evidently decided that this was indeed their perfect ‘des res’.  Honestly, I felt like some sort of witch, enticing these wild creatures to settle where I wanted them, using my very special magical powers.  It also felt like these bees had themselves chosen me. Even more so because I’d had a difficult morning (minor traffic accident: car written off) … this swarm’s unexpected arrival just a few hours later really helped put me back together.

Three weeks on, they are doing really way: I let them settle for a few days, and sneaked a peak at the Queen – she is a beautiful dark reddish brown, and her daughters are all mainly black, some with a fine golden stripe (a free-mated queen honeybee will partner with multiple drones, meaning a wide mix of genetic traits in the resultant offspring). I am relieved to find that their temperament is calm and gentle. Because the downside with swarms is that you very much ‘get what you’re given’, which in reality can mean bad tempered bees that may be loaded with disease or parasites – for this reason, I’ve treated them for varroa, added food supplement to give them a boost, and am keeping a close eye on their progress. So far so good. Already, there is a growing brood of eggs and larvae in varying stages. In a few weeks I’ll move them into their permanent new home, a full-size hive at my out-apiary near Sennen. I may then give the bait hive one more go, here at home, on the off-chance of another swarm in need of a new home …

And then, to the bought-colony. Again, beautiful dark, locally-bred native honeybees, purchased from a trusted beekeeper friend (who I’ve bought from previously, several years ago when I first got going). Whereas a swarm is something of an unknown quantity, buying a colony from a known breeder is much more of a safe bet. These lovely ladies have gone to my allotment in Gulval, where they are already hard at work, getting ready for honey production. Fingers crossed, before the season’s out, there’ll be enough for me to fill a few jars for my Crowdfunder supporters, in return for their generous help back in February, when Storm Eunice brought my beekeeping ventures to a (thankfully, now temporary) halt.

Beekeeping in Cornish folklore (Thursday 10th March 2022)

As detailed in previous post, as a PhD research student I am exploring the folklore of Cornwall as preserved by Victorian writers William Bottrell and Robert Hunt in their collective publications; Hunt’s two-volume Popular Romances of the West of England (1865) with Bottrell’s two-volume Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall (1870/1873) and single-volume Stories and Folklore of West Cornwall (1880). 

A century and half since their initial publication, original copies lurk in libraries and can be found for sale online. I am lucky enough to own an original edition of Hunt’s 1871 ‘first and second series in one volume’ (triumphant charity shop find). Hunt was a prolific writer, and an astute businessman, publishing books on a wide range of subjects, always in a limited run, each one going through multiple reprint for subsequent resale (KeeerchiNG!). Bottrell, not so much. His three separate books were published each just the once, also a limited print-run, meaning original copies are hard to come by. Fortunately, all are available as modern digital reprint, and I’ve been working my way through these in recent weeks, dipping in and out of the various tales. Imagine my delight to find beekeeping, honey and mead featured in stories by both …

For example … in his 1870 Traditions and Hearthside Stories; first series, William Bottrell tells the story of ‘Trewoof’, a long-gone mansion house in the vicinity of Lamorna near land’s End. Here, the reader is guided through the house, and out into:

… a delicious garden, richly stored with flowers and delicious fruit … under a sheltering in the hedge of holly, bays, box, and privet, protected on the north side by a close-cut hedge of yew, were placed the row of beehives … On benches, as well as suspended overhead, from the roof-timbers of rustic building, were many hives of bees.  Rows of hives were also placed on shelves against the inside of the southern wall, holes being left in the wall for the passage of the bees: instead of leaving the place, swarm after swarm had fixed themselves unobserved under the rafters, from which the combs hung within reach, dropping with honey. Though the place was all alive with bees they never stung any to whom they were accustomed, who did not molest them’. 

Honey and mead as staple food and drink feature in stories by both writers.

In Robert Hunt’s ‘St. Perran, the miner’s saint’ (1865, first series) everybody – including St. Pirran himself – is ‘ruined’ by overindulgence in ‘mead and metheglin’ whist celebrating the discovery of tin – giving rise to the local saying ‘drunk as a Perraner’, still in use today.

In Bottrell’s ‘Giants of Towednack’ (1870) – told similarly by Hunt as ‘Tom and the Tinkeard’ – a supper of ‘barley bread, cream and honey’ is served to a visiting guest, along with ‘mead and metheglin’.  In ‘A Queen’s Visit to Baranhual’ (Bottrell, 1873), a lavish banquet is finished with ‘white bread, cream and honey’ washed down with ‘brandy, sweet-drink (metheglin) and other cordials’ – after which, the hostess whips out ‘a bottle of rare old mead, and a flask of extra strong brandy’ as digestive remedy for the Queen: ‘glass upon glass of mead, with several sips of brandy’.  In ‘Cornish Castles’ (1873), the combination of bread, cream and honey features as afternoon tea, and again in ‘The fairy Master, or Bob o’ the Carn’ – this time a buffet-style spread of ‘bread, cheese, apples, honey, and other things.’  In ‘Hallantide’ (Bottrell, 1880), ‘old sweet-drink (mead)’ is enjoyed by the women as they gossip after a celebratory feast – while the men sip hot toddies and smoke ‘shag tobacco’ from ‘long pipes’.

Similar stories arise in contemporary collections by other writers across Britain, and there are more from Bottrell and Hunt – evidencing honey as a staple food, and beekeeping as essential component of rural life.

Phd & Me (Tuesday 9th March 2022)

Here we are now in March, already. January seemed to drag on for about three years, February passed as one long, cold, dark never-ending (and very wet) blur. But now the daffodils are out and the sun is beginning to shine; spring is on the way. Sadly, the bees from the hive upturned in Storm Eunice did not survive – I tried my best to save them, but the queen had gone and so many had died, there was never any chance of their recovery. So I now have an empty hive awaiting preparation for the coming season, and – thanks to all who’ve so very kindly donated to my Crowdfunder campaign – I’ll be able to start over, in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, my time and attention are very much focused on academics, settling gradually into life as a post-graduate research student. It’s been four month since I enrolled as PhD candidate with the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (University of Wales Trinity Saint David), and while I’ve known all along what my research subject would be, it’s taken until now to feel comfortable – and confident – enough to share it here.

Firstly, I really like old books. For me, an old book (musty pages, hand-scrawled notes, old library date-stamps and bus-ticket bookmarks) is a window through time, connecting ‘us’ in the here and now with ‘them’ back then and there. A time machine, allowing the reader to travel back through history, to a different time and place. And I have a real thing for history – not that I knew this all those years back at school, when ‘history’ consisted mainly of the names of ‘important’ men and the timelines of war. Give me social history, the history of real people living real lives. This is my kind of history. The history of food, houses, lifestyles – and literature. Of course, living in west Cornwall, this kind of history is all around. Dripping from every street corner, every farm field, clifftop and hillfort, abandoned mine and crumbling ruin, all those prehistoric stone circles, burial chambers, and standing stones. Even the house that I live in, built over a century ago, is a bricks-&-mortar documentary charting one hundred years of social change. For my PhD research I get to channel all of these interests, exploring the lives of Victorian folklorists William Bottrell and Robert Hunt as the primary collectors of Cornish folklore.

The term ‘folklore’ means, at its simplest, the beliefs, traditions and customs of ordinary people – the ‘folk’ – and was coined back in 1846 by English academic William J. Thoms, categorising the rural mass population as subject for study via the lens of colonial middle-class prejudice. Ordinary working people as curious ‘other’. I prefer to think of it as literary acheaology; retrieving the clues buried beneath words on a page. The Victorian era was a time of huge change, socially, economically, politically, and culturally, as religious ideologies crumbled beneath the revelations of Darwinian theory, and the technological advances of science fueled the Industrial Revolution – upturning all that had been before. All across Britain, a multitude of writers (mainly men) rallied into action, intent on ‘capturing’ the disappearing ‘old ways’. William Bottrell and Robert Hunt were two such men. Their combined works became founding texts in the study of Cornish folklore; Hunt’s two-volume Popular Romances of the West of England (1865) with Bottrell’s two-volume Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall (1870 & 1873) and single-volume Stories and Folklore of West Cornwall (1880). In the century and half since intial publication, their collective tales have been reworked for retelling, in a myriad different ways. I too will be doing this. My main focus, however, will be these two men themselves; I’ll be looking in more detail at their lives, exploring their motivation and methods for producing these seminal works. I’ll be blog-posting here as I go, sharing my findings and plotting my progress, as I venture back in time via the folklore of west Cornwall, preserved by these two Victorian writers, a century and half ago.

Plan Bee (Sunday 27th February 2022)

So, despite my best efforts, the bees, toppled in Storm Eunice, did not survive. My last remaining colony of honeybees. Gone.

‘You should start a Crowdfunder’ somebody said. To which my initial reaction was: ‘Nooooo – I cannot just ask people for money! And then I got out of my own way. And started a crowdfunder.

The aim is to raise £250, the current ‘about’ cost of a nucleus (start-up) colony of Cornish black bees (native British honeybees, perfectly adapted to this location).

All donations are welcome, large or small. Crowdfund pledges of £10+ will be rewarded with an 8oz/227g jar of honey from these bees (when available). Any surplus funds will go towards more bees, and/or a topbar hive, which is a different style of beehive, with a whole different style of beekeeping, which may be better suited to my windy out-apiary in the field at Crows an Wra.

Stormy Weather (20th February 2022)

OH the irony. Just a couple of days back, I was delighted to find that my bees had, so far, survived winter. And then … Storm Eunice. Same bees; knocked to a heap on the ground. Survival and destruction both for the same reason; the overwinter configuration of my two remaining colonies. ‘Double brood’ being the technical term; two brood boxes (the bit where they live) stacked one atop the other. Two colonies combined together in this have a better chance of surviving overwinter. And they did. Such a tower, however – even with additional weights and straps – did not stand a chance against winds of ‘up to 100mph’ that took the roof off Sennen lifeboat station and London’s O2 Arena, ripped large trees up by the roots, sent garden sheds and children’s trampolines flying, and brought down power cables far and wide, leaving many without electricity for days. And yet … again … against the odds … these bees have survived. Huddled together inside their shattered home.

At first it looked like all of the frames – lying horizontally where they would normally be vertical – were empty. And then suddenly there they were; pouring up and out between the frames to crowd together on the (now front-facing) bottom edges. And for a moment we all stood there, all those bees and me, not entirely certain what to do next. Long story into short, I was able to retrieve and restore them to safety, and am waiting to see what happens next. They may survive. Or they may not. Only time will tell …

Pause & Reflect (February 15th 2022)

I am not much of a ‘winter’ person. I really do not enjoy being cold. Or wet. Or windswept. (Does anybody??). It always puzzles me that we, as (supposedly intelligent) humans, are the only living entity on the entire planet to not follow the natural rhythms of the earth’s seasonal cycle. Pushing ourselves to continue as ‘normal’ through these dark, cold, miserable days – then labelling it a ‘disorder’ if our minds and bodies succumb to the physiological effects of shorter days and longer nights, colder temperatures and reduced sunlight. The ‘winter blues’. A form of ‘illness’ to be ‘treated’ and ‘corrected’. For those of us with so-called invisible disability layered up with the complications of chronic illness, the effects are heightened. The complex regional pain syndrome in my left hand (I am left handed) causes cold in that hand to register not as ‘cold’ but as ‘pain’. The multifaceted effects of fibromyalgia become amplified, and the Christmas period in particular brings in own special kind of hell, with ‘cheerful’ bright flashing (migraine-triggering) lights EVERYWHERE, torturing me with pain, nausea, vision loss, and more, so that I avoid leaving the house as much as possible (becoming more of a recluse than I already am) – turning down invitation to social activities that would (as I know from hard-learned experience) leave me unwell for several days. Because the three conditions interact. Flare-up in my hand can trigger a migraine; migraine in turn can trigger the CRPS in my hand, and the whole lot can then set off a chain reaction of wider-body fibromyalgia symptoms – because all three conditions are rooted in the central nervous, the ‘information superhighway’ of body-&-mind.

Thus I tend to retreat in ‘hibernation’ mode from early December, reemerging in early February, around the time of what is known here in the northern hemisphere as Imbolc (in Christian overlay, St. Brigid’s day) – the midway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox, ie. the official beginning of spring.

Me and planet earth, we got a thing goin’ on.

Not that it is all bad, this hibernation thing. In fact, for me it is the only way forward. Not simply a matter of surviving, but thriving. And although ‘unseen’ in the public domain, I am far from idle. And certainly never bored. This has been particularly true this time around, since I’ve been investing a substantial amount of time and energy in various methods of therapeutic intervention via my local NHS ‘Pain Management’ department. Regular appointments with a whole array of incredibly knowledgeable, skilled and capable health professionals, including occupational therapists and physiotherapists, and (the bit that surprises people most when it comes to managing pain) psychologists. One-to-One input and an online group (currently, week 6 of 9). I only wish this had been available ten years ago, when I first needed it – instead of the dismissive: ‘nothing we can do, you must just learn to live with it’ …

But I digress.

Most significant this winter, has been my enrolment (October 2021) on a 3-4 year PhD, at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. I say ‘at’ but in reality I am home-based here in west Cornwall, working online as distance-learner via the wonders of modern cyberspace. ‘PhD’ sounds terribly grand, frighteningly clever, and somewhat intimidating. In reality it means I have committed myself to the next three (possibly four) years immersed in a subject of my own choosing. Put that way, it can sound a little self-indulgent. This notion is, however, balanced by the fact that my research proposal has been approved by a whole panel of highly accomplished academics, all experts in their own field, together agreeing that my suggested research is, in fact, a worthy cause. Who’d had thought it, eh?! Not bad for a 55-year old grandma who left school at 16 with a handful of average O-levels, returning to education at 22 (by then a newly-single mother of three) … with more than three decades of life lived since, along the way aquiring a Bsc. Hons. degree, an MA., teaching certificate, and more. And yet, still, this last few months, I have floundered. Because it’s all very well getting a place on a PhD programme. But you then have to do the work. Follow through. Walk the talk. Come up with the goods.


Fortunately, now four months in, I am in a much better place than I was at the start, when the initial buzz of acceptance sank rapidly beneath the shock of: ‘What have I done? Am I up to this?!’ Very quickly plateauing out into a rabbit-in-the-headlights zombie state of … ‘What. Am. I. DOING?!?!’ Cue, subsequent blur of funding applications, getting-to-know-you meetings with my two wonderful supervisors, seemingly-endless form-filling, additional funding applications, much buying of books, paper, more books, and a steep learning curve getting to grips with a much appreciated disability-support package (ergonomic equipment and computer software) … plus, most recently, a proper-academic submission of my full three-year research plan … And now I am ‘there’. Wherever ‘there’ is. Point being, I have somehow gotten out of my own way, and am now getting on with it.

Meanwhile. There is a much-neglected allotment needs tending (it can wait) and a colony of bees left to their own devices over winter. So, feeling the need to reconnect with the wider outside world (and with a brief window of blue sky) I headed off yesterday to check on my one surviving colony, which I last looked in on at the end of November. Last year was a mysteriously disastrous year for honeybees, with beekeepers around the world suffering dramatic losses for reasons that so far remain unclear. Inexplicable queen death and general failure. I lost 4 of my 6 colonies, with one of this final two becoming queenless, my only option being to combine the two together pinning all hopes on their overwinter survival, aiming to build back up again this coming season. I cannot overstate the my joy – and sheer relief – at finding them alive and well (as far as I can tell from the quick lift-of-the-roof manouvre I performed, not wanting to disturb them too much at this still-precarious early stage of the year). I did a quick icing-sugar shake varroa treatment, popped on a block of fondant as supplementary feed, and closed them back up. I’ll leave them to it for the next few weeks, and check in on them again towards the end of March, by which point the weather should be starting to warm up, and the queen (assuming she has survived) will have again begun to lay the all-important eggs, replenshing the colony with lots of lovely new honeybees.