I'm late planting the bulbs this year. They should have gone in before Christmas and as I won't have time to prepare the beds until next week, I'm putting them into large pots to give them a head start, just in case the weather and the workload pushes it all back again.
The bulbs are a gift from my sister, to provide early feed for my bees. That is perhaps why I have put off the planting, as the storm last month ripped apart one hive and left two chilled into silence. Sad heaps of tiny bodies already breaking down into the soil. The bees I nurtured, gone to the Derbyshire winter, the challenge of nature, and perhaps, to my regret, the novice's mistakes.
I try not to anthropomorphise. They are livestock, neither wild animals nor pets, simply a flying flock to manage and harvest, much as people keep chickens for eggs or a pig for the winter larder. Feed and medicate. Provide housing. But in reality it does go deeper than that.
I knew the colouring of the three different colonies; could recognise them as they foraged on flowers as I walked around the village. I photographed them as they drank, balanced on moss in an old cutlery tray. I watched them fly in and out of the hive on a summer evening. I studied them when they landed on my gloved fingers, felt the warmth and breathed in deep as I opened up their dark, honey-scented hives.
And so I have mourned my bees.
The skins of the bulbs are delicate, papery. They rustle as I drop them into my hand, and scraps of pale brown drift down onto the darker compost like miniature drifts of autumn leaves. Tiny shoots of cream and pale yellowish-green poke blindly out of the tops of the bulbs, pushing towards the daylight.
I push the bulbs into compost, soft and dark, smelling of fruitcake and autumn, and the tiny shoots make me think of spring. And so I'm going to begin again.
The fourth colony still clings on. These were rescued from a gooseberry bush in the local allotments, a cluster of brown and yellow buzzing softly and clinging onto a branch. The queen a lighter shade, longer and fatter, surrounded safe in the depth of the colony, both protecting and protected. The cluster fizzing like champagne in my hands as I scooped it into its new home. And hopefully these will make it through to the spring.
A new colony arrives in May, from a breeder in the Peak District hills this time rather than the lower lands of South Yorkshire. And perhaps another swarm will make its way to the empty hives, which will still smell of last year's bee and wax and honey and summer to a queen and her scouts seeking a new home.
And the garden will be full of the scent of my late-planted bulbs.
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