May 1st was the day after I experienced and collected our first swarm of bees from our on site, and recently acquired, beehive. The benign, though not warm weather when they took flight turned cooler, then over the first few days of May colder still with a brisk Northerly wind and a frost to minus 6 on the magic terrace on the night of May 4th. A challenge sufficient for this newbie bee friend to filch a frame of already packed honey from hive one to make accessible to the currently resource less swarm housed in an old German butter churn.
How the garden, which for many key shrubs like Hydrangeas is already very advanced, will fare after this shock remains to be seen. At least with warning I was able to cover the tender plants already outside, and managed to douse many shrubs and apple tree blossom with water at dusk using our extending flexible hose on maximum blast, in an effort to minimise damage. (This worked brilliantly and our shrubs and fruit were spared).
May progressed into a fabulous but mad month, with very little rain through the first 3 weeks. The original beehive threw 2 more swarms – so a total of 3 in just over 2 weeks. All witnessed, and all caught, by chopping of the vegetation the bees landed on. To stand on the terrace and watch the second swarm fill the air with a cloud of noisy, slow moving bees, which took about 20 minutes to move 20 yards from the hive and settle out on the Clematis montana “Broughton Star”, was an extraordinary experience. Just 4 days later a much smaller swarm repeated the experience. But all this bee activity meant a huge amount of mental and creative work for me in designing and making hive boxes and frames for new homes.
As well as deciding where to house them. Having gradually worked out that I don’t want to keep bees in the typical disruptive, interventionist way that many beekeepers do, this meant 3 more different fenced off areas, beneath trees. I’ve also gradually increased hive insulation – all using recycled left over materials from previous house/garden projects. I have rarely felt so exhausted! It seemed no sooner had I built one box and frames, then I needed at least 2 more. Twice new areas were levelled and made good for potential hive sites, on the very morning that the bees decided to swarm.
The garden itself progressed beautifully through the month, and the dry weather meant that once again as in 2018 we began cutting some top and wet meadow “hay” around May 18th – a very light leafy crop, but which allows quick aftermath regrowth and a Chelsea chop effect for many of the meadow flowers, extending the season for insects. Another garden walk on May 20th gives an idea of how lovely the garden looks at this time of the year…
Towards the very end of the month, we had a return visit from Australian garden photographer Claire Takacs, who wanted to take some more photos, principally of the magic terrace garden, for a new collaborative book project which she’s working on, and which we’re thrilled that the garden will be part of. Once more she worked tirelessly in sometimes challenging light to capture things at their best, on a day when the garden was filled with hundreds of buzzing bumblebees – a real treat for Claire, coming from a country with no bumblebees at all! The photos below are some I snatched to try to capture this very special day, when the garden looked as impressionistic as it ever does…
In the end the low monthly rainfall total of 51.5 mm, and PV reading of 501 KWH, ranked it as one of our better and drier months. Actually not too dissimilar to May 2018, though a little cooler overall. Certainly sufficiently dry to justify our water restriction strategy beginning towards the end of the month.