The competition for bubble-wrap becomes intense in our household at this time of year. And it’s not just Sarah’s extraordinarily gregarious Christmas present list which drives the local demand for that commodity.
I have a beekeeping confession to make. It is strange, but true. I wrap my Bermondsey rooftop hives with bubble-wrap in December and January each year. There, I’ve said it.
At Beekeeping Association meetings up and down the country, the great Bubble-Wrap scandal will snap, crackle and pop. Purists will be scandalised. Tea will be left to chill in mugs. Some biscuits may even be left un-nibbled.
I’ve had to come clean: Thames Hive is visible from the Bermondsey Street pavement, its reptilian epidermis shimmering in the wind. So let’s get the whole story out in the open. This is how it’s done: I start by cutting the 73-inch lengths from an industrial-sized roll (four 18 1/8-inch walls are the dimensions of a National brood box, with an extra inch added to make an overlap). Standing behind each hive, I tighten the bubble wrap around the hive body, then put in a single drawing pin at the top of the overlap to hold the wind-flapping sheet of bubble–wrap in place while I make two key adjustments.
First, I fold up the lower edge of the wrap at the front of the hive and use three drawing pins to steady it in place just above the hive entrance, then I ensure that the top edge of the wrap is not going to asphyxiate the wooden lip of the crown board where it meets the rim of the hive body.
Finally, I pull tight the wrapping around the back of the hive and thumb in the last two drawing pins, mid and bottom, through bubble, deep into the cedar hive wall. Back on goes the metal-topped, insulated, roof (it’s 2-inch Celotex, since you ask) and then the whole hive is strapped up securely. And then it’s done: a Christo installation of air and plastic hugging each hive.
That’s my dastardly method. By what about my motive? That’s quite simple. On my fourth floor rooftop, the hives are exposed to the elemental winter weather, raw rain and wind sweeping across the Dickensian roofscape. Inside, the cluster of overwintering bees needs to maintain the same temperature as a human body.
Beekeepers will tell you that cold alone doesn’t kill bees. That’s right. Bees are naturally adept at coming through cold winters (Ice Ages, even!), judiciously consuming their honey stores as fuel. But exposure to biting winds, interspersed with episodes of high humidity will stress the bees enormously.
So once horizontal Christmas trees start to appear, carried homewards on people’s shoulders, and the raw December storms wobble the TV aerials, I’ll be decking my rooftop hives with a layer of insulation. By the time the bees emerge next year, healthy and vigorous, the bubble-wrap lengths will be long since unpinned, rolled up and stored away for another winter. And the bare wood of Thames Hive will be warming in the slanting Spring sunshine.