A poem to mark the winter solstice

Today’s winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, has become important to me since I started beekeeping. Although today is the darkest day, I know that every day that follows will become that little bit longer and brighter, and bring me closer to being able to spend time with the bees again.

To celebrate the solstice, here is a poem from Sean Borodale’s brilliant ‘Bee Journal‘, published this year.


The sun leans at its annual alignment:
bare day and short,
the sky bleached and chattering with a slight adjustment.

Light’s skeleton puts back its fingers and flicks
the spectral end constant,
and bees just switch the wires of their song opposite;
winding the same sound the other way up.

Like hanks of yarn, this endurance of eavesdrop
grows wound and looped, and invariably it twists
between the wings and the ear.

May you come back
through the hole in the world’s syllable.

Ealing apiary in the snow

Ealing apiary in the snow

January is coming soon, this is what the bees will be up to –

The bees are clustering, huddling round the Queen and surviving on their honey stores. If the weather is mild the cluster may be very loose. On warm days they will be taking ‘cleansing flights’ and fetching water to dilute honey stores.

Following the winter solstice (usually the 21st, sometimes 22nd Dec), the bees recognise the increasing day lengths. If the queen stopped laying completely during December, she will start laying again sometime in January.  To keep the brood warm enough the workers will need to maintain the centre of the brood nest at around 33°C (when no brood is present they can let it drop to about 20°C, which is warm enough to keep the workers active). The temperature will still be cold outside so the bees will be using up a lot of energy generating the required heat, so can get through their honey stores very quickly.

There will be little forage available yet, but the bees will seek out what fresh pollen there is for the new brood. The first snowdrops may be beginning to poke their way out of the ground. Other plants that may be out include crocus, winter flowering honeysuckle and the willow variety Salix aegyptiaca, a musk willow that under the right conditions will flower in January.

Happy Christmas everyone, looking forward to seeing you and the bees in 2013!

Frozen snowdrops

Frozen snowdrops

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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25 Responses to A poem to mark the winter solstice

  1. Rather like the way you have created optimism to replace the dread of cold winter. As you say, days longer from now on and the bees starting to think of next year. Fondant for mine today, I think.


  2. Merry Christmas to you and your bees, Emily. May the season speed along so you will be back to your hives in the bright sunshine.


  3. disperser says:

    Hopefully the bees were not stressed about the possibility of the world ending today (although the day is still young here).

    Best wishes for a Merry Christmas, and for a honey of a 2013.


  4. Do you remember that Dr Who episode, Emily, where all the bees were disappearing because the end of the world was coming… Luckily our bees are sticking around for Christmas! 😉


  5. Reblogged this on Romancing the Bee and commented:
    A Lovely post by my friend Emily Heath…


  6. Karen says:

    I really enjoyed this post…especially when it is dark at four in the afternoon here in New Hampshire. I’m looking forward to each day getting longer…you poem was perfect.


  7. Wishing you and the bees a Happy Christmas and lots of flowers in 2013.


  8. Pingback: Merry Christmas Queen Myrtle and her bees! | Miss Apis Mellifera

  9. Alex Jones says:

    I saw what I think were the first snopdrops of the new season a week ago. Have a successful beekeeping 2013.


  10. lolasanrose says:

    Oh my, I enjoyed this so much. Thank you.


  11. Hanna says:

    I’m not too good in poetry, but now I now why it was so dark the other day :P.


  12. Thanks for all the great posts & pictures throughout the year – being a new bee keeper they have helped a lot and some have made me laugh Wishing you a Happy Holiday & New Year to comeRegards,Hannah


  13. beatingthebounds says:

    What a cheery thought! I always find November and December difficult, and this year seems to have been particularly hard. I’m laid low with bronchitis and the thought that the days are now lengthening lifts my spirits no end.
    I look forward to reading about your bees becoming more active in the Spring. And about the cake – your blog gives a real sense of a lovely community of bee-keepers.
    Have a great Christmas!


    • Emily Heath says:

      Sorry to hear you have bronchitis, wishing you a very happy Christmas and a speedy recovery for 2013. Beekeepers are very friendly people and I’m sure many more photos of cake will appear here!


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