Honey and republican bees

 

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I have been dreaming of honey ever since we got the bees earlier this year. I have diligently checked the hive each week, added a super to allow honey collection and seen the wax cells fill with nectar then capped.  Then something strange happened, I have never been very good at spotting the queen but she was marked so it should have been easy. She had vanished, the bees had not swarmed and there were no queen cells  indicating that the bees knew she was ailing or missing and had started to feed up a larvae on Royal Jelly to turn it into a replacement queen. Honey production slowed and the number of bees seemed to be reducing each week. So what to do?

I called my mentor who came out and looked through the hive. He confirmed the queen had gone and there we no obvious successors being produced. There were no more eggs or larvae so the first thing to try was to take some frames of eggs and (brood) larvae from another hive, put them in the middle of  my hive brood box and let the bees get on with creating a new queen. A few weeks later an emergency queen cell was spotted, and after 5 weeks brood and eggs are present- proving a new queen is in residence and has successfully mated and returned to the hive to start laying. No more honey for this year as the hive will need to build up numbers in time for the winter and will need all the food it can get.

I was able to extract about 5 lbs (about 2.2kg) of honey which will all be for the family. It was mostly Oil Seed Rape honey which crystallised very quickly and was hard to extract. Still it takes very good and is a start, I hope to build up the number of hives and get a bit more honey next year.

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Shearing

Since my last update the weather has been full on Sun with the occasional very wet day. Records have been broken with up to 30 deg Centigrade, it has made work around the garden a bit slower.  The main concern, apart from weeding, planting  and stocking up the flower stall, has been the sheep. This is the first year we have been responsible for shearing. The hot humid weather added to the concerns about possible fly-strike. This is combated by spraying the sheep with chemicals but it cannot be done before shearing. If fly strike happens then it can kill they sheep, another reason to check them every day and keep them as clean as possible. We were very lucky to find a local farmer who was willing to do the shearing and came to check if they were ready ( the wool needs to rise)  and we set a date. Then the forecast for rain meant a quick change of plan to shear a day earlier.  The sheep, rather hot and bothered decided that being fed early was not what they wanted so they would not all go into their pen. This proved a problem. We had to try and corral  them using a disconnect electric fence.  This eventually worked and shearing begun.

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One down, two to go

Snowdrop was first to go, the other two were not at all bothered about what was happening to her. As soon as the shearer went for Lotty, who should have been next, she jumped out of the fencing and ran around the field. So Matilda was next. She put up a big struggle and Lotty kept coming to see what was going on but not getting near enough to catch. Once Matilda was sheared we had the difficult talks of catching Lotty, the sheep are not dog trained and although a very experienced sheepdog was brought in to help, he hid under the Land Rover as he did not like horned sheep running at him! Eventually Lotty was caught, sheared and released with the others  (the three took over 90 minutes).

Finally all are sheared!

All the sheep were interested in the bits of wool lying around but Lotty decided that she could use a piece as a disguise and was wandering around with a newly acquired handlebar moustache.

Lotty in her new disguise

 

Spring 2017, at last an update

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Snakes Head Fritillaries at Fox Meadow

Spring has got off to a difficult start. The initial warm weather in March has given way to sharp frost and cold wind in April and early May. This has caused problems in the veg patch and with our small orchard. Blossom, encouraged by the warmer weather has been scorched by the frosts and it remains to be seen if we will get many or the earlier flowering fruits such as plumbs and cherries.
The colder weather has enabled me to do more weeding and sort out our vegetable beds ready for some proper spring weather. Seeds are in the cold frames and I hope they will develop in time. The Asparagus was moved (against all advice) into a dedicated bed with plenty of manure and with the roots on raised soil to keep them well drained. Much to my surprise we have had 6 edible and sweet spears. Not much but I don’t want to over tax them this year. I have added some younger plants and hope that in two or more years we will have sufficient for our family use and some to sell at the gate.

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The forced rhubarb was excellent, a wonderful pink colour. It sold well at the gate and was given a lot of positive comments locally. I have invested in a second forcer thanks to some discount vouchers from Wyevale Garden Centre and hope we can generate even more rhubarb next year before the glut of garden gate sales.

We have been selling our spare fruit, flowers and vegetables since September, very modest but nice to see that it is appreciated.

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The booth

Unfortunately we have had quite a few things ‘ disappear’ without payment so have to set up a security camera, which is a great shame and dents our trust in people who are mostly very honest.

I have finally got some bees, last year I enrolled in an introductory course run by the Stowmarket Beekeepers and spend some time with a local beekeeper who kindly let me help catch a swam and extract honey. I was lucky enough to be selected as someone who could take over the bees of another local beekeeper who sadly passed away last year. So now I have three WBC hives (all freshly painted and cleaned) and one colony of very calm and busy bees. I am hoping to get a call about local swarms so I can build up to two or perhaps three working hives. The cold weather has not helped the bees but they do seem to have sufficient food for now. They are checked each week.

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The newly installed Apiary

It is hard to believe that the sheep have been with us for a year now, they are lovely Jacob Ewes, all very different in character. We had a few early foot problems but mostly they have been free of health issues. They are now very much part of the family, checked on twice a day.

A new start

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Spring 2015- a rare snowy day

Since late April 2015 we have stared on a new adventure. We moved from our modern house in Hertfordshire and gave up our allotments. Our new home is in the middle of the Suffolk countryside, in what is known as high Suffolk, there are clay hills and wonderful views. Our house was originally built in 1520 and has been modified over the years, mostly in the late 1500s and early 1600s with more in the 1950s.

We are lucky enough to have nearly 4 acres of land and our neighbours are over half a mile away. The house and garden needed a lot of TLC. When we moved in the grass was knee high, the trees growing through the electricity and phone wires, the hedges out of control  and the paddock fence had rotted into the ground. No boundaries were fenced and the bottom gate was missing. The house also needed a lot of repair.

We had trouble fining help but eventually though recommendation found a wonderful landscape gardener and also some excellent builders.

The trees and grass have been tamed and the house water tight and dry. I have fenced most of the land so our Border Terrier has stopped escaping (we are very grateful to the nice ladies who picked him up when they found him by the road and brought home back to us safe and sound.)

The vegetable patch is now resurrected, with five beds, and surrounded by a rabbit and deer proof fence.  The paddock is now fenced in and has electric fencing separating the two halves. Three Jacob ewes are now keeping down the grass.  The bottom of the land is now accessed via a new gate.

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The Jacobs- Matilda, Lotty and in the distance Snowdrop

More rain, more cold, more winter

Winter veg

Winter veg, Leeks, Jerusalem Artichokes and Oca

Thankfully we are not near to any flood plains or bursting rivers. I really feel for those who have been inundated. Way back in 1968 my parents house was flooded with sewerage ridden river water. It took a long time to sort out and was very unpleasant for us and our neighbours. The allotment is on the side of a hill so relatively safe from the water. Even so the ground is very wet and I am trying to avoid walking on it as the structure will be ruined. We are still picking chard, lambs lettuce, cabbages and digging up Jerusalem artichokes and lovely turnips. I have found that peeling, par-boiling and roasting the artichokes seems to reduce the ‘windy’ effect of these wonderful tubers. Although it might just mean we are all getting used to them. In addition the Oca did well due to the long autumn with little frost and we still have some leeks growing.
I put onions sets and garlic corms into the ground in November and they seem to be shooting. I am a bit surprised that they have not rotted away. This month (February) I need to prune the raspberries as they are supposed to be autumn fruiting and do a general tidying up but I will have to wait until the gales and wet weather has abated a bit. I managed to re-wood chip the path but that has really been all since before Christmas.

Autumn round- up – a bumper fruit year

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Blackberries on the allotment

As usual the summer has rushed by and I have not done anything much to the blog .

All in all the year turned out very well for fruit and veg but it was the fruit which did the best, my blackberries are still producing fruit well into October and so are the wonderful Autumn Treasure raspberries which have fruited from June and are still going strong. Black, white and red currents have also done well. The strawberries (both standard and ‘wild’) have been wonderful and I still have some in the freezer to make more jam.

Black currents flourishing

Blackcurrents flourishing

Wild strawberries
Wild strawberries

Talking of Jam, I have made something around 24Kg of jam and jelly. It has been a great pleasure using my French copper jam pan, which spreads the heat wonderfully and reduced the risk of burning. I make juice for jelly in a steam juicer. This save the messing about of using Jelly bag and allowing the juice to drip through over night. The steam extracts the juice and this can be added to the sugar immediately then heated to setting point. Remember to use pectin for those fruits which are low in this essential setting aid.

Summertime on the allotment

Summertime on the allotment

After the very cold spring, I did not have high hopes for the vegetables but I was surprised, the potatoes, Blue Edzell, Mayan Gold and Kestral all did well although the Mayan gold did wither a bit early on as you can see from the foreground of the photo. However the tubers of all the potatoes were fine and should last me the Winter. Slugs did quite a bit of damage just before harvest so I had to cook and mash a few kilos for the freezer. I tend to just use a potato ricer and freeze the resulting fairly dry mash. Then when I want to use it, I defrost and add butter, milk and seasoning. Of all the three varieties  Blue Edzell looks the strangest  as it is very dark purple  and Kestral had the best yield. Mayan gold did poorest but has the best taste.

The cabbages have done well  but I have had to keep them covered all summer to prevent both cabbage white caterpillars and maurading pigeons from taking all the leaves.

Peas and sweet corn

Peas, sweet corn with rainbow chard and seeding sweet cicely, beans in the background

The beans, runner and climbing french, took a long time to get going. I planted them when I thought it was warmer and protected them from the wind with fleece but they took a long time to grow and flower. The crop has been manageable and I have frozen a lot for winter – I slice with a wonderful Australian Krisk bean slicer, blanche in boiling water for 30 secs, then in to cold water, pat dry and freeze.

Rainbow chard is yielding well and should be useful for most of winter. The peas were again attacked by moth larvae but we had several good meals from those  the  moth left.

Onions and garlic all seemed to do well but since harvesting I have noticed that for some reason, the onions are rotting in storage. The garlic is holding up well and so are the shallots and both will  last through the winter . Other successes are the patty pan squash, the round courgettes and finally, I have just cut the Turban squash, one vine has yielded two large squash – I look forward to cooking them later in the winter, roasted, as soup and in a curry.

Turban squash

Turban squash

Rain, Rain, Cold, Wind

March 2013-snow in the woods

I cannot really understand how the winter has been so miserable for so long. I like cold dry weather but incessant damp cold is miserable. The allotment has been blown about, rained on and frozen for so long that I am surprised anything is still growing. So far my winter planted onions and garlic are just showing. The overwintering leeks have just been harvested and the purple sprouting and other brassicas have been eaten by the pigeons as both the bird scarer and cage were blown over. My potatoes are starting to chit and I hope to get them in over Easter but with the ground so cold I may have to wait. Let’s hope we get some sun soon.