Summer 2018- sun, sun, sun

After one of the wetest winters in Suffolk the sun came out and we have not really had any rain since April. The ground is now baked hard and the grass has stopped growing.

The combination of a wet winter and sping and then a warm late spring, early summer has given us a wonderful crop of blossom in the orchard. It looks as though we will get a bumper harvest of plums, apples, pears, quinces, mulberries and medlars. Only the cherries have had problems- the birds took them all before they could be harvested.

April blossom bee

 

The blossom has givent the bees a good start to the year, the one remaing hive filled with bees and honey. Three supers were added and two were capped with wax and after extraction have yielded 28 Lbs or 12.7 kg of flowers sweet honey. It is probably a combination of nectar from oil seed rape and fruit trees.

 

 

Hive with two supers full of honeyThe hive proved so strong that it stated making extra queencells which could have resulted in a swarm. So the hive was split and we now have two hives back again with the newer one building up numbers and growing in strength. Thanks again to my mentor at Stowmarket Beekeepers for all the advice.

 

 

 

Our Jacob sheep had a couple of foot problems over the winter but we managed to trim and treat once we could catch the one that had the limp. In spite of daily bucket feeding they are still quite wild.  Snowdrop who is the most nervy was limping  for a week of so and we could not pen her up. The vet was canceled three times as she jumped over 1.5 meters out of the fenced area to escape any treatment. We decided that she could not bee too bad and within a few days she was not showing any sign of problems.

Towards the end of May the sheep needed shearing, it was hot and rather humid, good weather for nasty flystrike. This is where blowflies lay eggs on mostly dirty or damp wool, the maggots hatch and then eat into the sheep. It can kill and must be very unpleasent. We

spray to prevent this but the dangerous time is when they are in full fleece, somewhat dirty round the back and it is hot and humid.

The sheep were penned up first thing, thanks to my wife being able to close the gate when they were feeding and trap them. The sheep still did not trust me as I had had to to pen them for spraying.  After a bit of a tussle, all three were a lot thinner and cooler.

sheared sheep may 2018

We now have three sacks of lovely wool and need to find a hobby spinner who would like to wash and separate the browns and  blacks from the white wool.

The rescue chickens, continue to lay most days but Bettie and Hettie have started to bully the smallest one, Nettie, so we have had to give her a fenced off part of the enclosure and her own nesting box. They can all see each other, and cluck away together but pecking is not possible.

Hettie separated

The veg patch is going well, we have had a good crop of cabbage, broad beans, asparagus and have made three litres of blackcurrent juice which is unsweetened and good with tonic (and gin or vodka if you want some alcohol). The stawberries have suffered a bit from a lack of water as have the raspberries. We are looking forwad to a lots of salads in the weeks to come.

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Winter catchup: rescue chickens, rain, snow, rain and snow

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Jacob sheep with frosty backs tuck into some fresh hay

 

Writing this in what has been one of the hottest summers in Suffolk for some time, it is hard to remember what a miserable winter we had.  There was rain then snow in December, then it warmed up and did not seem to stop raining until we hit another cold snap in February, then rain again and a final deluge of snow.

hives in snow feb 18

 

All this a played havoc with my bees. I went into the winter with two reasonably strong hives and diligently fed them throughout the winter. Unfortunately, sometime between the two spring cold weeks, one of the hives died. From the look of it, they must have gone out foraging and on their return failed to find the food stores. All very sad.

 

In October 2017 we finally got some chickens. Thanks to the British Hens Welfare Trust, we picked up three rather bald former cage birds.

I was really impressed by how well the BHWT organised the event with minimal upset for birds or their new owners.

The new hens needed some help finding their way into the coop  and up the gangplank but soon picked up the idea. By November they were running about as though they owned the place, laying regularly and feathered with bright combs.  The snow did not seem to faze them too much and they all seemed to get on well through the winter.

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Rescue hens settling into a free ranging life

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.

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.