Spring 2019, warm then so cold

I am writing this in May, the coldest May for 178 years, which followed a very warm April and in Suffolk at least, pretty dry January and February.

All this  unexpected cold is very unfortunate as I was planning to do a lot in the garden over the early May bank holiday.  Still the cold has inspried me to look at my wild life cameras and to write about our veg, bees and Moorhen.

Fruit and

Veg

No pretty pictures at the moment but I have weeded and planted the veg patch. I leave it to weed over during the winter so spring is always a bit back-breaking.  We have broad beans, rocket, red chicory and lettuces growing well (but slowly).  The winter cabbage has now sprouted and we have eaten much before it actually flowered. Now the hens have the luxury of finishing it off.

We have just started to get wonderful Asparagus and Globe Artichokes both my favorities and only worth eating fresh from the garden and in season (at least in my mind).  The strawberry bed is flowering up so I hope we will get a bumper crop this year. The orchard has had wonderful blossom on all the trees, I wonder if the cold will prevent much of it turning to fruit.

Bees

I am on a beekeepers register so if you have a swam and live nearby you can call me up and I will come and try to deal with it. The oil seed rape in the area and very warm April has caused the bees to get a bit cramped and some decided to decamp off to new accommodation. I caught my own swam and got a new hive ready, oddly be the evening the swam had largely gone. Having checked my hive, it would seem that they may have gone back home!  Both hives were full of bees, I now have two supers on and was hoping to take off the first lot of honey in early May ( that was before it went so cold). As luck would have it just as I was settling down after teh dissapointment of missing my swarm, the phone rang and someone in a nearby village wanted me to collect their swarm. They were keen I took it away immediately so I could not leave it in the skep until the late evening. Still I managed to get most of the bees into the Skep and wrapped it in a sheet then put it in the back of the car and drove it home. I let the bees have a small opening until around 7pm when I ‘walked’ them into the hive I had prepared ealier. See pictures one hour apart.

 

This is the first time I have successfully done this, the bees have stayed and I am feeding them with sugar solution until they build up the wax frames and can find and store enough of their own food ( probably once it warms up).

Deer

Fallow deer captured by wildlife cam

Fallow deer captured by wildlife cam

We are surrounded by field and woodland, their are Munjac and Fallow Deer about. Normally we don’t see them closeby and hardly ever in the garden although I do have the veg patch surrounded by a 6 foot chickenwire fences to stop the deer eating all the tasty produce.

This year must have been a particularily bumper year for deer, We have had  a couple of Fallow Deer munching on the hedge behind the kitchen and one in our small copse.

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The did trample the electric fence around the hens but have only done this once so I hope they learned to avoid it in future.

The wildlife cam has also shown night visits from a large male Fallow Deer,  a fox  and some Munjac. It is difficult to believe how busy the garden is at night.

Moorhen

Every year we have a Moorhen nest on our pond, some years she manages to raise her chicks and other years they are eaten by cats, foxes, rooks or magpies.

This year there are three chicks all fluffy pom-poms at the moment. Mother Moorhen has been leading them over the grass and feeding them as she goes- it is a lovely sight.

 

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Autumn and Winter 2018

As usual I am playing catchup as I am writing this is the spring of 2019. One of the pitfalls of having a smallholding and a full time job is that things like blog posts suffer from neglect.

The season was dominated plentiful crops and by one sad occasion, the weakest of our rescue hens unfortunatley died, she had a year of extra life, we like to think that she enjoyed the freedom and the ability to roam freely.  She managed to grow back most of her feather but was always the weakest of the three.

 

Tomatoes

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With the really hot summer, we were overrun with tomatoes.  Much juice and passata was made (thanks to my wonderful Italian passata mill). We also used them in salads and in home made pizza cooked in the Aga- wonderful.

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Honey

The bees did really well considering only one hive was fully developed, we took over 40lbs (18kgs) of honey, it was really tasty and has been very popular wiht friends and family.

Grapes

Our grapes also did well and I had enough to make 10 litres of red wine.  I left the grapes on the vine for as long as I could to develop sugars, they were finally picked in mid November.

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From this …….

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To this – just before pressing

Apples and Pears

All the apple trees and pear trees fruited well, the warm April really helped. One of the pear trees produces small hard fruits which I am making into perry.

 

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The apples also did well, they sold in the roadside booth so fast that I did not have time to make cider this year. Probably just as well as I still have last years to drink.

 

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Meawhile the surrounding fields of barley were cut,  the harvester is so close to our hedge that you think it may be in the garden.

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Finally, as winter came on, the crab apple tree provided a spectacular display and food for the birds until spring.

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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 queen cells 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 be 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.

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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.

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.

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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.