Friday, 20 November 2015

The Last Autumn Weekend

It's been so mild that last weekend we cleared the veg patch and planted more onions and garlic to over winter.  In clearing, I realised that considering we had decided to buy no new veg seeds for the garden, we did quite well this year.

The Herb patch

Green Tomatoes for chutney


Tumbling Toms

Greengages - A revelation to me

Nigella has seeded all over the place from the Roydon Road garden

apple blossom
Apple Trees are not really ready to fruit yet, but give it a year or two

Another herb I'm encouraging to self seed all over the garden

Not grown by me, but I'll be planting a quince tree in the garden next year without fail.

And of course, what else does one do with all this bounty, but eat, eat...
So, I am very excited for next year, when we are officially getting stuck in on the garden.  I've already planted native bluebells and wild garlic along the fence by the river for the bees.   I've not included the bees in the list of this year's bounty - but then we didn't get any honey this year.  The chickens, have been great though, 4 eggs a day and I'd like to increase their number and add ducks and grouse or quail to our menagerie.

Much of the fruit we planted this year was left to get established so, there is some pruning to do before next year when I'm hoping we might get more of a harvest.  The tomatoes did well in the greenhouse, but not so well in the veg plot itself.  So, our old greenhouse from the allotment needs to go up for them next year.  With two greenhouses I'll be able to germinate and raise young plants whilst also allowing tomatoes, chillies and aubergines to thrive under glass.

And we also had a fabulous crop of potatoes this year.  We broke our rule and bought seed potatoes as they were to help us to turn the soil on the new plot.  They were quite neglected, so I am impressed with how well we've done, 4 sack loads.

Mammsaurus HDYGG

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Sunday, 1 November 2015

The Door - A Navel Gazing Post

In Ash cottage there is only one door that usually remains closed.  It is my workroom, Mrs Fox's Workshop.  Not only is it shut, but it has a key in the lock.  

Before moving I wrote a post called A Room of Ones Own: The Studio. I looked forward to how my new work space would be integrated into my home rather than a shed in the garden.  As it is, my work space has become a junk room and the door remains closed.  It's a mess in there, and I just don't want to look at it.

This last month I've had a bit of a creative break through and I'm starting to work again.  The door is slowly opening, but, the key is still there in the door. 

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Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Autumn Harvest - Greengages


In any new home your garden starts as something of a mystery.  I always think it is best to leave a garden for the first year and see how it works, where the sun goes, what grows well, what secrets it has to reveal. We moved on 26th September 2015 and celebrated our first year in Little Hadham with a bottle of organic cider at the village music festival.

One rather lovely surprise from the Ash Cottage garden has been the greengage trees.  There are 6 of them.  A little over kill I thought, never having tasted a greengage in my life.  However, over the last month they have gradually unburdened themselves of their fruit.  Little green goblets of sharp, golden, green nectar in firm skins of bright green.  They are delicious.  

preserving greengages

They are delicious picked straight from the tree, they are delicious in jam, they are delicious in clafoutis, they are delicious stewed with yoghurt, over ice-cream or in crumbles, they are delicious in chutney they are delicious in jam, we will see if they are delicious in gin!

Greengage Clafoutis
Greengage Clafoutis
They are a revelation that I can’t recommend enough.  Despite gorging ourselves on them, freezing them, preserving them in jam and chutneys and giving them away to friends and family, teachers and mums at the school gate, we still have more...

greengages in kitchen

Next year I will save up the soft fruit punnets from the grocers, and the little foxes can earn pocket money picking them and batching them up into saleable quantities to dispose of at the garden gate.

greengages in kitchen

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Wednesday, 16 September 2015

And How are the Bees Doing?

bees on honeycomb

Well, there is a long answer and a short answer to that question:

Short is: I still have a colony of bees that I am readying for winter.  No, honey for us this year, but lots of other bee keepers say that is no surprise in the first year.  The long answer is below, here are some pictures of me with my little bee-keeper assistants to ready you for it.

beekeepers bees
Little Louis Fox & Mrs Fox ready for an inspection     Photo by Una

Little Louis Fox ready to check his bees    Photo by Una

Little Una Fox puts the queen guard back on the hive   Photo by Louis

So, long story is:  I got more relaxed with inspections and things seemed to be chugging along ok. The colony built up in size and so I added my supers to the brood box and waited for the bees to do something.  They didn't take much interest, so after speaking with my 'bee guru' (Malcolm) I added some frames of drawn comb because, apparently, bees can sometimes be a bit uninterested in the hard work of making the wax honeycomb to store the honey in.  Lazy bees!

By the time I had collected the drawn comb from Malcolm my bees had made a start on drawing the frames of foundation that I had given them in the super. Clever bees!

mrs fox's bees
Bees on the brood frames    Photo by Una
They were soon busily storing honey in the new super.  And I thought I was well on my way to a successful first year of honey production.  I checked them weekly through June and July, tore down any queen cells I found to prevent them swarming.  We had a couple of episodes of bearding. Bearding is when the bees all come out and hang around on the side of the hive, making you panic and think they are going to swarm.  But they didn't.

I was a very happy, excited, quietly confident beginner bee-keeper, when I went down to the hive one sunny morning and I immediately knew there was something wrong.  There were very few bees outside the hive despite it being past 11 on a sunny morning.  I couldn't check them until later that day when I discovered there were very few bees inside the hive either.  After a bit of panic and calling a few experienced bee keepers for advice I had to accept my lovely gentle queen had left me.

A fellow bee keeper popped over with a frame of brood (baby bees) in case I needed to rear a new queen.  How nice is that?  Friday evening, just pop over to some woman I don't know's house, give a stuttering wreck of a bee keeper a frame of precious brood in case she needs to re-queen a colony of bees!

bees returning to the hive

Fortunately there was a new young queen in the hive.  I didn't find her straight away, but once I had seen her, I then had to leave the hive undisturbed for a few weeks to give her the chance to fly off, mate and (hopefully) return to the hive ready to spend the rest of her life laying eggs.  This has all seemed to happen in order.

But my new queen is not so chilled and calm as my old queen and the mood of my colony is very different.  They are quicker to become agitated when you inspect them, louder, the guard bees quicker to try and see you off and a lot more persistent in their job.  The difference in the nature of my two colonies is huge and I miss my old queen.

Since then my new young colony have eaten all the honey stores that were in the super, hence no honey for me.  They've also had to fight off marauding wasps that tried to eat their honey stores.  This they have done admirably, but then considering their temperament I'm not surprised.

I'm undaunted.  I'm getting this lovely lot ready for winter and planning to get a new colony next year and maybe try re-queening.  I've already got my name down for another bee keeping course, Bee Improvement for All, this in the hope of better swarm management and a gentler colony.  The next big challenge is getting this colony through the winter.  I'm treating them for varroa to get them as healthy as possible and starting to feed them so they can make enough honey to store through the lean winter months.  Wish me luck

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Monday, 27 July 2015

Our Hen's are laying

Mrs Fox's hens chickens

Mrs Fox's hens chickens

Mrs Fox's eggs
Mrs Fox's eggs - when our hens first started laying there was quite a wide variation in the size of their eggs.

boiled eggs

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Wednesday, 10 June 2015

First 21 Days of a Bees life

TED Talk showing Anand Varma's incredible time lapse photography of the first 21 days of a bees life.

He also talks about research into finding other ways to control varroa than chemical treatments.

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Tuesday, 9 June 2015

First Inspection

It was quite nerve racking.  I needed to; try and find the queen, look for brood (eggs and young) and for any queen cells (sign the colony might swarm), check the general health and temper of my new colony.

I also needed to change the old floor of the brood box* to the varroa floor, which sits better on my hive stand.  

The colony is quite strong so I added a super* onto the brood box.

The inspection took two attempts, one on Thursday 28th, then Friday 29th May.  I was so nervous I only managed to check the first 4 frames, before I decided to get on with moving the floor and adding the super.  The bees were pretty negative about my intrusion and the brood box so crowded, I felt I was killing more bees than I was gaining any information.

So, in the hope that there would be more room in the brood box, I checked the remaining frames the following day.  The bees weren't much more welcoming the second time, and I didn't catch sight of my queen.  But I was a bit calmer and I felt I got more out of it.  My colony seems healthy, the queen's laying and, other than a probable moth larva, healthy.

Bee keepers are lovely people, generous to those of us 'newbees'.  In the last weeks I have fired off slightly panicked emails to 4 or 5 of them and received suggestions and support, and it's to them I owe the success of these first few weeks.  In particular, Malcolm, the very experienced gentleman bee keeper I bought my bees from, he has been SO kind.  Responding to my emails, letting me 'help' him with his bees for a morning and answering my never ending stream of questions.

After a morning of bee keeping at Malcolm's I came back home to do my first confident inspection, and I found my queen.  Yay!  However, the bees didn't seem to be taking much notice of the super with it's frames of brand new foundation.  Boo - lazy little bees!

*The super is the structure that holds the frames with foundation (a thin sheet of wax) that the bees build the honeycomb on, which will eventually contain honey.   It sits on top of the brood box, which is the structure that holds the queen, her eggs and young.  After consulting with Malcolm, he suggested I add some drawn frames to the super, these are frames that have the wax honeycomb built on them already.  The drawn frames allow the bees to get straight on with storing honey and encourage them to do the same to the frames with just foundation.

Yesterday I went down to the hive to pop the drawn frames (that Malcolm had very kindly dropped off on the weekend. - See LOVELY people bee keepers!) into the super.  My clever little bees had already started drawing out the foundation themselves, three frames of it well under way.  It is hard to describe how pleased I was without sounding like some kind of nutter.  Suffice to say, I told my bees they were very, very, clever.

The kids have named our queen Bess, the workers are all called Buzz and the drones are all Dave.  Which leads us to much hilarity as we stand at the side of the hive saying:

"Morning Buzz", "Morning Buzz", "Morning Buzz","Morning Buzz", "Morning Buzz", "Morning Buzz", "Morning Buzz","Morning Buzz", "Morning Buzz", "Morning Buzz", "Morning Buzz",

"Morning Dave",

"Morning Buzz", "Morning Buzz", "Morning Buzz", "Morning Buzz", "Morning Buzz","Morning Buzz", "Morning Buzz", "Morning Buzz", "Morning Buzz"...

 What can I say, it's a Bee Keeper's joke!  And an inaccurate one as you wouldn't really see Dave outside the hive unless he was dead.  But it makes us laugh.

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Tuesday, 26 May 2015

I am a Keeper of Bees

I have been fascinated by bees for years.  I lived in California, over 15 years ago now, and a friend allowed me to help with her bees once and that was it, I've wanted to be a bee keeper ever since.

After moving to Ash Cottage one of the first things I did was sign up to the local bee-keeper's association and take their introductory course.  It finished a few weeks ago.

Friday was my birthday I had a wonderful day; went for breakfast with my mum and sister, Anna, received most of my bee keeping gear as gifts, spent the day in the garden, and ate the yummiest birthday cake EVER.  After a birthday party with friends on Saturday, both little foxes headed off for sleep-overs with their friends so that Mr Fox and I could get up early Sunday morning to pick up the bees.

A fellow bee keeper in my association was selling off some over wintered queens with their first colonies.  So we drove to pick up my first colony of bees.

The bees after returning to their hive the night before are sealed into the broodbox.  Can you see the blue sponge stuffed into their entrance to stop them getting out?  That was all there was between us and 50,000 bees in the confines of old Betsy, our 15 year old Volvo estate.

Bees are naturally woodland animals and like dappled light.  But they also need the warmth of the sun on the hive for much of the year in our temperate climate.  Although we have a large garden, we do also have 2 dogs and 2 children, so the hive has been positioned at the edge of the garden, close to veggie patch which will, at some point, be fenced off from the rest of the plot.

Once in the garden we decided to face the hive entrance into the hedgerow along the side of the river that is the western boundary of the garden.  This should encourage them to fly up as they come out of the hive, sending them as quickly as possible above head height in the garden and so avoiding collisions between bees and people.

Once in position and the sponge removed from the entrance, they were very active and have continued to be so for the last two days.  Non too friendly for the first 20 minutes they have since appeared to be quite happy to let us stand just to the side of the hive entrance to the north - they mostly seem to fly off to the south towards the fields at the back of our garden.  Watching them come and go from their brood box is all I've been able to do since Sunday.  I'd been told not to open the hive for a couple of days but just let them settle.  They were inspected before being closed up on Saturday and there were no queen cells - so, today I need to do my first inspection.

Best Birthday Cake EVER!

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