Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swarm Control

Yesterday (Wednesday) Flo and I visited the bees. 10 days from last visit. The hive we thought was looking swarmy was!

A quick look showed them close to capping 4 queen cells. Plenty of drones around.

Hive is full of bees and brood of all ages. Not showing any interest in the super.

Nectar and pollen OK.

So we did an artificial swarm into a 14x12 hive. Making sure we moved the queen and NO queen cells.

Today I revisited (08:00). Bees were very easy to spook this morning. Lots of them jumped onto my hands.

Didn't get stung though.

I took one frame with two Q cells from the donor hive (Queenless since yesterday).

We now have a (homemade) nuc with two frames of sugar stores, about 50% stores on each. The rest empty cells.
One frame with 2 sealed Q cells.
One frame with sealed brood on one side. The other side has some fresh nectar.

After making the nuc I went through the donor hive and I found:
frame 2 has a sealed Q cell.
frame 3 has a sealed Q cell.
frame 4 has the two cells we saw yesterday right on the edge of a frame. One is sealed one that is not sealed and they may be tearing down.

I removed the porter escapes on all hives for better ventilation.
Flo asked for photos. I forgot.

I think we will try the mating nuc at the weekend. Taking another Q cell from the donor hive. A cupful of nurse bees, some syrup and a sealed Q cell is all that is required.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

DIY Fashion

At the weekend we went to Wonderwool and the Mid Wales Mouthful at the Royal Welsh Showground at Builth Wells.

Wonderwool consisted of stalls, demostrations and even a fashion show (the "Sheep Walk") all about textiles, particularly wool, although there was also A LOT about alpacas. The Mouthful was brilliant - lots of local producers showing off their products, from birch sap wine to chilli cheese and white chocolate and strawberry tarts that looked like works of art - as well as cookery demonstrations. It was a really good day out with plenty to see.

My spinning and weaving techer Carol had a stall, and I finally remembered to buy some swing knitting needles off her. Apart from hers my favourite stall was Textile Techniques, who sell textiles and equipment from all over the world. I managed to pick up some amazing beads from Burma, Java, Thailand...gorgeous.

Carol's gorgeous handknits.

The main thing I want to write a post about however is the Sheep Walk - it was really good fun, showcasing all sorts of clothing - modern and traditional, sober and just plain weird. My fave outfits though were from two indie fashion labels, Raggedy and Wench. They make clothes from recycled materials and they are AMAZING. You wouldn't believe the stuff they create from cast-offs that you wouldn't normally give a second glance.

Raggedy and Wench's amazing recycled outfits on the Sheep Walk.

See their websites here: and here: Both are based in Aberystwyth.

So I came back totally inspired and have been making some weird and wonderful clothes ever since! I've always hated dress making but somehow this is actually fun - perhaps because I work without a pattern, don't bother with darts etc. and just go along however I feel like it.

It's quite lucky that Mum hooks rag rugs, because it means that she collects all sorts of strange old garments and scraps. Although lots of them have already been shredded, I have access to a fairly healthy rag box full of goodies. There's everything in there from curtain fabrics remnants to vintage evening it! It's great, it's proper recycling, and has the same magic about it as it did when I was little and it was my dressing up box.

Unfortunately my wizzy computerised sewing machine is currently undergoing surgery so I had to get the Old Banger out. This is the machine I first learnt to sew on but as I haven't even touched it for nearly five years I managed to bugger it up within the first five minutes. I think I've got it going again but I'm being gentle with it just in case.

So yeah, here are two works in progress, and some other creations-to-be.

Two dresses-in-progress: the one on the left made from an old top and a polycotton apron arrangement. Eventually this will have a big poofy skirt underneath it in lots of different shades of purple and pink. The blue one is made from old curtain fabric - it's just a length of fabric with a head hold cut in the middle and gathered at the waist...I'm thinking some flowing inserts and fraying fabric flowers.

Everything from old lining to brocade and a felted jumper.
I have an idea for an "intergrated system" too: any off cuts from sewing get rag rugged, any loose fibres/teeny tiny bits and pieces get spun into yarn = no waste! Just got to do it for real now!

We finished up our visit to Wales with an evening walk around Crick...I just love it how the mountains are constantly there in the background. It's just so different to our relatively flat corner of the Hampshire/Surrey border!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Home Made Cosmetics

Recently, I've got quite interested in making home made cosmetics. I think it must be a combination of Grow Your Own Drugs, The Apprentice soapmaking sandalwood fiasco, an article in Permaculture Magazine by Star Khechara, and the idea we've had for a couple of years but have never got round to doing: making luxurious beauty products from our own beeswax. Anyway, recently I've been looking up recipes on the web a fair bit, and today I tried it for the first time!

Of course, being me, I just suddenly decided I wanted to do it now, and went and did it: didn't bother finding a recipe, checking the store cupboard or weighing ingredients. It would either be amazing or a total disaster. "But how hard can it be?" I thought - after all my research it seemed to me that you can make just about anything from soap to lip balm to bubble bath with oil(s), water, and smelly stuff.

The first thing I did was go out into the garden and pick a load of smelly herbs: wallflowers, currant leaves, sage, lemon balm, Boles mint, fennel, chamomile.

I bunged all these in a panful of water and turned on the heat. It heated pretty gently; the water turned a cool green colour. Then I thought I'd add some of last year's lavender crop (dried) and a squeeze of lemon.

As soon as I added the lemon, the water went pink!

Anyway, I carried on heating it. It was smelling LOVELY but unfortunately I left it to boil...a stupid mistake as all the lovely fragrance vanished and I was left with an acrid and overpowering lavender scent. Oh well.

After boiling it for about 2 mins I strained it through muslin and a collander, squeezing all the juice I could from the leftover leaves.

Then I put three small ladlefuls back into the pan, with an equal amount of Tesco's cheapo sunflower oil. I turned the heat back on and melted in a few scraps of our own beeswax. After this came a fairly long period of whisking it, and being unable to decide whether I should be heating it fiercely, gently or not at all.

After a fairly long time whisking and oscillating between the three possible heat settings, I got fed up. It seemed to be emulsifying a bit, as it was turning a sort of even creamy colour, but it still looked horribly liquid. I filled a basin of cold water and put the pan in there, still whisking.

After a while longer I was completely shocked to find that it went all lumpy like curdled milk - I was just getting myself ready to throw it away! Kept whisking it, and it came out as a lovely pale, soft cream. Wow!

The 6 ladleful mixture filled about 2 jars. Having tried the cream I would say that it was a bit greasy - less oil next time perhaps, or a different sort. I'd also like it to smell nice - when the roses are out I'll use some petals, I think. But apart from that, it's pretty luscious! I'll definitely use it before and after gardening - has already completely rehydrated my cracked knuckles, and as I know that everything in it is edible, I may apply it to chapped lips too! Or a foot cream! Whatever, it's not all that bad and it's definitely useable. And the leftover herb-infused pink water concoction could make a nice addition to a pampering bath. Not bad for a first completely madcap attempt without a recipe!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My Kind of Carding

Only a short clip, but my kind of carding!

It's going to be a very crafty week: weaving lesson tomorrow, where I will finish threading up 4 shafts on my teacher's 8 shaft loom, before learning to weave. And then at the weekend I will be off to WonderWool!

I haven't done any crafting for a while, but I'm finally beginning to use up the toffee brown alpaca fleece I bought last year in Hay on Wye, mixing it with some Finn sheep wool dyed in spring greens and autumnal oranges, to make a beautiful brownish yarn with subtle changes in colour...maybe good for an warm jumper, hat or scarf. I'll put up some pics when I've finished a skein.

I'm also reading up on making cosmetics etc., thinking about what to do with last year's beeswax harvest, and I have a few ideas in the pipeline for some wearable all I need is my sewing machine fixed!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Just look at the 1970s NZ beekeeper and his hive about 30 seconds into this film! Wow!

This is just one of the many videos on food security, permaculture, sustainability, self-sufficiency etc. available to watch on YouTube - have a look!


I notice I've been using the terms "permaculture", "forest gardening" and "Transition" a lot on this blog, so here's an explanation of what all this stuff means.

First of all, the modern take on the age-old practice of "forest gardening" ( and the Transition movement ( both stem from PERMACULTURE, so to start with let me explain what PERMACULTURE actually is.

Permaculture (from PERMANENT and (AGRI)CULTURE) was first dreamed up in the 70s by two Australian ecologists, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Since then it has spread from Australia to New Zealnd, Europe and the US, as well as other parts of the world; there are projects in Asia, Africa, South America...Permaculture is still not as well known as some other environmental ideas (see the post below, Pondering Eco-ness) but in my opinion it deserves to be much more widely practiced, and could help us out of this whole load of trouble we've got ourselves in.

Permaculture started out as a model for sustainable food production - gardening and farming - although as it is a set of principles rather than hard and fast rules, you can apply it to any situation, in any climate!

Perhaps the basis of Permaculture could be summed up as working in harmony with nature, instead of against it. There are lots of green theories that claim to "work in harmony with nature" - such as organic farming, for example (although of course, this is actually working against nature, as even in organic farming you're trying to prevent nature from doing what she wants to do, by turning the land into field systems rather than allowing it to revert to natural woodland etc. but more on this later) - but Permaculture goes beyond these. It encompasses ideas from all sorts of fields - organics, conservation, low-impact living - and puts them all together.

What really distinguishes Permaculture is that not only does it work in harmony with nature, it seeks to actively imitate nature, the theory being that we can bend the rules of nature to meet our own needs. Permaculture works on the same bases of natural ecosystems: each element performs many functions, each important function is supported by many elements, etc. ( from Permaculture Association Britain's website - see useful websites below).

This is where systems such as "Forest Gardening" come in. Forest gardening is essentially producing food by imitating the natural forest, i.e. you grow apple trees, currant bushes and perenial vegetables in the same way as trees, shrubs and undergrowth grow in natural woodland. We can make our food production systems (in fact, any system) operate in the same way as nature does, and this means that everyone wins: we get to eat, and nature's happy because we're playing by her rules! (Needless to say, this takes a lot of designing, so much so that there are accredited courses you can do to help you get your head round it all!).

NB: When I refer to "natural woodland", I mean the landscape's natural climax. In Britain that means woodland, but even if you live in a desert you can still live by permaculture principles by bending the laws of the desert towards food production, etc.

However, the principles of permaculture don't just apply to food and other physical products (homes, medicine, beauty products, transport, etc). They can also apply to the way we act as communities and run our societies. The three core ethics of Permaculture are EARTH CARE, PEOPLE CARE and FAIR SHARES.

This is where movements like the TRANSITION MOVEMENT come in. The Transition movement was started by Rob Hopkins, a permaculture teacher, as a response to climate change and peak oil (the running-out of world oil supplies). It is a grass-roots movement that encourages people to work together as communities to begin the transition from the way we live now to a way of life that has less impact on the environment and that relies less on globalisation and fossil fuels.

So, as a quick recap:
  • Permaculture is a set of principles that allow us to create a PERMANENT CULTURE (food, communties, etc).
  • It can be applied to any situation, in any climate
  • It works by close observation and imitation of natural systems
  • It encompasses many different ideas - organics, societal models, all sorts of stuff

Three ways that I could implement permaculture principles starting right now are:

  • Allow the chickens to go broody - it's natural for them, just go with the flow
  • Allow my bees to swarm and supersede naturally (though I'd want to capture the swarm of course)
  • Incorporate variety into my life - learn a variety of skills, grow a variety of plants, be versatile and be more resilient!
So there you have my brief introduction to Permaculture. To find out more you could try these websites (there is a LOAD of stuff out there and lots on YouTube too): - Permaculture Association Britain - Tir Penrhos Isaf - a permaculture smallholding in Snowdonia - Permaculture Magazine (really good) - La Ferme de Sourrou - permaculture smallholding in France (brilliant blog, I read it all the time). - Plants for a Future (great for forest gardening) - the Agroforestry Research Trust (great for forest gardening) - the Low Impact Living Initiative - the Centre for Alternative Technology - Rob Hopkins' site

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Garden Plans

I have some plans afoot in the garden this year.

My dad has been very keen to move (and no doubt kill off) my favourite Viburnum shrub (strictly ornamental, but a good bee plant and early flowering, and to top it all it just has the BEST smell in the ENTIRE world) to allow more light into the garden, and I have been very keen to stop him. I think I have managed to persuade him with my plan to create a calm, shady nook behind the shrub, with a bench, nice shade-tolerating plants etc. And I think it could be the perfect opportunity to try out some unusual edible plants.
This is the nook as it is now - full of rolls of wire and bags of gravel and sand. Apart from that it's in pretty good shape - ground could do with some improving and it is a bit shady, but gets some good sun in the afternoon and evening. On one side is an area of bare fence, which admittedly isn't all that nice to look at and could do with some greening up. On another side it is bordered by a raised bed, and beyond that, one of the enormous ash trees that used to be coppiced but have been neglected for many years, to the extent where they form a "feature" and the council won't let us cut them down or coppice them again. But hey ho. On the other two sides are some mixed shrubs - my Viburnum, some hawthorn, another ash tree, dog rose, privet and lilac.

My plan is to green up the fence, with a climbing rose and some climbing/cane fruit - at the moment I'm thinking Japanese wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) and/or a passion fruit (Passiflora edulis or cerulea). I'd keep the shrubs trimmed a bit, stick in a bench, and some other plants. Here are a couple of quick scribbly sketches I did.

I'd like to make this corner a bit more forest garden-ish, so eventually I may try growing some edible ground cover, such as Mahonia repens, underneath the Viburnum, where it will receive dappled sunlight. I'd also like to try some unusual root vegetables, Camassia quamash and Apios americana (Ground Nut) which according to Plants For A Future are delicious. Obviously any plants I do grow will have to tolerate at least some shade and survive the ravages of clay soil and free range chickens, ducks and rabbits, but there are some other places I could try these out if they don't work out in the shady nook. Here is a plan I've drawn. The nook is the bit marked in orange.

Elsewhere in the garden I want to try growing Good King Henry (edible leaves, flower shoots and seeds that can be cooked like rice apparently), a Nepalese Raspberry (Rubus nepalensis), some Fuchsias (all of which produce edible fruits), and some Day Lilies - highly ornamental, with edible bulbs, flowers... I also like the sound of the orange peel bush, Houttuynia cordata, which apparently can be quite ornamental and is used in Vietnam as a flavouring. As we like Asian food this could be quite fun to grow.

I also plan to try and grow some climbers up some of the existing trees, and put in a really spiky one where the neighbours' cats like to come in to shit on my veg plants, sleep on my compost heap (haha! not since we turned it and released the smell) and frighten the poultry.

So, I will have 3 miniature areas of forest garden by the end, I hope (the nook and two corners outside our garden wall), some in shade and some in sun. So I can have a proper experiment.

Next steps are to start clearing up the nook, locate nurseries that sell the plants (the Agroforestry Research Trust seems to have them all so I may start there) and finding out when's the best time to plant them all. Fun!

Finally, I leave you with some pictures of the bluebell wood we went walking in on Easter Monday - the bluebells weren't quite out yet, in fact the ramsons weren't even in flower yet, but there were a few here and there. We also came across a hen pheasant who didn't seem able to believe that yes, actually we were looking right at her!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pondering Eco-ness

Today the newest issue of Country Smallholding magazine came through the letterbox. I was flipping through it when I came across an article by James Strawbridge from It's Not Easy Being Green and saw a sentence that went something like "trying to live as naturally as possible". This reminded me of the latest series of It's Not Easy Being Green when he was trialing hydroponics to try and grow "strawberries in December". This has got me thinking about what it means to be "green".

Firstly, I'll tell you the problems with the Strawbridges' particular brand of green-ness.
- separating people into "light greenies" and "dark greenies"
- trying to get people to go green by making them take a guilt-trip
- strawberries in December?!?!
- green-ness at any cost

In one episode of the most recent series of their programme, they were "helping" some poor bloke who was trying to create an eco holiday home, and rather snootily said that the wanted him to go much more "dark green" than he actually had. They were suggesting this bloke by organic cotton sheets, organic this and organic these people know how much these things cost?! Are they actually aware that there's a recession going on?! The way I see it the "green-ness at any cost" attitude is counter-productive; part of living a greener life is living a more peaceful life, and this poor dude isn't going to get any peace if he has to stay up all night worrying how he's going to pay for his "green" organic cotton bedsheets!

The strawberries in December thing just makes me laugh - I'd much rather follow Hugh F-W's example and eat seasonally. Frankly I don't want to eat strawberries in December anyway - whatever the quality, they are just too cool and crisp for wintertime. Give me hearty stews and braised lamb shanks any wintry day.

The pigeon-holing of dark and light greenies and guilt-tripping thing really gets up my nose. Ever since I read The Transition Handbook, my whole eco philosophy has changed. Alienating people in this way doesn't change anything. They feel bad for a while, but carry on as normal, and eventually will probably ditch the eco-preaching person becuase they've become so boring. People don't like to be patronised, preached to and made to feel like they're the sole root of the world's problems. The Transition approach seems much better to me - the idea is that you INVOLVE all different sorts of people, including local councils, businesses etc., and that you make a green future look so APPEALING that people will work for it without being made to feel guilty. The whole idea is more positive and inclusive, and isn't that what we want from a green society? A low-carbon, inclusive, peaceful society. This is unattainable if you stomp around frightening people into using low-energy lightbulbs like some Green Gestapo.

I have seen the effects of a positive attitude myself; my Dad and I have been campaigning for a new allotment site in our area, and the council have been really supportive and willing to give it a go, which is wonderful. This wouldn't have happened if we'd excluded them and made them out to be the bad guy - by giving people the chance to be included in your green schemes, you may be surprised by the support you get from unexpected and welcome places.

Since discovering permaculture, every other green movement has seemed ridiculously ill-thought out to me. Other people may see it differently, but to me permaculture principles just make sense. And part of permaculture is Poeple Care - i.e. looking after people, as well as the planet. Although I rather envy the Strawbridges and their eco-lifestyle, their attitude makes me grimace. It's this behind-the-times preaching guilt-trippy attitude that makes people roll their eyes whenever someone mentions green issues. In their eagerness to get more people going green, they may just be putting people off such changes. Giving green issues a positive spin is the only way we're going to get anywhere. Just look at the Obamas and their new veg patch! Loads of greenies have been saying "well, that's not enough, they should be doing this, that and the other as well". Come on people! The Obamas are making growing your own seriously cool, and that's way more likely to get people growing and greening than Dick Strawbridge giving them a lecture!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Scenes from the Garden

It's amazing what 2 nights of rain will do. Everything is suddenly really lush and verdant.

The hawthorn is finally out in leaf - such a bright green! Now that they have this cover, the garden is absolutely teeming with birds. Today I saw a pair of goldfinches on my niger seed bird feeder for the first time.

Fruit starting to flower...

And I know I keep going on and on about salads but this one was spectacular and included 18 components.

(Little Gem lettuce, Lollo Rossa lettuce, Chicory Sugarloaf, Lambs Lettuce, young Hop leaves, young Perpetual Spinach leaves, young Rainbow Chard leaves and stems, 2 types of Marjoram, Mint, Parsley, Lemon Balm, Chives, young Blackcurrant leaves, young Blackberry leaves, Pansy petals, Wallflower petals - all of which were picked from the garden).

Online Realtime Weather Station

I found an on-line realtime weather station just half a mile from the bees.

If it appears very small there is an hyperlink to a full scrren version in the text.

Book Review: "Getting Started In Permaculture" by Ross and Jenny Mars

Ross and Jenny Mars run a permaculture smallholding and education centre in Australia. Although the design of their plot included in the book features things such as Pecan trees that just wouldn't grow here in the UK, this little book has lots of ideas that would work all over the world.

The book includes small projects to help the reader start to live and garden according to permaculture principles. It is illustrated with line drawings and diagrams, and the instructions are mostly pretty clear.

Ideas range from unusual uses for old plastic bottles to sheet mulching and building a herb spiral using tyres. I'm not sure that I would use some of the old tyre etc. ideas in my garden, but there are others that are both ornamental and practical. One idea that really caught my eye was that of "mandala" gardens - small circular gardens that allow you grow things around a tree or compost heap in the middle, and that allow for easy access when harvesting. I think this is an idea that could be applied to small and big gardens alike.

Basic explanations of the meaning of permaculture etc. are included. It is by no means very detailed in this area - there are plenty of other books with more information on permaculture and forest gardening. However, I really like the fact that Getting Started In Permaculture makes permaculture accessible to everyone with a garden or allotment, and that there are projects that take up very little space as well as larger ones. The book does exactly what it says on the tin - shows you easy ways to start using permaculture a little bit here and there. You'll definitely need to read more books on permaculture if you're interested, but this one will show you how you can get going straight away.

7 out of 10. Recommended to those interested in permaculture; people with small gardens; people who don't have time to go on permaculture design courses etc. ; those who want to get going straight away.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Beecraft Article

I have had an article published in the April 2009 edition of Beecraft magazine!

The magazine website is here:

I'll try and find a link to the article.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Spring Inspection 2009

Farm Apiary

- both varroa counting boards taken home to be cleaned
- both floors washed down and replaced

Hive 3:
- lots of varroa on varroa counting board
- 6 frames with brood! Not full but a reasonable amount. 5 whole frames and 2 half frames
- nectar found and feeder removed
- no queen seen
- eggs and young larvae found
- 2 empty frames of foundation
- yellow and orange pollen going in, lots of pollen stored

Hive 1:
- 5 frames with sugar. 1 frame with nectar. Feeder removed
- 3 or 4 frames of brood. Mostly healthy, some signs of chalkbrood (shrivelled yellwy larvae in a few cells, small yellow nuggest, called "mummies", found on floor

Some chalkbrood "mummies"

- queen (red - 2008) seen
- 3 empty frames of foundation
- small amount stored pollen, more coming in: dull green-brown, yellow and dull orange pollens

Association Apiary

- hive 2 floor washed down, varroa counting board already at home
- empty hive 3 washed down and disinfected

Hive 2:
- 1 1/2 yr old queen (yellow - 2007) failing - virtually no brood, only a handful of bees, queen's abdomen very short and thin

- 2 1/2 frames healthy biscuit coloured brood
-lots of bees
- queen found (red - 2008)
-some nectar
- altogether very healthy, pretty busy despite cloudyish weather, the perfect hive (except for temper!)

- we squashed the yellow queen in hive 2 and put the nuc frames and bees into hive 2, uniting the two colonies

Other notes:
- all waste removed in black plastic bin bag
- scrupulous disinfecting of gloves between hives and apiaries

- we now have 3 hives, all full-sized
- 2 healthy, 1 hive with chalkbrood
- all hives otherwise off to a good start
- disappointing to have effectively lost a hive, but at least very little disease, all colonies strong and doing well.


A fungal spore that causes brood to become "chalky" and die. Like other fungi it thrives in unventilated, damp conditions. There is no treatment for chalkbrood and it is easily transfered from hive to hive if you aren't careful. The best ways to treat are good husbandry, making sure there is good ventilation etc. Chalkbrood rarely causes serious problems for colonies - you just have to keep it under control. Apiguard does have some effect on chalkbrood. I am hoping that as the weather brightens up and it's less damp, better ventilation etc. that this problem will clear up quickly and cause us no more problems.