Tuesday, November 9, 2010

More recycled dress

The dress has worked out really well so far, and I still haven't used most of the fabric - should be enough to make a nice poufy skirt.

The really great thing about recycling textiles is that there is so much you can do with them. Any off-cuts from the dress can be spun into a yarn, used to strenthen some felt or can go to Mammabert for her to hook into a rug. And if it all goes wrong you can use it to stuff a cushion or whatever.

Also it's so satisfying to be able to wear something different to what everyone else has got. It makes me sad when I see girls the same age as me slapping on make-up in the wrong shade and wearing ridiculous unflattering get-ups just because it's fashionable. They look like clones. Sometimes I honestly cannot tell them apart. I have certain style rules that I go by - I go for practicality (why are so many ladies' clothes completely devoid of pockets? Some of us have handbags that are too full of food and literature to fit our phones in!), elegance, and the hippy-ish quirky look that suits my personality best. If in doubt I ask my mum, who likes all the same stuff as me and whose style I admire, or my dad who (surprisingly, as he's a fairly blokey bloke - rugby, DIY, anything vaguely computer-related, cheffy chopping in the kitchen) who has unfalteringly excellent taste and always chooses amazing gifts - he just understands what makes women look nice. So they are my style gurus, along with Lord Bath - who else can work yellow and rainbow colours so well?

So yes. I am enjoying this project. Who knows, I might (eekk...probably won't though!) get it finished in time for the Winter Solstice or New Year.....? ;)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cider Time

Apologies for the long, blogless gap!

Today we have finally collected all our apples together (homegrown and scrumped) and have pressed them into juice, which we will then turn into cider!
Here are some pictures of the stages of the process that we have carried out today, and below these are some photos of the beautiful autumnal countryside behind our house, and my latest creation: what will hopefully turn out to be a Victorian-ish-style dress made from an old shirt and an old size 20 tartan dress. What you see there are the minute has been made simply from 2 sleeves. I'm making it up as I go along, pinning the fabric to the dummy and tacking it in place. Fingers crossed it turns out ok! Apologies for the quality of the photos, I took them on my phone.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Recycling Insulation!!

My Mum has an elderly friend who buys readymeals made my a local company that delivers to her door. To insulate the food they package it with this - WoolCool, insulation made from wool.

Sheila never knows what to do with the packaging once she has got her delivery. The WoolCool is expensive and the p&p is expensive accordingly. Usually she would just throw the packaging away, but luckily for me Mum suggested she donate it to my spinning and felting efforts, so I have just been given a load of free fibre!!

The wool is clean - no dags or anything, except a bit of plant matter here and there - but uncarded. The fibres are quite short as it's off-cuts. It's all natural colours, with everything in there from white to black. It's coarse but not unpleasant. So I am experimenting with it...

^ Thick and knobbly yarn spun for Mum to try rug-hooking or peg-looming with

I suppose it's good that wool is now used for insulation, as otherwise it would just get thrown away - apparently it is now actually classed as a useless animal by-product!! What waste! So at least it is getting used. But there are still so many things it could be used for before being put to insulation. Even if it isn't nice enough to wear as clothing, it could be used for furnishings, rugs, bags, slippers, stuffing for soft toys...and then used for insulation when the item was worn out. But at least I now have my hands on it and can try making some woolly wonders.
On the plastic bag around the wool, it says "it is totally sustainable, recyclable and biodegradable". Well, they got the last two right, but sustainable? Really? Last time I looked current global meat (and therefore by-product) production was absolutely UNsustainable, and we are heading for a future where people will have to settle for eating less meat and meat production methods will have to change drastically.

So, I'm happy, I've got wool ^^. But it makes me sad how a useful commodity - a commodity on which so much of our civilisation has been built! (Just look at Britain's medieval wool economy!) - is wasted, or at the most mislabelled and used once, still probably destined for landfill.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Yarn Design

I've been carrying on with spinning the yarn for my Blue-Faced Leicester wool jumper.

The first sample I spun was a little bit on the thick side, so I went on to spin a skein slightly thinner (below right). I spun it kind of worsted-ish, spinning with the fibres in a straight line. It's a lovely yarn, still a little thick in places, but fluffy and soft.

^ Newest yarn concoction on the left

However, it is a bit loose. The commercial yarn I'm trying to imitate is quite springy, and so this required me to change the way I was spinning. I change to woollen-ish instead, this time folding the roving in half so the fibres were also bent in two, and spinning from the fold. I find this makes it a bit easier to control thickness and doesn't blend the lovely oatmealy colours so much. It also produces a more dense and springy yarn, although it isn't as soft as the worsted-y one - I still need to find the perfect technique, or maybe I'll just alternate worsted and woollen throughout the jumper...don't know how this will work. But I'm really enjoying spinning a little every evening now (seems a more attractive prospect now autumn's on its way - didn't really want to be spinning wool in the summer!) so I am on my way...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Nasty Experience

Yesterday I had my first ever allergic reaction. And unfortunately it was to my own bees!

Dad and I went up to treat with Apiguard and put some solid floors on for the winter. Both of the colonies we looked at were doing great - lots of fliers still out foraging, huge populations but still plenty of room for them to be comfortable...all was going fine until we lifted the first hive up so I could slip the solid floor in underneath...

I have to say here that no, I was stupid enough not to wear gloves. Those bees had always been pretty docile, and the only gloves I could wear were sticky and horrible, so I thought I wouldn't bother. Big mistake! And I have swollen up pretty badly in reaction to stings in the past, to the extent where a doctor gave me an epipen, but I have always ignored her advice to "get a new hobby".

I don't know what made the bees unhappy, but as soon as I went to slip on the solid floor I was engulfed in a stinging cloud of them. I walked off quickly to try and get away from them, but there were still quite a few determined to make sure I stayed away from their home. I got stung 10 times - mostly on the hands and wrists, once on the head through the top of my veil! I've been stung worse than this before - 12 stings all up my legs one time - but never in such quick succession and in such a concentrated area. So my body reacted pretty badly.

I began to feel dizzy, my vision was going black and pixilated at the edges, and I started to find it hard to breathe. I sat down to try and stop myself from feeling dizzy, but it didn't work, and I still couldn't catch my breath. Eventually I started to feel nauseous - actually a relief, because it seemed to make my breathing calmer. Poor Vicky and Dave, the friends whose garden we keep them in! I ended up vomiting on their lawn, but atl least after that I began to feel better. The most stupid thing was that through all this my biggest fear was "oh God, I really do NOT want to have to stab myself in the leg with an epipen". Such a wimp!

Today I feel fine. Hands pretty swollen and itchy, but not as bad as they were last night, when I couldn't take the top off the peanut butter jar and appeared to have no knuckles, just podgy flesh. Feel a bit rough but I feel more sorry for the bees. When a bee stings you, it can take her two days to die, her insides falling out of her abdomen...I tend to try and squash bees that sting me to put them out of their misery, but I didn't yesterday. Poor bees.

But oh well, Mother Nature gave me what I needed - not only did my body manage to take care of itself, but I got a real stinger of a reminder to respect my bees for the beautiful and ferocious animals they are.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


This week we've been doing a bit of fruit picking, and smacking our lips in readiness for the fruit that is yet to come.

Our earlier-fruiting crab apple tree was almost bent double under the weight of fruit this year. We picked the fruit slightly unripe to relieve the tree, and ended up getting over 25kg of apples! So far we have boiled the fruit and strained it through a jelly bag so we get only the juice and not the sour, bitter pulp. The pulp's now on the compost heap, and the juice will be turned into jelly, syrup and all manner of delicious things. You can see the colour of the juice is a really pretty pink colour. Although crab apples are quite sour and you wouldn't really wanna eat them, the juice is delicious when sweetened and processing them fills the house with their lovely fragrance.

Pabi Bach and I went on a long forage earlier this week to check our favourite damson, sloe and blackberry spots. None of the fruit is ripe yet! The sloes are blue and just beginning to turn, the damsons are hard as bullets and the ripest wild blackberries we could find were just turning red! Our domesticated bramble has already yielded a few sour fruits but it looks like Grandad John was right when he prophesised that the blackberries would be late this year... it was a lovely walk though, and Pabi found some elderberries - not so good for jam (they have absolutely NO pectin in them at all) but fabulous for homebrew...

The ivy is near to flowering. Pabi and I found 4 different varieties in one small stretch of woodland on our walk. Ivy flowers are a crucial autumn feed source for the bees.

We also took Dad to pick some more mirabelles. They're nearly finished now, although there are some real whoppers on the higher branches, shame we couldn't reach them... but anyway, Dad has worked really hard and today he made Mirabelle Cheese (like a really thick jam) and Mirabelle chutney. The whole house smells wonderfully of vinegar and spices now! Both the cheese and chutney began life as Mirabelle juice and pulp (fruits boiled and then sieved) with sugar, and then we just varied the ingredients, adding cider vinegar, an onion, and 1/4 tsp each of crushed allspice berries, mustard seeds, ground ginger, and grated nutmeg.

Pabi and I are off on holiday this week, but when we get back hopefully the sloes and damsons will be lovely and ripe...as long as the farmer doesn't (brutally and destructively) flail the hedgerows before we get home!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Watermelon Curry and other Culinary Adventures

Dad went to a music festival over the weekend, and came back with a watermelon and some greengages he found in a hedgerow! Greengages are one of my absolute favourite treats; their season is so short and they're harder to find than other types of plums, but I think they have the best flavour. We used to eat them on the beach in Brittany, getting sandy and sticky with juice all at once. I can't believe he found them just growing in a hedgerow!

Anyway, there was this watermelon, and I had no idea what we were going to do with it. Then I remembered that at Christmas my grandparents gave Pabi Bach and I a book called 'The Modern Vegetarian' by Maria Elia, and that there were a few recipes for watermelon in it. So we chose the 'Watermelon curry with black beans and paneer' - only without the paneer, and with mixed beans and chickpeas instead of black ones.

It's a really delicious recipe - Pops found it a bit hot but the mixture of spicy and sweet is really refreshing and brings out the flavour of the watermelon (and I like it hot - as far as I'm concerned a curry's only good if it makes my nose run!). I know it sounds weird but as you cook it it starts to smell delicious. It's got a sweet edge but looks more like it's cooked with tomatoes than strange pink fruit!
It's a really interesting book actually; the recipes are so original and pieced harmoniously together from many different cuisines. It's a bit adventurous for everyday, but we've tried a few things from it and they've all been delicious. And if you have a sudden surprise watermelon sprung on you there are actually a total of 4 recipes for it. Definitely recommend it, and for everyone who likes their fruit and veg - not just vegetarians.
Anyway we made the curry. It was delish. And in the cooking process we discovered a couple of ways of eating raw watermelon which are delicious.

The first is to sprinkle your watermelon chunk with salt and tuck in. Yum! Try it with pepper too.
The second is to chop up your chillis for the curry. Then plonk a load of watermelon on top of where you've just been cutting chilli. Take a bite. Hot but heavenly!!

Apart from this we also stewed the more squooshy of the greengages. I stoned some more mirabelles and we had these fresh for pudding, along with some of the apple and blackberry mixture from Sunday lunch and then banana and Ambrosia custard. Lush.
Yesterday we had Grandad John (adopted, but nonetheless adored) round for Sunday lunch - roast lamb for the meat eaters, all the veg (including our slightly unusual family tradition of having spicy roast butternut squash and/or aubergine with the usual potatoes, peas, etc) as well as the first of our runner bean crop! And Pabi Bach cooked a delicious Blackberry and apple pie with a pastry lattice top. Everyone tucked in, but I'm afraid that yours truly ate it for a midnight snack before I could take a picture to show you all. But it was beautiful. And delicious.

^ no picture of the pie, so flowers from our garden instead ^^

Anyway, off round to Mum's tomorrow night for more culinary fun... ;)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Tarte aux Mirabelles

Yesterday I made this mirabelle tart, according to Keith Floyd's recipe 'Alsatian Plum Tart' (from the book 'Floyd on France'). On top of the pastry is a layer of egg custard and on top of that the mirabelles with a little sugar. Personally I would have liked the custard to be different - sweeter and creamier - or perhaps would just have had the pastry and fruit! It was still delicious though...I'll perfect my recipe and post it when it's perfect!

This is from the second batch of mirabelles we have picked. The first batch I stewed in a little apple juice. They were delicious but a bit sharp - I find that they do need sugar or honey with them, when cooked. Unusual for me - I like my gooseberries and blackberries completely sugar-free! Raw though, they're so sweet and juicy, really lusciously delicious; I can't believe perople don't eat more of them! They're amazing! They're apparently good for jam too, and are used to make eau de vie....maybe another homebrew project is on the horizon? ;)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Honey Harvest and Scrumping Season

Today we harvested our honey! I hadn't been to see the bees for ages, in fact the two hives that we harvested from today were practically unrecogniseable. Both had huge populations, whereas the last time I saw them they were two rather pathetic-looking halves of an artificial swarm. It' brilliant to see that they've built up so well, and hopefully with some TLC they'll go into the winter nice and strong. I shouldn't be too surprised though...these are the descendents of the wall hive (see video blog) so they can clearly take care of themselves!

^ The hives; opening up; bees on a frame of sealed honey; lovely docile bees

The honey is gorgeous and light, very flowery with a real citrusy tang to it...I thought it tasted a lot like elderflowers but according to F. N. Howes' 'Plants and Beekeeping' elder is nectarless and bees don't go near it. So it must have come from some other delicious blossom. We got a gallon of the stuff however - a decent harvest from one super. So not the stuff of beekeeping legend, but not bad considering we came into the season with 90% losses.

^ Uncapping - cutting off the wax seals with a warm knife; putting the frames in the centrifugal extractor; the end product!

Afterwards the frames went back to the bees to tidy up the remaining remnants of honey and to fill up again. The weather seems to have picked up a bit (touch wood) so hopefully they'll be able to get some more stores together. Otheriwse we'll just feed some honey back to them :)

And, as if our delicious honey wasn't enough, I can declare that it is the start of the scrumping season! We came home today with some little yellow mirabelle plums. They're a bit watery but lovely and sweet, and stewed up or maybe even dried in the dehydrator they should be delicious...I'm so excited now about picking more of them and the rest of the wildfood to come!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Holiday Knitting 2: Spinning The Yarn

Today I've begun spinning the yarn for my Blue-Faced Leicester jumper. I only spun a couple of metres to make sure that a) I can still actually spin (the last thing I spun was my Corriedale hat, http://arfellian.blogspot.com/2009/09/mega-update.html, I think - but even after all this time I still remember it! It's like riding a bike...it just came flooding back!) and b) the yarn I spin is suitable substitute for the commercial yarn specified in the pattern. I think the yarn might be a little thick but boy is it soft and gorgeous!
I started by pulling off a bit of the tops and splitting it down the middle lengthways to make it into two more manageable chunks. I then took it to my Louet Julia wheel and spun two small bobbins of simple singles on the worsted side of things. One turned out a bit more thick 'n' thin than the other, but when I roughly plied them together on my drop spindle it came out pretty nicely. The oatmeal colours have blended into a lovely grey tone - I could keep it more oatmealy by separating the different colours in the tops I suppose, but I quite like this grey...i's really silvery and light.
So where I am up to now - I have spun a small skein of it. It feels great. I'm just going to finish it by soaking and setting and then I'll measure out the wpi and stuff. But I am in love with the fibre. It's so nice I think that whatever I do to it nothing could spoil it. Can't wait to wear it now!

Leave a comment, let me know what you think! Would love to hear about your own crafty endeavours ^^

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Holiday Chips

Here's a quick recipe that my friend McFrizz and I invented on our trip to Brighton - it makes the naughtiest chips ever, really delicious. Enjoy!

potatoes and/or sweet potatoes (quantity depends how hungry you are!)
a little sunflower or other vegetable oil
a couple of tbl sp honey
a pinch of dried mixed herbs (or fresh; try thyme, oregano, marjoram, savoury, rosemary, or even a very little lavender maybe...)
a pinch or two of cayenne pepper

1. Preheat the oven to hot, about 200 degrees C. Place a large roasting tin therein with a little oil in to heat.

2. Meanwhile chop the potatoes into chunky chips. When the oven has heated, place the chips into the roasting tin, tossing them around in the oil. Replace in the oven at 200 degrees C still, and check after 25 - 30 mins.

3. When the chips are almsot done (they might take up to 45 mins, or will be quicker if you follow the tip below) drizzle and sprinkle on the honey, mixed herbs and cayenne pepper and toss again. Replace in the oven for another 5 - 10 minutes until the chips are cooked and just turning brown at the edges.

4. Serve and guzzle greedily!

Tip: the chips will cook quicker if you par-boil them for 10 - 15 minutes before roasting.

I think they'd be brilliant with a salad with a light honey and mustard dressing or could make a wicked chip butty ;)

Green Brighton

I've just returned from a week's holiday in Brighton, a city that is increasingly leading the way in moving towards a more sustainable way of life and which has just elected the first ever Green Party MP to parliament, Caroline Lucas. My holiday was more of a fish-n-chips and tourist-souvenirs kind of affair, but driving (on the bus) past a community garden plastered with "Boycott Tesco" slogans every day inspired me to look a little deeper at the eco stuff going on in the city.

First of all, let's take transport, something which the authorities seemed to be working really hard at. The bus network is fantastic in Brighton, and as the side of each bus will testify, they seem to be seen as "essential transport" for the city. There are cycle paths everywhere also, all over the city and right up to the beach. The smaller streets of the centre of town are really pedestrian friendly, although crossing the roads was an absolute nightmare! Luckily though the Transition Brighton & Hove's Transport group are committed to changing this, and on the plus side getting around on foot also opens up the possibilites of visiting the many small local businesses and whole food shops and restaurants to be found. (In fact I was totally surprised by how many vegan restaurants I saw - it was really amazing, but unfortunately the friend I went with loves MEAT and so I didn't get to try any).

In terms of food, Brighton is bustling and it seems that local businesses really work together - there's a food festival, a market, and loads more...but on my trip I didn't see any allotments or much evidence of people growing their own. However, Brighton has plenty of green space and parks, so hopefully as the Transition movement there finds it feet we'll start seeing beautiful green gardens instead of parched grass!

However, best of all I think is the sheer number of individual projects and organisations at work in Brighton. The Brighton Permaculture Trust has a fantastic programme with events such as Open Eco Houses and family-friendly Apple Day, and projects to renovate orchards or involving local schools. There's also the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership, which has a 'Scrumping Project' (sounds great to me!) and Harvest Brighton & Hove, which runs local courses in growing your own and eating locally. And just on my skin-the-surface trip I encountered a photographic exhibition near the peer highlighting conservation issues...even the most superficial of tourists couldn't fail to notice some of the city's many inspiring initiatives, events and projects.

In all, as a tourist town Brighton has to balance the needs of local businesses and tourism with their eco-aspirations. It has its problems - litter left by lazy tourists and no doubt huge amounts of electricity needed to power the pier and other attractions. On my visit I didn't see a lot of direct hand-to-earth action, but the atmosphere of cooperation and working together between local organisations and businesses was really noticeable (even on the pier, with the milkshake ladies providing cups of tea for the people in the henna tattoo hut) and the range of initiatives going on is enviable. Keep it up Brighton, you're an inspiration!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Holiday Knitting

My holiday reading list is already stacking up, and in only 2 days I will be able to start it properly! Until the last couple of days however the weather has been so miserable (good for the garden though - I've been very neglectful of my watering duties so far this summer) that I've been thinking about autumn, and that of course leads me to the autumn clothes that seem to take up all my wardrobe space and never let the summer stuff shine through...and thence onto knitting. And from there we jump to my latest project-to-be.

Years ago when I was first learning to knit I came across this cardigan by Sirdar. Loved it from the start. It's knitted in Sirdar Clik. But I wanted to make it from my own handspun yarn. And so I set about doing the maths and got myself a lovely 600g of oatmeal Blue-Faced Leicester roving from Wingham Wool Work. That was last year!
^ mon pull de reves, as I have decided to call it ;)
^ Sirdar Clik, in a multi-coloured colourway
^ beautiful oatmeal-cloured BFL roving

Now I've got some spare time coming up (although it's already filling up with all sorts of things...I have a horrible feeling I'm not going to be as free as I'm deluding myself I will be!) I have trawled through the vast quantities of rubbish in my posession and have unearthed to pattern, found my lovely BFL fibre, and my spinning wheel is waiting impatiently in the corner of my bedroom. I haven't done any in months, what with college work, parties and a slight weakness for sitting on the sofa watching Judge Judy reruns rather than doing anything useful...but now I am determined! Come the autumn drizzle I will have a beautiful handspun BFL jumper!!!

So, where do I begin? Having looked at the pattern I can see that for my size I need 9 balls of Sirdar Clik, at 50g/75m per ball. 9 x 75m means I need to spin 675m of yarn for this, not including room for mistakes. 9 x 50g means I should be able to achieve this with around 450g of fibre, if i do it right ;) . I bought a bit extra cos I was originally going for medium, but I have decided I don't want to be swathed in extra fabric so I'm going for small, but at least this will leave me extra for experimenting, making mistakes, and maybe a hat at the end of it if I'm lucky.

Anyway, so now back to Sirdar Clik. It's a 3-ply yarn, soft and quite stretchy, but full of acrylic or something. Of course, using different fibres to those specified with give my yarn, and thus my jumper, slightly different characteristics, but as I'm using wool, which is naturally quite elastic, and BFL which is I think the softest British-bred breed, I'm hoping it won't make much of a difference. But obviously I need to do testers to check! The first stage of doing this is checking the wpi or wraps per inch. To do this, make a wrapping:
  1. Cut a strip of thin or medium cardboard and stick some double sided tape on one or both sides of it, front and back. The cardboard should be a few inches long.

  2. Get your yarn, and stick the end to the sticky tape on the back of the cardboard.

  3. Now wrap the yarn around the card, making sure not to stretch it or allow it to bunch up - careful on the tension. Make sure the strands are sitting right next to (but not overlapping) each other. The sticky tape will help to hold it all in place.

  4. Continue for OVER an inch, at least 2 inches preferably, depending on the yarn(s) you're measuring. When it's long enough secure the other end of the yarn to the sticky stuff.

  5. Now, get a ruler and place it so that you're measuring 1 inch in the middle of your wrapping. Use the middle to try and get an average.

  6. The number of strands of yarn that fit into that inch is your number of wraps per inch, or wpi. So, if, as for my Sirdar Clik wrapping, I counted 12 strands in that inch, I know the yarn has a wpi of 12.

I now know that my finished yarn must also be 12 wpi for it to be of the same thickness as Sirdar Clik.

^ measuring the wpi on my wrapping

Anyway, from hereon in I need to get experimenting with my own fibre, trying to get the right thickness, ply and texture to my yarn. It's all down to trial and error, and I'll tell you all about it when I've actually got round to it ;)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Trying (and so far failing) to entice a wild colony living in a tree into a hive...

Since the last post, we have picked up a HUGE swarm from someone's hedge, and hopefully they've settled down now and will start bringing in nectar. In the mean time though, we still haven't managed to save that colony in the tree...any ideas, please let us know!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Another Swarm!

Got a call this afternoon about a swarm in our village (actually from a lady who lives in what used to be the old church hall where I did ballet classes when I was very little - nice to see the old place again!) so went to check it out on our way home.

Inside Anne's beautiful little walled garden we found a cloud of bees swirling and buzzing around, 2 - 3 metres in the air and about 4 metres wide. It looked like a good sized swarm! As we watched they settled on the hive-shaped compost bin - it obviously looked like home! After a nice natter with Anne (she very kindly gave me 4 courgette plants when I said mine had been eaten - chickens and/or slugs to blame. As she said, "we gardeners must stick together! It's so nice to be able to share plants and know-how with people - perhaps the best bit about gardening/beekeeping), Dad put a nuc above them, did a bit of scooping, and we watched as they walked up and into the nuc, the cloud dwindling as they went. Quite an amazing sight, even though I've seen them walking up before - this time it was in a very beautiful setting.

Went back just now. They were very quiet. Nuc heavy with bees, hardly a bee in sight outside. We just covered them up in a sheet and away we went! We had a sneaky listen as we put them in the car though, through the ventilation holes - the low thrumming buzz of a calm hive. Not so quiet after the drive home, but they'll be fine when tomorrow we take them to their new home :D

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bees & Beans

Yesterday we visited the bees.

Our friend Paul is a new beekeeper and now has one excellent hive going strong. When we arrived he had just captured another swarm which will be going in his Top Bar Hive. I've never seen one in the flesh before, and it was really interesting. The hive is certainly beautiful, and it will be interesting to see how it works out.

As far as our own bees are concerned, the swarm we collected that didn't seem to have a queen did have a queen, but there was still no brood (although they were working really hard - might even get some lovely honey of them this year). Judging by the length of her abdomen she wasn't a virgin queen, which means that she must have been the old queen from her original colony and had just grown old and run out of juice. So we squished her, closed up the hive and left them till the evening.
In the evening, we went to visit our other hives, where we had just carried out an artificial swarm. The idea was to donate a couple of queen cells from the artificial swarm to the queenless colony. However when we got there, we found an emerged queen cell, and that the other cells had been torn down! So our artificial swarm has given us a new queen, and as the weather has been good hopefully she will have mated.

^ Emerged and demolished queen cells

So we had to turn to plan B. This plan will take longer, but if necessary we can donate capped brood to the queenless colony to boost their numbers until the new queen gets going. We took a frame of eggs from our original colony (the Wall colony - now building up beautifully after the artificial swarm) and, trying not to joggle the frame around too much or to get it too cool, raced back to the other apiary and stuck it in the queenless hive. By the time we got there the queenless hive were quite agitated, and had obviously noticed they had no queen. But thankfully the frame of eggs went in smoothly, and so hopefully they will be able to grow one of those into an emergency queen. Of course, emergency queens aren't always as good as planned queens, but she'll be better than nothing and will give us time to make up plan C if we have to! Now we'll just leave them for a fortnight, come back and hopefully there will be an emerged queen cell, followed by eggs...

Today we spent the morning and early afternoon planting out the beans at last! Poppy also planted her brussels sprouts, I planted my squashes, and the greenhouse is full of chillis, salads and cucumbers. So after weeks of the poor plants wasting away in pots, they are at last in some beautiful compost-laden soil and perked up almost immediately after planting! Some of the lingua di fuoco (borlotti) beans already have their pretty purple flowers on them, and most of the beans are already happily spiralling up their supporting canes. So I'm hoping for a beautiful sunny summer and excellent crops of haricots and honey!

^ beans planted a while ago, and planted today :)

Saturday, June 5, 2010