Sunday, April 18, 2010

Spring Inspection

Today we carried out our spring inspection of our one remaining hive, as well as cleaning out some of the dead hives.

Looking through dead hives is always upsetting, especially as we worked so hard last year and we've lost a couple of decent bloodlines. But equally it was a relief - no signs of starvation, which would have made me feel very guilty indeed. In fact two of the three hives we looked at died in the cluster. Bees had died just hanging off the frames or digging into food, of which there was plenty. It looks like they just froze to death - no sign of any brood (the queen wouldn't have been laying if it was too cold - another good sign) and they were weak hives anyway. So it looked like it was just too cold of them. Of course we probably should have insulated them with a tarp or similar, but equally the winter was one of the harshest for the last 30 years or something. So it's nice to know that they didn't die just because of our own stupidity.

The other dead hive that we cleared out had only a very small volume of bees that were completely un-clustered. No brood. It seems the queen must have died, again maybe becuase of the cold (too cold to lay eggs > no new bees > population death > no bees to warm the queen up > no queen to lay new eggs).

However, our one remaining hive (the one we took from the barn wall last year - see the video blog) is doing absolutely splendidly! plenty of adult bees and 5 sides of brood - eggs, larvae and capped, and beautiful healthy brood it is too. They're bringing in loads of pollen and nectar, and they have stores left over too, mostly a mixture of sugar and honey unfortunately, but they still appear to be working hard. They're literally 2 feet from a 5 acre field of oil seed rape this year too, which has yet to flower, so hopefully they'll be able to build up their numbers even more to make the most of the harvest. They have plenty of room and were REALLY DOCILE - came as a bit of a shock after extracting them from the wall (they were rather angry - Dad got stung nearly 50 times on the same finger and it swelled up to the size of a golf ball just below the knuckle) but they were beautiful bees - absolutely unfussed and uninterested by the humans cooing over them adoringly!

So, after a rather large setback of massive losses, it looks like we've got off to the best start we could have expected. And fingers crossed for lots of big swarms this May!
The veggies we planted last week are up already! I'd better get preparing a space for them...

The ducks lay every day during all but the very deepest winter days. But at the moment the chickens are laying regularly too - an unexpected pleasure, as usually we spend half our lives trying to stop them being broody and attacking anything that moves in a fit of maternal rage. But despite the meat-and-dairy eaters of the house eating a lot of omelettes, we still ended up with a glut of eggs. So this week Pabi Bach made her wonderful Mexican chocolate cake (wonderfully moist every time she makes it, with spices to bring out the flavour of the chocolate. My favourite cake of all time) as well as over 40 meringues. But despite all this we still had loads of eggs to use up, so we decided to make some lemon curd. We used Delia Smith's recipe (too sweet but a good basic - next time we'll add more lemon) and ended up with 7 jars of lemon curd, some of which we've been giving away. It's incredible stuff, best eaten straight from the jar with a spoon!

However only 2 days since the great curd cooking session, the eggs are piling up again already. So I'll have to think of something else we can make this time. Any ideas leave a comment!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Year of a Thousand Beans

After a bit of a late start (not a bad thing incidentally, as the soil is still very cold) I have started planting!!

I feel that this year must be a bean year. I am growing 7 varieties this year and I got a bit carried away planting them today...about 200 bean plants I reckon. However none will go to waste I hope - most of the garden will be given over to them this year, friends will take some, and as a last resort I know some greedy chickens who will polish off a bean plant at the drop of a hat. The varieties I'm growing are:
  • French beans 'Cobra' and 'Blue Lake'
  • Runner bean 'Scarlet Emperor'
  • Borlotto 'Lingua di Fuoco' and a four-year old packet of a mystery borlotto
  • Dwarf French bean 'Tendergreen'
  • Kidney bean 'Yin Yang' - absolutely beautiful black and white beans!

not to mention the other things I'm growing, the usual tomatoes and lettuces etc.

The garden is going to be full this year, but I have cut back on variety if not on numbers of plants, sticking to things that are better home grown - e.g. tomatoes - are easy to grow - e.g. lettuces, chillis - and things that we just love too much to not grow - beans and squashes, for example.

Even so, why have I grown so many beans, you may well ask. Well, I think there was an element of insanity in buying endless packets of beans, but it's also because they store well (dried, frozen or bottled, like Madame Georgette, our French neighbour, does), are a good source of protein in the vegetarian diet, and because they're very ornamental plants that I hope to have climbing up every available vertical space in the garden. Also they're a piece of cake to grow - I remember growing them on a piece of damp tissue paper at school when I was 8 - and they taste GOOD. I expect that by the end of the summer we'll all be sick of beans, but hopefully we'll take the time to store them, meaning that we won't feel compelled to buy Kenyan imports in the winter in order to get something, anything, green and tender.

Anyway, I'm also trying out the Asparagus Pea this year. It grows sort of ridged pods that apparently taste like Asparagus. My Grandad used to grow it, and looking through his old gardening books and allotment folders etc, we seem to have been quite similar in taste when it comes to veg varieties. So this year I am following in his footsteps and planting this strange, short, bushy green vegetable.

As far as the rest of the garden is concerned, it's well and truly springtime now! We have blackbirds nesting in the clematis, the girls are laying so many eggs we don't know what to do with them, and my currant bushes have plenty of flowers this year ^^. Also the blackthorns in the hedgerows seem to be doing well this season, which should mean plenty of sloe gin in the autumn...

As for the bees, I haven't seen them yet this year! Dad has been to check on them and feed them to get them going, but as yet we haven't carried out a full inspection. We are very unfortunate to have only one hive left now, due to the fact that every hive had litterally pounds of stores but somehow couldn't eat it (easily solved, I hope, by feeding more liquid syrup later in the autumn this year). However in some ways this is lucky, as it allows us to build up again (always exciting) and we know that these bees can stick it when others just can't (and they're our best honey producers too). Fingers crossed for lots of lovely strong swarms this May however!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Edible Garden, BBC 2, 8.30pm on Wednesdays

Just watched the first episode of this new series presented by Gardeners' World's Alys Fowler. 5/10.

The programme had some interesting bits - the tour of Permaculture Magazine's Tim & Maddy Harland's permaculture garden for example - and I like the fact that Alys is intent on growing in a polyculture, even creating a forest garden on Gardeners' World. However I found the programme as a whole too cutesy and fashionable to be interesting.

If you're new to the world of gardening, permaculture and growing in polycultures this may be the programme for you, but there is more inspiring viewing and reading out there - just look at last year's BBC Farm For A Future - an indepth exploration of climate change, food resilience and alternative growing methods. The Edible Garden seems to only skim the surface, if that, of these issues, with Alys seeming more worried about the "prettiness" of her garden than its edibleness - of course there is a balance to be struck, but it annoyed me that she was spouting about the colour of her French Beans rather than the flavour, for example. And she told some downright lies about chickens!

In all, I think it's great that a trendy young TV gardener is bringing self-sufficiency, permaculture and polyculture to the attention of a wider audience, but hopefully this is just the beginning.