Friday, 17 March 2017

Let's keep bees!


I've been admiring the blossom on the damson trees for a week or two. Today the wind is making the petals flutter and dance across the vegetable garden and it looks like it's snowing, it's not, it's just the volume of blossoms being blown around.

The folks on the neighbouring smallholding keep bees, well actually, they kept them for the first time last year, but they plan to continue doing so. A few weeks ago I asked whether they would be happy to care for some bees on our smallholding, if we have a couple of hives here. They kindly agreed and said that they'd be delighted to do that. Phew! Because as much as though we like honey and neither of us would do anything to knowingly harm a bee, we are both rather wary of them. The thought of voluntarily poking around in a bee hive does not fill me with any warm fuzzy feelings. But if they are happy to attend to the bees, we'd be more than happy to give them a home!

I mentioned this conversation to my sister and brother-in-law and they know someone who used to keep around 30 hives of bees but no longer keeps that many. So my sister is going to ask him whether he has any old hives that we could use. If he doesn't, we can either buy one or we can make one, whichever way we should end up with a couple of hives tucked away at the back of the piggeries where the bees won't be disturbed and neither will Mr J and I.

However, if we are going to keep bees I think it's important that we also provide plenty of nectar rich plants for them to visit. Last year the fields that surround us were planted with clover and the bees from next door and further afield could be seen flying backwards and forwards all day long. I don't anticipate the fields being left fallow again this year which means that we should ensure a good and continuous supply of flowers that they find attractive.

I have several annuals that have now self-sown across the vegetable garden and I plan to leave them in situ to attract pollinators of all kinds, but I think we'll need more than these to support the potential bee population.

I have two small-ish buddleja bushes, one that was a small rooted cutting at the end of last summer and I don't know what colour it is and the other was a small rooted cutting this time last year. As it grows so quickly, this second bush is now around four feet across and three feet high. It would have been much taller but I kept it pruned last year to encourage bushy, denser growth and it now looks a healthy shrub that is bursting to put on lots of growth this year. I would like more buddleja, in fact, I'd quite like a short length of hedging in buddleja. This would boost the available foraging material for bees very well and so to that end, this morning I have taken some soft wood cuttings. 

Now I know it's rather early in the year to take cuttings, but I felt it was probably worth a try. The worst that can happen is that they don't root and I will have to try again later in the spring or summer.

I selected then strong shoots that have put on about eight inches this year (already!) and to prevent them drying out, I took them inside straight away.

I removed the lower leaves and the largest of the top leaves.
I cut each steam just below a leaf node.

I couldn't find my organic rooting powder, it wasn't in any of the places that I would usually find it, so without any further ado, they went into a wide necked jam jar filled with water.

I've put the jar on the kitchen windowsill and I will check the progress of the cuttings on a regular basis.

Hopefully by late spring I will have half a dozen or more young buddleja bushes that I can plant out along the boundary of the front garden, they will help provide flowers for the bees to visit and later in the year they will help form a much needed windbreak.

With the help of my friend Jane, we have moved some off-shoots of elderberry trees (well, Jane did this and I stood by and thanked her profusely) to form new bushes across the smallholding. The prolific flowering habit of the elderberry will be another source of food for the bees as well as providing us with elderflower for cordial and wine and elderberries for syrups, jams and wine.

Late in the year foraging, will be supported by the vast ivy vines that scramble over old trees and fences in the back yard and behind the piggeries. Hopefully, we will have plenty of blossoms for the bees throughout the year.

Now we just have to wait to hear whether we will be able to have an old hive or whether we need to get busy with the tool kit and create one. Fingers crossed that it's the former!

As I type there are some scones cooking in the oven and they smell like they are nearly ready. To go with a scone, I think it's time that I made a cuppa.
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Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Not enough eggs!

On Wednesday I put a small item on our local community page on Facebook asking whether anyone would be interested in buying some of our eggs. In my last blog I talked about my hope that a couple or three people may want to buy our surplus eggs rather than them going to waste.

Well a few minutes after I posed my question on the community page something amazing started to happen. Someone responded and then someone else and then quite a few more and then it became a rapid stream of people saying that they'd be interested in buying our eggs. As I type there are in excess of 230 responses! It seems that I won't need to do a delivery service, folks are more than happy to travel to collect them from us.

I spent Wednesday evening feeling more than a little overwhelmed, the positive response was a delight and they have kept on coming steadily ever since. As a way to communicate with quite so many potential egg purchasers at once, I set up a Facebook page for the smallholding. And I've amended the original post to say that I've set up a farm page, but still the comments from people interested keep appearing.

Anyway, I ordered some plain egg boxes from eBay (this is an affiliate link) and will spend a while designing a suitable label that I can stick on top of the box. 

Thursday the first of the local residents arrived to buy some eggs. It was very nice to know that the girls' eggs were going to be appreciated by someone else and not assigned to the food recycling bin. Since then several more boxes of eggs have been sold and although I will never become rich (or even make a profit) from farmgate egg sales, the few pounds each week will help towards the cost of the chicken and duck feed for at least part of the year.

The response was so good, that I feel it would be worth having some more chickens, but only if they are good layers and are dual purpose birds that can be used for the table when either they stop laying in the winter or slow down with age. Having additional birds here that cost us money to feed throughout the winter, purely so I can sell their eggs in spring and summer would be pointless. Even I know that it wouldn't make economic sense to do that!

I spotted an advert in our local farmer's store for a trio of Light Sussex birds for £20 and when I texted to see if they were still available, I was told that there were only two left but that they were free to a good home. Well, I consider us to be a good home and so delightfully, we will be picking up the new birds this evening.

There's another positive to this, one that is less obvious, but in some ways more important. And this is that I have met almost more local people in seventy-two hours than I have in the sixteen months since we moved here! It's not that folks here are unfriendly, just like everywhere, they are mostly lovely, it's just that I don't really go anywhere to meet anyone. I am more than happy pottering around on our smallholding and most of the time don't feel the need to venture further afield. I don't go to cafes, pubs or other places that I might bump into people and start chatting and I don't go to the local shop regularly as Mr J does the local shopping. So the lack of socialising is entirely of my own doing and while I am very happy in my own company, it has been jolly nice to meet some new people.

I have however made lots of friends via social media. A group of smallholders chat to each other regularly and at the end of summer last year some of us met up for a barbecue at the home of one smallholder. We had planned to have another meet up in November, but the Avian Flu Prevention Zone meant that it was unwise for smallholders, all of whom are poultry keepers, to go trekking across the country to meet  up, so we delayed the gathering.  
Now that the Prevention Zone measures are relaxed a little, we decided that the next week or two was a good moment to meet up. We can't wait too much longer as lambing will begin for many of the smallholders, so next weekend a few friends are coming to our smallholding for a bite to eat and a bit of socialising. Not only is it nice to be able to see other's smallholdings, but it's great to be able to pick a few brains about ideas for our smallholding. It certainly won't take people very long to walk around it, but the compact size of our land means that we have to make every inch count and work well for us.

As spring has arrived, Mr J and I have started to tidy up after the cold winter months prevented us from tackling too many tasks outside. Of all the maintenance jobs that there are, picking the weeds out of the gravel in the yard is one of our least favourites. So on Saturday, I grabbed a padded kneeler (block of foam) and got down on my hands and knees to work on a particularly weedy and grassy corner. It doesn't take too long to clear a patch, it's just rough on the hands and knees!

And as another growing season is starting my thoughts have turned to the greenhouse and planting seeds. I spent one morning a week or so ago planting seeds into module trays and am pleased to see that some of them have already germinated. Next week I hope to continue with sowing seeds to fill the greenhouse with small plants that are strong and healthy before the end of May when it is safe to plant out the more tender of the plants.

Back to today, before we collect the new birds this evening, we need to clean and prepare the isolation house for the new birds so that they can have a few days in there before joining the rest of the flock. We do this to give the birds a little time to acclimatise to their new surroundings and get used to us and for us to be sure that they don't have any illnesses that they could then pass on to the rest of our birds.

But before I prepare the isolation house, I think there's just time for a cuppa!
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I also post vlogs daily (almost). You can find my YouTube channel here.
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