Saturday, 6 March 2010

Cleaning the Greenhouse

This was the greenhouse this morning. Just to remind you, it was hit by a tornado several years ago and a lot of the glass was broken. We decided then to replace the broken glass with sheets of plastic that we had and for the past five years that has been ok. However, plastic deteriorates with time and sunlight and it has now got to the point where you can't see through it at all. Coupled with the fact that at the back of the greenhouse we "boarded" it up with planks of wood, well, it was time to sort it out.

Oh yes, and the grime...

You can see above how the grime collected between the panes of glass (above right where you can also see the black boards at the back) and also, worse, between the glass and the frame (above left - really disgusting!). You don't need to read the books to imagine what is hiding in all that grime - I'm quite sure some of it was moving...look at the cluster of eggs we found hiding between the plastic and the glass:

So we have established that it needed a really good clean! In order to do this properly all the glass had to be removed. Some of you may have heard that there's been a bit of a wind in France recently and playing around with glass is something to be done in calm weather. Today was the day. Not a breathe of wind, lovely sunshine, perfect.

In order to clean the glass I armed myself with a bucket full of the hottest water I could bear, a thick spongey cloth (this is glass remember and the edges are sharp - I have found four cuts on my hand from this job but nothing serious), two towels (for drying the glass - it's slippery and difficult to replace when it's wet), a toothbrush and an old scrubbing brush (the type used for dishes). All were required.

Max had other items - a flat headed screwdriver for removing/replacing the "W" clips and a nice collection of swear words for when the same clips flew out and hit him in the face - several times. (Also, a slightly peeved expression because he'd read my previous post about the greenhouse...)

The grime between the panes of glass was so thick that it took a fair bit of scrubbing - this was the job of the toothbrush. The hot water eventually soaks through the dirt so often I'd come back to one that "I'd prepared earlier". The scrubbing brush and the toothbrush were also used for cleaning the bits of frame normally under the glass - again, dirt had built up where the water runs down in gulleys. Yuck, Yuck, Yuck.

We took it slowly. First the roof glass was removed, cleaned, the frame cleaned, the glass replaced. Then the same process with the side glass.

This is the moment to introduce the hero of the day in action...(drum roll please)...

This really is not a one man job. Apart from anything else those pesky clips kept falling on the ground just when the glass was being held in place. However, we learnt something today - this is a job that is easier than we thought. Yes, it takes time and patience and has to be done calmly but it really was worthwhile.

This is the greenhouse as we left it this evening...

It's not finished yet - you might notice that the front on the right has no glass at all. All in all we need 14 new panes of glass (none of which were broken today) which we will get cut this week. I rather fear that will be the moment we discover it would be cheaper to buy a new greenhouse; I'll let you know!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Spring is in the air

It's official. After the dreadful storm last week (all the hives lost their roofs which were found floating in the moat - the bees were unharmed) the sun has come out. This has happened before but today it's different. Let me explain.

On the face of it, despite the blue sky, it is still very cold. The temperature this morning when I woke up was a meagre 3 degrees. Not exactly T-shirt weather. But the day warmed up and this afternoon when I walked the dogs I found I was being buzzed - as I walked through the field about 20 metres from the hives a continuous stream of bees were whizzing past my head and not all of them bothered to detour around me I might add!

Curious, I took a look at the hives and sure enough the entrances were all frantically busy with bees rushing in and out; most exciting of all was that many of the bees were carrying pollen so there must be some food around somewhere.

Now of course I didn't have my camera with me and by the time the dogs had walked what they considered a reasonable minimum distance and I'd got my camera from the house, it was already a degree cooler and the bees were on their way home. So the photo above shows activity but not the mass excitement of 40 minutes earlier.

It is still not warm enough to give the bees a liquid syrup feed but it is important to keep an eye on the weight of the hives (by hefting them) because this is the time of year when bees starve very quickly. We keep candy on top of the crown boards and it is still being taken down into the body of the hive. I hope that in a few weeks time it will be warm enough for us to open up the hives for their first spring inspection. For me, the first inspection is the beginning of spring and brings so much to look forward to. Of the six hives (including the wild hive) I am hopeful that four have colonies that will survive through to the spring; the other two are touch and go but I haven't given up!

But it wasn't only the bees who were actively showing signs of spring. More good news was to follow. On my way home I collected the eggs and was pleased that once again we had two - although hens lay less eggs during the winter, we have been worried during the past two weeks because we were getting one egg if we were lucky. When Max got home I told him I'd got the eggs and he was astonished - because he had collected two before he went out. And then there were two more this evening from our young hens who are obviously just beginning to come into lay.

Looks like eggs are back on the menu!

This year's pigs - Berkshire Blacks again

You may recall that we first raised pigs two years ago and it was a great success. We were fortunate to have been recommended Berkshire Blacks - they were easy to look after, friendly and gentle and, ultimately, delicious.

Last year we wanted the same again but unfortunately the breeder lost her piglets during a dreadfully cold spell so instead we had a pair of Gloucester Old Spots x British Lop. They were much bigger and equally friendly - less gentle purely because of their size. However, we had tasted the best and although the meat from these two was excellent, it missed a certain je ne sais pas quoi.

So this year we were back searching for the Berkshires. First stop the original breeder but she has decided to retire from pig farming. She put me in touch with the couple who have bought her Berkshires and I was able to order three weaners. The great news is that this couple are as keen on Berkshires as we are and are hoping to keep them for years to come; and they only live about two hours away from us. Perfect!

So, without more ado I invite you to click on this link and see what Esme produced last week. Clever girl!