Saturday, 12 June 2010


We went to a friend's house for supper on Tuesday and started talking about the rabbit problem. She remarked that they don't worry about the lack of wildlife between her house and ours (16kms) because they know when they come up our drive they'll see plenty. She's right, we have buzzards, lapwings, owls, snakes (could do without those), lizards galore, hares, hedgehogs and, of course, rabbits.

I can't be squeamish about this but the rabbits have to go. We have been invaded by them for the past three years and I've had enough. I don't mind sharing the excess veg but it seems that we are getting less than our fair share. Electric fences are apparently not strong enough - although it keeps the pigs in their paddock - so we've decided the only solution is to shoot them. Max has held a French shooting licence for a number of years - frankly I wish we'd decided to do this earlier. I went into the veggie plot this morning to find a baby rabbit munching away at the beans. Lettuces are worn down to the bare minimum and carrots, well, what carrots?

I'm afraid I feel complete sympathy with Mr MacGregor and rabbit pie will be on the menu as soon as possible. Beatrix Potter clearly didn't grow her own.

Monday, 7 June 2010

My wonderful bees

I feel that we have definitely taken a step up the beekeeping ladder this year. If that sounds like pride, well, it is and no doubt it will be followed by a colossal fall but let me explain.

Last year we had so many swarms we had difficulty hiving them all. It was entirely our fault because we simply weren't experienced - or confident - enough to take the required action at the required moment. "Go away and think it over" is good up to a point - the point being that the bees are following a timetable of their own and will happily carry on regardless of the shortcomings of hesitant beekeepers. This year I knew it would happen again unless I worked it all out in advance in my head so that action could be taken on the spot.

Because of the cold weather we were unable to open the hives until late April/early May. We were thrilled to discover that all our colonies (four plus the Wild Hive) had survived the winter and were busy bringing in pollen and nectar, the brood was expanding and all was well. However, the Oil Seed Rape period also bought a sudden onslaught of queen cells. This year I was better prepared. Still not confident enough to risk all the colonies I decided I would divide two of the hives by putting a frame of brood with a queen cell, together with nurse bees and frames of honey, into a small 6-frame hive. As I couldn't find the queen (she was unmarked) I couldn't do a proper Artifical Swarm so I knew I'd still have a swarm from the main hive but at least I had a back up.

From the other colonies - the two I didn't touch and the Wild Hive which I can't manage in the same way - we had swarms as predicted but as we were here we were able to rehive these as required.

So at present we have four main hives and the Wild Hive, plus four small hives containing either collected swarms or the divisions. We went through these last week and were thrilled to discover brood in all of them and were also able to mark the queens - I think I need marking practice though as the blue mark is more like a blue streak!

The next job is to combine weak colonies with strong ones and I hope to do this later in the week. Photos will follow and I'll try to keep up to date from now on.

Full speed ahead - strawberries

Just because I haven't been blogging, don't think I haven't been sorting out the vegetable plot. It's all a bit late this year because of the long winter - can you imagine we are still picking cherries and it's JUNE? Once again we have a good crop - more than we can eat - and the birds are needless to say helping us to eat them. Strawberries have been amazing too. Each day we have picked about 1/2 kilo. Since there are only two of us here during the week guess what? Yum. At the weekend we have to make a huge effort to share them but somehow we manage.

These are the strawberries I planted in the autumn of 2008. Last year we had a good crop. This year we've had an amazing crop. They are in the new vegetable plot (started in 2009) under a plastic sheet to keep the weeds down. I believe that I am meant to replant strawberries every two years so in the autumn I'm going to move them over a bit to where the potatoes are currently growing. This means the ground will be relatively weed free, well manured and in reasonably good nick. The plastic sheet will be reused (it's one of those heavy green ones usually used for hedging) and I'll take runners from the current plants. Hope it works or my name will be mud this time next year!