Wednesday, 31 December 2008

I've got all the hives rearranged on proper stands now. The swarm checks out as 'near-native', meaning that most of its characteristics are those of native UK bees, but there's a bit of a discrepancy here and there. In this case, the bees are very slightly banded, and the body hairs are too short. The bands are brown rather than yellow, and, importantly, the characteristics are consistent, being the same in every individual bee. That's close enough to a native stock to be worth keeping. I still need to check out the new colonies - a lot of the bees have yellow bands, indicating hybridisation, but that doesn't necessarily mean the other characteristics aren't right. Then I need to watch them next summer and see if they're showing signs of mite resistance.

My own strain detect mites in capped brood, open the cells, and clean out the larvae with the mites. Some strains groom the mites off each other, and damage them in the process. These aren't characteristics you want to lose through careless breeding!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

I'm annoyed with myself. I had a look at the bees yesterday, and the small swarm (hive 1) has died out, apparently of starvation. I meant to get some candy on them to see them through, but I've been feeling so poorly I didn't get it done. It shows how much harm a couple of really bad summers can do; normally, there would be plenty of frames of honey to go round.

I had a close look at some of the bodies, and even after several generations, they still check out with all the characteristics of native bees. That, at least is good. I had expected to find more hybridisation, as with only a few hives, they can easily be influenced by genes from other local drones. either the queens mate selectively, or more likely, they consistently mate with drones from my own hives, without going further afield.

The next thing is to check out the bigger swarm (Hive 3). Superficially, they're rather browner then my own strain, but they do look like natives, or something reasonably close to it. A close look at the morphometry would settle that. It's a nice colony, and it works extremely well in cold weather, so I'm inclined to raise a couple of queens from it if it comes through the winter. But I do want to keep as near to a native strain as I can reasonably manage.

I've put one of the new colonies on the stand where Hive 1 was, and I've made a new stand - it's just a couple of breezeblocks on a paving slab. I need to organise a second one, then I've got all six onto permanent stands, out of the way, and safe from floods and rising damp.
The Pope makes me sick. He's not fit to be called 'Pope', the name means 'father', and he acts like the abusive sort. He labels and entire category of people (gays), good, bad and indifferent, and treats them like some sort of major existential threat. Maybe they are to his cosy fantasy world, but the rest of us live in reality.

What about warlords (I knew one, and it left me loathing the breed), greedy bankers and hedge fund managers, arms dealers, brutal dictators, lying politicians, and all the rest of the filthy crew who do the real damage? I suppose they're a more dangerous target to aim at; if you do, you have to start asking awkward questions.

I'm not sure religious escapism isn't as damaging as any of the above. It distracts people from real problems and real evils, tells them they're OK when they aren't, and offers the wicked a smokescreen. The church - the whole church, not just the RC's - needs to grow up and start dealing with the real world as a whole, instead of leaving the job to the few, while so many go on with the same shallow platitudes. As a member thereof, I'm entitled to be critical!

Monday, 8 December 2008

I got a new power supply unit installed in my main computer, only to find there are still problems. I think it's going to need a new motherboard at this rate. So I'm still stuck with the laptop. I haven't been well for a couple of weeks either, and between that and the weather, nothing's been happening at the allotment. The soil's frozen solid for one thing.

But I did get some new bees over the weekend. I got the monthly Association newsletter a few days ago, and there were a couple of colonies going free, a mile or so away. So I got in touch, and we moved them yesterday afternoon. The first one was very quiet, and not a bee emerged even when the floor came loose whle we were moving it. the second was totally different, they were mad at us, and came boiling out when I opened the hive at my end. I got a couple of stings today just taking the screenboard off the top.

I think the big difference is that the first is a small cluster, at the top of a double broodbox. So they had a long way to go to the entrance, and there weren't that many of them. the second is a much bigger cluster, with a lot more bees, in a single National broodbox. These are quite small, and as a result the bees are close to the entrance.

But they're sorted now. I've got to do an oxalic acid treatment shortly, then put candy on as a winter feed, since they're all so light. After that, it's just a matter of seeing how many are still alive next spring. Hopefully, it'll come a bit earlier than last year, as such a long winter followed by a dismal summer is rough on everything.

Friday, 21 November 2008

A few warm days hasn't helped much, as I haven't been feeling well at all. I did manage to open the beehives, as I found them all flying strongly, bringing in ivy pollen. Hive 1 has a small patch of eggs, while the others had no brood at all, apart from a few stray cells which were just hatching out. So they'd all been broodless during the last cold snap. I saw two of the queens in the broodless hives, so there's no reason to assume there's any problem there.

I won't open them in cold weather - received wisdom says not to open in winter at all, but with care, there's no harm done, and a lot can be learnt. I know very little about behavious in cold spells as a result, but this tells me a little more.

Most of the alliums are now in, apart from some of the garlic. A lot of the overwintering onions are showing, and just as well. I've been a bit worried, as if they don't come through before the winter sets in, they're a dead loss. I'm not bothering with autumn planted broad beans this year, due to the losses last spring. If I start them in February, and plant out when they're 2-3 inches high, they'll have a better chance if there's another very long winter.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

I've had to leave this for a couple of weeks due to computer problems. I'm currently on a distressingly slow laptop while the main computer is down. The bees are fine, and the new queen s laying well. The bigger of the two swarms (Hive 3) is more active than any of the others in cool weather, and has been storing more honey. Obviously, that's a trait I need to encourage, so I'm just hoping it comes through the winter successfully. All the hives are still short of honey, and I'm still feeding.

I've planted overwintering onions, walking onions, and some of the garlic. Most of the potato beds have been dug over, and neither of the maincrops produced anything at all. that will have been due to late planting combined with early blight. I won't repeat that mistake!

We've just had an Open Day, combined with the Apple Day in the Botanical Gardens next door. I spent an hour manning a table in a nasty cold wind, had a wander round to warm up, and then had a look round the Botanical Gardens. The Tennis Club had some turn they'd lifted from one of the courts, so I had some of that; I might have a few more barrow loads if the weather's not too bad tomorrow, as there's loads there.

Friday, 3 October 2008

I've managed to check the hives today, despite mad preparations for Namissa's Eid party tomorrow. The good news is that Hive 1 has patches of brood on two frames. The bad is that it has almost no stores. I'll be feeding all winter at this rate, but at least it has a chance.

Hives 2 and 4 are also light, but at least they have some stores, and I'll keep feeding. They're strong enough to take the feed down at a decent rate, unlike hive 1. 3 is the only exception; it's pretty much full of stores. They've obviously been going like mad during the better weather.

Apart from the lack of stores they're all looking pretty healthy.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The good weather appears to be over, just as the ivy was beginning to flower, and the bees looked as though they had a chance of building up their honey stores for the winter. That, of course, makes feeding even more important. I don't normally do it, apart from small or newly-established colonies which don't have an accumulation of honey in the broodbox. This year, however, everything except Hive 1, which is too weak to manage so much, is getting 8kg of sugar, and I'll be watching them closely over the winter. It's not what I like doing, but for once, after two dreadful summers. it's worht it in order to avoid the risk of good colonies starving.

Normally, if a colony doesn't store enough to get through the winter, it's best to get rid of it and its genes. With only a few colonies, I've begun to think that it's better, instead of letting it starve, to keep taking frames out so that it never becomes big enough to raise drones and pass on its genes. Then it can be requeened from a better hive when I'm ready.

Bad weather in summer is very bad for the imported strains, which don't mate properly in poor conditions. So their queens will have been failing, while native types will have had more success. So there should have been some selection in favour of the better-adapted strains I'm interested in. Doubtless poor mating will have contributed to the 30% of hives which failed over winter, given the number of queens which are either imported, or raised from imported stocks.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

We've had a couple of days which have been warm enough for drones to fly freely, so hopefully the new queen should be well mated by now. They mate with a dozen or so drones, and need to get the number reasonably high or they fizzle out over the winter. I've lost a lot of colonies that way in the past, but waiting till late summer or early autumn seems to be giving better results so far. Hopefully I've now got the four hives headed by well-mated queens, but since three of them were raised this year, it's impossible to be completely certain.

I've dosed them all with sugar syrup containing fumidil-B, an antibiotic derived from a fungus called Aspergillus fumigatus. It treats Nosema, a bacterial disease of the bee's gut, which shortens its life and leads to the collapse of colonies over the winter. I've no proof that my bees have it, but I'm suspicious, and I don't currently have access to a microscope. It'll do no harm to be certain.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Hive 1, the small swarm, is behaving in the usual agitated manner you get with colonies which have been queenless for a while. I don't need to open that one to see what state it's in! Hive 2, the former 'foreign' colony, has nice patches of flat-capped worker brood, and lots of eggs and young brood. So all's well there. Hives 3 and 4 both have decent sized, but slowly shrinking, broodnests.

The only concern is that none of the hives have as much in the way of stores as I'd expect this time of year. I've been hearing of other peoples' colonies starving in the vile weather; mine are nowhere near that bad, but will need feeding as a precaution. I wouldn't normally expect to do that with an established colony, but after two terrible summers it's as well to be cautious.

I extracted what honey there was the other day, a miserable ten pounds. That's ten pounds more than I got last year, which was even worse in that respect, but at least it brightened up in time for the bees to gather stores for themselves.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

There's one piece of good news, Hive 2 (the 'foreign' hive) now has a large expanse of eggs, so hopefully that queen's going to be OK. Hive 1 (the little swarm) has a capped queen cell by now; I went through it on Tuesday and broke down all but one uncapped cell. That way I eliminated every queen being raised from a larva that was too old to convert properly. Hopefully they'll be OK, but the colony is decidedly small to be raising a queen.

Apart form that, it's been raining all week, and my head is splitting.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

I've put numbers on the roofs of all four hives. I tried numbering them before, but I put the numbers on the broodboxes, and it got confusing when I moved colonies from one box to another. I can easily move the roof with the colony.

Colony 1 is the weak swarm. It's had less brood week by week, and this week I discovered queen cells, so it's given up on that queen. Rather than have a queen from dodgy stock, I broke down all the cells, and gave them a frame of brood of my own strain, to raise one from. There's plenty of time yet, native strains will often raise queens in early autumn.

Colony 2 is the 'foreign' hive. No brood as yet.

Colony 3 is the strong swarm, which is looking really healthy, with lovely black bees.

Colony 4 is my old colony, which again os looking rally good.

The peas have finished, and I've started getting seed off them for next year. I left the Ne Plus Ultra too long, and I'll have to supplement what I've saved with bought seed. Someone sent me some Lancashire Lad, a purple-podded variety, and Salmon-Flowered Pea, to try next year.

I've got rid of the tomatoes, due to hopeless blight, and started digging out one or two of the weedy areas. That's going to be the main job for the next few months, along with mulching. I want to do more winter mulching with dead leaves, as it should help keep the weeds down next year.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

The potatoes and tomatoes are pretty well wiped out with blight, not surprisingly given the miserable weather. I need to cut them all down; I'll still get a potato crop (Vanessa is good despite some having rotted due to the effects of flooding) but there aren't too many tomatoes, and they're all green. I might make a bit of chutney.

I got a third for my garlic in the site show. I'm not too pleased with myself, but never mind, it brings people together. I only had four entries, and nothng else got anything. The peas are cropping magnificently, and I've started on the sweet corn, so it's not all bad.

The smaller of those two swarms is besieged by wasps, which have been finding their way into the roof in hundreds. They don't seem to be getting any further; they're after sugar syrup. Apart from that, the hives are looking good, and hopefully I'll soon have a mated queen in the 'foreign' hive. The big hive is cutting down the size of the broodnest, but I'm encouraged by the way it almost filled a 14x12 box at the height of summer. That's the sort of colony that will really bring in a crop in a decent year. I need to get the honey off now, before they take it all down into the broodbox. There's not a lot there, but a little is a lot better than nothing.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

That was the worst flooding we've had for several years; my plot drained in 24 hours, but other people didn't get off so lightly. Something's hit the tomatoes. My neighbour thinks it's blight, but they don't have the classic symptoms, so I'm hoping it's just the effects of the flood, and they'll recover. Otherwise, the sweet corn is flourishing, but the squashes are a mixed bunch. The plants in full sun are flourishing, but anything with any shade at all has just sulked and done nothing. I often underplant them with corn, or anything which is due to come out within a short time, but this year it just hasn't worked at all.

Those two swarms are both flourishing, with lots of flat-topped worker brood. The 'foreign' colony is well on the way to raising a new queen, from a frame of brood of my own strain. So no problems there. The trick is to get rid of their queen, and give them a week or so, in which they start raising new queens. Then destroy all the queen cells. By that time, thier own brood is too old to be converted into queens.

Give them a frame of eggs and young brood of a strin you do want, and they have no choice but to raise a queen from it. Leave it four days, then break down any capped cells. They cap then five days after hatching, andanything capped after four days was raised from a larva which was too old to make a good queen. Leave them a couple of open cells, and let them get on with it. As long as there are hives nearby with lots of drones, it usually works.

Monday, 28 July 2008

It's probably just me, but my internet connection has slowed down to the point where it's taking a couple of minutes to load a page. Infuriating!

We've been sweltering for the last few days, but I've only just recovered from a bad stomach bug, and not much has been happening. I checked the hives the other day; both swarms now have eggs and brood, and are looking good. Nothing had got to the point of being capped though, so I still lack the final proof that I have healthy workier brood. I've squashed that queen I don't want, and I'll be giving that hive some young brood from my best hive next weekend, so they can raise a queen of my own strain.

Tonight we had three separate thunderstorms over about two hours, with the sluicegates of heaven standing temporarily open. I just hope the allotment isn't too badly flooded.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

I had a look at the two swarms today; neither has a trace of brood. This implies that both are casts, that is, secondary swarms headed by virgin queens. Hopefully the queens are present, and will mate with my drones, and start laying. I'll check again in a couple of weeks. If there is still no brood, no matter, as I'm planning to raise queens soon anyway.

I'm gradually feeling better, and more able to cope with the work on the plot. I don't know what sort of stomach upset it was that I came down with, but it's been about three weeks now, and I'm still not really feeling well. It's lucky we're into the school holidays.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

I acquired two bee swarms last week. On Monday, I had a phone call from another beekeeper, would I like one he had? Of course, I said yes. It turned out to be quite small, like most of this year's swarms, but obviously with the potential to build up in time. So that went in one of the empty hives. Then on Friday, I got to the allotment to see another, much bigger, swarm hanging on the side of the other empty hive. There's nothing extraordinary in that; they're attracted by the smell of old broodcomb, and I've had bees arrive and move in before now. So that one was soon hived as well.
They're both Italian/native hybrids, like most of the bees I come across, but they seem good tempered, which a lot of hybrid bees aren't. Both have a good sprinkling of black, native-looking bees, so they may be close enough to the original British bee to be worth keeping, despite so many having a yellow stripe.
Meanwhile the weather's warmed up a bit. Maybe we'll get a summer after all.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

The weather has turned pretty nasty, with a thundery shower and torrential rain this afternoon. I'm not complaining too much though, as the ground was quite dry when I lifted the early garlic yesterday. The bulbs are really good; much better than last year. I've lifted the walking onions as well; some of the bulbs are three inches across. I'm going to plant them all, so I can hope for a good crop next year. The bigger the bulb, the more bulbs there seem to be in the eventual clump. I'm assuming they've now reached their maximum size, but time will tell.

I've had an upset stomach all week, and haven't got that much done, but the squashes are now all planted out. None of the tender veg is looking that good so far, doubtless due to the chilly weather. The peas, however, are looking magnificent, and the first pods are beginning to swell.

I've given the bees a frame of foundation to draw. That's just a sheet of beeswax in a frame, embossed witht a hexagonal pattern. The broodbox is stuffed with bees, so they'll draw it into comb in no time. If I keep feeeding them in, that'll enable me to get rid of some nasty old comb I'm still stuck with. I've got too much of it. I wanted to start doing this earlier, but it goes much better when there are lots of bees in the box. They've finally started putting honey in the first super, and after last year, it's a real relief to see it.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

The main beehive is building up nicely, and starting to move into the supers, where honey is stored. It's very late doing so, and part of that is undoubtedly the oversize broodboxes I'm using. I'm sometimes tempted to go back to standard Nationals, which may be more suited to this type of bee. Part of it, though, is down to hygienic behaviour. They detect larvae with something wrong with them, usually parasitisation by the varroa mite, and remove them. The cells are uncovered when they're at the pink-eyed stage, about 14 days after the egg is laid, then over a few days, the pupae are removed; either eaten on the spot, or dragged out and dumped on the hive floor. Some are bodily removed from the hive, but most appear to be eaten. This slows varroa reproduction seriously, and is probably, along with biting, the way we're eventually going to breed fully resistant bees. On the other hand, it does sacrifice a significant number of workers which would otherwise have been bringing in honey.

Most of the tender veg are now planted out, with only the butternut squash, chillies and aubergines to go. The two toms I tried to re-root have done so successfully, but several have been lost to slugs. I economised on the number of plants I grew, and ended up with no spares, which was a mistake. The overwintered broad beans have cropped really well, despite a lot having failed to come through the long winter. It won't be long before I have a few more crops coming in!

The GCSE marking finished last night, unexpectedly - I don't know how the last few thousand questions got done so fast unless a lot of people worked through the night, and I wonder about the quality of some of the resulting marking! However, it's a horrible job, and after a few weeks of it I end up climbing the wall.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

The Purple-Podded Peas and the Ne Plus Ultra are beginning to flower, and the sweetcorn and tomatoes are all planted out. The corn has been interplanted with onions; I haven't tried this before, but hopefully it won't affect the onions, and it saves on space. I made a mistake not growing spare tomato seedlings; I broke two off at the stem bases, so unless I can root them fast, I won't be getting any fruit of those two plants. Two have collapsed, with the stems appearing to have rotted partway up. I don't know what that is; I spotted it today, and the bases still look OK. The Big Max pumpkins are in, one of either side of a big soil mountain they can trail over, and the rest of the squashes and the beans can go out during the week. If I run out of space I can just pot some of the squashes up for a bit.

The first of the early garlic (Purple Wight) has fallen over, so I should be lifting that in the next week or so. It's about time as I find the stored bulbs only last till about April. One of the cardoons, which I've grown on from last year, has a bud. the original plant has now been divided into three, and at that rate I should soon have a good-sized clump. The walking onions, which I've been growing on for two years, are developing into shallot-sized bulbs, with big clusters of small bulbs at the tops of the stems. It's a strange-looking plant, and I've yet to taste one!

Meanwhile, grass is growing like mad, it's waist-high in places, and the flower beds are full of weeds. I'm bogged down with leading a team of GCSE examiners for one paper, plus marking a second, so time for the plot is decidedly limited for the next few weeks.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

The hybrid hive had four frames of brood when I checked yesterday, so I moved one out and gave it to the other hive, as I don't want that one building up to the point where it produces drones. It wasn't in a good temper, and my cuffs were covered in bees angrily stinging the cloth. I've had worse experiences, but it's definitely not a strain I want to perpetuate.

I've pulled a muscle in my back, which slightly limits what I can do, but I've been planting out the Alderman peas. I'm using wigwams made with six eight-foot poles, with string spiralled round to allow the tendrils to grip. Looking at the ones I planted out before, I may have too many plants per wigwam, but time will tell.

The Aquadulce Claudia beans are coming along, and the first will shortly be ready for picking. The tips are covered in blackfly, but they never seem to do much harm so I'm leaving them. The Grando Violetto are just beginning to flower as the Aquadulce are finishing. Nineteen out of twenty asparagus plants are up, and I'm expecting the last to appear daily.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

The spuds are all in, and I'm partway through mulching them. They get six inches of grass cuttings, but I don't earth them up at all. As long as we don't get a 'summer' like last, when everything susceptible succumbed to blight early on, they do well.

Most of the asparagus is now up; it's been taking its time, but once it gets going, it comes up really strongly. The tender veg are mostly ready to go out, but given the fluctuating temperatures recently, I'm not taking the plunge yet.

The bees are doing well; one hive now has six frames of brood, whille the other is still on three, and quietly building up. The stronger one should soon get to the pont where it has enough foragers to bring in a surplus of honey.

I got back last night from a two-day examiners' meeting in london. Not my idea of fun, it's boring and exhausting, cooped up all day in a too-hot windowless room. But it's over, I managed some time at the British Museum, and saw my daughter. So it wasn't all frustration.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Both hives are still expanding fast; the native hive is up to five frames, with a full frame of drone brood. The hybrids are on 2 1/2 frames. All the tomatoes are potted up, and the squashes are starting to germinate. I'm still waiting for Lord Anson's Pea, a blue perennial Admiral Anson discovered in Patagonia in the 18th Century, to show, but Lathyrus belinensis, a rare Turkish species discovered 20 years ago, is up. It's like a small sweet pea; I only have a little, but hopefully it'll set seed.

Meanwhile, I'm well ahead on the digging, for the first time ever, and that means I've got time for necessary weeding. That should make an enormous difference; in so many years, things have got on top of me, and I've never really caught up. If I've finally got to the point where I can stay on top, then I'm winning. There are still some weedy bits, but a lot of it is just a matter of digging out individual weeds before I plant it. That's not too much of a job.

D T Brown, who have been sitting on my potato order since mid-March, have promised to get it to me next week, which is still in time to plant. I've put spuds in this late before, and had a decent crop.

Monday, 28 April 2008

It's been a lot warmer the last few days. The sweet corn and most of the climbing beans have been planted, though I've still got Cosse Violette to do. Peas, the Cosso Violetto broad beans, which are just germinating, and the strawberries have all been moved out of the mini-greenhouses to make space, and are now under cloches. The last couple of days we've hid some ominous thunder in the afternoons, but not much rain, apart from the odd afternoon shower.

Both beehives are doing well, with the broodnests expanding slowly. The native colony has the odd drone. It'll need a lot more than that though, if I'm going to get properly mated queens.

The first of the onions are appearing through the mulch, but there's no sign of the asparagus yet. I'm still waiting for my seed potatoes, which I ordered from DT Brown in mid-March. I Emailed them ten days ago and have got no reply, so I'll have to phone them.

Meanwhile, the first of the apple blossom is open. The three new trees are all budding nicely, and look healthy so far. The hedges are all turning steadily green, and it seems that spring has arrived in earnest at last.

Monday, 21 April 2008

I haven't got much done for a couple of weeks due to weather and other commitments, but i planted a row of parsnips over the weekend. I chitted them for a week, sitting in a jar in the warm on damp tissue. Then I planted them just as the first roots began to show. I didn't dare leave them longer, as the roots are extremely easily damaged, and this is what causes forking. Supposedly, by doing it this way, germination is much better. I've planted four beds of onions, and the alliums are now taking up a ridiculous amout of space. I may cut onions out next year, as they're so cheap. The tomatoes, chillies and aubergines are doing well on the windowsill, and the second planting of sweet peas is starting to come through.

I combined the hive which went queenless a couple of weeks ago. Of the two remaining, the native one, which I want, is far and away the stronger. Apart from that, there's not much to report, but the temperature seems to be warming up, and hopefully things will be moving properly at last.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Things are progressing slowly in the garden, though I've been really busy doing extra revision classes over Easter, and the weather didn't help. We had snow everywhere last Sunday morning, but by the time I finished dealing with church business and got to the plot, it had all melted.

I've planted 20 asparagus crowns form New Park Farm in Kent; previously, I've used ones from local garden centres, and they've been no use at all. These are five times the size, some of the roots are well over a foot long, and hopefully they should be much better. They've been planted roughly six inches down in two trenches three foot six apart, one for Ginjlim and one for Backlim. These were them mulched with a couple of inches of grass cuttings. Apart from that, I've gained some more strawberry runners via a swap, and I'm halfway through planting the onions. I may cut these out next year as I'm devotong a ridiculous amount of space to alliums. The pictures show the asparagus planting; I hadn't got as far as mulching at that point.

One of the surviving bee colonies has gone queenless, leaving two. That's twice as many as I had this time last year.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

The weather's continued to be cold and miserable, with not much going on on the plot. I bought 30 strawberries from , ten each of three varieties; Honeoye, which is early, Elsanta, midseason, and Symphony, which is late. I've gained another 12 via a swop for a couple of year-old Hellebore seedlings. I'm going to grow them on in pots, plant them out later in the year, and I should have a well-established bed by next year. The ones I inherited with the plot were no good due, presumably, to virus, and it took me a while to realise that, so i got discouraged and gave up for a few years.

Apart from that, I've planted two trays of leeks from Realseeds at , Jaune de Poitou and Bleu de Solaise, and six packets of Victorian pansies from . At least, they're supposed to be Victorian, but the varieties aren't dated, unlike their old sweet pea collection, and I notice one is an F1! The sweet peas are finally emerging, despite the weather they've had to endure. They're all sitting in the mini=greenhouses, and there they can stay for a while.

Meanwhile, the fruit buds are swelling, and it's only a matter of time before spring arrives properly. I've been telling myself that for weeks. I dread to think what it wold be like sitting on the ground with my bare bum, so I'm certainly not contemplating any outdoor planting for the moment!

Monday, 3 March 2008

I've had an uneventful weekend, out at an all-day church meeting on Saturday, and hedge chopping Sunday afternoon. Only a few yards of it left, fortunately. I'm getting very tired of picking thorns out of my hands every week. The chilies and aubergines are up, on the windowsill, but I'm not even thinking of doing any planting down on the plot till the soil has had a chance to warm up a bit. I might put some in a cold frame next week, but that's the most I'll consider right now.

Meanwhile, here's a nice rare Postumus which came my way last week, after several days' worrying when it went missing between the parcels office and the Post Office. The reverse, SALVS EXERCITI, means 'the Safety of the Army', and shows Aesculapius, god of healing and medicine. Postumus ruled the breakaway Gallic Empire from 260-69, when he was murdered by rioting soldiers.

I noticed today that the SPCK bookshop in town is closing. When I came to Birmingham there were two decent Christian bookshops, then St. Paul's closed, and now this, which only leaves evangelical places which won't have anything of interest to me. There are a lot of empty shops in town again, like it was around 1990. It's the ever-increasing rents that do it, a lot of things have become uneconomical and been squeezed out. It's particularly obvious in the markets, which have been going downhill for many years.

I managed to pick up a Victoria plum to replace one I lost in the drought two summers ago. It had been grown on a single stem, and was ten feet high, which is ridiculous. I chopped it straight down to about five feet in the car park, and took all the side branches off. I'll rub off everything except three or four branches right at the top, then grow it as a half-standard.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

I've checked the hives, as we had some milder weather, and they're all OK, with brood. I'm not missing the fourth, as it was quite nasty-tempered, and gave me some good stingings last year. That's always a worry with close neighbours. The one I combined it with is still as docile as ever; as usual, temper was a product of the queen not the workers, and once the queen went, the problem went.

I've done some more hedge chopping, and if I don't finish next weekend, I should certainly do so the weekend after. I'll be really glad to finish as it's a horrible job, and wielding the petrol hedge trimmer always gives me backache, quite apart from blowing fumes in my face. Some strawberry runners (Elsanta, Honeoye and Symphony) arrived yesterday. I've potted them up, and I'm going to grow them on in a cold frame until I lift the garlic, then plant them out. By next year, they should be really well established.

Apart from that, I've been to someone's 50th wedding anniversary celebrations, and their renewal of vows. Last week I met someone who'd just celebrated her 70th anniversary, which puts them in the shade.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Here are some pics of the plot. As you can see, it's in a rather weedy state at the moment. I cut back the hedge at the end this morning, so a bit of progress has been made since I took the pics a couple of days ago.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

I found the bees flying well today, with three out of four colonies very active, bringing in large quantities of pollen. That alone is noteworthy, as there isn't usually much available this early in the year. I rook advantage and did a quick inspection.

The two native hives, with queens raised in the good weather in late summer last year are doing well, but with far more brood than I'd expect in February. As a result, they're using their food stores at a rate of knots, and need watching carefully. Of the two hybrid colonies, with queens raised by someone else in the bad weather at the beginning of last summer, one is moribund, and evidently lost its queen some time ago. I'm going to combine that with one of the good hives tomorrow. The other is strong and active, but has no brood at all. I suspect it's queenless as well, but I'm going to give it a while just in case. All being well, my plan now is to use the two healthy colonies for honey, take it at the end of July, and then raise new queens, with a view to starting two new hives to replace the hybrid ones.

I did a bit of digging, but that pretty much finished me for the day, as it's heavy going after all the rai we've had.

Monday, 4 February 2008

After 20-odd attempts, my wife has finally passed her driving test, so we were out celebrating last night. Apart from that, all four hives are still alive, though it's going to be another month before I can be reasonably sure that they'll survive into the coming season. The snowdrops are blooming well now, while alliums and the broad beans have put on some noticeable growth, and everything looks set for the spring. I was looking at the daffodils in the lane outside the plot yesterday; they were exhausted old bulbs which had been in pots for years, and I didn't mind too much if they got nicked. They're gradually producing more flowers, year by year, so they do recover.

What with one thing and another, there's been virtually no work done on the plot, but I've only got a week to go till half term, and I should be able to blitz it then.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

My migraines have gone at last, and hopefully I can keep posting once again. I checked my beehives over the weekend, and one, the nasty-tempered one with the hybrid queen, is very light. This probably means it's producing too much brood for the time of year; yet another reason to get rid of that damn queen. I've given it some sugar syrup. It's not recommended at this time of year, but I've done it before with good results.

Many of the snowdrops are out, and the broad beans (Aquadulce Claudia) I planted last October are growing well at last. Most of the garlic is now up. I don't know why everything I put in last autumn has been so slow to emerge.

I saw a fox this afternoon, in the next plot. I used to see them often, but a few years ago there was a major outbreak of mange, and they've been a rare sight since. There was a buzzard over the site a couple of weeks ago; it's now our commonest bird of prey, and can turn up anywhere, but it's the first I've seen over the city.

The weather's been a bit drier this week, and I actually managed a little digging, but in general I haven't missed much; even if I had been well, it's mostly been impossible. We'll see whether it's going to last.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

I've been getting the worst migraine I've had in years over the holiday, and between that and the weather, not much has been happening on the allotment. I've planted three species of Paeony; suffruticosa, mlokosewitchii and veitchii, and a Hellebore, bocconei, none of which can be expected to emerge before Sprng 2009. I'm relatively confident about the Paonies, anyway; Hellebores need very fresh seed so I'm less confident. Then there's a sarracenia mix, which should be up this year if it's going to germinate at all, and two Tricyrtis, macropoda and hirta. I managed ot germinate both last year, but then lost all the seedlings in a brief cold snap. Then there's Cyclamen pupurescens. All these need stratification, or cold treatment, so they've gone out in a cold frame where they can sit as long as they like.

I've treated the bees with oxalic acid solution (3.75%, with sugar added, trickled over the occupied seams); I checked yesterday, and small numbers of mites were falling out as ordered. Infestation seems very low, which is what's wanted, as it seems to confirm that my dtrain is partially resistent.

Apart from that, not much happening. Here's a rare Victorinus, ruler of the breakaway Gallic Empire from 268 till 270, when he was murdered by one of the many army officers he'd cuckolded. The obverse gives his full name; IMP C M PIAVVONIVS VICTORINVS PF AVG, which the reverse, FIDES MILITVM celebrates his relationship with the army which put him in power.