Monday, 28 December 2009


Hives 2 and 5 have died out. I can't see any obvious reason; neither had touched the candy I gave them, though both were very short of stores. They don't show the normal signs of starvation, so it's not isolation, when a cluster can't move over to food in cold weather. The overwhelming majority of my losses involve first-year queens, so it has to be something to do with the queens. They weren't mated in bad weather, or when there was a shortage of drones, so it's a mystery. Losing half my hives is a major setback!

Friday, 25 December 2009

What do we do with the Christmas story?

Despite what the church says, there isn't one Christmas story in the Bible. There are two, and they're different.

Matthew is a strict Jew, writing for a Jewish audience. He hates the Pharisees, insists that the Law must be kept more strictly than they do, but who generally agrees with their interpretations. His Jesus is born in a Jewish context, to a family in Bethlehem (apparently they live there), in the reign of Herod I, who died in 4 BC. The first people to respond to the birth are Gentile astrologers, following a star.

The origin of the star is to be found in Numbers 24:17. A king called Balak has summoned Balaam, a pagan prophet, to curse Israel An angel intervenes, and Balaam is forced to bless them instead. He says that 'A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the borderlands of Moab, and the territory of all the Shethites.'

When devout Jews found themselves impoverished and oppressed in the last couple of centuries BC, they started to imagine that God would intervene decisively, to put things to rights. Either he would send a great angel, or a human king, the Messiah (messiah means 'anointed one'; the king was anointed at his coronation, and was sometimes called 'the Lord's anointed'). This king was symbolised by the star; the Dead Sea Scrolls use the passage in a messianic context.

Matthew envisages an essentially Jewish Kingdom, but there is plenty of room for Gentiles within it. There is no evidence that any Jew ever claimed that Gentiles would not find their place. So to emphasise this, Matthew presents Gentiles as the first people to respond to Jesus.

The astrologers go to Herod, expecting to see a royal baby. He knows nothing of the birth, and reacts angrily. He was a paranoid tyrant; Augustus allegedly said that 'It was safer to be Herod's pig than his son'. When he was dying, he had the sons of Jewish notables arrested, with orders that they should be killed as soon as he was dead, so that the Jews would mourn his passing. In the event, they were released unharmed. So, according to Matthew, Herod ordered the slaughter of all the children under two around Bethlehem. The massacre is not mentioned elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Mary and Joseph have been warned by an angel in a dream, and have run away to Egypt, where they live as refugees. Eventually, they return, believing it to be safe. However, Herod's son Archelaus now rules Judea and Samaria. After another dream, they move to Nazareth, where another of Herod's sons, Antipas, now rules.

Luke writes for Romanised Greeks, and is the most obviously Gentile of the Gospels. His Jesus is born immediately after the Romans establish direct control of Judea. Archelaus ruled as Ethnarch for about ten years, until Jewish complaints led to the Romans sending him into exile, and establishing direct rule.

Judea came under the Syrian Legate, the most senior Roman official after the emperor, who had responsibility for the entire eastern frontier as far as the border of Egypt. This was far too large an area for one man to control directly, so most of it had come under native princes who were subject to Rome. At the time, the Legate was a man named Quirinius. He visited Judea, and carried out a census, to determine the taxation base. This happened in late 6 or early 7 AD. In order to deny that there is a discrepancy between the two Gospels, some conservatives claim that Quirinius may have served as Legate twice. Unfortunately, this is based on a mistranslation of a partial inscription which does not include the mane of the governor it refers to. After the census was complete, a Prefect, drawn from the minor aristocracy, was appointed to govern Judea.

According to Luke, John the Baptist was born before Jesus, and was his cousin. He was born miraculously, to an elderly mother, under 'King Herod of Judea', ie Herod I. Six months later, ten years having been dropped from the story, unless Luke confused his Herods, an angel appeared to Mary announcing the birth of Jesus. She protested that she was too young (parthenos means 'a young woman', not necessarily 'virgin') but the angel reassures her. There is an undoubted virgin birth in Matthew, but Luke is ambiguous, and can be read either way. Both are concerned to say that the birth was miraculous.

The family live in Nazareth, but have to visit Bethlehem for the census, as this is where Joseph's family originated. This makes little sense. Roman taxation was based on where you lived, not where you ancestors lived, for obvious reasons. No system could handle that degree of chaos. Additionally, Galilee was ruled by Antipas, and taxes would have been paid to him, not to Rome. Both Matthew and Like have to cope with a tradition which said both that the Messiah was to come form Bethlehem, and that Jesus was from Nazareth. Luke's solution looks a little contrived!

So, according to Luke, Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem. There are no animals; they were added to the story later. Shepherds are the first to respond to the birth; Luke is greatly concerned for the poor.

So we have two rather different versions of the story, one for Jews, and one for Gentiles. In all probability, neither author had much to go on; very likely, nobody was sure of the exact year of Jesus' birth. But that doesn't matter; they weren't writing history. In fact, in our modern sense, history writing had not been invented. They were writing theology, in the form of story. Matthew writes for Jews at a very difficult moment of their history, and presents Jesus as a suffering Jew. Luke writes for Gentiles, and presents him as having been born into the Roman world, and as being recognised first by the poor. Both show him as the miraculous Son of God from the moment of birth.

After 2000 years, the church should be mature enough to take both stories seriously, with all the tensions between them, rather than smothering them with the saccharine nonsense of the traditional 'Christmas story'!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009


I had a quick look at the allotment yesterday; as expected, everything's frozen solid. The canal towpath, which is fancy brick paving going into town, is like an icerink. It's supposed to be warming up a little by the end of the week, according to Metcheck, so with any luck, I might get to taste some oca this side of the New Year.

Monday, 21 December 2009

The failure of the Overconfident Age

Somehow, we have drifted into a situation where we think we have the power to find an easy answer to everything. We feel we need 'effective management' of every situation, to make the 'problem' go away, and let us get on with our lives untroubled by whatever it is. When things don't get solved in a short time, we look for someone to blame. We blame the individual worker, the manager, or in politics, we blame the government. But some 'problems' don't have instant or easy solutions.

We think we can solve the 'problem' of crime by imprisoning ever more people, without remembering the historical link between crime and relative poverty, as that would upset our ever more unequal society. We don't think about how many criminals suffer from mild learning disabilities, or mental health probles, which deny them the chance of a decent job. We don't think how many come from broken families, or wonder whether these might be a function of an individualised, very mobile society in which we no longer know our neighbours, and no longer have the support of the extended family. Support networks are missing, so in every generation, some parents fail to cope. Children of dysfunctional families are unlikely to become the parents of healthy families, and so the 'problem' snowballs from one generation to the next.

Then there is climate change. There is, of necessity, no easy or instant solution. So we deny it, and believe every manipulated 'fact' thrust at us by people who are doing very nicely out of deceiving us. Governments meet to seek solutions, but lack the courage to look beyond the next election, the next opinion poll, the next press conference. We have built a society where a government which asks for sacrifice in the face of disaster may well lose the next election to a party which offers pie in the sky. Whatever power struggles are going on behind the scenes in China, their government evidently has as much invested in short-termism as we.

So Copenhagen has failed, as it was always likely to, and Obama is spinning it as 'meaningful', as he inevitably would. Nations get the governments they deserve, and this catastrophe is a function, not of political failure, but of ingrained hedonism. As a society, we are unable or unwilling to face reality.

But a significant proportion of us do realise what is happening. That is our strength. If a grassroots movement could grow until even governments realised that slavery had no future, we can do the same here. None of us have any interest in the collapse of our climate. Only ordinary people, defying when necessary a regime which consistently attempts to criminalise protest, can force can force that regime to take the necessary action.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Bad sex?

A church in New Zealand has got itself into hot water with a poster about Mary and Joseph: .

What strikes me is that it doesn't deny the Virgin Birth, as I would, but it asks questions about it. There's nothing wrong with that; as Thomas Aquinas said, God is not the answer, but the question. I suppose the conservatives would get upset. I don't understand the mentality, but to them, it's de rigeur to be offended by any questioning of religious tradition. But questioning is good. As St. Paul said, 'Test everything, hang onto the good'. If we don't ask questions, how can we sieve the good from the bad in our traditions?

We don't know anything directly about Jesus. He didn't write anything down himself that we know about, and if he did, it has not come down to us. Unlike Muhammad, nobody recorded eyewitness testimony about him; claims that the Gospels were written by eyewitness hang on special pleading and dubious interpretation. Rather, we have what some sections of the church chose to record about him a generation or two after his death. Not suprisingly, they disagree. Matthew makes him a strict Jew, insisting that every least bit of the Law [of Moses] should be followed strictly, as they interpreted it. Despite Matthew's loathing for the Pharisees, his Jesus always seems to agree with them on legal matters. Mark, on the other hand, makes Jesus abolish the food laws, and Luke is so eager to whitewash the Romans that he blames the Jews for everything. The evangelists were men of their time and place, wtiting for the diverse needs of their own communities.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't take what they say seriously. If the church wants to call the Bible a holy book - even presume to call it 'the Word of God', whatever that means - then we need to take it ultra-seriously, even the bits we don't like and don't read. It is, after all, the only witness we have to the origins of church traditions. If we want to claim that Christianity has some basis in history, then that is where we have to begin. But let's drop the practice of taking selected snippets, ignoring the diversity of the Bible's witness, and insisting that traditional interpretations are 'what the Bible says' and have to be 'believed'.

How many people out there believe that infanticide can be a blessed thing? It's there in the Bible (Psalm 137), doubtless as the witness of a community which remembered Babylonians killing their kids during the sack of Jerusalem. We can take their despair and grief seriously without making infanticide a religious duty. Why can't we be as mature in our handling of the rest of the Bible?

Thursday, 3 December 2009


The oca was, as I expected, flattened by the frost a couple of days ago. it's a south American rootcrop which I haven't grown before, and which, you will have gathered, is frost-sensitive. I had wanted to fleece it, but I couldn't due to a bad cold.

You plant it in spring, about a foot apart, and let it get on with its business all season. Tubers start to develop as the daylength shortens, and you lift them a couple of weeks after the foliagfe dies completely back. I expect to have it for Christmas, if there's a crop there.

All the beehives are still alive. That's a pleasant change from last year. I think the difference is in the autumn weather. Two autumns ago, the weather was so vile that they couldn't go out and forage, and went through what stores they had. I got them through last winter on candy, but that's only carbohydrate. I think the lack of pollen led to malnutrition, hence the problems. There are artificial substitutes available, but they're only used as a stopgap, and aren't satisfactory for more than a few weeks. This year, they were bringing in lots of pollen, so hopefully they'll come through better. Hive 5 is a bit of a worry, with only two seams of bees, but the others all have four.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Internet access

It's working properly today. It worked properly yesterday as well.

I changed to Sky a few weeks back, purely because AOL is so damned expensive. Since then, I've regretted it. Very often, it slows right down about 9am, as office connections come on, and stays slow for much of the day. It will still download material without any problem, but accessing sites becomes extremely difficult. Sometimes it's like that all day. A dialup would be faster and more reliable. But then, sometimes it works.

We gave up on their phone connection after a month, and went back to BT. Their salesman lied to us, the service wasn't what we asked for, and it was more expensive than we were told. I'm trying to persuade the wife to drop their TV service, since it's also expensive, and she watches very little that isn't on cable. I'll probably get rid of their internet before long as well.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Mystery bean

It's not a good shot, but has anyone got any idea what these beans are? They were at the bottom of a parcel we're passing round, and that's all I know!
PS I've been informed that they're soya beans, probably 'Elena', which is, as far as I can see from a quick google, the best one for British weather. I'l try them next year and see what happens.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Last week I should have been in Oxford for a gathering of gardening bloggers, but I've had some horrible gastro-intestinal bug, and spent most of the weekend on the toilet. I'm still not right, but I did manage to check the bees yesterday. All four hives look healthy, with small amounts of brood, eggs, and reasonable quantities of stores. There aren't as much of the latter as I'd have liked, but they'll be OK if I keep an eye on them, and probably feed syrup next spring. This year they've gathered plenty of pollen, which provides most of their nutrition; honey is just a source of carbohydrate. This time last year, the weather was so awful that much of the ivy went unpollinated, resulting in a shortage of berries. The bees hardly managed to forage at all. It's going to be interesting to see whether they come out of the winter stronger than last year, after going into it well fed.

Friday, 2 October 2009

I knew I should have stolen a frame of brood for that split I made. They've abandoned the queen cell I gave them (which was on a frame of honey), so I combined the hive with No. 2. So that's four hives going into winter, and I won't be trying any more queen raising till June. We'll see what's still alive in the spring.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

I've checked all the hives, and not one of my recent splits has worked. The new Hive 3 had very few bees and no queen, so I've combined it with Hive 4. The top story of Hive 2 had lots of bees but no queen. I did find a hatched cell, but it was unbelievably small, the size of a worker cell, and they were making a loud buzz all the time they were open, as queenless colonies do. Hive 4 had a single supersedure cell, so I've moved that box across to Hive 3, and given it the cell. There are still drones about, so one sunny day at the right time should ensure mating.

The old queen is still there, and queenright autumn supersedure is a regular habit of native strains. This is when the hive raises a new queen without swarming, with the old queen still present and laying. She usually continues to lay for some time before finally disappearing. It's something which should be sought out and selected for, since strains which do this rarely swarm. I haven't had a colony make swarm preparations since 2006.

I don't have as many colonies as I'd hoped to go into winter with. One has an old queen at the end of her life, but if they don't raise another cell, there's every chance of her coming through the winter. It's a pity it was only the one, as if there had been more I could have left one. Three colonies have young queens which appear to be well mated, and one has a cell. We'll see what's left next spring!

Monday, 28 September 2009

Hive 6 is deserted. There's dead brood, two dead queen cells, and no bees live or dead. I can only assume they all went back to Hive 5 next door. The honey has been completely robbed out. This never happens in hives with my standard reduced entrance, but I didn't have one spare, so this one ended up with a wide-open entrance. I noticed bees going in and out, not wasps, so the honey is presumably in the other hives.

I'm digging over a patch I dug earlier in the season. It had a big patch of bindweed, and there's still some left. I may not have done very well growing veg this year, but at least there's a lot more ground free from perennial weeds, which isn't going to need any more routine digging.

Some of us spent Saturday learning to identify apples. We've got around 70 old apple trees on the site. Many have been idnetified already, but there are more to do. While most are common varieties, there are some rarities as well. As far as we know, it's a unique feature of the site, and we want to maintain it, by replacing trees as they die off. I know, for instance, that there were once three apple trees on my plot. All I found was a few rotting logs, and many others have gone the same way. I've planted trees to replace them, and we've now planted a communal apple orchard at the end of the site, on a plot that was completely derelict.

Last year we had a day to learn how to prune them. Some of us are now planning to get some apple books, and try to identify as many of the remaining trees as we can.

Friday, 25 September 2009


This is the oca I planted last spring, sprawling all over the place. It doesn't do much until midsummer, then starts spreading. It's a South American root vegetable; the tubers swell as the shoots die back, so I won't be lifting it till all the top growth is dead, in late November or December. It's about my one success story this year, so I'm looking forward to it!
You probably remember that Hive 5 used to be very large, and nasty-tempered. About half the bees had a yellow stripe, and it was full of drones. I had a look yesterday. All the bees are black, and extremely quiet on the comb, just like Hive 4. I can only imagine that the queen, raised from an egg laid in Hive 4, avoided mating with drones from her own hive, and mated selectively with Hive 4 drones. These may have shared a mother with her, but will have had a different scent.
Hive 4 has lots of honey in the broodbox, so no worries about that one. I'll give it a gallon of feed with Fumidil-B in it, for Nosema, and that's all. Hive 1 is fine, but it doesn't have so much honey stored, so I'll give it candy just in case. It's a lot better off than any of the hives were this time last year, though. Hive 5 has some drones, so there's something for the new queens to mate with. I'll check them out next week and see what's happening.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

I've been feeling a bit better today. I managed to dig a patch of bindweed which was spreading out across the ground and rooting as it went. I split Hives 4 and 5. I was hoping 3, the split from 4, would raise its own queen cells, but it failed to do so, so I gave it a cell, and gave another to the split from 5,which is now Hive 6. I left a cell in the top story on Hive 3 as well, and we'll see how many of them mate successfully.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

It's not been a good week for me. I was in casualty, briefly, the other night - nothing serious - and I've been fit for nothing most of the time. I've checked Hive 1, which now has a laying queen again, and done a vertical split with Hive 2. It's now raising queen cells in the top box. Meanwhile, most of the fruit have been blown off the Cambridge Gage, and the slugs have had a feast, losing me most of the crop.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

I'm feeling a bit better, and today I actually managed to go shopping in town, get back with a load of fruit from the market, and then get to the allotment for a couple of hours. That's a great improvement! My wife's off sick with a whiplash injury after a car crash, and it hasn't been easy with us both unwell.

I've split Hive 2 vertically, preparatory to raising more queens. Hive 5 still has a lot of the old drones, but hopefully they'll be on the way out. Hive 4 has got rid of its drones in the bad weather, but more will be along, and Hive 2 has plenty. Non-native bees tend to get rid of theirs around now, but given reasonable weather, native colonies should have them into October, if not later. It is, of course, a waste of time raising queens if there's nothing for them to mate with.

The peas are starting to produce, but with the pigeon damage, I'll be using them to produce seed rather than eating the crop, such as it is. Salmon-Flowered is the only one with plenty of pods, and as it's rare, I'll keep them for seed swaps.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

We had our site show today. Unfortunately I had a bad attack of migraine yesterday, in the middle of organising it. It was a complete nightmare getting it sorted, and I had to leave most of the practical stuff today to other people. Still, the show was a success, and we got 15 entrants this year, two up on last year. Unfortunately I was so shattered I didn't get any pics. I only had three entries in, and probably missed a first for my garlic because I was feeling so awful last night I didn't get the presentation sorted properly. The question now is, how can I do it better next year?

Friday, 14 August 2009

I've had some wretched stomach bug, so I haven't managed to do too much. Last weekend I just about got through a work party, building a couple of bins for dead leaves and grass cuttings. We haven't been getting so many this year, so I wonder how full they'll ever be! you can se how they ended up, anyway.
Meanwhile, my Cambridge Gage is well laden with fruit.
The bees have not been in a good mood, and for the moment I'm going to have to stop my usual careless habit of inspecting them in flimsy trousers. I'm not at all thrilled with the new queen in Hive 2, as the bees are decidedly jumpy. However, she's not destined for a long life. Once I have more queen cells, I'll probably slip one into the broodnest and try a forced supersedure. This is a way of conning the ees into replacing a queen you don't want, without too much disturbance. Mostly, it works, and if it doesn't, it's usually safest to assume that the bees know something you don't.
However, everything is going more or less to plan. I'm going to be raising more queens in a couple of weeks, and by the time they're ready to mate, the old drones should hopefully have disappeared, and I should end up with nice docile hives once more, after the new queens mate with drones of my own strain.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

I've been through Hive 5, and checked that the top box has neither eggs nor queen cells. The bottom box has eggs, so the new queen's there and laying. I broke down all the drone cells I could see.

Behaviour is a bit better, they weren't making the same determined attempts to sting. Stinging depends of pheromones given off by the queen, so if you change the queen, you change stinging behaviour. However, they were still jumping - flying off the combs at me - and following, buzzing around me. these are intimidating, and often lead to stinging. They're programmed into the individual worker's genes, so they'll last as long as this generation of bees. Hopefully that'll be the end of it, but I have three queens which will have mated with drones from this hive, so I can't be sure. I'll be getting rid of those queens next year; I can use them to produce drones or honey, but I can't raise good queens from them.

Monday, 3 August 2009

I went through Hive 1 this afternoon, to break down any queen cells in the top box (I found three) and check the bottom box with the new queen was OK. It wasn't. It had queen cells and no eggs or uncapped larvae. I can only suppose that the queen flew up when I opened the hive last week, as young queens occasionally do, and got lost. I don't want her misbegotten daughters, so I broke down all the cells, and gave them a frame from Hive 4 with lots of eggs in it. If they really are queenless, they'll raise a new one from that.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

After sitting for several days in a new position, Hive 5 finally emptied itself of the great majority of its original inhabitants, with all the older bees (the ones that sting) being in the box with the new queen, in the original position. I was able at last to go through them without getting stung, and the queen has been duly squashed. The only thing was, I was expecting to find a light coloured queen, with a red mark. What I found was a dark-coloured queen, with no mark. As I half expected, they've superseded, that is, they've raised a new queen, and got rid of the old. Given the number of bees I found in the top box, I suspect that swarmed as well. However, the deed is done, and the two halves have been reunited, without any of the tantrums I used to get with the old queen.

I now have four hives, all headed by queens of my own strain. The only thing is, three of them will be mismated with drones from other strains, largely those from the biggest hive, the bad-tempered one. I definitely don't want their daughters in my hives! I also have the two spare hives. So I need to wait for this generation of drones to die off, and start another round of queen raising. That way I should be able to go into winter with several queens which will, hopefully, be properly mated and able to provide daughters to carry on the strain.

Friday, 31 July 2009

I can't remember who sent me seed of Carolfiore di sicilia violetto , but if it was you, thanks!

Hive 1 seems to be settling down nicely, but Hive 5 is being awkward. The new queen has laid flat-capped worker brood, so no problem there. Yesterday morning, I put her broodbox at the bottom, and moved the original broodbox onto the stand next to it. By now, all the flying bees (the ones that sting) should have gone back to the original stand, and joined the new hive headed by the new queen. That should leave nothing but docile young bees with the old queen. This afternoon, flying bees were still coming out at a rate of several per minute, the broodbox was still packed, and they were decidedly in a stingy mood. So I put off sorting through for the queen till tomorrow. Hopefully the polder bees will all be gone by then.

I was looking through a £1 bookstall in town the other day, and found a gem, 'The Transplanted Gardener', by Charles Elliott. Elliott (why do we refer to authors by their surnames? It brings back horrible memories of schooldays) is an American living in England, who brings his own point of view to British gardens and garden history. It's a refreshing change from the utilitarian style of garden writing, which so often just repeats the same old advice we've all heard before, larded out with lots of glossy photos. OK if you're being paid to write it, I suppose, but it's not much fun to read.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Hive 1 has capped brood, and after some messing about I've squashed the old queen, and left them with just the new one. I couldn't find her yesterday, so I shook all the bees in the relevant broodbox off the frames into a roof plus an empty super. Naturally, all the older flying bees took to the air, leaving the queen, younger hive bees, and lots of drones, since it was too chilly for them to be flying. I tacked a queen excluder over it, turned it the right way up, and put it at the top of the hive. Overnight, many of the bees found their way down to the brood, leaving a small cluster with the queen in the middle.It wasn't too hard to sort through and find her.

The peas are finally starting to flower, at a smaller size than normal. After the trauma of being chewed by pigeons, maybe they won't reach their normal size.

Someone sent me a copy of a recent article from the Celator (a US numismatic periodical) by David Hendin, about some Jewish coins I've been interested in for a long time. The first pic shows one; you can see that it looks a bit of a mess. It's been struck (twice in this case) with a type of Alexander Jannaeus, King of the Jews 103-76 BC, showing an anchor on one side, with the king's name in Greek, and a lily in a diadem on the other, with the king's name in Aramaic (second pic). This side uses his Hebrew name, Yehonatan. It's then been struck a second time, using a traditional type with a double cornucopia (horn of plenty) and a pomegranate on one side, and on the other, an inscription, YONATAN THE HIGH PRIEST AND THE COUNCIL OF THE JEWS, in Hebrew, within a wreath. The question has been, is Yonatan a version of Yehonatan, or is it the name of one of his sons?

I used to think it was probably a son known to history by his Greek name, Hyrcanus II. However, Hendin reports finding one which has been overstruck a second time, with another undoubted type of Jannaeus, showing an anchor one one side, the same as the lily coin, and a star in a diadem on the other, with Jannaeus' name, once again, in Aramaic (third pic). this proves beyond doubt that the overstruck coins were issued by Jannaeus. The last pic is a YONATAN coin struck on a blank flan so you can see what it was intended to look like. By such nitpicking arguments are academic disputes settled! Am I the only one who finds setting out pics in Blogger a frustrating experience, by the way? they never want to go where they're supposed to, then I publish the post and it's all over the place.
I had some good news the other day. I've been working on a very part-time basis for health reasons, but afte several months, a new teacher training course a friend of mine has been setting up has almost got through the accreditation process. So, God willing, I'll soon be back at work properly, in a less stressful job. So before long, with luck, I'll be able to buy coins again!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Bees and blight

Both new queens are now laying. I just need to leave them another week to ensure that they're producing worker brood, and I can squash the old queens and sort out the hives properly. Then after a couple of months the drones from those queens will be gone, and I'll be able to raise another batch of queens, and, hopefully, have them mated as I want.

Hive 2 has four frames of brood, and is looking good. Almost all the brood in the top box has hatched, and most of the bees have moved down to the bottom. There's still a small cluster of decidedly nasty-tempered bees there.

There's a small patch of blight among my Charlotte potatoes, and many of the others have dark brown patches of dead tissue on the leaves. I'll still get a crop, but it'll wipe out my tomatoes before I get anything from them, for the third year running. There's no blight reported from farms closer than Woverhampton, about 15 miles away. I think it's overwintering on the site, in volunteer potatoes. A campaign to get people to be ruthless about rooting them out every spring might make some progress.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

We've had a pretty wet week, and I noticed that the hives don't have so many eggs. This is an adaptation to our climate; queens cut down egg laying in bad weather, and as a result, the colony needs less food to get through till the weather improves. Neither of the two new queens has started laying yet. I hope they're in there! I've started another frame for the eggs, just in case they aren't.

The peas are now growing well, after being netted for a couple of weeks to keep the pigeons off. The crop will be safe, but I'm not sure I'll have anything for the show in a few weeks' time. I've been digging as fast as I can, clearing areas I couldn't get to over the winter, but I'm terribly behind. The good thing is that a lot of ground has been cleared of ground elder. That'll make life easier next year.

Slugs have been having a field day on my squashes. I keep getting this; the solution may be to grow them on for a while in bigger pots, and plant them out when they're big enough to take it. They're particularly vulnerable when they first go out in the open, so it might help to keep them off the ground at this stage.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

I tried posting earlier, got an error message, and lost my post!

I've netted the peas, since they were being eaten down by pigeons. I haven't had that particular problem with sky rats before. The nets won't keep a determined pigeon out, but they will deter them for a while, and give the peas a chance to recover. They soon get too big to be vulnerable, and hopefully the birds will have moved on to other fodder before then anyway. They've been knocked back to the point where they're probably going to be toolate for the show next month, unfortunately.

Everything's going in late this year, but at least I'm getting plenty of weedy ground sorted out, so it'll be easier going next year. The weeds grew like mad in the wet last year, especially the bindweed, while the veg did the exact opposite! The oca is now in, despite being delayed thanks to the flood washing away the mulch I'd laid ready for it. The corn is going in, and that has plenty of time to make a crop. I've almost finished digging over the ground I want to use for tomatoes, and they still seem happy in pots. Maybe everything will still be OK.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

I got 11 1/2 lb of honey today. It's not much but it's something. I'd have masses by now, except that after two dreadful seasons, there was nothing in the broodboxes, and the bees fill those first. That's their supply, and I don't touch it.

I spotted this pair of Bombus terrestis mating on the pavement this morning.

I've been feeling decidedly under the weather, which is why I didn't post last week. The floodwaters have receded, but they've walloped my beans, and the peas are getting nibbled by pigeons. I've put up some netting to scare off the latter; if once they stop, they're unlikely to start again this time of year.

Last week, I squashed the old queen in Hive 3, renamed it Hive 2, since it's in position 2, and now has an unrelated queen, and put the box with the new queen at the bottom. This week, I found three supersedure cells at one end of the box, and eggs (not many of them) at the other. This could be a failing queen, or it could be due to the three frames of foundation I put between the two. I have heard that a barrier across the broodnest can induce cell raising, though I haven't seen it. So I broke down the cells, and left it. If there are still problems next week, they'll have to raise another queen.

Hive 1 was split last week, and given queen cells, so it should have a virgin ready to mate by now. Hive 4 is looking good. Hive 5 gave me the worst stinging I've had in years last week; I think it has to have been down to the thundery weather, as they were OK today. The day before I opened the hives, a neighbour had eight stings from a wasps' nest which I subsequently dealt with. They've got - I hope - a queen ready to mate in the top box, but last week the old queen was failing, and they were raising supersedure cells. She's no loss, but like Hive 2, I don't want her raising a daughter. Any such queen would produce hybrid drones that I don't want. So I broke down cells, last week and again this week. Hopefully the hive should be sorted next week.

Monday, 29 June 2009

I was tied up all day Saturday, at a Methodist gathering discussing 'Creation' all day, then I took the wife out for a Vietnamese, and we went on to a CBSO performance of Haydn's Nelson Mass and Strauss' A Hero's Life. When I got back into Birmingham I got soaked on the ouskirts of a major thunderstorm, but I didn't think about it too much. Yesterday I was busy as well, but I did manage to get to the allotment briefly. It's never been so badly flooded in the ten years I've been there. Plots that usually escape were underwater, but inevitably I didn't have the camera. It's drying out now, with only the worst bits still flooded.

My plot was badly flooded as always, but yesterday it was gone apart from a couple of shallow pools. It's too early to say whether there's any long-term damage, but as long as it dries out I should be OK. There was another big thunderstorm a few miles away this afternoon, but we only got a few drops of rain.

Friday, 26 June 2009

We're having torrential showers this afternoon, which are badly needed. Everywhere that isn't mulched, the soil has been getting seriously dry.

I checked the bees yesterday. Hive 1 now has nine frames of brood, and the bees have started moving up into the supers, shallow boxes of comb which the honey crop goes in. Left to themselves, they'd soon be filling the first super, but I'm going to be splitting the hive in another week or so, to raise a new queen. you can see the bees in the super in the first pic. the second shows a nice patch of brood in one of the frames. You can see the flat-capped worker cells, and that there are few empty cells, This indicates that there are no brood problems in the hive.

The third pic shows some nice queen cells being raised in Hive 5.

Hive 3 has two frames of eggs in the upper part, showing that the new queen has hatched, and is healthy. In another week, I'll be able to see whether she's laying worker brood, but given the weather and the number of drones I have, I'd be amazed if she hasn't mated satisfactorily. Hive 4 has brood on 7 frames, and seems to have settled down at about that number.

Apart from that, I've dug over a weedy patch, barrowed a lot of grass cuttings to mulch it, and started digging over the area I want to plant the tomatoes in. The peas had their tips nipped off by pigeons before I planted them out, but they're recovering now.

The last pic is a tulip tree flower. It's a nice little tree which grows just on the other side of the hedge. The flowers aren't conspicuous, but like many greenish flowers, the more you look, the nicer they are!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

I've got the last of the peas and beans in, and dug out another weedy patch to make space for the oca. The wigwams are looking a bit bare at the moment, But here are Pea Beans, Cosse Violette, and six varieties of tall peas. The next jobs will be digging a much larger weedy patch to make some room for the tomatoes, and planting out the sweet corn. Meanwhile, I've been chopping and freezing loads of Catawissa onions for soup.

Hive 3 still hasn't laid up that frame I want to use to raise more queens, but they'll get there in the end. Meanwhile, Hive 1 is on seven frames of brood, and they're refusing to use the remaining frames which are pretty horrible. I had hoped they'd clean them up but instead they're chewing them down to the midrib, so they'll have to go ASAP. The remains of a dead cluster from last winter are being propolised rather than removed, so that's another two frames I need to get rid of. Hive 3 has six frames of brood.
Meanwhile, the government here lurches from one scandal to another, with ever more revelations about the abuses of MP's expenses - I feel sorry for the decent ones who haven't fiddled - and more rumblings over the Iraq inquiry. The latest is that Blair, the man behind so much of it, was lobbying to have it held in private, presumably in yet another attempt to avoid some well-deserved embarrassment.
Clumsy fiddling of the Iran election (they could have got away with it if they'd been cleverer, or less arrogant) seems to have finished off their hybrid Islamic/democratic state. Or apparently democratic anyway. It's either dictatorship or democracy, and it'll be interesting to see which way they go. Whatever they end up with is going to have an enormous influence on the direction of the Middle East.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

I've got Catwissa onions available to swap if anyone's interested. If you don't have anything to offer I'll accept postage.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

I've inspected Hive 1, now with seven frames of brood, and new bees starting to hatch out. Hive 4 has seven frames likewise - bigger frames of course - and hasn't laid up the little frame I gave them for queen rearing. So as I need newly hatched young bees to get decent queens, I've reversed the boxes on Hive 5. The broodbox which was at the bottom is now at the top with the young bees, and the queen is now in the one that was on top. I didn't get stung, which was a relief after last time, but when I took off the Snelgrove board which splits the hive in two, a vast cloud of drones I'd accidentally imprisoned in the super rose with a trememdous roar. There's no honey in it, but they'd started sealing honey in the broodbox.

The walking onions (or Catawissa onions as I really ought to call them) have started falling over. They're mainly used for green onions, so I've brought home an armful which I'm going to freeze and use later for soup. Meanwhile I'm bogged down with GCSE marking, and don't have much time for the allotment as a result.

Monday, 8 June 2009

The few surviving overwintering onions were flopping over, so I lifted them to dry. I'm not sure whether it's damp or cold that gets then, probably the former. I don't have much luck with these! I noticed that a couple of my Purple Wight garlic were flopping over, rather early, but I lifted them all anyway, and realised that I got them mixed up with the Albigensian Wight when I planted them. Those were lifted far too early as a result, but never mind. I'm left wondering what sort of mix the Albigensian Wight rows will turn out to be. Three of the bulbs had advanced white rot, but it's been the same every year since I took the plot on, and it never seems to get any worse.

This pot of Cyclamen purpureum seed (from Chiltern Seeds) has been sitting in a cold frame since autumn 2007. It's finally produced a couple of seedlings. The bigger of the two has been up for several weeks, and I only spotted the second today. Hopefully, there may be more to come.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

From the minutes of the 337th meeting of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP), held on 12 May 2009:

5. Agenda Item 5: Applications for the use of ‘Forefront’ and ‘Runway’ (now known as ‘Mileway’) water in oil emulsion formulations containing 30 g/l aminopyralid and 100 g/l fluroxypyr, as an agricultural herbicide and horticultural/industrial herbicide on grassland and amenity grassland [ACP 7 (337/2009)]

5.1 Members considered the applications for the re-instatement of approvals for products containing aminopyralid.

5.2 Members agreed that the applicant had taken all reasonable steps to manage manure contaminated with residues, through the proposed stewardship campaign, training and monitoring. However, there was some concern about the practicalities of the programme which would need to be addressed and closely monitored as part of the stewardship programme.

5.3 Members noted that aminopyralid was persistent in ground water, and that further confirmation of the effect of irrigating vulnerable crops from ground water sources was required.

5.4 Members were also concerned that approval in Europe could result in UK stewardship measures being by-passed. Further information was requested from the applicant about the level of approval and stewardship requirements across the EU

5.5 Subject to satisfactory resolution of these outstanding questions, members were minded to advise Ministers to re-instate approvals.

So the stuff's on the way back unless there's enough of a protest to force a re-think. I can only suggest that manure should be avoided altogether unless you know the animals and what they've been fed on, as this is likely to become a perennial problem.
It's tipping it down with rain, so it looks like a day to concentrate on the annual nightmare of GCSE marking. I did at least manage to check the beehives yesterday, though I got no further. Hive 1 is looking good, with 6 1/2 frames of brood. I only got two queen cells in the first batch I raised, so I gave both to Hive 3. For some reason they broke one down, leaving them with a single cell. I'm not happy with that; I like to give them two or three. It should be OK though. Hive 4 is on five frames of brood, and has laid up a second frame of eggs for me. I've now given that to Hive 5, to requeen itself with.

There are always a lot of bees drinking from this puddle when the sun's out. I've been keeping it topped up because I don't want them going elsewhere and scaring the neighbours. They like very shallow water in the sun, presumably because it's warmer. When I shaded the puddle one day, they abandoned it till it was back in the sun. They'll often go for very dirty water, possibly for extra mineral or organic content.

The elephant garlic is flourishing as always. The scapes need to come off in order for the bulbs to reach maximum size.

I've just planted out some of the peas. These are Salmon Flowered, Robinsons' Purple Podded (so called because it originated from Robinson's Seeds), Lancashire Lad, another purple podded variety, and Ne Plus Ultra. I had to replant Magnum Bonum and Alderman so I'll add those in a week or two. As you see, I use wigwams made of 8-foot poles, with string wound round to give the tendrils something to grip.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

These are my walking onions. They were grown from full-sized bulbs, and are now waist-high, quite a bit bigger than last year, and dwarf the row of good-sized Purple Wight garlic next to them. I've found a US website ( which has someone who knows a bit about this stuff, so I'm hoping to find out what sort I have. Apparently there are several types.

Friday, 29 May 2009

I've just joined the Bloggers' Seed Network ( I'll be putting seed up for swapping later in the season, when I've had a chance to save some fresh! There's also a lot of swapping at Allotments4all (

The swarm that moved in (now Hive 1) has eggs or brood on five frames. They're Standard Nationals, a third smaller than my normal 14x12's, but it's not bad for the first week's egg laying. Hive 3 is staying put at 4 frames of brood, and Hive 4 is up to five. I've messed that one around a lot this week though, getting eggs from it for queen raising. The real test will be where it is in three weeks' time. Hive Five is making queen cells as expected. It's also in a bad temper - not surprisingly, a queenless hive always is. They kept buzzing me, and several obviously meant business. I'll be glad to get that one requeened.

I potted up sixty sweet corn (Lark), and I've got the same to do again in a week or so. I've planted replacement seeds of Alderman peas, since the ones I saved were no good, and I've got more Magnum Bonum as well, since they didn't germinate too well. My saved Ne Plus Ultra were hopeless, and the seeds I bought in are just coming up. I think the problem has to have been a result of the wet weather when I harvested the seed, as they just rotted in the pots. They're all good Victorian maincrops, though my favourite is Magnum Bonum.

I've planted two lily species this week; formosianum and philippinensis. They're both immediate epigeal, which means they come up quickly, with the seed leaf emerging from the soil. So hopefully there won't be any complications. I've got some fresh Hellebore seed to plant as well, via a swap. Fresh seed is easy; old seed is a tossup. I have old seed of foetidus 'Wester Flisk', Helen Ballard hybrids, and H x sternii, all from Chiltern Seeds. They're good, but it's inevitably not fresh. They've been sitting in pots for a couple of weeks, and there's no knowing when, and whether, they're going to come up.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

I discovered today that a swarm has moved into Hive 1. It's not exactly unexpected, since I noticed several weeks ago that the hive was being staked out by strange bees. The swarm is a fair size, fills half a National standard broodbox, and has eggs on a frame and a half already. This shows that it is a 'prime swarm', the first to issue from a hive, with the old, mature queen. the swarms I got last year were 'casts', headed by virgins which took a couple of weeks before they started laying. I left them badly confused, as I gave them a new entrance on the other side, where I really want it to be, and closed off the one they were using.

Hives 3 and 4 are as before, with 4 and 4 1/2 frames of brood respectively. Hive 4 is taking its time laying up the frame I gave them to raise queens on. It has a few eggs though, so it should be ready at last in a couple of days. I'll really be disturbing Hive 5 then, so I've left it alone for the time being.

Apart from that, I've been potting up tomatoes, and planting out broad beans.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

I'm having problems with a few of the seeds I saved last year. All the pumpkin seed is empty. It looks OK, apart from being a bit thin compared with the old seed. But it's not viable at all. The flower must have been pollinated, or there would never have been a pumpkin. But something, very likely to do with the weather, went wring, and it didn't form viable seed. I've heard of the problem before. I've got very poor germination from two peas, Magnum Bonum and Alderman. I harvested the seed in the worst of the weather last year, and I can only imagine I didn't get it dried fast enough. Once planted, it just rotted. I've re-ordered both; fortunately, I managed to find a site in Ireland that does Magnum Bonum, and takes Paypal. . It's not an easy one to find.

I've split Hive 5. leaving the queen at the bottom. and the brood, apart from one frame, at the top. All the flying bees will have returned to the bottom, leaving only the young nurse bees at the top. This is now effectively queenless, and should raise queen cells. Then I break them down, and give them eggs from Hive 4; I've already put an extra frame in the middle of the broodnest, with only an inch of comb on it, for this. the frame will then go into Hive 5, and since they won't have any other eggs or young larvae by that time, they'll raise the queens I want from it. I can then requeen hives 3 and 5. The queens won't mate truly, but since the drones come from unfertilised eggs, they'll be of my strain. A second batch of queens should then mate within strain.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

I finally managed to finish mulching the potatoes yesterday. The amount of grass cuttings being delivered is rising week by seek, so I'm unlikely to run shrt again this year. The only problem now is what collecting it does to my back!

One of my empty hives has been staked out by strange bees. They're all striped, and while Hive 5 has bees of that colour, only about half are striped. I spotted them defending the hive against a black bee, with two madly chasing it. That's a sign that a swarm is likely to move in. They may yet decide on better accommodation elsewhere, but these days they're unlikely to find it. The hollow trees have mostly been removed, and modern building methods leave no room for bees in the roof. I hope they do arrive; I need to populate those empty hives, and a May swarm has plenty of time to build up and produce some honey before winter.

Friday, 8 May 2009

I checked the hives after school. Hive 3 still has brood on 3 1/2 frames, which 4 has increased to the same amount, with quite a bit of drone brood present. Hive 5 is as it was last week, but there are noticeably more bees on the frames. This is good news, as I need lots of young bees before I can raise queens. There are still very few drones though.

One of the drones I did see had a crumpled wing. This'll be due to a virus, which is spread by varroa. I've only seen it before when hives have been overwhelmed. This one was treated in January with oxalic acid, and with Apiguard a couple of weeks ago. I know for a fact that the mite load is no heavier than that in my other hives, and none of the others show a trace of it.

Another odd thing is that a couple of weeks ago, there was a small knot of bees with crumpled wings outside the hive, and every one was jet black. Over half the bees in the hive have a yellow stripe, showing that they're hybrids. I haven't seen a single crippled bee on the frames with a stripe either. I can only presume that the bees of a single patriline (ie from eggs fertilised with sperm from a single drones - queens mate about 6 - 12 times) are particularly susceptible.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Hive 5 now has brood on six frames in the top box, but otherwise all three hives are very much where they were last week. Areas of brood are expanding steadily, and Hive 4 now has a large patch of capped drone brood. With a small number of workers supporting vary large numbers of brood, all three hives are obviously stretched to the limit. As a result, they're all very good-tempered; they only get stingy when there are unemployed older bees in the hives. I saw two drones in Hive 5, but that's all. They won't be ready for queen raising until there's a higher proportion of workers to brood, and a lot more drones.

I'm still smothering potatoes in grass cuttings, with only a relatively small amount of cuttings coming in so far, and Cara coming up fast.

Friday, 24 April 2009

I've just been through the hives. I came home from school with a splitting headache, and it's one way of distracting myself. Hive 3 still has 3 1/2 frames of brood, but the area covered is still increasing. Hive 4 is on 2 1/2 frames. Both of those will have a lot more bees hatching out in a week or two, so I'm expecting more expansion soon. The queen in Hive 5 has been really busy, with big areas of eggs and young brood on five frames in the 14x12 box I put on top of the original standard broodbox. I don't like standard National broodboxes, they're on the small side. There will be masses of bees hatching out of that one in three weeks or so, which fits in nicely with my plans for an early round of queen raising.

If I use eggs from my best colony that should produce an instant improvement in temper in Hive 5, as this is controlled by substances given off by the queen. It won't deal with the following though. This is a tendency to buzz around people, and it's not only a nuisance, it leads to stinging as people panic. It's inherited by the individual worker, so at best it won't disappear until the last of the offespring of that queen dies. It may not vanish then, as the new queen will inevitably mate with drones from that hive, which I'm depending on for this round as they're the only ones I have so far. In that case, it'll be with us all season, as I won't be raising the second round of queens until all the drones from the first one have died off. Drones come from unfertilised eggs, so they're not affected by what their mother has mated with.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

I was at the BBKA Spring Convention yesterday, at Stoneleigh, near Coventry. I got to talks on bee anatomy, queen raising and nosema. The latter is a serious bowel disease of bees, caused by a microscopic fungus. There's a new form, nosema ceranae, which has hopped across from the Asian Honey Bee, Apis cerana. One of the people doing the research on this was speaking; it may be extremely serious or it may not be, and it's such a recent discovery that nobody really knows yet. One thing is certain, it's spread round the world at an incredible rate, doubtless because of people moving bees around. I've always felt that this is a very bad idea, but it's almost impossible to stop, and even if it was, we'd still have swarms landing on ships and being carried all round the world.

Hives 3 and 4 are still expanding steadily; Hive 3 is on 3 1/2 frames, while 4 is still on 2 frames, but expanding the brood area on them. I'd be happier if it had a bigger broodnest as I'll need to take eggs out of it soon to raise queens. Mulching all the spuds is taking time, largely because it's doing my back in.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Hive 3 - the one I combined - has now settled down, with brood on 2 1/2 frames, and masses of eggs, showing a rapid expansion of the broodnest. That's what I like to see at this time of year; it means a lot more bees in three weeks' time. Hive 4 is still on two frames, but again with loads of eggs. Hive 5 is on six frames, the same as last week. A few drones have hatched, so I'll soon be able to raise queens. The dandelions are starting to flower, and there was lots of orange-yellow pollen from them coming in.

All the potatoes are now in, and I've started mulching them all with dead leaves. There are very few grass cuttings yet, but they should be coming in very soon with the warmer weather. It's at this stage that I need to watch my back; last year I strained it badly, and it restricted what I could do all season.

The Canbridge Gage is covered in bloom, with bees going the rounds of the flowers. Hopefully, I'll get a good crop to make up for last year, when it all rotted on the tree. There's a single flower on the Victoria plum I planted last year; hopefully, there will be a crop next year. After losing the first one I planted to the drought three summers ago, I could do with some noce big plums!

Monday, 6 April 2009

More bee problems; the queen in Hive 2 disappeared last week. I opened it to find no eggs or open brood. I saw her last week, and there were eggs then, but she must have just stopped laying, or there would still have been a little open brood when I looked. It was probably down to poor mating in the awful weather last year.

With Hive 3 dwindling fast, I combined the two. I suspect the problem there was a fungal disease, Nosema, though I did treat for it last autumn. Hopefully they'll pull through. It's infuriating though; if that queen had just lasted another couple of weeks, I'd have been able to raise a new one.

I've spotted that Hive 5 has more mites than the others, despite having been given the same oxalic acid treatment on the same day. It had quite a large patch of brood all winter, and they must have been in there. That explains the bees I keep seeing with crumpled wings due to a mite-vectored virus.

I've got most of the potatoes in now; Pink Fir Apple is the only one left. It's been hard going as a lot of the area has had to be dug before I could plant. I've put in a dozen tomato varieties, which are coming up merrily.

I had a seed swap parcel the other day from some of the people from Allotments4all; several of the toms came from there. I don't know what I'd do without that site, it's priceless. I'm getting beans, squashes and sweet corn as well, and I'll add some more toms before I send it on.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

I was stung twice while I was planting potatoes this afternoon, one on each eye. That's Hive 5; I can't wait to get rid of that queen!

The bees are flourishing despite the cooler weather last week. Hives 2 and 4 now have big patches of brood on two frames, and look as though they're about ready to expand onto a third. Once they've got bees hatching from three, they build up pretty fast.

Hive three is also on two frames, but only with small patches of brood. It's expanded a bit since last week, but the number of bees is dwindling as the winter bees die off, and it's looking pretty weak. Hive 5 has five frames of brood, which is ridiculous for March. If we get a wet April they'd be in danger of starving with a decent amount of stores, never mind this year. The silver lining is that there's a good bit of drone brood now. The plan is to start queenraising at the beginning of May, by which time there should be plenty of drones in the hive.

The resulting queens will be crossmated, but never mind. Drones come from unfertilised eggs, so when I do my main queenraising at the end of August or the beginning of September, I'll have loads of drones of my strain, and no foreigners. So I should get well-mated queens at that point.

All the early spuds are in (Duke of York, Arran Pilot, First Earlies, and Charlotte, Second Early), and I'm about to start on the maincrops, Cara and Pink Fir Apple. I'm using a bulb planter, which is OK as long as the soil's not compacted, and a real pain to force in where it is. I'm putting loads in this year, and using them to sort out a rather weedy area. I'll get most of the ground elder out as they go in, and the rest when I lift the crop.

Friday, 20 March 2009

The bees show quite a change over the last few days, since it's been warm enough for them to be bringing in significant quantities of pollen from willow and blackthorn. A week ago, it was too cold for them to be flying, and they didn't like being opened at all. Serve me right for bothering them! The two colonies with my own queens were fine, but the other two were flying off the comb like mad, and trying to sting the whole time. Today, they weren't bothered by my intrusion at all.

They all had big patches of eggs and open brood, showing that the queens have been busy over hthe last few days. Hive 5 now has brood on five frames, the rest on 1 1/2 or 2. Hive 5 has a patch of capped drone brood. A drone pupa is a lot bigger than a worker, so the cells are larger, with domed cappings, and bulge well above the worker brood around them. As soon as I have a reasonable number of drones - which will be by the beginnig of May at this rate - I'll be able to raise new queens and replace the two I didn't breed myself.

Apart from that, all the onions are now in, and I've started planting the potatoes.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

I've managed to emerge triumphantly from a clean Windows re-installation with everything still working. It's a job I hate, but I hadn't done it for several years, and the machine was getting badly cluttered.

I took advantage of the mild day to check the bees. Hive 5, as I expected, is expanding its broodnest merrily, with brood on three frames. The others aren't expanding at all yet; I wouldn't expect them to with no appreciable food supply available yet. Hive 5 was stingy, with bees jumping off the frames. All the more reasoin to requeen it ASAP. The only blessing is that a rapidly expanding colony is likely to have early drones. Once there are a reasonable number I can raise a new queen. She'll be crossmated, but drones come from unfertilised eggs, so they won't be affected, and I can hope for well-mated queens later in the season.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

I had a proper look through the beehives this afternoon; they've all got from one to two and a half frames of brood, with varying sized patches on each frame. The colony I got in December is far and away the biggest (it would be with such a massive cluster). It still has the odd bee with shrivelled wings, indicating virus, but the number isn't increasing. I managed to get to the local Association AGM last night for a change, and got stuck on the committee. Apparently it's only a couple of meetings a year so it won't be onerous.

I've done a bit of digging as well; it's going much more easily now that patch of ground elder is dealt with.

Friday, 20 February 2009

The ground's been on the soggy side for digging this week, so I've spent a couple of days barrowing dead leaves to mulch the asparagus. I was trying to dig a patch which has been invaded by ground elder, and it's really hard going. Fortunately, most of it was done before the freeze, and another go at it should finish that.

Ground elder is the bane of my life; it's in the hedges, it comes through from the next plot, and there doesn't seem to be any effective way of controlling it organically. I was reduced to using glyphosate last year, along the hedge bottom, but I'm not sure how much difference it will have made.

Yesterday I did what I should have done the other day, and put an empty 14x12 broodbox with drawn comb on top of the box that Hive 5 is in. It's the only hive in a standard broodbox. The bees will move up into the new box over the next few weeks, and then I'll be able to take the old one away and melt the comb. That'll move them painlessly onto the stuff I use, with slightly smaller cells, and give them more space. Since I've yet to have one of my own strain swarm from the larger size (it's bound to happen eventually) I think it's well worth it.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Yesterday was sufficiently warm and springlike to go through the hives. the temperature was about 8-9 degrees, and while this goes totally against tradition, I've opened hives many times in colder weather than that, and have never seen any evidence that it did any harm.

All the hives had brood and eggs, showing that they all had laying queens within the last three days. That was what I wanted to know, and once I'd established that much, I didn't look any further. I can now relax and plan on the basis of starting the season with four hives!

Hives 2, 3 and 4 all had 3-4 frames of bees, and small patches of brood. All had a little capped brood, showing that some egglaying continued even in the very cold weather. Hive 5, the one I got in December, had a huge cluster almost filling the broodbox, and, from the look of it, several frames of brood. They gave me several stings, while none of the others even looked like stinging. I can't wait to requeen that one. I'll have to give some thought to its position, as it's right outrside the shed door. They didn't bother me once I'd taken my gear off, but they're in a perfect position to get me as I come out of the shed minus my veil!

Friday, 13 February 2009

I had to stay in today waiting for an engineer, as the heating system had broken down. The boiler turned out to be leaking, and it was dripping on bare wires. It's been made safre, but we've got nothing but a coupple of little convection heaters over the weekend. Meanwhile, I've got my proper computer up and running, which is a great relief after weeks with nothing but a slow laptop.

I did manage a quick walk round the allotments; the snow is going fast, and I've verified that the four colonies are all alive and looking good. My one and only decent native colony is looking particularly strong, despite having a queen entering her third season. I'd be in trouble if I lost her, as she's the only one which is going to give me the queens I want to raise.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

This winter just seems to get worse. the snow's melting slowly, but there's more vile weather promised. It sounds like what local weather in Cornwall used to call 'precipitation', in other words, it could be anything. Predictably, I've been able to do absolutely nothing on the allotment. As far as I'm aware, four colonies of bes are still alive, but I haven't looked since the snow began. I' lost some snow pics once I get a chance, but I've still got computer problems.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

My internet access is down at home due to a line fault which led to the computers switching off my broadband. it should be back up in a few days. Meanwhile, we've continued to have bad weather, with the plot either frozen or waterlogged.

One of the new bee colonies has died out, but the four survivors are all looking strong. If they come through the next few weeks, then they're likely to go through the season without problems.

Meanwhile, I've had enough of winter!