Saturday, 31 March 2012

Some pics

Coltsfoot growing in industrial wasteland by the canal.

A coot nesting on Edgbaston Reservoir

Crown imperials. They like drought and heat in summer, and this is the only place on the plot where I've ever managed to get them to grow. It's probably a little dryer in winter than the rest. They suffered badly in those two very wet years we had not long ago, but they're coming back slowly.

Trillium Kurabayashii, flowering two or three weeks earlier than usual.

A view over the site. 

The row of pines was planted when the railway was built, on the insistence of Lord Calthorpe, who owned the land, as he wouldn't let it go through without a screen.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Swarms to come

The signs of spring are all around us, like the wonders in Conan Doyle's 'Lost World'. Plum blossom is coming out, and the sycamores round the flat are in full bloom. The bees are booming, with six and a half frames of brood, and patches of capped drone brood. That's where I'd expect them to be in early May, not the end of March.

There's a noce frams of brood developing here. You can see the capped brood - the brown areas - with very few holes, and flat capping, indicating that the queen is laying fertile worker eggs, in a nice pattern. To the left, if you enlarge the pic, you can see uncapped honey, which is coming in from willow.

This one's mainly honey, with yellow, greenish or brownish pollen (depending what plant it comes from) in some cells.

With colonies so strong so early, we can expect swarming, especially if the current weather continues. I've heard one swarm report already, and I've seen bees around my empty hives, suggesting that a colony not far away may be making preparations. The interesting thing is that I pick up swarms every year, then those colonies don't often prepare to swarm out of my hives. You'd have thought a lot of swarms would be from swarmy strains, but it doesn't seem to work like that.

A lot of the swarms go on to fill the broodbox with brood at the height of the season, and that may be the key to some of it. There are many different factors which affect swarming, but one of them is space. If the queen runs out of cells to lay in, the colony usually swarms. I use 14x12 boxes, which are significantly bigger than a standard Nations, which uses 14x8 1/2 inch frames. I think some of those colonies run out of space because beekeepers are using boxes which are too small for them.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Spring has sprung

I always feel spring's arrived when I see the bees bringing in significant quantities of willow pollen. You can see the several incoming bees are quite yellow-looking, and have yellow parcels of pollen in the pollen baskets on their back legs. Nectar and honey are nothing but carbohydrate; bees get everything else from pollen, which is loaded with protein and fat. For the first time in five or six months, assuming the weather's warm enough for them to fly, they have a supply of fresh feed. They respond by feeding the queen better, causing her to lay more eggs. They have food available for the resulting larvae, and the colony soon expands, as bees begin to hatch out faster than the old ones die off.

This is the stream at the bottom of my plot, immediately after a heavy shower. Normally it's about half an inch deep at this point. After a thunderstorm, it becomes quite scary, and half the site may well be under water. I can't complain though; it's only the regular flooding which has stopped the site being built over long ago. Otherwise, it would be worth millions as building land.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Birmingham Organic Gardeners

BOG had a stall in town today; I got a white currant, a day lily and a hardy geranium. You can see my currant, which is quite large, put away at the back there on the right, while I went shopping. I'll put it in as soon as I can get to the plot, and probably prune it right back. The important thing for this year is to get it established, not to get fruit.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Planting time

I've started the first little bits of planting. Seven varities of bread bean; Crimson Flowered, Red Bristow (from the HSL), Aquadulce, Grando Violetto, Wizard, a field bean, and Red Epicure, all tp be planted together. I'm going to let them all cross, add more to the mix next year, and see what I end up with. I'm looking for somthing tasty, tough (hence the field bean), red-flowered and red-seeded. I've also put three lines of TPS (true potato seed) in at home; Skagit Magic, which is supposedly blight resistant, only I didn't have any blight to test it last year, Russian Blue, and Blue Belle. Last year I got them in mid-May, and planted then, far too late. This year they've got plenty of time to develop.

My surviving bee colony has far too much brood; four and a half frames of it. That's consistent with what I'm hearing elsewhere, and it's no doubt due to the mild winter. Trouble is, there's no way the bees are going to bring in enough food for that lot in early March. We're going to see a lot of colonies starving this spring, and those tha come through will be unusually strong. All we need then is a dry and sunny May, and there are going to be swarms all over the place. At the moment, they're bringing in a little pollen - a lot for the time of year, but not much in absolute terms - from snowdrops, blackthorn and hazel.

 The first pussy willow is showing, and it won't be long before wllow pollen predominates. It's that time of year; it's often a bit warmer, so the bees can fly for longer, and there are large trees within a few yards. With an ample supply of food for the first time since early autumn, the bees can expand the boodnest, and build up the numbers. They're still vulnerable, though. If there's a shortage of stored food, a spell of cold or wet weather can easily reduce them to starvation.

Meanwhile, the hellebores are in full bloom.


I started the winter with four colonies of bees, and ended it with one. The three which didn't make it all died off after New Year, with clusters shrinking steadily. The survivor is extremely strong. This is due to a gut disease called Nosema apis. At least, it's probably N apis. There is a second species, ceranae, which originated with the Asian honeybee, but we don't know a lot about it yet. The disease shortens the bee's life, so the colony wither doesn't make it through our long winters, or comes through weakened.

I know why this happened; it's because I put colonies onto old comb, which must have been infected. So I need to sterilise all my unused broodcomb with concentrated acetic acid. The fumes are lethal to humans as well as disease organisms, so it takes careful handling. I've avoided concentrated acids for many years, but I can get the stuff on eBay, and I'm going to have a go. Then if I get as much new comb pulled as I can, melt the worst of the old, and medicate the bees in the autumn, that should deal with the problem.

On a pleasanter note, it's time to start planting. I went to an event organised by the HSL last Saturday at Martineau Gardens, a couple of miles away. Unfortunately I forgot the camera, but I came back with some interesting seed; shark's fin squash, fenugreek, a Bangladeshi variety of callalloo, which is darker green than the Caribbean varieties - I don't know whether there's any other difference - and halon, which is apparently a sort of spicy cress.