Saturday 31 August 2013

Beans and Bees

My problem at the moment is that I've damaged my back somehow - I don't even know what I've done to it - an I can't do any work at all on the plot, which has become a complete jungle. It's embarassing. I force myself to go for a walk every day, often round the local reservoir, and get to the plot to pick beans and harvest seed. That's about all I'm fit for.

Hive 2 has superseded successfully. Four weeks ago,I found a single supercedure cell, as they raised a new queen. A week later, I opened the hive again, and found an act of regicide in progress. The cell had hatched, and the old queen, dead or dying, was in the middle of a mass of bees. Crawling over them and stinging repeatedly, was a fresh virgin. She's now mated and laying.

It wasn't a particularly strong swarm, and as a result it had a brood break of a couple of weeks, during which eggs weren't being laid, and it wasn't building up. A hungry bird could have eaten that queen on her mating flight or flights, or she could have failed to mate in a spell of bad weather. In either case, of course, the colony would have been doomed. Swarm survival in their first winter is marginal in our climate, and anything which prevents numbers from building up lessens its chances without beekeeper assistance. With our dodgy climate and long winters, murdering the old queen as soon as the new one hatches is not a survival characteristic.

It's easy to see why it's quite common for colonies to keep the old queen going; it removes the brood break, and provides insurance. If the first virgin fails, another can still be raised. This is why two-queen colonies are found. I suspect it's a lot more common than we realise, but not many people keep on looking for a queen after they've found the first one.

I've now harvested almost all my broad bean seed. I planted nine varieties, some of which had already crossed, and let them hybridise. I'll grow out the seed next year and see where I've got to. The aim is to produce a grex (variable variety) with red flowers and red, or 'black', seeds.

 I planted five longpods; Aquadulce, Red Epicure, with red seeds, Dumont's (a Californian mix), Fava Lunga Della Cascine from Italy, and Karmazyn, another red seeded variety from Russia. None of them did particularly well, but the pods they did produce were full of beans. Red Epicure is now on the F3 generation. I've ben selecting for red seeds, and they don't look that different from the originals. The obvious difference is that the seeds are half the size of the originals. That could be down to soil or season, but I plant a lot of smaller seeded varieties, and they do better.

The Crimson Flowered Bean is an old one, aparently identical to the Red Blossomed Bean described in 1831, and probably older. It was originally very variable in colour, and Robinson's Seeds sell an apparently unselected strain. Real Seeds are working on a sport with chocolate coloured flowers. This may not be quite so surprising, given that there are 'black' (deep brown) beans. I have some in the freezer waiting to be grown out. It produces lot of small pods, with plenty of beans when it does well. This is the first time I've had any success with it.

Oldambster Wierboon,  a Dutch variety, has pure white flowers. It grew well, but cropped very lightly. 

Kaulion Valkea, from Finland, did well, as did Wizard, a very reliable variety from Real Seeds which crops a little later than the others. Both have masses of small pods and small beans.

I'm now trying Luz do Otono, a day length neutral longpod from Spain. in a mild autumn, it's supposed to prodice a November crop from a July sowing. It's not doing well at the moment. Whatever it does or doesn't manage, I'll add it to the mix next spring. Meanwhile, I've got little jars of bean seeds everywhere. That's one drawback of plant breeding; you have to save a lot more seed.

Friday 2 August 2013

Settling in

I had a bad attack of migraine last night and didn't manage to write. but I checked both hives yesterday. They're looking good. Both have plenty of worker brood, at various stages of development, eggs, and lively-looking queens. Hive 2 has two frames of brood, and Hive 6 has four. Hive two has a supersedure cell.

Swarms are sometimes headed by old queens which are past their best, and it's not too surprising that the workers are trying to replace her. However, this is a bad moment, as I have no drones. The weather has been ideal for large-scale drone assemblies to form, but from what I've seen, the vast majority of queens mate close to home. I've never had one mate successfully unless I had the drones myself. I'd be much happier if they kept the old queen. Bees usually know what they're doing, far better than beekeepers, though, so I'm leaving them to it.

 The rat-tailed radishes are now triffid-like, and sprawling all over everything. Apparently you harvest them when they're about 5mm thick. They're nice and peppery, but are going to be fiddly to deal with. 

The runner beans are now in full flower; the French beans are well behind despite being planted at the same time. There are three varieties here; Black Magic, Mrs Cannell's Black and Black Pod. I'm going to let them cross and see what I end up with.

Meanwhile the broad beans are well developed, and I need to harvest what I want ASAP, if I can just bend down to get at them! A few weeks more and I'll be harvesting for seed. Then I can build some more raised beds in that space. I've already treated the planks.

The day length neutral broad beans are up, and looking a bit wilted in the heat. I'm waiting to see how they get on; if they don't do well, no matter. They'll just go into the mix next year.

I'm harvesting peas for seed, and I've lifted onions and garlic. They're no good, but the shallotts are by far the best I've ever had. I've never been able to grow them at ground level, but they thrived in a raised bed. If my back would just recover from whatever I did to it, there's loads to get on with.