Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Onions planted

You see here are the onion transplants ready for planting out, the leaves are nice and fat and the roots hold together well when removed from the cell. You can just see some of the tips of the leaves turning brown which is a sign that we need to plant these soon.

This is the first bed of onions Nicky planted, they are our own transplants, germinated in the growing room and grown on in the poly tunnel. All are planted by hand using a dibber. Each bed has about 2000 plants. We are planting through the maize mulch which was laid about a week ago to control weed growth.
You can just see on the soil between the beds we have sown clover seed (light dots on the soil surface) this will control weeds as it grows and will supply a green manure crop after the onions are harvested.

First batch of new queens arrived

The hives below are some of the colonies I have split, they are on the Rape and you can see it is at about 60% to 70% out, so we should will have a few more weeks of nectar flow for the new colonies to build up on.

The 20 New Zealand Queens (Italian) arrived today as planned, delivered by the postman in their plastic shipping boxes

I had previously put brood frames above a queen excluder so I was able to separate the two brood boxes and make two colonies from each hive. The queenless half was then given a new queen which will hopefully be accepted and start a new colony. Seen here are the same colonies as above which have been split and requeened.

All we need now is some sunshine.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Waiting for summer

The weather is finally starting to slowly warm up. The hedgerows coming into leaf and the Oil Seed Rape is coming into flower, we have all the above boxes waiting to go out to our sites as honey supers and as brood boxes for our early splits. The green boxes are all polystyrene (painted) which we are going to use as brood boxes. The brown boxes are wooden and will be used for supers.

Runner Bean planting

The first row of runner beans has been planted today, as I said earlier we are experimenting with planting under a cloche through maize mulch.
The concept is that even though the bens will germinate much earlier than normal the cloche will protect them from frost damage and we will get an early crop of beans.
As you can see from the top picture we have created a micro-climate which will hopefully protect the young beans as they grow, time will tell.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

New Queens arrive next week

One of our sites (taken last year) where we will be splitting to make new colonies

We are expecting 20 New Zealand queens next tuesday so on Sunday I will be putting brood above queen excluders in readiness for splitting and introducing queens into new colonies. This should bring us up to about 50 stocks with another 12 queens due in may taking us to 60 plus colonies, we are hoping for good weather for the next few weeks so these colonies can build up for the summer flow. Most of them will be on OilSeed Rape so given good weather we should see some looking colonies come June.

Bad weather stopped play and the growing room

The mulch is half laid on the allium and lettuce rotation but the rain saturated the ground to the extent that the tractor could not operate without making a horrible mess. So instead we have sorted out one of the tunnels, cleared the end of the last crop of salad leaves and incorporated compost.
In the past few days the leeks have germinated in the cold frame, the courgettes and squash have germinated in the growing room and Nicky has sown the Brussels Sprouts and Savoy Cabbage. We are seeing good growth on the Aubergines and Peppers which if anything are a bit too far advanced, time will tell. We are learning as we go along with the growing room as this is the first year we have had to grow the majority of our own transplants.

The growing room is based in a room under a patio and has no natural light, we are using four 200watt envirolights above the growing plants. The height of the lights above the plants can be altered via clever little adjustable hangers. The room itself has proved a success for most leafy subjects but root vegetables like beetroot and celeriac get very drawn and soft. What has become evident is that we need a large greenhouse or heated tunnel to harden off plants taken from the growing room and to avoid bottle-necks in production.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Hurray warm weather, could this be spring?

The temperature has risen at last, the soil is drying out nicely, the morning was spent with a local grower Mick who has just started up a five acre organic vegetable unit near Knighton , he left with module trays, pots, carry trays and a gun for his rabbit problem.
This afternoon will be laying maize starch mulch, which looks very much like a black polythene sheet, we lay it using a traditional poly layer on the tractor. We plant modules through it by hand this gives us weed free growth until late summer but also conserves moisture in the soil. It is important to get the timing right, laying it when it is dry enough to take the weight of the tractor but before the soil dries out too much and looses soil moisture. Once the mulch is laid we sow white clover in the pathways to prevent weed growth and soil erosion.

Tractor, rotovator, poly layer and Gyp

This is our small tractor (39HP) 4WD John Deere shown here with the rotovator, just behind you can see the poly layer that we are using now to put down the maize mulch.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Visit to the bees in the rain ...again

We again visited the bees on the Oil Seed Rape to check the hives stores and to promote all colonies to double brood chambers. All looked OK despite the cold season we are having but I would think they are 2 to 3 weeks behind colonies in what we have come to think of as a normal season.
All colonies are on two brood chambers, all have been checked and fed if needed so all we need now is warm weather to get the OSR yielding.
While we were out we had time to check all the Herefordshire sites and although we didn't do a full inspection due to the weather all seemed to be in order with just one colony loosing its queen , this was united with a colony next door.
While checking the hives today I noticed that stocks on double brood chambers have more resources to fall back on, in late cold seasons like this. The single brood chamber colonies obviously use less equipment and are easier to move around but they are always more prone to starving in cold springs. I haven't decided if the cost and hassle of double brood chambers on wintering colonies is worth the improvement in development in a poor spring.
In any case in the next two weeks all stocks will be split to make new colonies for the queens we are buying in, more of that later.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Visit to the Beekeeping Spring Convention, Stoneleigh

The BBKA spring convention is held at the National Agricultural Centre at Stoneleigh every year on the third or fourth week of April, This year the season was well behind last year when we had a heat wave and were getting concerned about a severe drought (how wrong we were). Clive de Bryn was running a workshop on queen rearing, how he managed to demonstrate queen rearing when our bees have only just started drone cells and queen cells are being torn down, I don't know. Still Clive is a resourceful chap and I'm sure his students will have spent a profitable day with him.
The exhibitors were similar to last year and I didn't spot anything new that excited me but I did chat to the producers of varroa control methods which may help in the coming season.

The highlight of the convention for me was the talk by Murray Reid from AsureQuality in New Zealand. His talk was on re-queening using cells and without finding and removing the old queen.This is a method we have been working with since Sam came back from New Zealand, so it was of particular interest to me.
I won't go into detail of his talk but the main points that we will find useful are as follows:

1. When grafting queen cells the starter hive should be queenless to take advantage of the emergency impulse to build cells. You can have lots of cells in a starter colony up to 30 or 40.
The finisher hive should however be queenright to replicate the supercedure impulse to encourage the bees to produce well fed cells before they are sealed. The finisher should take fewer cells say up to 20. You will therefore need more than one finisher if you are raising in excess of 20 cells in a batch.
2. Feed the donor or breeder hives with sugar syrup mixed with pollen or pollen substitute. Forcing the bees to use the extra protein as it's not in a form that can be stored. This produces cells with larvae swimming in royal jelly, easy for grafting. The same treatment for starter and finisher hives will produce well fed larvae in queen cells.
3. Use hose or irrigation pipe for queen cell protectors.
4. Place cells high in the second brood chamber or in the supers during the summer to replicate the conditions of supercedure.
It was encouraging to learn that we are on the right track with our methods and the improvements gleaned from Murray Reids' talk will improve our performance.

In the afternoon I attended the Bee Farmers annual meeting which went well, I was impressed with the committees effort during last year to work with DEFRA on the bee health strategy and their attempts to get the regional meetings under way. We will see what comes of their efforts in the near future.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Bees moved to OSR

Bees have been moved into position last night in the middle of a 60 acre oil seed rape field. We moved them open, on 1 tonne nissan pickups in wet but mild weather.
I checked the hives today it was the coldest weather I have worked bees for a long time, all were OK but very short of stores, a symptom of our weather this year. I fed the worst affected colonies and will check the rest on Sunday.

We wintered some colonies on double brood some on single, the single were fine coming through the winter but have been more prone to running out of stores in a season like this. At this time of year the brood nest is expanding rapidly and stores are used up at a rapid rates, so a shortage now can be disastrous for a colonies development. So we will feed those that need it until we are able to put the honey supers on.

Its also noticeable that hives wintered in Hereford are significantly ahead of those wintered in Shropshire, perhaps next year we should be looking at wintering most of our stocks further south.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Runner bean trial and leeks germinated

We are trying out a method of growing early Runner Beans. In short we planted Runner Bean seeds through a black mulch (biodegradable) and covered with a polythene cloche. The hope is that the cloche will protect the beans from any late frosts and give us beans much earlier in the season. Later once the beans have germinated we will push canes through the cloche to support the plants then split the cloche in June to allow the beans to grow up the canes

Today the leeks planted in frames seen above have germinated so I weeded them and covered with a bubble polythene cloche to advance growth. The leeks are in the frame shown on the right, you can see the soil surface covered with "Mypex" , this is put in place as seed is sown to prevent weed seed germination prior to the leek seedling emergence. This gives the young leeks less competition during the early development period.
We have a comparative trial with leeks sown in trays and those sown in the frames. So far the plants in trays are ahead but the time to judge is when the leeks get harvested.

Monday, 14 April 2008

In anticipation of warmer weather

We have started cultivating at last, the method we use is to deep tine (to 12" 18" deep) which provides aeration and breaks up any compacted layers in lower levels of the soil. We then rotovate to a depth of approx 3", this turns in any trash on the surface and provides a soft surface for planting.

The picture shows the ground opened up by the deep tines.

Beekeeping At Hopesay Glebe Farm

We run a beekeeping enterprise currently about 35 colonies, we wintered 46 but lost two I think to viruses and another 10 to queen-less colonies or drone laying queens, this I think is as a result of the poor weather during the mating season last year. As queens have to mate on the wing a number of times, periods of poor flying weather will reduce the laying capacity of the queens the following season. This is not always obvious in the first year of the queen where she may lay well up to the end of summer only to fade in the spring of the following year.
In contrast to last year the bees seem to be about 2 to 3 weeks behind a "normal" year (if there is such a thing). We have had to adjust our expansion plans as a result but hopefully we will see a compensatory rapid build up once the warm weather does come.
Tomorrow we hope to be moving the bees to the Oil Seed Rape which provides the first serious opportunity for a crop. Because of its earliness OSR can be a fickle crop, the last two years it has gone over so quickly due to hot weather that we got very little honey, this year we are hoping for better things as development has been a lot slower.
The honey from OSR crystalises very quickly, so much so that it can set in the comb if not removed and extracted as soon as the flowers fade. Timing is all important when taking bees to OSR but it can give rewards in terms of an early crop and rapid build up of colonies.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Ground works and sheep's feet

We have 20 Lleyn sheep which we raise mainly for mutton, today we had to give them one of their regular overhauls. This involves picking them up and depositing them on their backsides with their back resting against your legs so we can check and trim their feet, foot rot is always a risk when the weather has been wet, but out of the 20 only 2 needed any attention for that malady. We can now start the summer grazing rotation knowing the sheep are in reasonable condition.

With the spring moving on we have started cultivating the ground prior to planting leeks and onions. We do this by using deep tine cultivators which are tractor mounted rigid tines penetrating the ground to between 12 and 18 inches to will be followed up with a rotary cultivator to create the seed bed. If the weather allows we should be looking at planting onions late next week.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Spring moving at last

Spring has finally put in an appearance, we are seeing signs of growth everywhere. Last week we got all our leeks sown in the frames and the previously sown chard and spinach have been put in the tunnel to harden off prior to planting.

The new growing room with blue spectrum economy lights is starting to pay its way, already we've produced transplants of onions, leeks, lettuce, beetroot, chard and celery. Most of the transplants are spending 2 or 3 weeks under the lights the exception being the more delicate species aubergine, peppers and tomatoes which are developing well under the artificial conditions and will be there at least until May.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Change In Markets attended

After almost 8 years we have had to stop attending Birmingham Farmers Market. With the increasing fuel and stall costs and the diminishing interest in the city centre market we have reluctantly decided we could no longer take a stall at the market.
We have a good number of regulars who became friends over time and  I will miss contact with them, but in the end economics has to be the final priority.
We are still in Birmingham twice per month on the 4th Saturday in Moseley and the second Saturday in Kings Norton so hopefully we will see our friends there. We will of course still be attending Shrewsbury Market every Friday and Saturday.