Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Chicks twelve days on

The chicks have settled well with their adoptive mothers and are growing well. They have already developed their wing feathers and have increased 50% or more in size. They will be with their mothers for at least another 8 weeks.

New sown seed for autumn and winter cropping

We have been sowing this week for our winter and autumn crops, so far we have lettuce, spinach, black kale and fennel.

Monday, 28 July 2008

New sites and wintering bees

I've set up a new apiary near Leominster on an organic farm and will be moving hives in over the next couple of weeks. The sites south of Shropshire seem to carry colonies over the winter significantly better than here in the Shropshire hills. As a result we are putting most if not all our colonies in Herefordshire for wintering. Altitude also has an affect on wintering, we like to winter at 400' or less. Although there is a good deal of work involved in moving colonies it does pay off with a better spring build up.

I checked all the nucleus hives and re-queened those showing signs of poor mating using cells. The mating is improved this season, so I'm hoping to get a better wintering percentage, last year we lost 30% of colonies due to queen failure.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Sowing for the next crop of salad

Nasturtium plants grown in the poly tunnel, we use the leaves and flowers in out salad packs. They give a bitter sweet flavour, pepper from the petals and leaves and sweet from the nectaries. We sow direct into outdoor frames for salad packs this time of year. When sown in the tunnel we find with the high temperatures, the plants bolt before we have enough production of leaves. The frames are covered with fine insect mesh to keep pests at bay.
I would anticipate that these should be available for picking in two weeks depending on weather.

Chicks getting used to their new home

The chicks have been outside for two days now. All seem quite happy with their adoptive mother and are feeding well.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Cell raising starting and finishing

This we have refined our cell raising methods, the cells are grafted into plastic cups using a chinese grafting tool. The cell bar is the top bar of a normal wooden frame as seen below, this is a simple piece of equipment easy to replace.
The grafted cell bars, I normally graft two at a time, are placed in the queen-less half of a split colony which contains only capped brood the colony is fed sugar syrup. Two bars is 38 grafts which gives about 30 queen cells on our current percentage take.
We have split the colonies 24hrs before grafting but have recently found that splitting immediately before grafting produced the same number of accepted grafts.
Twenty four hours(ish) we put the two halves of the split colony back together to finish the cells. The queenless split introduces the emergency response to initiate cell production and the queen-right finisher relys on the supercedure instinct to finish good quality cells. Thats the theory, who knows but it seems to work

Against conventional wisdom I find that I get better acceptance if I graft into the starter colony straight after splitting rather than leaving for 24 hrs so the bees "realise" they are queenless. Will experiment more with this later.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Additions to our flock

Today (Sat) I collected from Cyril Bason the latest batch of chicks. They are Rhode Island Blacks, which I assume have similar breeding to Black Rocks namely a Rhode Island Red / Barred Plymouth Rock hybrid.
There were 25 day olds in the batch which arrived in a cardboard transport box all chirping their heads off. We raise our chicks under broody hens, but have to wait till dark before we can introduce these chicks to their new mums. So to keep them warm we put them in a plant propagator with a temp set at about 20c. As soon as they were inside the propagator the chirping stopped.

They have now been introduced to their surrogate mothers and been accepted, the first day under a broody hen the chicks are kept close to mum, she often stops them feeding. So it is important to make sure that they have food and water before introducing to the broody hen

Monday, 14 July 2008

Requeening with cells

From last weeks grafts I had about 60 cells available, although I graded 12out due to their small size. These cells were used to re-queen all my hives. We use cells to re-queen as it saves the workload involved with mating queens and the high attrition rate when introducing mated queens into the hive.
Below you see the Caricell loaded straight from the nursery colonies ready for grading and wrapping. I decided to re-queen all the bought in New Zealand queens as they don't winter well and after experiencing the bad temper of the Buckfast queens, I have been doing them as well. See below the number of stings in my gloves after working a couple of Buckfast colonies.

The expansion is moving along OK, we have over 30 colonies at this site, this is 10 or more than normal so we will be moving a number down to our new site a few miles away the other side of Leominster.
We have another 2 weeks available to increase the number of colonies after that we will be concentrating on preparation for winter.
The colonies are in good shape with young queens and plenty of flying bees. If we get a couple of weeks decent weather we should get through the year with an acceptable harvest. Time will tell.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Boundary markers

On the old OS maps the corners of fields are often market with trees. I've included a couple of the trees used as boundary markers on our holding.

This one is on the south west boundary on a terraced slope. I don't have records of when this was done.

This tree marks the next field along on the southern boundary and is on the corner of an old fence line, both trees are Sycamore.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Weedy paths and poly tunnel

The paths between beds have been growing to the extent that the vegetation is starting to interfere with growth of the crop. In the image below the weeds and volunteer green manure plants are falling onto the bed and swamping the crop. Leeks are very sensitive to low light levels and without action there would be a considerable drop in the harvest.

We removed all the mesh covers and used a brush cutter to cut back the paths and cleared debris from the crop by hand. The result can be seen below. I am happy with the development of the leek crop this year, so far.

The polytunnel crops are very slow this year the Aubergene plants are looking reasonably healthy but are over 4 weeks behind in expected development. This puts future plantings of some of these half hardy crops in doubt for future years, we shall see what transpires during the rest of the season.

Cell raising

I have been cell raising again here you can see the larva in the base of the artificial cell cup, these are then placed in a queenless colony to be drawn out.

These are the cells I grafted two days ago. Most of the cells have been accepted you can see the wax extending the plastic cell. The cell second from the left has been rejected as have a couple in the centre of the bar.

These are being finished in a queen right colony above a queen excluder. They will be ready for use from Saturday to Wednesday.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Cell raising and inspection

One of our pallets with four colonies, we have been using pallets for stands for a couple of years now they are stable , cheap and readily available, and much easier than making in situ stands.Some of these colonies can get quite excited when you have finished an inspection but they will settle down after I've left.
Below this super was put on about three minutes before I took this photo, hopefully the bees will be as keen to fill it with honey as they are to explore the addition to their home.

The cells I grafted yesterday where quite successful, 25 out of 28 accepted. I put these in a queenright finisher. Will check in the morning to see what how many the finisher hive are working.
I'll also graft another two bars (30 cells). I would like to have 50 plus cells available for next Sunday when we will start making nucleus hives and placing supercedure cells.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Grafting Queen Cells

Today we grafted another two bars of cells (about 30), we use a queenless colony as a starter/finisher,but have had disappointing results with about a 50 % take.
Tomorrow I will check and see how many are accepted in the first 24hrs as I think the bees may be reducing the number of cells they're finishing. In which case we'll finish the cells above a queen excluder in a queen-right colony.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Weed Control, Couch Grass

We have one patch where due to the wet weather last summer and this, Couch Grass has established. It has become apparent recently just to what extent it has established. The runner Beans have been swamped despite planting through a maize mulch. As seen above

A close up of the rotovated patch of Couch Grass

Couch has running roots which are able to puncture the thin material, I have seen them grow right through a potato tuber. The main method of organic control is to rotovate the area several times in dry weather. This prevents growth and dries and kills out the roots ...eventually.The down side of this is that rotovating several times drys the soil and rapidly breaks down the organic matter in the soil. still no point having high organic matter if the crop plants are being strangled by Couch Grass.

As seen below we have cultivated this patch and will sow a summer green manure once the couch has been reduced. Long shot of the weedy plot now rotovated, to the left is the row of runner beans swamped by couch grass.