Friday, 28 August 2009

Update on some outdoor crops

At this time of year we are moving from summer to winter crops, the change over depends on weather through autumn. Good weather at this time of year will make a significant difference to our annual profits, especially after the poor weather in July.

Spinach has been going well and we have made our third cut, with a potential fourth if the weather goes well.

The beetroot have been growing slowly but as most of our customers prefer smaller roots
The beetroot planted back in June has been doing well except for the short tail vole damage which has been reduced when we removed the mesh crop cover allowing predators access. These include owls and our expert rodent control manager: Black Cat

We had three batches of Leeks this year the smallest plants are from plants sown in May in a polythene tunnel, the largest are those sown in a frame in February with the only protection from a mesh cover. we will check which type does best later in the year.

Red onions are ready for drying off, the tops have bent over we will be moving them to the tunnel to wither the tops.
We used multi sown onion cells this year, we aim for between two and four seed per cell, from the results the muti sown modules have worked well, we are getting about 25% more per m2.

One of reliable crops is summer flowering Purple, it doesn't need vernalisation to set flowers, with a cool autumn we should get three or four more weeks from this crop, provided there is no early frost.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Lost an old friend

Last week at the age of eleven and half years my old friend died.
Gyp never one of the worlds hardest workers but always friendly, greeting guests and accompanying me on trips to the wholesaler or to growers. She lived under my desk in the study where I'm writing this, I look for her each time I come in the room. Rest easy old friend

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Beekeeping course

We ran the bee keeping day here last Sunday where we covered bee keeping as a hobby and gave the participants the opportunity for some practical experience. Below are the notes I used for the day

Bee Space: this discovery enabled the design of the modern moveable frame hive.Rev Langstroth discovered that inside a hive a space of 35mm would be respected as a pathway by the bees, a smaller space would be filled often with propolis and a larger space would be filled with comb. So by keeping a bee space between frames we can ensure that bees will respect the space and usually not build comb between the frames. Leaving the frame separate so they can be removed and replaced at will.
Top Bee space hives: these have a bee space above the frame bars which keeps the top bars clear of comb and propolis making them easier to remove.
Langstroth: used worldwide by the vast majority of commercial beekeepers, usually top bee-space 10 frames per box.
National: most common hive in UK smaller than Langstroth and usually bottom bee space, 11 frame per box.
WBC double wall hive using national frames,pretty but inconvenient to work with,

There are numerous other hives which are all based on the same theme some smaller some bigger but in truth the bees don't care the main thing is to keep to one type of hive in your operation.

Queen excluder keeps the queen laying in the brood area, keeping the rest of the boxes for honey.
Brood chamber : boxes kept for queen to lay eggs and raise brood
Supers : boxes used to collect honey, can be full or half depth.

Hive tool: metal tool used for prising hives apart and freeing frames in the hive.

Smoker: stainless steel or copper are available, I always choose on with a guard which prevents burns and damage to other equipment
Smoker box: If you are travelling to your hives it is a good idea to keep your smoker and hive tools in a metal fire proof box,

Protective equipment: Plan on the minimum of a good bee suit, gloves and suitable boots, working bees knowing you will not be getting stung too much. Stings can still get through but good equipment keeps this to a minimum.

The bee colony comprising Queen 1 (usually) drones several hundred summer only, workers 15 to 60 thousand. and during the season eggs and brood at various stages.
Swarming when the queen and most of the older bees leave to found a new colony, taking most of the foraging force and resulting in a much reduced harvest.
The aim of the beekeeper is to build the colony as large as possible to get a big foraging force and to avoid swarming to maintain the work force.
to reduce swarming we need to keep a young queen in the hive and give as much space in the brood nest to allow the queen to continue laying.

To have young queens you must practice some form of queen rearing, see later. to maintain space in the brood nest you can split the colony early in spring, keep adding preferably drawn comb into the brood nest or run on a double brood box system.
The principles are have a young queen in the hive and maintain laying space in the brood chamber.

Queen Rearing/swarm control

Regardless of the number of hives you run it will be important to raise your own queens. A supply of young queens is one of the best safeguards to reduce swarming.
Artificial swarming: Involves splitting the hive in two, one half with the old queen the other with brood and eggs with adhering bees placed to one side. They will raise a queen, once she is mated the two halves can be reunited or a new colony started.
Walk away splits. A simplified version of the above, the hive is split in half with equal brood in each half, the splits are placed close together so they share the old site and as a result the flying bees. The queen-right half will continue as before while the queenless half with set about raising a queen.
If the above methods are used after drones are seen in the hive and before swarm cells are seen then you have a good chance of preventing swarming.

To raise larger numbers of queens some form of grafting will need to be used. Grafting is the removal of larvae from the cell to a specially prepared queen cup.
These cups are then placed in a queenless starter colony for 24hrs then into a queen right colony above a queen excluder or maintained in a queenless colony until ready for distributing too mating nucleus hives or direct into colonies for re-queening.

Summer management of hives
Add empty supers to maintain space above the hive all the time a flow is on, Check colonies weekly for swarming may and June then periodically check for space, stores and viable queens.

In Oil Seed Rape areas honey is normally extracted by the end of may to the first week of June depending on the crop. The second extraction is usually early August then in September if heather honey is collected.
Most people will uncap with a cold knife although various forms of heated blades are available.
Honey is extracted using centrifugal force in a radial or tangential extractor. we normally store the honey in 30lb buckets straight from the extractor then it can be stored and processed later.

Processing honey
for clear honey we heat the honey tubs in a water bath to a temp of 40C but some people go as high as 48C. At these temperatures honey will melt without detrimental affects on flavour. Once melted the honey is filtered through a straining cloth into a bottling tank where once the bubbles have risen the honey is bottled into required containers.

To make creamed or soft est honey honey: A seed of set honey is needed (1/4 of the total processed) the seed is warmed enough to make it pour and is added to the melted strained honey. The mix is then stirred every day for several day until a homogeneous consistency is achieved. The honey is bottled while it is soft enough to pour.

Labelling for detailed advice see the following link to the BBKA site:

Monday, 3 August 2009

The wet season continues

The seasons are moving on and some crops are ripening despite the weather, the wettest July in 100 years. Slugs are ever present see below hanging off an onion leaf, but most vegetable crops are OK except for lettuce which has stopped growing and leeks that need good light levels to develop.

The Jerusalem Artichokes do well in wet weather and are over 10' tall now, presumably the roots are developing just as fast.

The Rhubarb has decided enough is enough and is going dormant for this year. I see some growers are still selling sticks but we have found that the quality has deteriorated on our crop and stopped pulling 4 weeks ago.