Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Changes at Shrewbury Market

As Shrewsbury has become our main income stream we have decided to attend all four of the full trading days. This means two extra days at the market and the opportunity to change the layouit of our stall. Below is the old stall taken in Oct this year.
So far we have built a small tiered shelf seen below which gives a better view of the produce and more display space. With the aded advatage of giving more space behind the stall for scales, bags etc.
Our next job is to change the price labelling of the produce to which end a friend and customer has offered some help, more on this in a couple of weeks.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Last vestiges of summer

Taken before the last heavy frost, these Asters are providing a late season forage supply for our local Butterflies.
The warmth of the summer season dictates the range of species we have here we can see Red Admiral, Comma and Tortoiseshell.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Hill Radnor flock expansion

First view of the farm

I just spent a very pleasant Sunday afternoon choosing and buying four additions to our Hill Radnor flock. The William's near Brecon, Wales have what must be one of the largest flocks in the country. We chose a fine yearling ram who had been shown as a lamb consequently he is amazingly easy to handle (once caught). I was putting on his raddle harness before loosing out with the ewes and he stood stock still. Trying to fasten the buckles around his chest was like hugging a giant ovine teddy bear.Our new tup, big hansom chap all dressed up ready for action, he has made a start already and has covered one of the new Radnor ewes.

We picked up four ewes to go with him, this added to the three organic in lamb ewes we ordered for Feb 2011 will get our flock off to a better start after last years problems. Will update on progress
The Radnors settling in with the rest of our sheep.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Autumn in the Apiary

A common frog making his or her living around the base of the bee hives, no doubt eating fallen workers and drones dropping around the hive base. As son as he saw me he moved between the hives out of reach. These trees are at the entrance of one of my Shropshire sites Crab Apple and Viburnum, Wayfarers Tree. The whole feel of the season now has turned autumnal and the bees have responded.
The Drones are all gone I have seen three hive with drones, which usually spells trouble in the form of a queenless colony or with a virgin. Both mean the colony will not survive the winter so have to be united to make use of the bees and stores.

Wasps can be a problem but this year we have had very little trouble only seeing an attack where a colony is queenless or otherwise weak. Below you can see a wasp being ejected by a worker. A strong colony should be able to defend he entrance even though none have been reduced as is the custom in UK bee keeping.

There is some flying going on, it is noticeable that all my colonies in Shropshire and Herefordshire are bringing in nectar from the Himalayan Balsam, Impatiens glandulifera (I think). This is a garden escape that is rapidlt taking over river banks and damp areas across the region and country. Its an ill wind as it provides much needed nectar and pollen for pollinators at a time of scarcity. I will try and remember my camera next time I visit a site where it grows.

These are my final visits to the bees before the winter treatment for Varroa and Nosema, I gave them a final feed that's four in total since taking the honey each feed is about half a gallon. I will feed again in February when I will include Fumidil B for Nosema and will treat for Varroa in December with an Oxalic Acid drizzle. Final count this year is 45 colonies going into winter. Lets hope we get better survival this year.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Millies first go with the whistle

Millie's first introduction to the whistle, not that interested in the house. will have a go outside.

I am using a standard shepherds whistle which goes inside the mouth when blowing, takes some getting used to. You need to develop your whistles for stop,come here, left, right and walk on. there must be consistency with each whistle command to avoid confusion for the dog.

So far after one lesson she understands stop and come here and responds much quicker to the whistle than voice command. I suspect that she is finding it more interesting to learn new skills.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Compost problems

We have been having problems germinating seed this year, especially lettuce so decided to do some pH tests. We used a standard pH and nutrient testing kit which uses liquid a pH test reagent.
The picture (sorry its a bit fuzzy) shows the various materials we have used. The second from the right is the ready made organic Coir based compost which is a very acid pH 4.5. This may explain the poor germination.

We have in the past experimented with mixing our own compost using Coir and our own sterilised topsoil. We tested our batch of top soil which came out at about 6 to 6.5 pH which is OK for our uses. The soil will to some extent act as a buffer holding onto moisture and nutrients while the seedlings are still in the modules as well as neutralising the acidic effect of the Coir
A small batch of our intended mix was made up and when tested it came out at pH6.0 which is perhaps a bit acid so we will by adding lime at about 50gm per 40 litres.
The other additives are perlite which both come out at about pH6to pH6.5.
The results of our pH tests, the mixed compost is extreme right showing pH about 6.5.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Queen cells have gone out

I aim to replace most of our queens this time of year using the supercedure impulse. At this time of year many colonies will replace an older or poor performing queen by raising a single cell, allowing it to hatch and mate resulting in a young healthy queen to go through the winter.
The method I use tries to replicate this by placing a sealed and protected queen cell in each hive which will hopefully be accepted by the colony as their own. The virgin then emerges from the cell, mates and I have young queens going into winter.
This system has a fail-safe in that if the virgin fails to emerge and mate we still have a viable queen established in the hive.
Not the situation when replacing existing queens with new mated queens as the resident queen has to be removed or destroyed before her replacement can be introduced. So any acceptance problems of introduced mated queens will result in a queenless colony.
The bar of cell cups before grafting, six days before they are installed in the colonies.
Each cell is wrapped in tin foil to prevent the colony ripping out the side of then cell and destroying the larvae. We have used electricians insulation tape but stopped when a local bee keeper lost three batches of sixty cells due to some fire retardant on foam he was using. I suspect that electricians tape will have some fire retardant so decided not to take the risk.
When installing the cells I open all the hives on the pallet, fill the feeder then prise apart two frames in the centre of the brood nest and push the cell in, put the lid back and jobs a good'un.

The success rate of this method will vary according to the weather but I estimate it to be between 50% and 75% of cells introduced becoming mated queens.
Will check again in three weeks and any colonies without a laying queen will be united for the winter.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Just a quick check

As usual on a Thursday I was in a rush to, check the Hereford sheep, pick up the additional items for the market, collect chicken food from Batchley Mill then up to Shrewsbury set up the market and back for tea at 7. Bit late setting off should have just enough time arrive at Stoke Prior 2.30pm

So First stop Millie and I walk into the orchard to check the sheep.

Away she goes rounds up the sheep ready to be checked, OK seven healthy sheep no lameness,scouring or other obvious problems, that's good ....except, there should be 16. Nine sheep gone. With a rising pulse rate I check all the fences no holes, they must have been nicked.

The thing is to keep calm do not panic... a whole 12 months worth of sheep work lost. Check the neighbouring field. That's clear only another farmers sheep about 1/4 mile away 9 in a 20 acre field. Wait a minute 9 sheep in a massive field,the little buggers have legged it and taken up unauthorised residence in a neighbours farm, look pretty relaxed for gate crashers.

Off we trudge Millie rounds them up narrowly avoiding mixing them with a flock of 100 sheep in a nearby paddock, we get them back by lifting the fence line and pushing reluctant ewes under, a temporary job on fastening the fence down. Now what to do, can't leave them here or they will be off before the morning. The only option move them to a secure field before the night is out. Time now 3.00pm

Plan one off to the owner of the field and borrow his trailer and move the sheep now, just changed my mobile so don,t have his number. Nothing else for it I'll have to drive up there and talk to him. Needless to say he's gone on holiday and the house sitter doesn't have a key "don't worry he'll be back next Thursday" she helpfully suggests. Next Thursday they will be halfway to London by then. Wasted time now its 3.30pm

I know Batchley Mill have a trailer I could pick up the fruit from Phoenix Organics, as usual they are well organised and I get loaded quickly and then hot foot to Batchley pick up chicken food and the trailer move sheep jobs "a good un". Arrive at Batchley load feed but no sign of John or Mary so no trailer. Time 4.00pm, market closes 6.00 so need to be there before 5.30 to have time to unload

Plan C go to Shrewsbury set up as planned (although time is running out) and borrow Ken's trailer from the village. Call him, no answer leave a message hope he's not on holiday.

As fast as legally possible drive up to Shrewsbury Millie is loving this rushing around and chasing sheep. First thing to go better than anticipated arrive at Shrewsbury market 5.15 so enough time to unload.

So back home cup of tea to keep me going then with Nicky over to Ken's to hook up his trailer, but not before he shows us his Downs cross lambs now 7.30pm. Right we're off the Stoke Lacy, pick up the sheep still in the field thank goodness and over to drop them at Butford. Back home to put the chickens away (late) at 10pm. Not bad for a quick check.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Extracting finished for another year

I have completed extraction for another year, here is our Thomas 12 frame radial extractor I chose it because it had the biggest motor while still being able to take it through a standard door. Its bolted to a 2' wooden platform for stability and takes about 4 to 6 minutes to extract a full load. Allour honey is stored in 10litre tubs which take about 30lbs each.
We had about 90 full depth supers this year , slight improvement on previous years and have extracted a total of 1,500lbs over the season. The honey season was shaping up to be a good one this year but July all but failed completely, judging by the supers I put on at the end of June which were all but dry.
We use standard Langstroth boxes throughout our operation, most of which are plastic which is much easier then making up wooden frames but can be quite hard on the hands when extracting. They are also very robust, I haven't had a single frame break this year for the first time. The wooden frame you see there has a a plastic foundation sheet rather than wax.

Vegetable update for July Aug

The season is now moving from weeding and planting to harvesting and seed sowing for autumn and winter crops.
We have finished harvesting our garlic which we have been selling as fresh bulbs, they will continue for a couple of weeks then we will be selling them as dried bulbs until they run out. This is our first year growing garlic, we've found them much more popular on the market than the bought in bulbs and we've been pleased with the quality and size of bulbs. Next year we will grow more in the tunnel to get the earlier crop as well as the outdoor bulbs.

Leeks are progressing well the variety on your right is Hannibal on the left Atlanta, Hannibal is a late summer autumn crop while Atlanta will hopefully take us through to April next year. We used bio mulch gain this year but we are concerned that late summer rains are not getting to the roots so are considering using a woven mulch next year which will allow any summer rains through to the crop.
Onions have suffered from mildew this year, the first time we've experienced this. The bulbs have however reached a reasonable size so we will harvest them as normal and hope that they keep for long enough to sell them.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Film about Haitian sustainable development

This may be if interest to those supporting sustainable development. Click on the title or this link for the introduction and pitch for the film.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Sheep and dog

Millie bringing the sheep to me at Stoke Lacy, she is still too fast and close but is improving slowly. The main problem is with the "Lift" when she gets the sheep moving, the sheep tend to get spooked a little and start a helter skelter movement with Millie in hot pursuit.But she is slowly getting under more control. To the extent that she can keep the sheep close too while I check for fly strike or lameness, so far as you can see we have kept clear. We are using an organic fly repellent based on garlic and haven't felt the need to use harder chemicals such as "Vetracin" which is allowed under organic rules with a derogation.
Close up they are looking good, they will probably go over the winter months for mutton to a local butcher.

Shrewsbury Market

This is me standing on my stall at Shrewsbury Market. Since the decline of Farmers Markets we have concentrated on the retail market in Shrewsbury. Every Friday and Saturday will find me stood here selling our wares. The advantage over farmers markets (apart from the falling trade at farmers markets) is the option to sell bought in produce and even imported fruit and vegetables as seasons dictate. The farmers markets in our area are monthly or at best twice monthly which restricts the build up of trade by preventing a regular weekly shopping habit.
The weather has been the best for four years and for the first time in that period we have been able to sell courgettes with the flowers for frying with tempura batter or stuffing and deep frying.

One of our favourite lines salad packs picked fresh every morning, they have proved very popular with our customers at all our markets.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010


So far so good with the bees, the warm summer has provided an improved spring crop on last year 300lb as opposed to 200lbs last.

The big harvest comes at the end of July and is so far looking good, things could yet change but if the weather stays fair we should considerably improve on the past three years yield.

Some hives are looking very good this is after I took 20lbs of each of these hives.

Thinking about developing the bee side of the business next year I will have to treat for Varroa (as usual) and Nosema which took about a third of my colonies this year as well as reducing the viability of a good number of others. I suspect we have had the relatively new disease Nosema cerana for a couple of years which would explain the poor spring build up as it kills adult bees so weakening the colony with no obvious symptoms in the hive.

So in addition to treating for disease I am going back to splitting hives in spring before they start thinking about swarming. I have been using checkerboard techniques to spread the brood and provide an open brood nest but in a big swarming season like this year it is rubbish at controlling swarms. So I will split as soon as I can put 3-1-1 frames in each split brood- food-pollen, then introduce queen cells into each half. If I find the queen I will make a nucleus up with a single frame of brood as back up.

Update sheep

We have had a mixed year with the sheep, only one lamb we suspect that the tup is firing blanks. But that lamb has shown us that early lambing is both possible and preferable avoiding as it does the really busy April period when the bees and vegetable are demanding attention.

The sheep are all sheared in timely fashion the local sheep by Ken while an organic farmer friend of mine did the sheep in Herefordshire.
The hay is in and stacked safely in the barn via my trusty truckMillie of course provided proper supervision, she loves being involved with everything on the farm. Special mention to both Bryony on her way to Manchester and Mark who runs in Shrewsbury, who came all the way to south of the county to help load and stack the bales before the rain.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Bee Inspection

Yesterday, Monday the bee inspector checked all my hives (about 50) every frame was gone through all suspect cappings checked. One was suspect (had a ropey consistency when pulled from the cell) and was tested for American Foul Brood using a new testing kit similar to a pregnancy test.
The larvae is macerated in a jar of ball bearings four drops placed in the kit the wait for 2 minutes. One line is clear (control) two lines is infected. That's the longest 2 minutes of the day. If positive hives will be killed and the hive parts burned or sterilized. After two minutes only one line so we are in the clear.
I got some good advice about losses in my Bromyard apiary we seem to have an infection of Nosema, which kills the adult bees in the spring. I have lost 17 out of 20 colonies in that site. But next year I will be better prepared.
Nosema is a strange organism with characteristics of both a bacteria and a fungi. There are two strains, N.apis which ahas been around for many years and the new kid on the block N. cerana which seems to be responsible for many colony deaths in the USA and Spain. It is normally treated with Fumidil B, but I expect I am too late for this year. We live and learn.
The main thing is that I have a clean bill of health on the brood disease front.

Saturday Sunday

Saturday the second and final market of the week, again at Shrewsbury Indoor Market Hall. Similar pattern to Friday. Up and picking vegetables: lettuce, spinach, spring greens, rhubarb and salad packs.
Millie has an eye infection so we have to attempt to hold her down to apply the twice daily drops, she looks a lot better now.

The markets are holding up well at the moment with both Friday and Saturday meeting targets.

Sunday church in the morning followed by checking out some new grazing for our small flock of sheep. Otherwise a quiet day apart from feeding chickens collecting eggs and checking watering in the tunnels.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Friday, market day

Up at 6.00am, harvesting lettuce, spring greens and rhubarb, Then off to the market and carry the produce from parking spot to market about 1mile. Seriously underestimated the weight of rhubarb. Spent the day on the stall not a bad days takings, then delivered three peoples shopping on the way home.

The other half picked up 25 day old chicks from Cyril Basons', they will be placed under a broody hen when it gets dark. Then had to take Millie to the vets with conjunctivitis, she came back with green eyes

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Thursday Sheep bees market

First thing John came round our part time help and he started planting the last of the onions, that job all finished now except that there is a serious patch of Couch Grass invading the allium beds which will have to be hand pulled. Millie helped move some sheep who had escaped into the wrong field.
After organising a visit to check Mum in laws new chair I picked the spinach for Fridays market and set off to pick up the vegetables to supplement our own on the market. On route Millie and I checked the sheep we have in Hereford and took the opportunity to do a little training.
Next stop was to check the third of my apiary sites which had taken a big hit,loosing 75% of the colonies. Six now are left two of which are Nucleus hives still needing feeding. I sorted out all the now spare boxes and stacked them out of the way and checked through the remnant colonies. They seem in reasonable nick and will be checked for brood disease next Monday.
Then off to pick are additional produce from our wholesaler and back home to add our home produced stuff. The market is the next stop where I set up the stall ready for Friday morning. Then back where my day ends after putting chickens away and seperating a broody hen ready to take the chicks we are due to collect tomorrow.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010


Sheep's back end after dagging, nice and clean to avoid catching too much muck and attracting flies
We also check and trim feet while the sheep is on its back, we only trim now if absolutely necessary as the latest advice is routine trimming can cause more problems than it solves by breaking down natural barriers within the foot allowing infection to enter.
A bunch of happily trimmed sheep waiting to be freed back out to graze

Wednesday,First graft and accounts not done

Spent yet another Wednesday not completing my VAT and year end accounts, will have to wait till next week I guess.

I did get the first graft for queen cells done this season. This cold season is slowing every down the bees are slow as are the field vegetables but the poly tunnel crops are OK, we have already cleared one of them ready for the spring planting of fine beans. We have also planted runner beans but have had to heavily protect them against the frost predicted for the next few year.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Tuesday, vegetables, bees and care farming

We have part time help on Tuesdays so they have been clearing tunnels and incorporating compost in readiness for planting our fine beans, we are also sowing Beetroot, 3 types of Kale and Sorrel, all in modules for planting as transplants.

In addition to a short church meeting I had a visit from the Bee Inspector, a government appointed inspector checking for brood diseases specifically American and European Foul Brood. So far all clear but the bigger test will be on Monday when he will be checking the much larger number of Herefordshire colonies.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Monday, Bee day

First thing I sorted out the orders for next week at the market, cancellations and additions according to how well sales are doing.Sales are generally holding up well, I have given up all the farmers markets now due to the falling income. So concentrating as I am on Shrewsbury it's important to get the offer right.
So after a short training session with Millie I checked the two main sites in Hereford about 40 colonies, they seemed well though well behind in development.
Bee Inspector rang tonight, wants to check all my colonies he will check The local hives tomorrow and the Hereford hives on Monday, this means going through every hive and every frame shacking all bees looking for brood disease. Lets hope al is well.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Spring cultivations for field vegetables

The first jobs was to use our sheep to graze the grass and mow removing the tough grass not eaten by our sheep. Then we broke the surface using a set of deep tines.
They will go deeper but we aim for 6 to 8 inches giving aeration and a key for the Rotary Cultivator.
Then cultivate to about 5" using the tractor mounted cultivator. I like to limit the depth to a minimum, in an attempt to reduce water loss.
For the first time this year we rolled the whole area to compact and loose less soil moisture and hopefully make it easier to lay the biodegradable mulch.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

A Radnor Flock

I was checking hives in one of my Herefordshire sites, they have a pedigree flock of Hill Radnors so I thought a photo would be of interest.

Leek seedbed prblems

Seedling raising in cold frames is fraught with hazards, we have come up against the short tailed vole yet again. there we were thinking we have the leeks nailed for a another season. Sowed 5,000 seed and covered three days ago and hey presto vole city.
The next thing we do is buy in 5,000 seed for sowing in modules where the lights will hopefully bring the seedlings on to catch up with the ones destroyed by our friends the voles.

Monday, 22 March 2010


It's a root day on our planting calender, so today we have sown golden and Forono Beetroot, and Fennel also Leeks not a root plant but we're not working to a council of perfection. The germination room is still in use but as the weather improves we will be sowing more in the tunnels rather than under the expensive heat and light of the germination room.
For seeds that still need that extra control over temperature we have a small cabinet which gives some light and bottom heat, it's kept in the germination room so we can control temperature. Useful for lettuce that need a cool germination temperature even in full summer.

Friday, 19 March 2010


Last winter we planted our first Garlic in one of our raised beds. They protected by a mesh giving virtually no frost protection but does serve to keep the chickens and pheasants etc off.
Took this image yesterday to check progress. There has been reasonable growth despite the longest cold spell for many years and very little foliage damage despite being covered with snow for weeks on end.
Tough stuff that garlic

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Ongoing seed sowing

We are continuing with seed sowing we plant using the Biodynamic diary by Maria Thun. This helps organise our sowing schedule and does in my opinion have a small affect on germination and growth rates.
So a leaf day yesterday we sowed Spinach, Coloured Chard, White Chard, lettuce heading and loose leaf. Also Brassicas, Purple Sprouting and Brussel Sprouts.

All the onions are sown and have emerged Leeks are sown in trays, tunnel and frame but only the ones in trays are up. Carrots are sown in the tunnel and given a delivery and dry weather I am hoping to broadcast the green manure that follows our Brassica crops.

The season is the latest we have seen here, so I'm guessing that when spring does arrive everything will happen at once.

Weather patterns over the past 10 plus years leave us either wondering if the rain will ever stop or panicking that we will be in a drought for the season. In addition to the late spring this is the driest march I can remember.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


A couple of pictures of our trainee sheep dog, seen here holding our Hereford flock in the corner ready to be loaded. We collected and loaded the sheep, we wouldn't have won One Man and His Dog but we got the job done

Millie proving she can concentrate when needed, showing "eye" on the ewe and lamb.

Moving sheep

The sheep we have in Hereford were constantly getting out of the field so we've moved them to a new spot with hopefully better fencing and a bit more grass. Although we find that there is no grass anywhere in this area. Its much the latest spring I've seen here in 15 years. seems the climate is becoming more unpredictable.
The sheep at their new site.

New lamb doing well

A couple of pictures of our lamb, born early and unexpectedly this Feb.
She is doing well getting quite chunky and is grazing (or would be if the grass would grow).