Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Bees and the warm autumn

Last week the hive in our garden, a self positioned swarm had pollen loads coming in, presumably from remnant Ivy flowers. Although if this weather keeps going for much longer we will have spring plants in flower and Rhubarb growing. We already have grass growing at a rate close to that of this summer (slow).
All is fine for the animals and vegetables, the leeks are growing well and the tunnel crops are developing quickly.
The bees though are a worry, warm weather means bees will be active and consuming honey stores possibly rearing young so eating into pollen supplies.
So what to do? Feed and potentially stimulate more activity or leave them and risk starvation? The answer I think is to check all and feed were needed, there may be some increase in activity but the coming cold weather will soon put a stop to that. we are going to get some cold weather aren't we?

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Organic production and morality

The economist Shaun Rikard has stated that Organic production is morally indefensible, on the grounds that we are impeding progress, by holding back the introduction of GM crops. Which presumably he sees as the savior of conventional agriculture and therefore the human race. (Farmers Guardian 20 Oct 2011)
I am astounded that Mr Rikard has pulled out the moral argument, talk about venturing on shaky ground.
The basis of his argument typically ignores the inconvenient fact of peak oil. We as food producers cannot ignore the implications of diminishing oil stocks and the resultant impact on food availability and cost.
The economic advantage of conventional agriculture over organic production depends on the availability of cheap oil based inputs. These financial benefits will disappear as the oil price rises.
80% of an average arable farmers costs are oil based compared to around 20% for organic production it is not difficult to see with a doubling or more in the cost of oil that organic production systems start to approach parity
It is surely the height of folly to put all our efforts into a system of production which relies so heavily on one finite and diminishing resource.

Commercially released GM crops to date have increased the dependency on petro chemicals, they are not a break from oil based agriculture but a continuation along the same track producing evermore intensive growing systems. Resulting in the consumption of increasing quantities of oil based inputs.

Organic production while not free from the use of oil (tractors, poly tunnels etc) reduces massively the reliance on oil, improving rather than diminishing our food security. The moral imperative must be to invest in forms of food production which provide at the opportunity grow food in an oil poor future.

The moral imperative must be to investigate and develop food production techniques which enrich peoples lives by the quality of produce and by an equitable share in the income generated.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The new lambing year starts here

We are breeding only from 10 Hill Radnor ewes this year, and aim to slowly build our flock from our own replacements. Once the present Tup's daughter ewes are over two years we will replace him with the young ram we are bringing on at the moment.

Hey up, who's this

The new kid on the block, our tup is introduced to the ewes for the first time since last autumn.

A quick getting to know you time

And we're off, a new season starts

Job done, nice green mark on her back shows all is well. One down 9 to go.

It is important now not to run the ewes around for about two weeks or they could loose the embryo before it is set.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Bees ready for winter, almost

Every year at this time we boost the bee colonies stores by giving addition stores we give the equivalent of 15 lbs of honey to each colony to get them trough to Feb when we will give them another 5lbs each. This winter feed we find very useful in preventing starvation and giving the opportunity to do a winter check on the health of the colony.
All our hives have these frame feeders in all year round (seen here on the right of the brood box) As a result we don't have any problems storing bulky feeders and if we have a sudden starvation issue we can feed at a moments notice.
Also in a hot drought summer (remember them?) I can feed water which prevents workers being taken from foraging duties to collect water. thereby reducing stress on the colony.

Feeding the bees is finished for this year, we use Api-invert which is a pre mixed liquid with a sugar levels roughly equivalent in weight / concentration rates. We buy it in pallet tank loads of 900 or 1300kg. A significant advantage of using this pre mixed sugar solution is that it will not ferment even if left in the feeder.

All our colonies are now reduced to one or two boxes now with some of the smaller colonies put into 5 frame nucleus hives.

Just one more job this year, to treat all colonies with Oxalic Acid for Varroa. This will be done by applying 5 ml of sugar solution oxalic mix to each seam of bees in the brood box during late November or December.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Hill Radnors ready for the tup

Just one more week and we put the tup in with the ewes, this time we will only put the Radnor ewes our Radnor Tup. Last year we tried a Lleyn Radnor cross but were disappointed with the results. We were hoping for some hybrid vigour with the resultant lambs but their growth rates were less than the pure Radnors.
The ewes and the Tup are both on our best pasture in an attempt to 'flush' the ewes and so improve conception rates. We recently had blood tests done which showed up a Selenium deficiency which we have rectified via a Selenium injection.

As we have such a small flock we don't have teasers,( sterile rams which help to bring all the ewes into season together) so we have kept the tup and our ram lamb in the field next door in the hope of synchronising the ewes seasons. Next spring will tell.
Millie as always is keen to help with the final sorting of the Ewes before the tup goes in, once he starts serving the ewes we won't move them for a few weeks. Any disturbance at that initial period before the embryos are set can result in loss of the embryo and the ewe will be at least one complete cycle out from the others.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Bees, Queen laying pattern

The bees have started flying again, we've just had 4 weeks of cold dry weather and the bees have reduced foraging to the extent that in over half my colonies the queen has stopped laying.

As soon as this happens I always try to feed all colonies firstly to stimulate laying for a supply of young wintering bees and a lack of laying can be a sign of starving bees.

Well I fed last week and this week I now have only 2 colonies not laying, one with a virgin who probably won't make it and the other looks OK and will probably start in the next few days. So things looking good so far on wintering the bees

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Laying Hen problems

Unsuspecting hens

What do you get when you mix the above with the below? In our case it is 2 dead chicks and an ongoing headache. These beauties are pure killing machines and could present a serious threat to our Laying Hens enterprise.
They are also protected so even if we wanted to we can do nothing to interfere with them,  Not sure how we deal with this one, we can't allow the hawk to establish a pattern of hunting our birds but we cannot take any direct action on the  bird itself.

                                   Image from: http://savewesternwildlife.org/wordpress/183/

I think the way forward is to provide low shelter in which to feed the birds and put up a scarecrow and have human and canine presence until the killing stops. We shall have to see..........

Friday, 9 September 2011

Seasonal update

Been a long time since my. last post, so a bit of an update on where we are, the photos are from a visit by a friend in Shrewsbury who offered to do a poster design and print that can be used in the market hall.

The vegetable crops have been acceptable this year, poor growth rates due to the dry and cool conditions we've had this year but they have just about bulked up in time for harvest. That is apart from the Cucurbits, we sowed all the squash, marrow and courgette left them in the tunnel to harden off..../every last one was bitten off just above the soil level, a complete write off. You have to accept some failures every year.

Chickens so far progressing well, we raised all our replacements from day old's again this year and have so far had no repeat of the sheep dog attack of the past two years. Egg sales are also keeping up but feed costs at over £500 per tonne stop us making too much profit from the birds.

The sheep are progressing as planned we put 8 Radnors and 7 Lleyns to the Radnor tup and got 22 lambs, the Lleyn cross have been a bit disappointing with poor growth rates but we have been very happy with the pure Hill Radnors. As a result we will convert the flock to all Hill Radnor's this year.

No Bee related pictures but the bees have been struggling this year without any sustained period of plus 25c temps so the harvest has been mediocre, somewhat down on last year. On a bright point we have acquired three extra colonies as swarms who helped themselves to out empyu boxes, one gave a crop of over 60lbs welcome in a poor year.
we will set to work soon preparing them for winter and topping up their winter stores.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Spring in the vegetable plot

We are getting good early growth this spring with conditions good for cultivating and planting, established plants such as Rhubarb are growing well putting on weight.

The season is running about three to four weeks ahead of what we have come to expect. The spring is hot and dry which so far has progressed things well.

But the soil moisture levels are dropping and without rain in the next week or two the growth of many crops will be compromised. Already we are seeing slow growth rates on the pastures and poor establishment on seeded areas, both pasture and green manures.
Tunnel crops relying as they do on artificial irrigation are going along nicely but with a tendency to run to seed quickly.

The season has started much dryer than previous years so we hope to get rain to stop many of the field crops getting stunted, and the pastures burning off.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Beekeeping year so far

Started this year looking good for the bees, then lost 10 colonies due to Woodpecker damage during the very cold part of the year. Also couple went due to lids blowing off and chilling the hive. I've fed Fumidil for Nosema in Feb as outlined on the label.

In what was my best site checked in mid march I found 10 colonies dead from 17 seen two weeks previously, the medicated feed untouched in many hives classic symptoms of Nosema cerana. I've seen this in two other sites in previous years, could be that the disease is spreading north west taking apiaries in its wake.

The season since then has been very early, colonies building up rapidly in the unusually warm and dry spring, I,m hoping this will give the the opportunity to split the larger hives and make up some of my numbers. I've starting cell raising before April 23, earliest ever so providing the weather holds we could make up some of the ground I've lost, time will tell.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

My first breech

Was left at home with toothache while Nicky did the market, she left our latest ewe giving birth to what I thought was twins, both healthy although Nicky had to intervene due to a "leg back".

So this novice was left with the after care of mum and babies. Then the ewe produced a bag, Oh oh, I think this means another lamb. Still should be OK provided there is no complication then that is probably be fine provided its not a breech. Quick check, just a tail.... its a breech
OK the main thing is not to panic, luckily my son Sam has just turned up. He being a joiner also has no experience of lambing.
We check the book, get the gloves, soap flakes, warm water, iodine and take the book to the shed.
With Sam holding the ewes head I get up close and personal with the ewe pushing the lamb back into the womb so I can bring the two back legs pointing outwards and delivered her out backwards. All was well she was soon up and suckling after some encouragement. Just to be certain that she had colostrum, we made some up and fed her from a bottle.

What a buzz my first difficult delivery and we were duly delivered one healthy ewe lamb that otherwise would not have made it.

Some of the earlier lambs out and about with their mothers.

Friday, 25 March 2011

More Hill Radnor lambs

We had this pair yesterday, two of the tiniest lambs I have seen.
I'll be interested to see how they get on, I've heard that they can be born small but develop well despite this.

Nicky put them in the shed last night thinking they were too small to survive the night and tried to give them a supplementary feed too boost them. But they were having none of it and mum who is a first timer was getting a bit stressed so she left them too it.
In the morning all three were in the middle of the field looking fine.
We are bracing ourselves for a rush of lambs this weekend and next week, typically with our busiest week of the month with the monthly Moseley Farmers Market on Saturday.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Lambing has started

The first lambs of the season and the first pure bred Hill Radnors born on the farm. These particular lambs were bred by Juliet from Ystrad Organics two healthy boys.One of which depending on how they develop may become my stock tup in a couple of years.
I got way too excited by these new arrivals as they mark the new flock and a change over from the more commercial Lleyns to rare breed Hill Radnors. This will give more options with local outlets. She lambed unaided and the lambs were up and moving around before we got in to check them. All we had to do was dip the cord in iodine and leave them to it.
The Radnor lambs are born with a thick covering almost felt like which would protect them against almost any weather.
Although the mother is very defensive the lambs are very trusting and are quite unpeturbed by being picked up and handled.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Millie has continued with her training, now just over 2 years old she is driving well, flanks are OK but could be wider and her fetch is acceptable but she needs to keep a back off the sheep more. Seen below I stopped her on the drive to avoid the helter skelter run and chase you get with the dog trying to catch the sheep and the sheep running faster to keep in front. She will (hopefully) get to understand that she can control the sheep from a distance.

Millie has got to the stage when she can help me with the sheep on a regular basis, you can see her here 'walking the troughs.' When we start feeding the ewes before lambing they become less repectful of the shepherd and can be a problem trying to get to the trough before I've finished putting the feed in. Millie keeps the sheep back until I've finished putting out the feed.

Forced Rhubarb

For the fisrt time we tried forced rhubarb under the propagation bench.
We had some success but had too many thin shoots which don't sell so well. Next year we will pot up the roots after lifting and giving the right amout of frost this will allow us to water more effectively so providing better growth rates.
The roots will be divided and grown on for pot sales in the autumn.

Propagation season

The seed sowing season is going full rate now, onions are done lettuce shallots and leeks are being completed. We increased the capacity of the propagation bench and have surrounded the whole thing with white polythene. The result is that we can grow on 20% more trays with the same number of lights. We aim to maintain a temperature of about 15 to 20 C and use only incidental heat from the lamps. These burn 20hrs per day.

These onions are sown 3 to a cell which gives us the right size of bulb for our customers, and being from seed we can store them through to April.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Winter on the Farm

We had the hardest winter I can remember here with -18 or 20C on several nights.
We lost several Tunnel crops, all the early winter salads and the Celery the main casualties. Outside the Late Sprouts suffered from frost damage and the Purple has given up. Leeks came through OK but we lost about 10% with outer leaves damaged on the rest reducing weight by another 10 to 20%.

The Sheep came through unscathed but ate about a third of our winter hay store in 6 weeks, glad to say they are eating a good deal less now the weather has warmed up. We hpe to have them scanned in Feb with any barren ewes going for Mutton.

The bees have suffered mainly from Woodpecker damage, this can often happen when it is so cold that the bees can't fly and see off the Woodpecker as it raps on the side of the hive. I have plastic frames so once inside they do little physical damage but the colony rarely survives.

I was totting up the ways I've lost winter colonies over the past few years they are:

Varroa & viruses
Poor queen mating previous summer
and Woodpecker damage

Can't wait till next year and see what novel ways we can loose colonies.