Thursday 21 May 2020


As predicted earlier in the year when lamenting the continual wet weather, now spring is here and summer beckons we are contending with an increasingly forlorn hope of rain. There were some showers forecast for this morning but as usual they seem to have passed us by here. Dry East Anglia combined with light soils is not a good combination for growers at this time of the year. 

Fortunately, a neighbouring farmer has lent us a field with some good grazing for our ewes and lambs. This will give some time for our own fields to replenish themselves, although a long, steady downpour will help the process no end. We have kept the ram and his companion wether back as they are the least likely to co-operate when it comes to rounding them back up for the return home.

Last week we had several frosty mornings, enough to scorch the potato plants. With the warmer temperatures, especially overnight, it now looks like it is safe to start hardening off and planting out some of the more tender crops. 

The dry conditions have seen the local farmers setting up their giant hose reels used to irrigate their fields. They draw the water from the network of drains and waterways that criss-cross the fen landscape. I wouldn't mind if they pointed them in the directions of our fields occasionally.

Rotating arc of water spraying the winter wheat

One of the big hose reels

A pump drawing water from the lode. This pump was home-
made many years ago but still does the job. The farmer who
constructed it recently celebrated his 100th birthday.

Thursday 7 May 2020

Wasps or bees?

I got a text message this morning from a near neighbour walking her dog to say there was a swarm of "wasps" in our boundary hedge. When I went to investigate there was a substantial cluster of honey bees which had swarmed. Whether they originated from my hives or not I was very keen to secure them for the sake of an additional colony. 

They were about four feet above the ground in a typically dense cluster on a hawthorn hedge. I swept the swarm into a box.  I got most of them but inevitably a fair number flopped onto the ground, while others were stirred into a whirling flight around me. I had laid a piece of white sheeting on the ground in readiness. The box was left on the sheet with the lid open a crack and a piece of wood for a ramp so that the remaining bees would wend their way up into the box attracted by the pheremones of the queen. I expected her to be in the box as she would have been in the centre of the cluster. I had rubbed the box with lemon balm leaves as smallholder and beekeeper friend Sue recommends as this is a known attractant for bees. Sue has quite a bit of experience with collecting swarms so I am happy to copy her practice on this.

I left the bees to it until nearly dusk and on inspection I was pleased to find that the swarm was virtually entirely in the box, at which point I closed the lid on them. Doing this too early could mean leaving behind too many stragglers. 

The next part of the operation was to 'hive them', that is put them in their new accommodation. I had an empty hive set up all ready. There are a couple of different approaches to hiving a collected swarm. I chose the dumping method. Basically, turn the box upside down and give a firm thump on the bottom to dislodge the bees and they drop into the hive in a large clump. Additional frames were then carefully added and the rest of the hive put together. As I had no frames of honey reserve to spare I put in a feeder of sugar solution for some 'fast food'. The bees will have gorged on honey before swarming so they won't be immediately hungry. The box was left by the hive for the remaining bees in the swarm to find their own way in before nightfall.

I don't really see myself as a beekeeper, more a smallholder who keeps bees. I'm always impressed at the knowledge of long-time serious beekeepers, but then, as is often said, if you ask advice of three different beekeepers you'll get five different answers back (or some variation of this). No doubt others will have gone about the exercise differently. But the main thing is what you find works for you. Hopefully, this swarm will decide to stay put and do what bees do. Ultimately, its their decision.

Most of the swarm are in the box. The remaining
bees had the rest of the day to find their way in.

Saturday 2 May 2020

Morning after the night before

Yesterday evening we had a new litter of pigs at the most convenient time of 5:30pm, and all complete by 7:30pm. Twelve in all. The thirteenth, and last, was born dead unfortunately. The last ones born have the furtherest to travel along the uterine tract so tend to be more at risk.

This was a first time mum and once again motherly instincts were evident. There is a one piglet which is about half the size of the others but seems just as keen to suckle and be close to mum so hopefully it will thrive okay.

Al present and correct...