Saturday, April 19, 2014

Beekeeping begins for real

We've already been inspecting most of our hives and have been optimistic about their progress through the winter and into spring. Yesterday we got the chance to inspect the last three which hadn't been opened this year. Surprising doesn't really cover it!

taking off the first lid

The first hive we inspected was number 16. The sheer number of bees was incredible - they're doing really well. It's really full and we shall be looking to put a super on them soon to give them more space.

chris showing mindy how we inspect

Beekeeping was a team effort as we were accompanied by our friend Henry, as well as Amanda and Jamie. Amanda received a bee suit for Christmas and this was her first chance to get it dirty. Beekeeping is not a particularly clean and tidy operation.

these girls have been busy! Their hive was very full.

Luckily for me, having so many pairs of hands around to help meant that I was free to take photos. The girls were very tolerant as I got up close and personal with my phone to take some shots. I like to make the most of it, because as we get busier my chances to do this will be less and less.

inspecting and hunting for the queen

So, first inspection done and all looking very positive. On to the next hives, which were moved here last week from one of our Newport apiaries due to some building work taking place. Both hives showed signs of bringing on new queens, so we performed artificial swarms with them both. This involves taking the existing queen out, putting her into a smaller hive (a nuc), then leaving the nuc in place and moving the old hive with bees in to another spot. All the flying bees should then return to the nuc, so we will be left with half the bees in each hive. It sounds straightforward, but the most complicated bit is finding the existing queen to move her. Sometimes queens are really easy to spot, but neither of these wanted to be found and we had to go through both hives several times to catch them and this took quite a while. One split was fairly straightforward, so now we just have to wait and see what happens with the new queen. The second split was a bit more complex, as the queen we removed looked very small - possibly a virgin queen. This suggests that the old queen had died and the bees had replaced her. However, there were still queen cells with eggs, so we risked either the new queen destroying her competition, or another queen hatching and the bees swarming away. Doing an artificial swarm like this will hopefully give us the best chance of keeping all our bees.

big swarm

This all took much longer than we were expecting, but it had been a great introduction for our new beekeepers and a great chance for them to see lots of action. But the day wasn't over yet! Chris' phone rang several times as we were packing up, so he returned the call to be told 'we've seen a lot of bees flying at the bottom of the garden.' You can never be certain about swarms unless the person calling you is a beekeeper, but as we weren't far away we popped along to have a look. Oh my. A huge swarm of bees on the same tree that we collected most of our swarms from last year.


Another team effort - we all took turns in brushing the bees off the branch and into the nuc. There were certainly plenty of bees for us all to have a go. Once most of the bees get the idea then they will sort themselves out, but there were a lot of bees trying to go through a very small entrance so it did take some time.
waiting on the branch

The bees are all very calm, though, and I'm probably the least likely to get stung here than I am at any other point. For a bee to sting they have to bend themselves in half, but before swarming they've already stuffed themselves full of honey, so they really can't bend very easily. I did get one try and sting my leg, but that was mostly because she got caught up in my trousers rather than any real anger.

watching them go in

There were so many bees that in the end Chris and Henry took the lid off the nuc to try and brush some of them in, and I think we got most of them. At any rate, those that weren't safely collected will find their way back to the hive they originally came from. And there is our first swarm of the year! Apparently we missed being the first on the island by one day, but this really isn't a bad start. I wonder what the rest of the year will hold...

Sunday, April 06, 2014

A whole other language

0314 010 St Helensweb

When I was a little girl, I read a lot of books. I knew lots of words and I wasn't afraid to use them. I can remember teachers being very impressed by 'the range of my vocabulary'. These days, the language I am interested in is the language of art. If you read this post  you'll see what I mean. How do I say what I want through my painting? Roz Stendahl, the artist whose blog I linked to, is constantly looking for new ways to say what she wants to on the page. If this is a language, I am still learning the alphabet. Quick brushstrokes to indicate sea or rocks. Soft, cool shadows to show land in the distance. Layering colour and creating forms.

0314 011 Godshill web

The thing is, like with any language I have to practice to get more fluent. And so I keep drawing, keep painting, and sometimes it clicks and everything falls in to place. Like when you manage to order your meal in a foreign restaurant without the waiter laughing at you. 

These sketches are just from a couple of afternoons out last month. One done on location, and one from a photograph. I do enjoy sketching from life but sometimes it just isn't possible (especially when you're on a muddy walk). Either way, fresh greens and spring flowers make for much more interesting pages.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Tales from the allotment

Getting ready to dig

Just like beekeeping, allotmenting came into my life with Chris. I think it was the third time we'd met when I went to see him on his allotment. Little did I know then! These days we tend the allotment together, as well as growing a small selection of vegetables at home. Last year was so busy that neither of us managed to do as much down here as we'd have liked, and the wet weather has certainly hampered our efforts so far. We managed to get out last weekend and start digging over one of the beds, and we decided to head down again today and make a bit more progress.

This bee wanted to come home with me

After checking most of our hives last weekend, we were hoping to do some more today but the weather was too cold. The bees were out and about but there were showers of rain and hail that made us keep running for shelter. If the weather picks up again hopefully we'll be able to get some more checks done next weekend.

Bees like to pose for photos

The bees are quite happy to come and see what we're doing, and often sit and rest in front of us. And of course I am quite happy to whip out the camera and take a few photos!

First slow worm of the year

This little slow worm was hiding in some of the long grass. Chris rescued it and put it safely in the greenhouse.

The allotment has two long beds and a bramble hedge down one side. Over last weekend and today, we have been digging over the beds on one side and reclaiming them from the grass that is trying to take them over, as well as chopping back the brambles. It's a brutal job, and at the moment everything looks quite brown and untidy. It's very satisfying, though, to see the spaces start to appear and the pile on the bonfire grow. We're going to have to be realistic about what we can achieve this year, because work and bees already take up a lot of our time, but I'm hopeful that we can keep on top of things and grow some good crops.

Sunshine and showers

I'm learning to pace myself and take a lot of breaks for tea in the shed. And after our work today we stopped for an ice cream and admired the view. What a lovely way to spend our Sunday.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

So...this Project Life thing

0314-12-January closeup2 (1024x768)

Like all projects I start with good intentions there was a certain amount of fear that I wouldn't be able to keep it going. I'm working a month behind and I've nearly finished February, so things are on track so far. Most of January was our holiday in South Africa and I'm going to record that in a separate album. To make our '2014' album fit together, I printed three of my most favourite photos and did a summary page of our holiday, and then began with the 'January' spread.

0314-12-January spread (1024x505)

I looked everywhere for monthly title cards that I liked, and I couldn't find any. So, I've experimented with white card and black gouache to create my own. Although I do lots of sketching and painting, those things don't seem to make their way into my scrapbook albums very often. I like this change in style, and I'm excited to see where it takes me.

0314-12-January closeup1 (1024x768)

An unexpected bonus of pocket page scrapbooking is that I really like the small, defined areas to experiment with. I'm using papers I would never have thought of putting together and they are working far better than I ever thought they would. I am stamping, embossing, stapling, layering and having a grand old time. 
Thanks for checking in!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Life right now: beekeeping

Beekeeping started off as the thing that Chris did. Then I got involved, and somewhere last year it became a massive part of our life together.  I can talk the talk about slow living and being close to nature, but this is walking the walk - and I have the stings to prove it. Maybe they are to remind me that this is reality; I don't just get up and go to work in an office, this is real life and it's happening now. With the coming of spring and some properly warm weather it is also time to acknowledge that this is going to take significant chunks of our free time over the coming months. This weekend we began our first proper inspections to see how the bees had coped through the winter and if there were signs of new life.

This weekend we have checked on 13 out of our 16 hives. As you can see, the bees are pretty comfortable with us, and us with them! It is still slightly stunning to have a bee land on you, but once I remembered they just wanted somewhere to rest for a minute then it was easy to just let them get on with it. If you look closely at this bee you can see she's been out collecting pollen and is carrying it back to the hive in little 'baskets'.

The bees are very comfortable with us!

So, for the first time this year we got out the smoker and had a proper look inside the hives. We were looking for good numbers of bees, new stores of honey, and eggs and larvae which is a sign that there is a queen who has started laying. We've been seeing lots of pollen going into the hives so we were very hopeful. Chris is also trying out his new beekeeping outfit - wearing a whole suit is a bit of a pain, so he's gone for a hat and veil, worn over two layers of long sleeves. Much easier to get on and off, and I am tempted to do the same. (It also means you can wash your layers, which is excellent because they do get very mucky).

Lifting a frame

Pleasingly, all of our hives so far have got eggs and larvae in all stages of development - our queens are up and running. Some of the hives have more bees than others, but that was how they ended last year so it is not a cause for concern. What was most satisfying was that some of the hives we were most worried about - including this little one above, and the two that we rescued from the flooding over the winter - were all in good shape. We've removed the fondant food from most of the hives now, but we'll be looking to put new frames in and encouraging some of the colonies to make new honeycomb so we will have to give them some sugar syrup to help them along.

Bees flying in

Watching the bees flying in and out is still one of the most relaxing things I know. They don't seem to mind me at all and just get on with their business, swooping past to drop onto the landing board and trot in to the hive.
Sharing fondant

As it gets busier it will be harder for me to take photos as we do our inspections, but for now I am enjoying getting to know our girls again and remind myself of all the things we have to do for them. Here's to a wonderful summer.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Two takes


It's no secret that I love my boys. I never thought I would have small fluffy animals in my life, but they are such a wonderful addition to our household. Their cage sits next to the sofa and we often open the door and the boys will come and say hello. I often seem to scrapbook the boys in greys and blues, which isn't a deliberate choice but just seems to happen. Something about the pale delicacy of grey seems to suit their sweet little faces and tiny paws. The splash of red on this layout provides a nice contrast.

Friendly closeup

Big stickers appear in lots of scrapbook collections but I find them quite hard to use. The quote on this one was so perfect that I couldn't resist, though, and I adore that typography.

Baby degu

On this page I decided to abandon trying to match my colour scheme to the photographs, simply because this was taken indoors at an animal park so the lighting was terrible. If I had planned in advance I would probably have converted this to black and white, but I get all my photos done in one batch from here and I wasn't planning the layout when I sent them for printing. Inspired by this layout from Erin Stewart I used a 6x6 paper pad to create the column of colour on the left. Bringing in the black patterns and elements helped to tie the papers to the photos.

Baby degu closeup

That mouse on grey was from a sheet of paper, which I cut apart to make the perfect embellishment. Degus are just adorable, and baby degus even more so. I wish we could have more but I will have to settle for photos for now.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Total scraplift

There are lots of ideas for scrapbook pages on my Pinterest board that I can turn to when I'm stuck for inspiration. I often look through and pick out one or two ideas, but I rarely scraplift a page completely. This one was an exception, however. Something about the combination of graphic pattern with the textured, artsy background set me thinking...

Don't be fooled

Every time we see meerkats at any of the zoos or wildlife parks we visit, Chris will tell me how they look innocent and charming but will gladly attack anyone who threatens their family. Including humans, if they happen to get in the way. 

Plain cardstock backgrounds don't seem to be the fashion at the moment, but I still love them. Sometimes I want my page to be restful, and despite the textured white paint, gold paint and liquid pearls (in 'bisque') I do feel that this is a calm, simple page.

Don't be fooled closeup