Sunday, July 20, 2014

Round Up


I knew that the early summer months would be busy for us, and I wasn't wrong. We've both been busy with work, and our bee empire is expanding well and takes up most of our weekends. The summer term has been and gone and we are into the holiday season here, which changes work for both of us. We still have a few more weeks of busy-ness before our own break at the end of August.

The bees have (mostly) stopped swarming and begun producing honey in crazy abundance. This is such a good year and we are very lucky to be taking advantage of it. We have hives in new locations which are doing really well and also give us space to expand if and when we need to. I've learned more in the last couple of months than I would have thought possible - about combining colonies, dealing with laying workers, assessing viability, all topped off yesterday with a day's learning about queen rearing.

An unfortunate side-effect of being so busy with the bees has been that the allotment has suffered and we haven't grown as much as we'd have liked. There are only so many hours in the day and we've had to prioritise - the bees need us. It's a shame but I'm certainly not complaining! And we have still managed to grow some things - nothing tastes like fresh peas straight from the garden.

My sketchbook is full and still growing, but I am so far behind with scanning and posting things online that when I do get around to it there will be a deluge. I might leave that for the colder months to remind me how lovely summer was. 

In between all of this, the working and beekeeping, digging and tidying, picking and packing and putting things in jars...there have been so many moments of magic. Times when we went for a walk, had a picnic somewhere beautiful, or discovered a new place and enjoyed a beautiful view. And those are the times that remind me just how wonderful life is. 

You can see all the photos above on my Flickr page.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Stretching our legs

It's been a while since we went on a proper walk, and we certainly hadn't planned to this afternoon. But the weather was nice and we didn't have our beekeeping gear...so why not? I met Chris after work and we took a picnic lunch up to Brading Down. Lots of planes, microlights and autogyros taking advantage of the still, calm weather.

20140531_151410

To work off some of the excess lunch we decided to stroll down, across and back up. We've done this walk before and there are always good things to be found. I didn't have my proper camera with me today but I was very grateful for my phone:

20140531_150138

I do love bees. If I'm honest, I might love bumblebees a little bit more than honeybees. I mean, look at them! They're so cute and almost cuddly. And their ridiculous bodies that look far too big to fly...how can you not love a bumblebee? We saw so many all the way round on our walk, lots of different varieties as well which is quite pleasing. Definitely a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

20140531_151948

Wild roses were out in bloom, and we also saw our first blackthorn. Late spring/early summer can be a tough time for honeybees to find forage as we traditionally get a 'June gap' when the early flowers stop but before the next ones blossom. But with blackthorn out already, it looks like we won't have to worry about that this year.

20140531_155317

Chris and I have very different styles as we walk. He is very much interested in the animals and wildlife that we find, can tell what sort of bird is which and is always the first to spot something interesting like a lizard sunning itself on a leaf (we found one of those today too). I love to see all these things, but I also really love all the different plants and flowers that we see. I really want to get better at knowing what things are, and I think my next purchase is definitely going to have to be some kind of field guide to wildflowers. In the meantime, I shall settle for taking photos and identifying plants once we get home. I'm pretty sure this is the Common Spotted Orchid, but I'm happy to be corrected if anyone knows better! Quite a thrill to find as I've never seen it before, despite the 'common' in its name.

20140531_160424

Even though we were walking on bridleways and established paths, the vegetation was so lush and overgrown that it felt as though we were exploring unknown territory. I could have easily stopped here for a long time and looked out at that landscape. I am constantly amazed by how beautiful this island is. 

Our path took us past a small farm in the middle of the woods that had peacocks - really - wandering around. And as we walked past them we noticed a kerfuffle in one of the trees nearby. As we watched, two young jackdaws emerged from their nest in the tree and took their first flight. Slightly uncertain and distinctly wobbly, they were shaky to start with and one of them even crashed into the undergrowth nearby and then had a hard time trying to extricate himself from some stinging nettles. We could hear their parents calling from the branches above, and finally a third fledgling popped out from the nest and flew precariously to a nearby branch. I was quite concerned about them, but as we watched they all seemed to get the hang of their wings and flew away. A magic moment indeed.

20140531_164134

There was plenty more magic on our climb back up the hill: a group of four or five wrens hiding near a nest in the woodland; a baby rabbit that watched us get closer and closer before scampering to safety in the warren; and some neatly nibbled nutshells that are the sign of a dormouse - something Chris would dearly love to see. It felt good to stretch our legs and get out from the routine of Saturday beekeeping, and our efforts were definitely rewarded today.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Photo vs. Sketchbook

Wood anemones in Firestone Copse


I almost always carry my camera, and I definitely always have my phone on me. If I can't take a quick snap of something then I feel very lost indeed. I also generally have a sketchbook with me even if I don't have my full watercolour set. What I don't generally have is the time to sketch on the spot, especially if we are in the middle of a walk somewhere. I've been dithering a bit over putting sketches from photos in my journal, because it sort of feels like I'm not doing it 'properly'. Thankfully, I seem to have got myself over that now and I am enjoying transferring some of my favourite photos into my sketchbook.

0414 030 Firestone Copseweb

Like anything, it takes practice. I don't want my pieces to be photo-realistic because I don't have the time for that, but I guess I'm aiming for a certain amount of realism. Working in the comfort of home means I can also take the time to sketch in pencil first without adding ink, and I'm enjoying this new challenge.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Tea and scones

The trouble with sketching is that I need to sit down to do it. And I haven't yet got to the point where I feel comfortable enough to whip out a folding stool and leave Chris standing there while I do a quick sketch. Inevitably, this means that there is a fairly large number of food and drinks recorded in my sketchbook - mostly tea and cake. 

Tea and scones

Sometimes I feel self-conscious about it: "Oh no, I don't want to look as though all I do is eat." But hey, if it's good enough for this lady then it's good enough for me. 

More tea, more scones

This page at Dimbola was an experiment in working straight in with a paintbrush rather than sketching first. I found it very difficult and the blue pattern nearly drove me potty. Looking back with the benefit of a couple of month's hindsight, though, I can see things about this sketch that I really like - the shape of that vase at the back, and the shading on the cup which was an interesting shape. I should probably make the effort to work without a pen more often.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fitting it all in somehow

0314 024 Allotment web

I can't believe these sketchbook pages are from March and we are already midway through May. How did that happen? Time is whizzing past at the moment, and we are very very busy with all things allotment and bee related. At times like this I think keeping a sketchbook, and scrapbooking, are more important than ever. It would be easy to feel as though we are so rushed off our feet that there is no time to relax or enjoy anything. But the act of sitting down and sketching - whether it's from life or a photograph later - or putting together a scrapbook page, helps me to remember all the wonderful moments that make up our days. Reflecting on life likes this helps me to make sense of my worries and treasure all my joys. 

0314 025 Ducks web


Anyway, I am slowly catching up with scanning all my pages to share them here and on my Flickr page. These are the last few from my landscape format journal. I was struggling with the paper in this one - much rougher than I am used to and too absorbent for me to work happily on. I tried persevering with it but I seem to have abandoned it now and moved on to a portrait format, smooth-paged journal. I do envy people who seem to have found 'the journal' for them and have stacks of them beautifully ordered. My OCD does not enjoy having books of all size and shape lined up on the shelf. Still I guess it would be very dull if I didn't experiment a little bit.

0314 026 Camellia web

There is so much to be grateful for. I am a very lucky girl indeed.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Now, where did I get to?

20140505_150442 (768x1024)

It's been a busy couple of weeks here at Bee Central. More captured swarms, more artificial swarms, and many many bees. Chris and I have to remind ourselves not to complain about the amount of work involved because it is all so good, but it is easy to get a bit overwhelmed at times. Today, I finally managed to get numbers on all our hives so that we can keep track of which one is which. When we only had a few it was easy to tell them apart, but now we have so many I need a spreadsheet to keep everything in order. I do love a good spreadsheet. 

20140505_135113 (768x1024)

Over the last couple of weeks our efforts have been hampered slightly by wind and rain which has made it difficult to get the hives open to do our inspections. But we have still managed to collect three more swarms, including one which was hidden in the long grass on the allotment. We had gone to the allotment to collect another swarm, and didn't even realise this second one was there until we went through it with the strimmer. Fortunately most of the bees were unharmed, and seemed grateful to be rescued from their plight. I think they must have been there for some time as they were very small - a sign that they had used up all the honey that they fill themselves with before swarming. They're now safely tucked in a hive and will hopefully grow and flourish.

In between beekeeping we have made good progress on the allotment itself, digging over several beds and planting some small plants that I purchased at the farmer's market. There's still a good bit to do, but it feels very good to have made such headway. It's hard to get things done sometimes because there is so much at the allotment to distract me, like this 'bee hotel' that hangs on the shed where mason bees nest. You can see some of the tubes are filled, some of them have had a bee hatch out of them, and there is a bee that was just visiting emerging from the side. 

20140505_162220 (1024x768)

We have spent today clearing some land that will be used for beehives. It's very close to our best apiary so I'm hopeful that it will be very successful. John and Sue, our apiary hosts, have been very tolerant of our rapid expansion but it will good to clear some space so that they can get back into their garden! 

Sunday, May 04, 2014

A week is a long time in beekeeping

20140428_164732 (768x1024)

Last week was a week of two swarms, our second and third of the year. On Monday we were called after work to a very small swarm on the same tree in St Helens that most of our swarms land on. They had been there some time, but we got the call late and then couldn't get there until after work. They were still on the branch so we got out the equipment and set about collecting them as usual. Being such a small swarm, we found the queen fairly easily and put her into the nuc. And then we found her again. And again. She really didn't want to stay! I had recently cleaned the nuc with soda crystals, so we wondered if there was a residual scent that was putting them off. The skep has never been cleaned and is full of a good bee-ish scent, so we tried that instead. We managed to get them in and from there moved them away and transferred them to the nuc. Hopefully the bees would accept it now as their new home.

20140502_171317 (768x1024)

Friday afternoon, another after work call out to another swarm. This one was slightly bigger, and strangely enough it wasn't on the 'swarm tree'. Instead it was on a branch of another tree nearby. Again, we hadn't been able to get there straight away due to work, and by the time we arrived it was starting to get chilly. The bees were quite grumpy at being interfered with and both Chris and I got buzzed at angrily. Despite that, these bees were actually pretty well behaved, and did all the textbook things that I've been told about and never seen. Chris got them in the skep first try, and immediately they flocked around the entrance and started fanning - a great sign that the queen is inside as they tell all the other bees that this is the place to be.

20140502_172538 (768x1024)

The bees all gathered round and were trying to get underneath the skep as well as through the entrance, but almost immediately set up a little marching train going from the bottom to the entrance above. Perfect! We waited a while and watched, and the small cluster of bees that had been left on the tree melted away before our eyes as the bees realised that the skep was their new home. After that, it was a simple manoeuvre to transfer them from the skep to a nuc and leave it in a safe place. Well done girls.

As we were in St Helens, we decided to check the nuc that we'd put Monday's swarm in to. Empty. The bees had obviously decided they'd rather go somewhere else, and flown off. Not a bee to be seen. It's the first time this has happened to me and it is rather disappointing. I can't help feeling slightly responsible as I washed the nuc - but I'm not going to be too hard on myself about it, because they were also very reluctant to go into the skep. Maybe the fact that they had been there some time meant that they had already found a better place? I guess we'll never know.