horticulture

new hedge, old trees….

Its been a while, I should have written to you sooner, I apologise for the lapse, you know how it is, things happen, life gets in the way….. but I’m here now and so much to tell you.

The biggest news is the new garden. We moved here in November last year and then the weather closed in behind us, which is something I should be prepared for. After all, the last 2 winters have done this to me. Anyway, around 1/2 acre of traditional garden, around the house. surrounded by hedging, well, loosely described as hedging, predominately deciduous trees, cut to form a hedge.

When we arrived in November it had just been cut down to around 2 metres height and was very sad looking, we could see straight through it. I couldn’t believe it would become the hedge that it is today! (Proud parent talking there)

There are some fruit trees; apple, cherry and one sad old, plum tree. I’ve been told its a damson tree…… fingers crossed we can revive it over the coming year because the abundance of damsons from – Damson cottage has led to my parents addiction: my home made Damson gin…..

The house faces north so the back door is facing straight out to the south and across countryside. There is one arable field behind us which has just been harvested of its peas. Beyond is a most glorious view; an ancient green field site that contained a monastery. the undulating grassland has cattle grazing, and further beyond is the woodland. The view makes the place so special.

The summer is here now, and what a contrast. Baking heat has parched the garden, we don’t have our collection water tanks in place and we’re on a water meter….
Life would be dull without a challenge or two wouldn’t it?

winter wonderland

the view across the countryside and beyond is truly wonderful

Bee keeping for beginners ….

In February I started a 6 week course with my local bee keeping club, Louth Bee Keeping Association which is a part of the national charity; the British Bee Keeping Association(BBKA) I bought the kit (including the suit) waited a while, and then a few weeks ago in that brief warm spell was given a swarm to home in my lovely new hive…….. now with some trepidation I am embarking on my first season attempting to keep bees. I can’t call myself a bee keeper yet, it wouldn’t be right, not when I consider the wealth of knowledge and experience my fellow Louth Bee Keeping Association members demonstrate.
No, I would class myself more as the complete beginner, making all the classic mistakes.

Two lovely chaps; Chairman George and Secretary Ian from the club arrived at around 9.30pm with a box wrapped in a sheet, the box held the swarm. Although this is not the best time of day to introduce a swarm to a hive, sometimes needs must and this was one of those times. Bee suits on, we headed down the garden and “introduced” the bees into the hive (we emptied the box into the top of the hive and put on the roof) this was when I made the “classic beginners mistake” #1

Trying very hard not to panic I stated in a loud voice “I have a bee in my veil!” “I have a bee in my veil!” sensing that I may become a mad, hysterical woman, Ian replied, “just swot it Lorraine”, I’m thinking “OMG! what and make it mad enough to sting?” thankfully, I was brushed down of bees and able to remove my veil and the offending beast escaped, me unstung. I then had time to contemplate my embarassment at reacting as I did. This set the way for what has not yet been a text book beginners experience of bee keeping……

endorphins!

Okay, I’m not the most dedicated fitness fan, never sporty etc. and today I got back on the rower, it’s been some months, winter, injuries etc. etc. I was not looking forward to the torture. But honestly I am aware that my ageing body needs the 20 minutes a day for 5 days that they tell us we all need.

So, earphones in, shuffle on, Rower playlist at the ready………. Wow! 20 minutes later, some puffing and panting, knees aching, back breaking and I’m stepping off the rower and dancing around the floor! If this is the endorphin effect that exercise brings, I like it very much! 

I’ve always loved music and dance, I was part of a dance studio up to the age of 11 and loved singing and dancing on stage – perhaps that has stayed with me, anyway, here I am, this life and raring to go

The winter is over, seeds to sow, chooks to chase, wildflowers to sow, bee keeping to learn, 2012 will be a great year.

Keeeeeep Dancin’!

Chicken Run

Well, the last week has been a steep learning curve for my chicken keeping skills.

The call went out over the twitter waves; it was time to save the latest flocks of battery hens from slaughter. Who can rehome some?

I have long been against the practice of battery egg production and last year I just lost out being a bit too slow on the uptake, so I had to do this time.

Just four days ago, my amazing husband came with me as we headed north to collect 30 hens. The empty run and coop are now full.

Unfortunately the hens have no idea what a chicken should do to be a chicken. This has created a new game at bed time “catch the chicken”. One by one they have to be caught and posted into the coop. The game, which takes about an hour to complete, is now into its fifth day, I long for the night that I go to close the coop and they are all tucked in as my other little flock always are……..

 

Its a show, Honey!

– Louth Beekeepers Association Annual Honey Show. With such a lovely name, you know it’s going to be good. I wasn’t disappointed. One of the highlights was to see the 4 types of honey entered and the scrutiny that goes into judging. The different classes to enter are granulated, creamed, liquid and heather honey.  Each entry has to be 2 identical jars, filled to an exact level and fulfilling the precise standards required. I have a lot to learn if I am to make it next year.

As well as the exhibits, there was lots of talk about swarming bees, keepers suddenly expanding their apiary from one to 3 hives, the difficulties faced over the season and optimism for the coming year.

The evening was rounded off beautifully. I won a jar of creamed honey in the raffle and was given a jar of runny honey by a neighbour who travels with me in our car share.

Just in the nick of time…

We have added a couple of new beds in the allotment.  Making them caused a bit of a catastrophe though,  as the old rotavator blew up its engine. Thankfully it was just as Paul finished the last bed. Being a dedicated petrol head he has always claimed the engine was too small, another machine with a bigger engine will be on his agenda now……

I have some onion sets on the way, I hope they will fit into the 2 beds we have created…….

 

Broadly Speaking!

The beds in the allotment plot are now filled with onions and I have sown some broad beans. Onions have grown very successfully in the kitchen garden each year and I am hoping the space in allotment will mean many more next year. Broad beans – a vegetable I have avoided for more than 30 years are quite a departure for me. They conjure up memories of Sunday lunches with my prospective in-laws and the home grown, large, grey, chewy, tough broad beans that we ate. For the last 30 years I have always said it’s the one vegetable that I don’t like and being an advocate of growing things you like,  they have been absent from my plot, until now.  I have been seduced by TV chefs, creating glorious dishes using the freshest beans. That and the heritage seeds white and green Windsor that came into my possession………

Baled out…..

 

 

I have to report a particular disappointment – the straw bales. To save some space in the kitchen garden, I tried to grow squashes and courgettes in bales. Despite feeding and watering them constantly, the plants are looking very poorly, making the experiment for this year at least, a failure. Thankfully I planted squashes in containers filled with my home made compost and I did have some room for 3 plants in the kitchen garden, I can report that these plants are growing well. I feel that with the hot early spring weather followed by the near drought conditions experienced here it is difficult to decide on the reason for the failure. This means that to be a real trial, I need to repeat the exercise next year and see if I can do better.

 

save our bees….

 

 

Last month I spoke about the part that gardeners play in supporting bee populations. As you will recall, I talked about the study that is being carried out by the University of Sussex. In fact you may have seen their work in a recent programme by the BBC in their series: “The great British food revival” The plight of our pollinators and in particular bees, is particularly serious as their decline will affect us all. More recently, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has reported that there is a complex cocktail of threats to honeybees. These include: air pollution, systemic insecticide use, habitat loss and the spread of bee pests and diseases. Furthermore, the UK has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows since the 1930s. This loss has impacted massively on pollinator numbers. To try to counteract this decline the Co-operative is donating £60,000 to help set up the first “bee roads” in Yorkshire. The network of corridors are planned to go national and provide a habitat for bees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths.

British honey is in short supply, and like other foods I believe buying local is important. And so, during the summer, I will be visiting a beekeeper in Horncastle to find out if I have what it takes to take up this fascinating activity and to try to produce my own honey in the future.  My only thought is to find out if I have what it takes to get “up close and personal” with a hive and not be afraid.  Fingers crossed, as I hope to become a local producer.