Tuesday 11 June 2013

Planting the bog

Cotton grass, rushes and flag iris in the bog
  The swarm I captured last week was clustered around the trunk of a pollarded willow and I had to cut off branches to get at it. Rather than waste the willow twigs I thought I'd use them as cuttings to grow trees around the edge of the bog. Despite the drainage its still wet enough for willows.


Willows are the easiest of trees to grow from cuttings. Take a 300mm length of green willow anything from 10 - 25mm in diameter and stick it in the ground for about two thirds of its length. Stand back, because they grow rather quickly. I read somewhere once that medieval farmers in lowland England planted  elm trees around field boundaries to improve drainage because the transpiration stream of the elm trees pumped water out of the ground. Perhaps the willows  will do this too.

Draining the bog

Perhaps over 100 years ago Crofters took care to drain the wettest parts of the croft by digging drainage ditches, by hand. These drains are now neglected, full of vegetation, soil and developing peat; the result is large areas of boggy grazing full of rushes and snails that host liver fluke.

So my neighbour Alistair and I decided to improve things by clearing the drain that runs across both crofts and ends up in a burn. There's no point in clearing part of the system or you'll end up with another bog.

When the drains were originally dug, by hand, I guess that it took about three weeks. Today the mini-digger did the job in three hours. not counting the time it took to extract the digger from the wettest part of the bog.So we should have some better grazing and a lower incidence of liver fluke, its difficult to quantify the benefit but it has to be done and its still wet enough for the yellow flag iris.

Friday 7 June 2013

Morning milking

You probably think that its a chore getting up in the morning to milk a goat. It certainly isn't at the moment. The goats are pleased to see us, the sun is shining and its hot. Once you start there's the rhythmic squirting of the milk into the pail, swallows darting through the half door and the tinkling bells of the young goats in their pen. Its a great way to start the day.

I should add that, as predicted Pia produced her own body weight (70 kg) in milk in the last 18 days; sweet, creamy milk that doesn't smell of goat.

Its not necessary to start milking at 5.00am as with cows, goats are much more accommodating and relaxed about the milking routine. They don't mind visitors, let their milk down easily and don't kick the milk pail.  Pia does get bored though if you are milking too slowly.

Swarming bees

The weather on Tuesday was hot and sultry, perfect for bees to swarm. I had just finished a self congratulatory post on how my bees had come through the winter when the phone rang; one of my colonies had swarmed and the bees were clustered on a low willow tree.

Swarms are rarely hanging from a low branch that can be snipped off and the bees caught in a skep. This one was more typical with the bees clustered round the tree trunk.  The only way to capture them was to cut some branches off, place a box on top and try to drive them up into the box with smoke.

The plan worked and the following morning most of the bees were in the box clinging to a stick that I'd wedged inside. They have been re-homed in a hive in the fruit garden and.......phew! .....they weren't my bees but a wild swarm .

Improved chicken tractor (Mk 2)

Moving a heavy wooden hen house on skids, even plastic coated skids isn't easy so the Mk2 chicken tractor now has wheels. Not only wheels; if the hut is raised off the ground predators can get underneath the slatted floor and attack the birds so a sheet of weldmesh was needed under the slatted floor.

From time to time its also necessary to keep the hens locked in and the electronic door opens at first light so a hinged wooden door has been added.

The slatted floor has also improved the ventilation in this hot weather.

Strips of dark green grass demonstrate the fertilising effect and of course there is no cleaning out.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay.

Last Thursday was warm, sunny and windless....perfect conditions for inspecting the bees. The majority of flying bees were out foraging and the bees themselves were in a good mood.

Despite the long cold winter, when we opened up the hives they were all in good shape. Each of the queens was laying because there were eggs, larvae and sealed brood. In the strongest colony there were sealed brood over seven frames. Its tempting to order a big batch of honey jars but a lot could go wrong between now and September.

The colonies will have to be inspected every week to see if they are making preparations to swarm.Now that we are into June if the current queen takes off with a high proportion of the colony then honey production will be down.

A swarm in May however might not be so bad if you catch it because they would still have time to build up and to produce some honey and a new colony. Hence the old saw," a swarm in May is worth a load of hay".

The colonies have probably come through the  winter in such good shape because; although February and March were cold months they were dry, they had a good supply of honey"stores" and good ventilation. Good ventilation is vital for all housed animals; bees, sheep, cattle, goats and poultry. Although we don't have varroa I use the wire mesh varroa control hive floors, these allow a better flow of air that carries moisture away from the wintering cluster of bees.