Tuesday 21 January 2014

Bee School

'National' standard style hive.
We have decided to get into bees and keeping our own hive on the holding. This has got to be good from the point of view of the environment; reacting to the falling bee populations but would also mean that we had more bees locally to pollinate our fruit trees, veg and other plants. Plus it would be fun and it is something I have wanted to do for many years but never had the chance. We have therefore started to ask around for local bee-keeper contacts and have received a lot of help from friends on the internet (Thank you, Rho!) and locally who have now put us in touch with the Longford Beekeeper Group just over the county border. This (hour's drive) might seem a bit daft as there would surely be a group locally, but these were the group we found first and they are a lovely bunch of friendly people, so we are getting in with them for the moment.

A 'frame' of bees; not mine yet, picture 'borrowed' from the
Longford Group (Hope that's OK Elspeth!)
Off we went then last night to our first meeting in Longford town centre to meet our new friends, Joe, Kevin, Dieter and co. They are quite a big group (26 last night) and lively and friendly AND we were excited to find, they are just about to start a training course for beginners which runs through to May leading to the "Preliminary Bee Keepers' Certificate". We sat through the meeting and listened to the discussions on the agenda and both of us actually piped up with contributions from the complete beginner's perspective.

2 hens pick over our pile of John Deere Bob's calf muck
There was then a short presentation by an experienced bee keeper for the benefit of newbies like us on the parts of a standard "National" style beehive; he, Dieter, had one there with him, empty of course. We stayed on after the meeting to talk some more, to join up with the club and to enroll on the training course. It was a good event all round and we learned bags of 'stuff' about bees and hives. We feel as if we are launched already. We now need to get started properly with our beginner mini-hive (called a 'nucleus colony' or 'Nuke'). This is a box containing only 5-6 'frames' of wax on which a young queen and about 6000 bees are starting a new colony. If you play your cards right this Nuke box starts to quickly fill up with the thriving colony and you then buy a full sized hive (which can cope with 70,000 bees), transfer your frames into that and from there it is onwards and upwards, gaining more experience, becoming obsessed, starting to add more hives and so on. We are, for now, only thinking we'll run one hive, but you never know. More reports on this project to come.

I am always completely impressed by the idea of coppicing, the idea of cutting trees down to near ground level every 15-20 years or so, so that side shoots will sprout from the base/stump ("stool") and grow into poles which you can then harvest at the next cut. In Kent, in Challock Forest we had square miles of sweet chestnut cut this way, the poles having been used over the centuries for fencing and building wood, for charcoal making and for pit-props in the Betteshanger and other Kent coal mines. To me it is the ultimate form of sustainable forestry and therefore in sustainable cropping too.

When I was studying ecology at Uni, it was a given that coppiced tree stools in ancient woodland were the oldest known living things on the planet. They had been cut down at least 80 times, every 20-25 years or so for 2000 years or more. Each time the shoots grew from the outer side of the stool, so increased the diameter of the base, eventually marching out into a 'fairy ring', the centre having long since died off. The ring was now many yards across and interlocking with neighbouring rings like some complex Venn diagram or Spirograph drawing. The scientists could check DNA and estimate the rate of spread of individual plants and could thus estimate the age of each stool.

This big ash pole did not come from that tiny cut top left.
It is from a bigger cut out of shot (arrow)
Well, we don't have ancient woodland and our ash in the Secret Garden may only be a few cuts old but it gives me a real buzz to be taking down these ash stems knowing that it is entirely possible that I may be doing it again, aged 70 or so in the future. Meanwhile, they make great logs. Ash, seasoned, is one of our favourite woods for burning on the range. It is also beautiful to split with the axe when I'm feeling all macho and need to do 'man stuff'.

Irish 'Cooleeney' Camembert
We have been delighted recently to find some very nice cheeses in our travels. I have never been that confident of Irish cheese. Growing up, we loved our mature and vintage Cheddars and you could not be any ruder than to describe a cheese as 'like Irish Cheddar' - the only Irish Cheddar you could find back then was insipid and tasteless, described as 'Mild'. Yuck. Liz growing up was only ever given processed kiddies' cheeses like the famous "Calvita" brand. I am told it is worse than the 'Vache qui Rit' (laughing cow) stuff. So Liz, proudly off on her first French "exchange" as a teenager with the Treil family outside Paris, announced to her new hosts that she 'didn't like cheese'. Outraged by anything so preposterous, Mmle Treil set about introducing the young Liz to the huge variety of French cheeses starting with a creamy Camembert and working their way through to the smelliest Pont l'Eveques, Maroilles, Livarot (Le Colonel) and so on.

Rhubarb Crumble and 'real' custard made with eggs.
Of course, we are both real cheese hounds now and will try anything and enjoy them as long as they have a good flavour. We have even been on a specific holiday to the famous cheese area of Normandy hunting down some of these cheeses. We are happy to tell you that even our local Lidl Supermarket now stocks a nice Irish vintage cheddar (Valley Spire) and sometimes a very presentable Tipperary Camembert (Cooleeney) along with perfectly acceptable Parmesans, goat's cheeses, feta and so on. They feature regularly in our trolley load.


mazylou said...

Gubbeen. Bloody lovely.

Matt Care said...

Gubbeen? A brand of cheese?

anne wilson said...

Gubbeen cheese comes from Cork Matt, semi soft, we find it a bit mild for our taste.
By the way there are several localish bee keepers, I have put links on the poultry site.
The Coothall honey is lovely.

Matt Care said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Care said...

Thanks for that, Anne. From what you're saying, Gubbeen might be a bit mild for us too. On the bee contacts, we have been for a good look round the Drumshambo website and are determined to get a look round there. Looks like they are only open Tues and Sat and you have to phone first, but that's OK. They seem to have a lot of kit described as 'slight seconds' nice and reasonable.

anne wilson said...

We have a contact that helped the Drumshambo lot move to their new site, what he doesn't know about bee keeping could be written on a postage stamp, unfortunately he now lives in Athlone but I could contact him if you like and see if he would be willing to give you advice.

Matt Care said...

Would he by any chance be a guy called Joe McE, mate of Rho's? If so, we have met him and he was a major player in setting up the Longford Group to which we now go....

mazylou said...

Cheese doesn't have to be strong. In fact, Gubbeen if left to itself in a bit of waxed paper, develops beautifully and is stinky enough for anyone's taste.