Tuesday, 11 February 2014

First Day in (Bee) School

Rain or shine, the dogs need walking
It has begun. Last night saw us off into the night of forecast rain and wintry showers, headed for Longford's "Teagasc" (pronounced "Chug-usk"; it is the training rooms and meeting centre laid on in the middle of town by the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority, a big concern here). This was for lesson one in our 'Bee School', actually a lecture on Bee Health given by our new friend Mary H of "The Two Marys". It was a big room and there were 15 or so of us in class, taking this Preliminary Certificate from the Federation Of Irish Bee Keepers' Associations (FIBKA) and the lecture was a Power-point style presentation (mercifully lacking in all the worst Power-point excesses of animations and zoomy graphics) with hand outs to save you having to write too many notes. We now know more about keeping your hive stress-free and healthy, promoting colony health and sorting out those diseases that do arise, than any two people should know who have not yet met their first colony.

I also got from Mary the two hive frame 'runners' we failed to bring away with us when we went to collect the flat packs, so that today I was able to finish my (empty) hive. In the 'any questions' section at the end we were also able to establish that, yes, rabbits are OK as a method of keeping the grass short around hives - the rabbits will not upset the bees and vice versa and also that yes, we can paint the whole thing (outside only) in gloss white. This as long as we check the paint tin first to check that it doesn't say 'harmful to insects'. We have six of these lectures at fortnightly intervals and some practical apiary sessions leading up to our exam in May which is part written and part practical at the hive. We will be experts before we even own a bee but that, I guess, is only right. They are vital livestock with an important role on the 'farm' and also potentially dangerous as well as possibly being involved in the production of food which you might want to sell to the general public.

You can see from these pictures that the advance of Spring took a bit of a back seat today and let winter have another go at painting the scenery white; a little bit Christmas Card. It had frozen overnight (which is always a welcome relief to me in the morning when I am doing my feed and release rounds - I am nipping round on ground as hard as putty and crunching over little ice patches which were formerly shallow puddles instead of slopping through the mud and wet). It started snowing at about 08:30 and then kept on all day doing light but impressive 'blizzards' which then gave way to sunny gaps which cleared up the preceding fall before the next. Bob was round this afternoon predicting a heavy fall tonight which will 'stick' but we'll wait and see on that one. Met Éireann have us getting the next anti-cyclone in the neck overnight, this one called 'Ruby', but they have been famous for their rain rather than snow. I have no idea how we got to 'Ruby'; I am sure the last two were Christine and Brigid.

In the pigs department, I have found and booked myself onto a pig rearing course down in Co. Tipperary in early April. We have also found a possible source of Tamworth piglets down in Co. Kildare. These babies are currently only a glint in their Mums' eyes. The breeder had just finished selling his first batch of Tamworth x Gloucester Old Spots (50 of them!) and was now getting his Tammy gilts back in pig but by a Tamworth boar this time. Pigs gestate for the conveniently easy to remember period of 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days, bringing us round to June, and then would need 6-8 weeks weaning, so we are looking at July. That gives me plenty time to go on the course and to do my fencing and build my ark.

Bramble jelly drips through the bag.
The limping Guinea Fowl, Henry is still limping, no better but no worse. He seems to be getting about OK, still mixes it with the chickens and jealously protects the pecking order slot of his lady, Min as well as getting his own share of any food. We'll just keep an eye on him and hope that he starts to get better soon. We rediscovered our batches of frozen blackberries picked from Bob's hedgerows and decided to turn them into bramble jelly. I seem to have lost my 'jam-setting' mojo and struggled at first to get this slop to set but then Liz suggested chucking in more sugar and suddenly I had it setting in spoons, on test saucers, in the scum-scraping spoon and nearly in the jam pan. I got it into jars in a bit of a hurry and I think it's going to be OK. Pass me that kango hammer, I need to chisel off some jam. In the egg dept I just need to report a 'personal best' / house record: 9 eggs today from 11 hens plus a goose egg. Go the girls!

Lastly I was amazed and flabbergasted by the reaction I got to the picture of washing drying on the line, I posted a few days back. 'What's amazing about washing?' I hear you ask. I had posted the pic as a joke because it was the first time we'd been able to dry anything outdoors since about December, what with all the rain. A friend from college days now living in the USA told me she was amazed and was thinking of doing it that 'old way' which she'd not done since leaving the UK in the 80's. In fact, she said, it was actually illegal to dry your washing out doors and that lately people had been objecting to this ban and there are whole political movements and serious politicians involved. It all came out of some rich folks living in posh 'gated' communities thinking that someone else's undies flapping in the wind was an eye-sore and was presumably latched onto by the white-goods manufacturing industry. Now the move to re-instate it as an activity is coming out of the green, energy-saving factions. I was just gob-smacked and completely thrown by this. Only in America, I would think.... but you never know.

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