Easter Saturday and we wake up to lovely weather and a few bits of good poultry news. While I'm still doing my 'feed and release' walk about, Black Feather hops off the eggs and goes for a walk allowing me in, at last, to gather the extra eggs again. She had gone from an unconvincing broody who we had thought would fail this time, to sticking like glue. I don't like to chase her off, so I was waiting for a chance to gather up the more recent, undated eggs to bring her back to the 12 we want her to incubate. Blondie, our new Guinea Fowl survives the night and in fact wakes us up with her strident calling from first glimmer of dawn - her temporary hutch is just below our window and we sleep with the window a-jar (not for long!). On that first walk about I also find Henry and Min at her run talking to her through the wire, the first sign that they want to know her. Later we discover a stash of 10 chicken eggs in the woods, all different as if 10 different chooks have all contributed one.
So far so good, but today is really all about bees. We must visit our friend Elspeth in her gorgeous lock-keeper's cottage for our first practical training session around her hives. We had been a bit nervous of this. We have read and heard that you can be an expert bee-keeper "in theory", reading all the books and scoring top marks in the written exams, but that you might then still freak out when faced with a buzzing 35,000 bee hive and surrounded by potential stingers. A small proportion of people also show a bad allergic reaction to bee stings, which can lead to anaphylactic shock and be life threatening.
Liz examines a brood frame.
We 'book experts' were therefore keen to get hands-on and see if we could cope. Not quite so keen to get stung and see if we react, but that'll no doubt come. Thanks then to Elspeth who is on the Committee of the Longford Bee Keepers Association and volunteered to do us in her own home apiary. There is a club apiary but it has had some health problems and they are trying to keep visitors out while they isolate and sort it. She is a wonderful person and a good friend so we were treated to excellent hospitality too - coffees, cakes, sandwiches etc, as well as being loaded down with helpful literature, back copies of the Federation magazine "An beachaire" (The bee keeper), as well as being able to enjoy her perfect, bee-friendly cottage garden (along with attached farm, chickens, ewes and lambs etc).
We got togged up in our shiny new suits, gloves and (not so shiny) wellies, Elspeth lit the bee-smoker and off we went to find her three hives. This is the start of swarming season and we needed to check every frame in every brood chamber for sneaky queen cells, so we had real work to do while we were getting trained; plenty of practise at all the moves. It was very enjoyable and fascinating. We learned to crack apart the hive boxes which get glued up by the bees (the glue is called 'propolis') and then to prise apart the frames of brood and honey.
More importantly, maybe, we learned to reassemble the boxes without crushing any bees between the parts - bees getting squashed upsets all the workers and you can fast have a problem of angry bees on your hands. Some boxes are heavy but you must learn to be gentle, controlled and slow. Clonking about knocking bits together upsets the bees. You also need to be aware of where on your hands or body there might be bees. No good squatting and squashing a bee between thigh and calf, or leaning on a fence with a bee on the palm of your hand.
We also had to learn to tell the types of comb apart - are those storage cells for honey or pollen, are the brood cells for workers, drones or are they 'queen cups', do they have new eggs in or healthy white larvae, curled cosily round into their 'C' shapes. We had to become adept at spotting the drone bees and finding the queen bee in each hive. Your health checks now are all about is the queen there and laying eggs, and has anyone started trying to build queen cells - a sign that half your hive may be about to depart in a swarm. More amusingly, I was also trying to suss out how to take pictures with gloved hands and with my face covered by the 'sword fencing' mesh visor.
As I said, though, it all went well and we are very grateful to Elspeth and her husband for entertaining us and for laying on this training for us. We were both delighted that we didn't 'freak out' and we feel like we may be able to cope with our own bees when they arrive (June?). All in all a brilliant day. Lovely too just to be near canals again and to see the picture postcard, beautifully maintained lock with its lovely flower beds and spruce black and white gloss paint.
Back home then to the continuing drama of the Guinea Fowl 'integration' if you can call it that. With the rabbit run doors open we sat back at a distance to watch Blondie's "escape". She was very reluctant to come out but eventually started to move about and soon came across Henry and Min. They seemed to get on OK with H accepting the new girl and even trying to mount her. We relaxed. I took the dogs for a walk leaving Liz well able to cope. Unfortunately, no sooner had I gone than Blondie suddenly took it on herself to make a drive east, a meandering path through various bits of garden and hedge, field and so on. Liz tracked her and called me over when I got back with dogs, by which time B was 2 fields away and almost at Una's. We rounded her up and sent her back home. She is a good flyer and whirrs over hedges with ease and can run like 'Road Runner'. There is no catching her but you can shepherd and marshal her. We then had an afternoon where she headed east several times and had to be rounded up but by roosting time she seemed to be hovering around the pop hole door with the rest of the gang. At that point Henry decided to have another go at her and she exploded into flight and whirred away across the east field, disappearing into the hedge. We went out with binoculars and walked the hedgerows but as we go to roost ourselves tonight we can honestly not say where she is or whether or not we'll see her again in the morning. She has a night outside to cope with. We are wishing her all the best, but we have to admit we have singularly failed to look after her as you should.
For its first six years, this blog was "written" by my Westie Pup, Deefer but now on reaching its 30,000th page-view she has passed the keyboard to me. It remains a light hearted look at the lives of our family, human and animals first in Faversham, Kent, then through our recent 'up sticks' move to County Roscommon, Republic of Ireland where we have gutted and rebuilt a farmhouse and are now starting a small holding.