Monday, 9 March 2015

Of Bees and Brehon Law

My two whooper swans were down on the lough (again or still?) today so what ever the flying pair I reported in my last post were up to, they were not my lough couple off on their final move back to Iceland. We have them for a while yet, though we get very few of the still crisp nights in which to enjoy their nighttime bugle calls and the sounds of their splashing and chasing about. Spring is definitely coming, though. After a few days of strong winds and rain it was a lovely relief to wake up on the Sunday (8th) to still air, blue skies and bright sunshine. Very sloppy underfoot, but this sudden break gave us a chance to both get out into the garden and start to look around. We moved our 'giant' rabbits (Goldie and Nugget) to a new, grassier site out the front of the house and Liz whipped round the currant bushes and roses with the secateurs.

Garden assistants
Liz loves her roses and all the care, pruning and gardening jobs that go with them. We have quite a few and an area in the 'nursery' well stocked with new plants we are getting established in tubs and cuttings which we are trying to strike, some of which come from Steak Lady's old garden up in Portmarnock, now abandoned in the house move. A shaggy rose will always drag Liz outside even when the weather is saying stay in and knit or play on the internet but these guys have started into spring growth and stolen a march on the pruning process. Liz was heard having conversations with them apologising for cutting away all the new growth which they had worked so hard to create and reassuring them that they would thank her in the summer when they were growing into proper shapes covered in bloom. She thinks that this persuasion worked as "only one pulled my hair (Dublin Bay) and only L'Aimant scratched".

The pig area looking tidier now we've trimmed the fallen tree.
I am now only fewer than 3 weeks from my big scary Intermediate 'bee school' exam, so the study of bee books and documents, the watching of YouTube videos (one was a 75 minute lecture by a German lady to the (Irish) National Conference on bee mating biology) and the avid reading of all things bee have become part of the local focus. This includes reading the excellent Federation magazine from cover to cover  as soon as it lands and two particular items this month caught my eye (although they may be of no use in the exam!).

Naked tree trunk
One concerned how old Irish Law worked around bees as livestock. Regular readers will know that I am no historian and would hesitate to start pontificating on such a massive subject as historic legal systems, which support whole books, Professorships and PhD research, but bear with me. I can safely say that Brehon Law which existed in Ireland from way back till it was superceded by the arrival of the Normans (1169-ish) and by the coming of Roman Catholic Law is highly regarded as being solid, fair, logical and sensible. It was certainly a whole lot fairer in its treatment of the female half of the population when it came to estate ownership, dowries and marriages than the RC efforts which have followed.

'Old' Mrs Buff checks out the egg laying
potential of the pig ark. She approved.
The piece which caught my eye (Bee Keeping in Ancient Ireland by Fergus Kelly of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (An Beachaire Vol 70/3 March 2015)) was based around some luckily preserved 7th Century texts called 'Bee Judgements', thought to be the only evidence in the world of any legal framework for bee 'foraging' rights. If your cattle grazed someone else's land, then you had to pay the land owner for the grass, so if your bees foraged on the land, then you would need to compensate the owner just the same. The payments were either in swarms or honey, thus spreading bee ownership through the countryside. The beekeeper might be liable for compensation for injuries caused by his bees (stings) unless the injured party got stung while trying to steal his hive.

Poor Deefer. Denied access to 'Dad's lap, she sulked off to a pile of
wellies and tried to look as put out as possible.
If your bees started swarming, then as long as the swarm stayed on your land you owned the bees. If they took off across a neighbour's patch then you immediately lost full ownership. If you could keep them in sight you were allowed to give chase and capture them (provided you did no damage to his land) but you then owed him one third of all the honey it might make for that year. If you lost the swarm and the land owner claimed it then he/she had to give you 1/3 of the honey. Honey was, of course, the only sweetener available and was much relished (says Fergus Kelly) and valued. Nice article.

Lamb Savoyarde - a nice alternative to the hot-pots and
shepherds' pies. A lamb 'stew' layered with sliced potato.
Actually the very last of our stored Sarpo Mira.
The second piece which caught my eye is one which might interest Mentor Anne (it might even be a new one, Anne?) is in the News and Views section of the mag (An Beachaire) by Philip McCabe and concerns the possibility of honey being 'contaminated' with GMOs. This has already happened in 'canola' honey in Germany. Honey-production focused bee keepers who are pushing their hives to the limit, as well as taking too much honey and having to feed fondant or syrup, will sometimes also decide that their hives are short of pollen. Pollen is the protein and fats food for young larvae but is very difficult to get hold of, so these bee keepers use either 'pollen substitute' or 'pollen supplement' which are man made pastes mixed from "processed plant materials".

Pig trotters (CrĂșibĂ­ns or 'Crubbeens') glazed in mango chutney
Sweet, glutinous, sticky finger-licking good. 
As they are trying to mimic a high protein food, it will not surprise you to learn that these 'materials' are often those well known high protein ingredients, soya bean meal, maize meal and mustard. The real pollen itself is an allowed constituent of honey, so perhaps these companies thought that a little 'substitute' would not hurt. Well now they have been 'busted' and the German authorities have described them as 'completely irresponsible' and have said that anyone who uses this product ('Feedbee' made by a Canadian outfit) will risk breaking the 'zero tolerance' limit and their honey would not be marketable anywhere in the EU. We don't buy a lot of honey but I am reassured that this little tweak was stomped on so hard and so quickly.

A future knitter? Maybe not.
Finally, a bit of fun for those long evenings when you are pinned down by the 'orange warning' gales. I was gazing curiously at a bit of Liz's knitting a few days ago and wondering how this dexterous twiddling of a single strand of wool could make the wool be turned into a sheet of cloth which didn't just unravel as soon as you took it off the needles. Nothing for it but to give it a go, so Liz promptly set me up with two needles and a ball of wool, cast me on 20 stitches and gave me a very quick 'masterclass' in the fancy finger moves.

A not very square square.
To cut a long story short I got stuck in and battled through all those beginner mistakes which must be familiar to any knitter, rubbish and inconsistent tension, dropped stitches (some of which Liz rescued) and the inadvertent adding of 8 stitches to my original 20 as I worked my way up. I got to a reasonable level of competence on pure knitting before Liz had me trying to 'purl' it too, so I ended up with an inch or so of what is called 'stockinette stitch' (get me!) and was then even allowed to cast off myself. Not bad for a first effort but "square" it wasn't! For my next trick I intend to actually cast on my own square and knit it all. That might be the end of my sortie into knitting and I'm still none the wiser as to why it works, even though I know how it works.

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