Sunday 19 April 2015

Of Swarm Lures, Turkeys and Kangaroos

A post of three thirds. I wonder how many bloggers started with a title like that tonight? I like to keep my subject headers a bit 'noticable' so if you are entrigued, read on and enjoy it. Two of these stories are triggered by tip-offs from Anne, but the first is a tribute to ace carpenter K-Dub, who we have met before (16th June and 6th July 2013)

A swarm-lure or 'bait box'. 
Bee keepers seem to spend a good part of their time worrying about their colonies swarming. Swarming is that event in (roughly) May/June when your old established Queen bee ups sticks to set up a new colony with half your workers leaving behind (you hope) a queen cell or two containing pupating replacement (virgin) queens who will take over. It is the honey bee's way of doing that Darwinian thing of increasing in numbers and taking over the world. It has worked very well for them for 30 million years, well before man started 'helping' them. The individual bees breed by normal insect-ish means  but if they did not swarm, then they'd stay in the same hollow tree for ever, so swarming is the way that the colony, hive or 'super-organism' increases in numbers.

I've never had much time for Smithwick's beers, but this 'Blonde'
was OK. Impressively quaffable. 
Bee keepers can try to stop this by a variety of methods but it is a forlorn hope - the urge to breed is hard-wired in and they might as well try to stop their teenage daughters from fancying the local boys, or their dog from chasing that she-dog down the road who is on heat. All they can really do is hope to influence the timing and then work to contain the swarm within their apiary and thereby not lose half the honey-gathering workforce.

Ooops. We seem to have acquired a couple of turkeys.
One such way is to build a 'swarm-lure' or 'bait box'. The idea here is that the swarm 'swarms' out of the hive but then gathers on a handy bush or tree (or bank ATM machine, fence post, car engine bay, sky-scraper) to regroup (around the queen). The swarm then sends off scout bees to look for a more sensible home (hollow tree, chimney etc) and, within a few hours, has a committee meeting, decides on the best location found and zooms off to go and invade it. The beekeeper tries to pre-empt this by providing, in a handy tree, a more attractive new home than any available in nature.

The theory goes that this should be a box of roughly 40 litres capacity (a 15 inch cube or so) about 12 feet off the ground, containing some old hive frames which will smell familiar to the scout bees augmented, some say, with lemon balm scent (which apparently smells nice to bees). People build them out of all manner of scrap wood, planks and boards, rough aul' wood with splits, knots and cracks. Nobody spends any money on them as the hope is, as I said, rather forlorn. The bees have to swarm, and find your box and decide that that is the best accommodation around. Good luck with that.

Charlotte de-crates the hen bird.
I decided to give it a try and knew that the nearest carpenter around who might have a supply of scrap wood, was old chum K-Dub. I made contact and punted my 'scrounge'. K-Dub was happy to oblige. Come down, he said and raid my scrap pile. I scrapped into a notebook a quick drawing of what I'd need based on the required internal dimensions which would suit the bee hive frames.  Well, K-Dub being who he is got all intrigued by the idea and, instead of leaving me to find scrap wood, started offering to cut 'this bit of board' to size on his huge, powerful, bench-saw, then started to assemble it and quickly (less than an hour) built me a superb, luxurious box which knocks anything I have seen into a cocked hat.

The swarm bees (if they happen) will be dazzled! It is glued and screwed, It has a landing ramp outside the entrance hole and handles to lift it by. K-Dub even gave me a tin of old varnish which he'd had on his shelf "for 4 years", that I might paint the box and return the rest of the varnish. That guy is just THE BEST kind of neighbour, friend and carpenter. If I'd taken the wood and done it myself, I'd still be doing it now and there'd be splinters, gaps, jaunty angles and Heaven knows what. The bees may well have used it but this box will feel like the penthouse suite!

The male ('stag' or 'Tom') is not sure whether to come out of his
And so to turkeys. You may have spotted some pics higher up the post. I have been hankering for turkeys as my next species in 2015 for a while and had mentioned this to Anne. She tipped me off that there was a poultry 'Bring and Buy' at Kiltimagh (in Mayo, our neighbouring county) today. I fancied a couple of young females of the old fashioned 'Bronze' (single breasted) variety and an unrelated male (they are called 'stags' or 'Toms') to use as our parent generation. These guys would not be eaten for Christmas, but any progeny would be fair game (next year). So, with Liz still away, I rounded up Charlotte (who also needed some turkeys for a friend) and we 'went equipped' - money, pet-carriers, early start.

Crates in the car.
Well, Kiltimagh turns out ot be a rather small event with only half a dozen sellers including the petting zoo owner but among these was a lady with a crate in her van containing an immense and impressive 2014 breedable pair of turkeys. The hen was apparently in lay (so Charlotte bought half a dozen fertile eggs for her friend) and the stag/tom/male was strutting his proud stuff with tail up, wings lowered and all his facial extravagance on display. This is all retractable bright blue and red skin and we now know is known as the 'caruncle, snood and wattle'. He was also 'gobble gobble'-ing loudly to protect his woman. He stole my heart. To cut a long story short, we bought the pair and they are now at home in the middle part of the goose house, settling in prior to being allowed out free range (in stages). More pics of these guys in future posts.

Kangaroo steaks.
Finally, our local branch of supermarket Lidl has gone a bit crazy with frozen meats of all sorts of different species - wild boar, ostrich and even kangaroo. Anne had commented that Simon was quite taken with the latter as it was lean and of fine texture without being as gamey as venison. You should always try these things, so I was in Lidl yesterday and picked up some kangaroo. Well, I was impressed. The only serving suggestion on the box seemed to be a rather basic two-side fry, 7 minutes a side which gave it a 'well done' finish, to which I added a 5 minute rest. On reflection you could easily do a rare version. The pic on the box looks quite pink, so I think that must be what they have done for the advert.

I served mine with new potatoes and a mix of roasted veg with Cajun seasoning (courgette, peppers, red onion, tomato, garlic) and washed it down with an Australian Shiraz (homage to the Ozzie-ness of the kangaroo?). I had deliberately not flavoured the meat, except for a bit of salt, because I wanted to taste the base flavour. It worked well though it would be quite pricey at €5.99 for the pack, though possibly intended for two and my only other (piffling) criticism was that the meat was already chopped into 5 small bits, rather than  two decent steaks. Worth a try, then, if your Lidl's are doing it. Thanks for the tip-offs Anne on both Turkeys and Kangaroos.

1 comment:

Anne Wilson said...

Have you names the turkeys yet Matt? Ours were called Andy and Jessie. We find that one pack of kangaroo steaks is plenty for the two of us, I just gently fry them in butter for five minutes as I like my meat rare, like you the only seasoning is a little salt.