Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Snugging Down the Bees

'Tis the (goose egg) season says Liz with this
picture posted onto facebook.
We are still thoroughly enjoying this lovely run of windless, rainless days, often with bright blue skies and welcome sunshine begotten of the series of high pressure systems which are dominating our weather for what feels like a fortnight. It has given us a lovely flush of crops hanging in there which by now (mid October) we'd normally expect to have finished - the broad beans, mange tout peas, poly-tunnel tomatoes and herbs like parsley, chives and thyme.

Our first grass-frost on 13th October morning.
We have welcome late (re) flushes of some flowers which you'd normally call summer flowers - all the roses are still pushing open new buds, a yellow geum is going great guns and our three-big-tub group in the yard is a picture of yellow red-hot pokers, yellow dahlia (a 'Bishop' relative), nasturtiums and Welsh poppies. In the keyhole bed an accidental self-seeded red campion has been flowering away as a bush-sized dome since June and shows no sign of flagging.

Frosty sunrise through the trees
As I said, we have been enjoying the warm sunshine, but clear skies and high pressure in October inevitably means the arrival of chilly nights and some first frosts. The first crunch to the grass came this morning with a mist-less morning live-stock round. The internet tells us we might even get views of the Northern Lights but I have not seen them so far possibly because 'North' to us here is one of the few bad sources of light pollution, the cluster of street lights in the town of Ballaghaderreen. Balla-D tends to light up the northern horizon with that well know sodium-light orange glow and may be out-glowing the Aurora Borealis.

The bees finally get their snug 'loft insulation', the (oiled wood)
foam block filled 'eke' on top of the hive here with the standard
roof about to be put on top.
I had been holding off snugging down the bees with the days being so warm and the bees still being so active. They will be foraging the remaining heather and soon move onto the ivy when that starts to open - the ivy flower buds are plentiful but still shut tight so far here. It is a truism in beekeeping circles that it is not the cold which kills bees, but the damp, especially if you have a thin roof on the hive where condensation forms and cold water then drips right down the centre of the hive, into the brood cluster.

A chilly morning for our cattle neighbours in the 5 Acre Field
We think it was a combination of the cold/damp/condensation and having too much space (fresh air around the cluster) which did for our 2014 colony in spring 2015. This can give you a bad 'chimney' effect with the warm cluster pulling in cold air through the mesh floor, and losing warm air through the roof-vents but you are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. You must somehow find the right balance between enough ventilation to discourage condensation, (including that moisture which bees have to pull out of nectar in order to make honey) but enough cosy snugness that nobody dies of hypothermia. Our solution this year is to part-block the bottom by sliding in the varroa-mite counting board but then to completely seal the top with a 3 inch block of house-insulating foam slotted tight into an oiled-wood square called an 'eke'. I am hoping that the warm bees will then thus be so well separated from the snow on the roof, that no condensation will form on their 'ceiling' and drip down. Time will tell. That is now the last time this year we will open the hive to look into it. From now on we just watch the comings and goings and hope that continued activity means that all is well. Good luck you bees.

That is quite a hole we have made in the house!
Meanwhile over in the Sligo rebuild house we have done the complete opposite and smashed a huge hole in the back. This is one of those 2 foot thick walls we know and love from our own rebuild, but in this case the stone is much more helpful, being mainly flat chunks a bit like broken paving slabs. In Roscommon our stones were hard sandstone and the shape of your head so we wondered how the builder ever managed to stack them into walls - we suspect that they did no such thing and just poured the stones and concrete down into a shuttered gap.

Not a dry stone wall, but a stack of good stones salvaged
from the demolished house walls.
Out in Sligo it is all much more professional and 'stone mason'-ish, with the flat stones laid 'bonded' like brickwork, big squared off 'coin' stones at the corners and impressive broad slices as door and window lintels. These are interwoven with proper old fashioned lime mortar so that when you knock bits of wall down it is fairly simple to tap the good stones clean of mortar and stack them for re-use.

Tom the turkey has regrown his tail and is back to his
magnificent best.
I had to smile - the two of us had been hard at this rubble-wrangling all morning when Mum came out to the site with the makings of 'hang sang-widges' and a huge thermos of coffee but brought along young son 'H' (3) so that he could see progress and enjoy some time with his Dad. His Dad must be as tired as me from the rock-bashing but still has the energy to load H into a wheel barrow and run round the site like a fair ground ride, running him up and down gravel heaps, bouncing over boulders and balancing along scaffold planks with H clinging on for dear life and wooping with delight. H is also one for the quick observations "You've made a hole in the house!" and follow-up accusing questions as to who did it and Mum and Dad have been enjoying getting me into tongue-in-cheek "trouble" by blaming me for everything that's 'gone wrong'.

The 2CV gets fired up just to keep everything freed up and
working. Look carefully here and you may see exhaust fumes
centre right. 
The gravel piles I moved with the digger were, in fact "H's mountain" - he had been climbing over them that week and claimed them for his own. "That was Matt!", they grassed me up helpfully "He stole it with the digger!" He wasn't so accepting of the blame for the hole in the house. "I think it is BOTH of your fault!" he said, Judge Jury and Executioner.

Polly and the sunrise.
He was also a bit concerned that the room he had previously chosen was now rapidly disappearing, open to the east winds but is now reassured that he will get a new, nice, bigger room 'upstairs' eventually. If Dad and I don't get arrested for stealing Sligo's mountains in the meantime.

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