Tuesday 26 August 2014

All Go

Nearly complete - the new post and rail fence.
It seems to have been all go here since the arrival of the Silverwoods (see previous posts). Expecting their arrival we had postponed the task by fencing contractor, Paul (the thought of children mixing it with barbed wire  and Paul's 50 kg pile driver...) but once they had gone, Paul was anxious to get back stuck in. We had 2 nice long days at it, working on till 8 pm or so finishing with all the little titivating and tweaking that Paul, who is a perfectionist likes to do before he signs off. We had been joking about the fact that one of the posts nearest the road had his name written on it in green marker pen, where the batch of wood had been identified for 'shipping', but we both know that people will see the nice new fence (and, we hope, admire it) and then want to know who did it. We will happily tell them Paul's name and he will be happy for the advertisement and word-of-mouth recommendation.

New sheep-wire run along the lane-hedge.
On the final day he was collected from work by his wife and 4 children whom we had happily agreed to show round the place, so we were back in 'petting zoo' mode. They all seem to love the pigs and sheep and the little ones loved a chance to hold a Buff Orpington chick; although the oldest boy went all 'teenager' at that point and decided it was not cool. Paul's wife runs some kind of play group and she left wondering to herself (out loud) whether the play group might enjoy a visit. We are going to have to watch it - we already have Guide Leader Mrs Silverwood measuring up the new sheep field to see how many tents she can squeeze in!

Brawn under construction.
It only remains now to carry on the bucket-training the sheep; teaching them to follow the sound of a rattled feed-bucket, so that we can reliably walk them from the East Field round to the front lawn without anyone making a break for freedom. Longer term readers will recall that our first batch of sheep, which were Jacobs cross ewes in 2012 spent most of their time out on this lawn with me shepherding them around to stop them diving through hedges or down across the 'allotment', but they all have to be bucket trained first - it is a lot easier to attract them back by 'carrot method' than to chase them from behind and use the 'stick'.

Mango chutney - the muslin bag holds
the smaller, woodier spices.
As soon as this job was done, Liz wanted to make brawn from a pig's head donated to us by Anne (Thanks Anne) and also mango chutney, but we have no saucepan big enough to take a whole head from these monsters. We needed to split the head. This is always a rather violent and brutal task and seems a long way from the precision cuts and nifty knife work of proper butchery. My way is to hack-saw through some of the skull from the back, till I have made a crack big enough to take the sharp edge of my one-sided bill hook. I can then use the 7 lb 'lump' hammer to whack the bill hook blade through the rest of the way. It's not pretty. Liz still has to dislocate the long, lower jaw halves before it will fit in the pots.

The chicks at 3 weeks are now outdoor birds. 
We hope that when we take our own pigs to slaughter, if we intend to keep the heads and make brawn, we will be able to persuade the butcher to split the skulls for us; he's doing our butchery. Anne and Simon chose to do the cutting up themselves. I do not have the equipment or the skills, so I am going to hand over the money to the experts; the slaughterman / butcher will be doing ours.

Going through the hive debris looking for varroa mites
Meanwhile, it has come round to the time when all good bee keepers must check their hives for varroa mite. Many people know the name, and associate the words with all that is bad and disastrous about hive failures and 'colony collapse disorder (CCD)'. Varroa mite is now endemic in the British Isles and modern bee keepers pretty much have to accept that their bees will have varroa, the same way their cat or dog will probably get fleas, they just need to monitor the mite population and use one of the modern fume treatments twice a year to knock them down if they get too numerous.

Dead varroa mite. 
The treatment our group prefer is a new Canadian preparation called 'MAQS' (everyone pronounces it 'Max') which consists of strips which you lay in the hive across the frames, which fume formic acid throughout the colony. The treatment is temperature sensitive - it needs to be above 10 degrees to 'fume' properly. The bees hate it at first but soon get used to it - (formic acid is actually one of the components of bee sting), but it seeps into all the air-spaces and down through the wax cappings on the brood cells, killing the mites and mite larvae as they grow on the bee larvae. It presumably also seeps into any honey or pollen stores, but it is said not to taint the honey. You leave the strips in place for 7 days to do their work, then discard them.

A red spider mite (yellow ring) photo-bombs a group of
 much less mobile varroa mites. 
The way you know if you need to treat has been our task over the weekend. In the floor box of the hive there is a permanently fixed mesh floor (mouse and wasp proof but good ventilation) but below that 2 rails which will support a slide-in stiff plastic sheet, on which you can place a large sheet of paper. You leave that in place for several days, and then on a calm day, bring it to somewhere well lit where you can examine the debris which has fallen through the mesh floor onto it - dead tiny insects, bits of wax capping dropped by hatching bees, bee poo etc. In our case we also had some whizzy red spider mites who are presumably eating the other debris and over a hundred of our target species, the varroa mite.

Lovely card from Diamond
These guys are shiny dark or light brown, about 1.6 mm wide, and wider than they are long (like a crab). You then divide the total count by the days and if your 'mite-drop' per day is more than a guide figure for that month (33 for August) then you have a problem and you need to treat. Ours is, so we will be putting our MAQS strips in at the next visit.

Meanwhile, on a lighter note a nice Birthday Card for Liz from Diamond - this one all black with a nice London design laser-cut out of the front. Nice one Roger la Borde designs. Happy Birthday to Lizzie for tomorrow. May you have many many more. Oh, and we had another 'petting zoo' visit from Sparks and his son B(7) who also brought along a school chum named Charlie. Sparks and B loved it - Charlie turned out to be one of those kids who is scared of everything animal like - especially dogs, cats, pigs, chickens and geese. We had a bit of a thin time with the poor dogs locked up in the living room and pouring rain all day, but we survived. All part of life's rich tapestry.

No comments: