Friday 31 March 2017

Welcome Strangers

The dogs make their mark on the new concrete. These paw
marks look 'proud' rather than indented but that is just
because the light is coming from behind me. 
It may well be the Irish DNA in the Lady of the House, but there's nothing Liz likes more than 'hosting'. Hospitality - all that palaver of welcoming guests, organising their visits, getting rooms ready, ship-shape and comfortable and then, of course, all the menu planning and extra food prep and cooking. Of course the visit itself with the chance to make new friends and improve old friendships, chat, socialise. It matters not whether the guests are friends or family, long-lost cousins or just dinner-guests. Just this week we have diversified that even further to include complete strangers. Maybe not strictly 'complete' - we could learn a bit about both on line prior to their arriving.

The Pieris out front puts out its bright
salmon pink first new leaves.
First this week, though a delightful and enjoyable visit from the Bro-in-Law, 'Sparks' (old friend of the blog) who came down on his 52nd birthday, the Tuesday, with his partner Kim. They came to enjoy a special meal cooked by Liz (our own chicken) and Sparks, Kim and I nailed a good few glasses of wine (though it was a 'school night' for Liz). We chatted late into the night, enjoyed a good night's sleep and shared a lovely goose-egg breakfast. But they are"just family" now, so great to have them, but no longer front page news. That slot falls to this week's OTHER guests, the "exciting" visit to which I alluded in the last post, a renowned artist and a Senator, no less!

Brian gets the Senator down on white card.
The artist is Brian John Spencer from (his words) affluent South Belfast. He's 29, enthusiastic and ambitious to make a name as an artist having decided on a serious change of direction having studied Law and French through Uni. He is very knowledge-able and keen on the interesting history and politics of the North and particularly (lately) the various solutions now being discussed to the issue of Brexit.

Brian puts some colour in Tom's cheeks.
He conceived a project to visit every county in the Island ("Ireland in 32") to stay with different people from all walks of life, do some 'art' and discuss politics, history and local stuff with any 'Great and Good' he could net on his way round. His main thing is political cartoon drawings but also 'Vanity Fair' style line and colour-wash drawings of people - wedding guests and so on. Of course he has a Facebook account (one for him and one for the project), Twitter and website(s) where you can look him up. I will include some links at the bottom of this post.

Brian John Spencer and Senator Frank Feighan enjoy Liz's
roast lamb and champ.
We first heard of this and Brian when Liz saw a Tweet (a Twitter post) listing all the county stops and their dates with a request for help finding him a night's accommodation in each one. That sounded like fun for us so we immediately snapped up the Roscommon one (originally 29th/30th March) and we were hosting our first ever professional artist! He'd be roughly half way through his mission by the time he got here - he finishes in Dublin on Easter Sunday.

Senator Frank Feighan poses for his
cartoon sketch by Brian
All good so far. Brian started his tour and we followed his progress over the first days on Twitter and Facebook but then it got even better and more unlikely. Our local Senator, Frank Feighan who we would not have known from Adam, is currently challenging the Senate with a suggestion that Ireland and Northern Ireland both join the "Commonwealth of Nations" as a trading block to stay in contact with the UK post Brexit. Brian was fascinated by this "Wild West / West-Brit" suggestion (his words again) which would be almost treasonable in various parts of the North, so he contacted Frank and invited him to come here for supper too. Now we were hosting our first artist and our first politician and we were all starting to feel a bit over-whelmed. In for a penny though, Liz decided to call in very knowledge-able and respected 'Village Elder', Tom C who is also Producer of the imminent village play. Then there were 3. There was then a little mix up on dates where 'we' had to swap with Co. Longford but it all went as planned on the new date 30/31 March, last night.

Left to right, Tom C, Frank Feighan, my self and Brian Spencer
I must confess to a bit of nervousness as we had no real idea what either guest would be like, whether they'd relax and enjoy our company, whether we'd be able to contribute to the discussions (well, that was me - Liz is so good on politics and history she'd easily hold her own and could go off and worry about the food and the hosting being acceptable to these 'VIP' types). Frank particularly, might have had 'issues' with we 'voters' as all we knew of him was that in a political mess-up 5 years ago, the general election was won in Roscommon by main party Fine Gael on a promise not to close the Roscommon hospital A+E unit. As soon as they were in the did a U-turn and closed it. There was outrage and almost rioting locally and Fine Gael are still living it down. Our man, a TD (=MP) at the time, was right in the thick of it, obliged to break his promise to the voters by voting WITH the party to close it, so he shipped 4 years of vilification in the local press, death threats, hate mail and not a prayer of getting re-elected as TD. 4 years later he is back in business having been appointed to the Senate by a grateful 'Premier' (An Taoiseach), Enda Kenny. I hope I have this correct - serious apologies all round and I will retract any 'Fake News' and edit this post if not.

Peach blossom starting in the tunnel.
Well, you will be delighted (as we were) that we had no need to worry. All present were lovely, personable, happy and relaxed, thoroughly enjoyed our place and our food, shared a few gentle drinks ( I even got some Shepherd Neame beer into these Irish types!). Liz had done a menu where every course had a little bit of this small holding in it - starter was trad nettle soup (our nettle tips), mains were roast lamb and then champ with our kale in it and 'pud' was a rhubarb Pavlova. Gorgeous. The talk and discussion was broad ranging and fascinating - FF turned out to have been a main mover in the old Anglo Irish agreement discussions way back, but then Chairman of the Good Friday Agreement discussions. He and Brian shared many friends and acquaintances. Brian has also got that 'Small holding in the future' in his dreams so he was delighted to come and stay on one and see how it all worked. A roaring success all round.

I'll leave it at that, I think, but just give you some links to bits and pieces mentioned

FF is on

BJS is on Facebook as "Brian John Spencer: writer and artist" and the Project is on as "Ireland in 32 Days" where you will soon be able to see and hear "our bits" (we did interviews as well as having ourselves drawn plus Brian is off today to capture some Roscommon landscapes, I think in Boyle before he goes off to find his host for tonight in Co. Meath)

On Twitter he is @BrianJohnSpencer here there is already some stuff up

His website is

Good Luck now

Tuesday 28 March 2017

The Quality of Mercy

A hen called Doris
That's it. It's official. We have gone soft. We are no longer the hard-nosed, mercenary, calculating, efficient small holding managers we may have claimed to be in the past. We have a PET chicken. Yep. A completely useless, non-productive birdie eating up the 'profits' (Ha! That'd be nice) and not contributing a single egg or any meat.

Meet 'Doris'. I am not sure how we came by that name; it was nothing to do with the storm as far as I know, but the name is a recent acquisition of hers; she's only been Doris for about 3 weeks. Doris has been through the wars with us a bit, surviving all manner of ill and harm, putting up with too-frequent attention from our series of various roosters and faithfully knocking out a good egg each day right round the year, sometimes as the sole egg layer in our motley band of better looking hens. She is a survivor of both fox attacks and the mink's visit, the bad winter storms, snow, ice and heat waves.

Giving the invalid a bit of sunshine in the dog-crate.
She has always been a stumpy-legged thing who walked with a waddle and, because of the frequent attentions of roosters, usually with a baldy back and a bald top of the head. She is just your generic 'red' hen with darker wing and tail feathers, possible from 'Sussex' DNA. She came to us as a 'day old' from Mentor Anne which we hoped would be pure Buff Orpington but she and her sister had a different father. They stayed short and 'bantam'-y and were named the "Mini-Buffs" but, as I said, they were excellent reliable layers so we kept them alongside the buffs for all these years past. We love(d) them. One died of natural causes last year.

Enjoying a 3-day mini heatwave.
Doris was relegated from 'productive' status to pet by our 2016 fox who, we think, bit her and damaged a leg, though she survived. On that day all the surviving chooks were scared to go back into their real coop and moved into the Tígín for 'safety'. Most then recovered and ventured back out doors (or died of their injuries) but this hen, obviously crippled and hobbling, stayed put and we went through winter bringing food and water to her where she hid under some planks.

I've been minding 20 bullocks for a guy down the lane.
This is a handsome Limousin lad. 
It was obvious she was not going to walk properly again and our then three 'spare' Marans roosters all picked on her and 'gang raped' her till we realised what was happening and separated the birds for her safety. She was in a sorry state and the sensible hard-nosed thing would have been to cull her out. Hey ho. She's still with us and still in 'protective custody' given that new name and even carried carefully out in the recent sunshine to enjoy some warmth in the dog-crate. Still has a healthy appetite and was last seen schmoozing up the sex-change hen-rooster "Herme". She hops along on one foot with the other leg jutted out at a jaunty angle, used as a crutch to stop her over-balancing but mainly held off the ground. She stretched out her wings to sunbathe, lying on her side like any other chicken. Bless her. She always looks to me on the point of "falling off her perch" but never quite does so.

Finally making a start on the daunting task
of weeding this jungle bed.
The last three days have seen us enjoying superb weather - you'd say "Spring like" but really it was more like a Roscommon Summer. We have been spending all our time outdoors and got stuck into some long overdue gardening. Weeding, to be precise. We have attacked all the railway sleeper beds in the 'Kitchen Garden' and started on the rather daunting task of rescuing the 100' x 25' veg' patch from its sorry neglect of 2016. Long story but I lost the plot, nearly literally.

4 of the 'lads'enjoy some afternoon sun
with their 'meal' in the trough. 
I have also been minding 20 bullocks for our chum down the road, who was over to the UK for family reasons. This was no problem at all as I love some part time cattle involvement. They needed feeding (forking silage to them)  and checking in the morning, then feeding again plus letting some of them out for a drink in the evening.

The 'slatted house' boys. Well, 5 of them.
16 of them have an automatically filled drinker in their 'slatted house' (as in slatted floor - all the muck falls through to a big sump and can be pumped out) but another 4 have no such facilities in a concrete floored barn. They have to be let out to access an enamel bath which you refill from a hose. Getting at water only once a day gives them a big thirst. 4 of them will half-empty the bath at one 'sitting'. These guys also get mucked out, sometimes by me, but not this weekend. They'd just been mucked before I arrived and would not need it again till my friend was back from the UK. Easy life. Beef farming? A breeze! (OK, maybe not).

'Creeny' sheep's cheese from Corleggy of Belturbet, Co Cavan
Finally, we have "found" a new artisan cheese-maker. Well, technically it has been found for us by a friend who knows of our cheese-love and was visiting a Farmers' Market in Carrick. They tried the cheese, 'quite' liked it and decided to buy a chunk for us as well as some for themselves and generously brought it to me for us to try out and see what we would 'pair' it with.

Concrete floored barn.
The cheese-maker, 'Corleggy' (it means small windy hill!) is based in Belturbet up by the Northern Ireland border in Co. Cavan and this cheese is made from unpasteurised sheep's milk. It is called 'Creeny'. It is fierce and tangy and has quite a 'pong' coming off it. I love it but for Liz it was rather too fierce/sharp. In blue cheese Liz would love the creamy "Cashel Blue" but finds the sharp twang of Danish Blue too much. Creeny would be the same to her. It has just stepped over that line from 'very tasty' to 'too much'. 'Very nice', she says, ' but you'd need to pair it with a sweet chutney' (like the mango/kiwi chutney she makes here).  Our friend who bought it originally was last heard of "still trying to decide whether (she) likes it or not!

This post has been squeezed in just prior to us starting a whirlwind of visits in and out, but more on that in the next post. One of the visits promises to be VERY EXCITING but you will have to wait and see.

Friday 24 March 2017

False Economy

Piglets at 9 days
This is another one of those blog posts where nothing too exciting happens and we bimble along, same old same old, and spring takes place around us. We receive another nice email from our pig breeder, Adrian, with pictures attached showing our piglets at 9 days. I am quite keen that we end up with the 2 very spotty ones in this picture but I probably need to go into negotiations with our good friends Sue and Rob who might also have chosen those two or, indeed, the breeder, who may even has his own ideas on what should go where.

Otto Lenghi's cauliflower cake
Our egg supply increases and starts to push us into 'glut' mode. Even the three female geese hit 100% this week - 3 eggs every other day. We are giving away as many as we can - I took half a dozen goose eggs over to our good friends in Sligo yesterday - and Liz is digging our all our multi-egg recipes to try to use them up. We use Guardian 'celebrity' chef Otto Lenghi for some of this, in particular his "Cauliflower cake" which is very much a Spanish tortilla focused on cauliflower.

530 grammes of cleaned up beeswax
We worked our way through the 'dead hive' recycling and felt like we were doing almost a pig thing - using everything but the squeal. There was an awful lot of ivy honey and debris in there but we managed to extract and clean up a nice disc of 530 grammes of clean beeswax, which Liz will be able to put to good use in her furniture polish (50/50 with coconut oil).

The honey final score was 1.69 kg of rather dark, hazy honey. Friends of the blog may be disappointed that we will not be giving out any of this partly because there are only 3 jars and also because we do not 100% trust it, coming from the failed hive as it did. If you visit, we will happily give you a taster as it is delicious and full of all those flavour ingredients that you do not get with commercial, often heat-treated and finely filtered honey (like pollen, bits of bee, proteins, amino acids, volatiles, free minerals, chemicals from plants; all the kind of stuff that bakers of WHITE bread would tell you, you were better off without!).

Bees from our surviving hive all over the dumped 'cake'.
The stuff we sieved out of the melted comb (mainly lumps of pollen, solid ivy honey, dead 'babies' and other lovely stuff) ended up as a 'cake' which we chucked onto the compost heap thinking that maybe the magpies could use it up. There were bees all over this today, presumably mopping up the honey residues.

Not too far to go. On the right the good hive. On the left my
bag of old frames now being cleaned up by the bees.
The old frames, I decided not to try to re-use in any new hive or colony (assuming we go there) but would leave it out for the bees to clean, then burn them. One stack I put down into the apiary and these were quickly found by the bees who I saw making regular short trips from hive to stash and then cleaning up any honey left on the wood and the fragments of comb. The other stash, I put out onto a scrap-wood pile round by our wheelie bins, a good hundred yards from the hive. But these bees are nothing if not good scouts and they found this too. Grabbing up wood for kindling this afternoon, I had to be careful not to get stung.

Wax-soaked wood makes for interesting kindling.
The final use is of this wood, cleaned by bees, as firewood. The wax and residual honey on this wood can make for some interesting fire-lighting. It burns very well. Reduce, re-use, recycle.

Nice strong buckets
But what of my 'Fasle Economy' title. I was delighted this week to find a source of some decent, strong "Curver' buckets. These big, flexible tubs are the most brilliant, useful items around a small holding. We use them almost daily for mucking out, carrying weeds about and even mixing cement and concrete.

The daffs out front along our lane. 
They were first made by the firm 'Curver' and were used almost ubiquitously by the 'horsey' set. Then, inevitably, the cheap imitations came on sale and here, where the locals love a bargain, the genuine articles were eclipsed and almost forced out of the market. Why pay €12 for the real thing when you can get this pretty pink/yellow one for €5 in the local pound-shop. Yes, even I fell for it.

Plum blossom started today
Why? I will tell you why. I brought one of the €5 ones home and promptly started to muck out the goose house. I loaded the bucket with a goodly pile of wet goose-muck wood shavings and went to lift it to carry it to the compost. Blow me if both handles did not break on that first lift. I had not even used it once and it was already useless. I learned my lesson and have ever since been trying to find the real heavy-duty Curver buckets.

How many is 'too many' animals on the bed?
Nearest to furthest here are Deefer, Poppea,
Kato, Soldier and Chivers (cats) and then
Towser on Liz's pillow.
Well, this week I had that sorted. The local farmers' co-op has both the Curver brand stiff buckets with rope handles AND a tough looking flexible bucket called "Gorilla". I'll let you know how I get on with these.

Slow cooked rolled-rib of pork with roasties, carrots and steamed
green cabbage
I think that's about it. Spring is chugging along nicely, the sun is shining, I have been out to Kiltybranks for my dog walks and the young poults have been successfully moved from their kindergarten (a rabbit run) to 'big school' (the proper out-building chicken coop).

Tuesday 21 March 2017

That's another Fine Mess....

Bacon and Cabbage - your only man for Paddy's Night. This
was actually bacon and mash with curly kale. 
Friends of the blog will probably know of my love of that favourite Irish traditional fare 'bacon and cabbage', compulsory on 'Paddy's Day' and Birthdays. How many, though, will know that this leads by a small margin, in close 2nd place, "corned beef". My brothers, Mark and Tom, and probably my Mum have all just read that and collapsed in a shocked heap! Corned Beef? Surely not.

Proper  corned beef (aka salt beef). A rolled slab of brisket
brined by us earlier gets some of the salt soaked out in clean
water over night. 
Brits from my generation and older will know of corned beef as a rather dubious, purple/brown, very fibrous "meat" which came in tins from Fray Bentos and was down there with such picnic delicacies as Spam and those oval tins of (?) Plumrose ham which came with a small metal key with which to unwind the strip of metal to open the tin. Fear not. I am not singing the praises of that aul' Uruguayan tackle here. No. In Ireland "corned beef" is what we Brits would call 'salt beef'.

Head for your local 'proper' butcher and acquire a decent sized slab of beef brisket. Drop this into your home-made recipe sweet cure (salt, sugar and spices) for however many days it says in the book (probably about 3). Lift out of brine, rinse off excess cure, pat dry, roll and tie. Freeze till required. The day before you need it, remove from freezer and allow to thaw out submerged in clean water over night. Cook as per recipe but if you are going to eat it cold as sliced meat, make sure you let it cool down still in its water. Tender, melt-in-the-mouth perfection.

The 45-odd tractors muster outside Liz's work ready for the off. 
With Paddy's Day done and all these lovely foods consumed, we had a bit of fun getting involved in a Tractor Run organised by the village 'Foróige' group. For my Brit chums, 'Foróige' is a nation-wide organisation of youth clubs mainly in rural areas. Technically the "National Youth Council of Ireland" it would be as well know as Young Farmers or the WI in Britain. Tractor Runs are a brilliant social event which everyone enjoys as much as I used to love a good 2CV convoy. Just heavier, noisier and full of hugely more expensive vehicles - these big new(ish) 4WD tractors can easily set you back €70k and be €40k as ten-year-old 2nd-hand trade-ins. One of my fellow-photographers looked at the line-up and commented wryly "...and they say there's no money in farming?"

Our local Foróige recently re-formed after a year 'out' and were determined to make the "We're Back" statement. They decided to do it as a charity fund-raiser for Arthritis Ireland and did a marvellous job of setting it up though never sure how many tractors they would get on the day. They had to liaise with the police, agree the route, organise the venue, make all the signage and buy in professional signs for the village cross-roads, do all the publicity and get themselves a set of the bright orange 'AI' tee-shirts. On the day, they had to register everybody and feed them any necessary refreshments and get them lined up ready for the off at around 1pm. Impressive effort, especially as some are quite young (11s and 12s).

First day of spring? Whatever.
I am delighted to say, it was all a huge success. They got 45 tractors on the day. The place was heaving. It's not a very wide road there but they got all the vehicles mustered and dozens of people came out to see the 'show'. Some tractors were driven by the youngsters themselves (you can get a licence at 16 or 17 here) but yet more were driven by 'Dad' with a bevvy of small children up in the 'cubby' seats up in the cab.

That's more spring-like. Our young
flowering cherry. 
Modern industry regs mean your tractor has to have good lights AND orange flashing lights on the roof. That makes for an exciting and impressive convoy, especially when they are all roaring along noisily at about 30 mph. When you saw them out you could tell they were all enjoying it immensely, everybody grinning, waving and thumbs up-ing, beeping horns in greeting whenever anyone waved back. Excellent noisy fun and fair play to Foróige boss Caroline and all her team. I took lots of pics but as most of them included children I would not, obviously, be allowed to use them on the Internet. I have sent them in to the Village committee and they will pass them to Foróige who can them use them as they see fit and are allowed with all the legal permissions pertaining. Some may appear on the village website soon. (

Huge potential for mess. Old broken up
The 'mess' in my title refers to our inevitably sticky and sordid attempts to extract any usable honey and beeswax from the dead hive. The honey was always going to be a problem as this was late in the season and therefore mainly ivy honey which sets hard in the comb. It still has enormous capacity to make everything sticky because there is always some parts of any comb which are blossom or 'run' honey.

Empty comb awaits 'washing'.
The wax is potentially even messier mainly because the wax melts at a bit above room temperature (62ºC) but if you clean the equipment with hot water and then it cools, everything but everything gets covered with a thin film of re-set wax. This includes your sink plumbing, sewer waste etc. You are better off cleaning it with cold water so that the gritty bits of wax stay solid.

Beeswax looking still very dark after only one wash.
The wax comes out of your hive a filthy dark brown - tens of thousands of bees have been walking all over it just back from outdoor sorties plus there is all the normal hive debris - dead bees and bits of bee, dead eggs and larvae, old pollen and unwelcome visitors like earwigs, slugs and centipedes. Outdoor dirt. To get it back to that pale sandy yellow we all expect you have to melt it with a similar volume of hot water, stir it about and hope that the grot is happy to fall out of the wax and dissolve (or at least suspend) in the water. Then you let it all cool down, the debris sinks and stays in the water while the wax floats to the top and sets like a sheet of ice on a pond. You lift off the wax disc, throw away the dirty water and repeat the melt process for around 4 'cycles', ending up with a nice clean disc of pristine yellow beeswax. It says here.

Just a supermarket 'cheapie' but this hellebore is doing well
for us a few years later. 
That's enough for this post. A pic of the clean wax in the next post. Spring Equinox today even though we were woken by a massive hail storm at about 0600 and then woke up to light snow falling at around half 7. First day of spring? Maybe not. The forecast has minus 4ºC tonight. Stay warm.

Friday 17 March 2017

The Buzz of Chainsaws but not of Bees

Patriotic contributions from goose, duck and hen.
Well, a happy St Patrick's Day to you all; your annual chance to celebrate all things genuinely Irish, cod-Irish, Oirish, kitsch and fakery, Gaelic and, as the trendy types seem to now have it "Ass Gwale-guh". We have a horrible day for it here - a biting Westerly and showers of driving rain. A good day for avoiding those Parades and a day like those Lizzie recalls from her school days, blue knees, chattering teeth and poor fingers too cold to grip your green, white and orange flag. They won't, though. Avoid it, I mean. The locals. Hardy, they are and bred to it. There will be the same little troops of perishingly cold kiddies in yellow and black striped costumes from the 'Busy Bees' pre-school, their little cellophane wings ripped and broken by the wind. Hey, WE might even go but don't count on it. At the moment, though, we are happy to be warm and dry indoors, catching up on the Social Media (Twitter, Facebook etc).

Shiny new chain for the saw.
In the last post, I alluded to having treated myself to a new chain for the chain saw to help with the job of cutting up the 'Doris' tree. Chain saws are like many other tools in that the age, dullness, bluntness and slowness tend to creep up on you imperceptibly and you don't really 'get' how bad it was till you buy a new part or a replacement tool. Yes, chain saws go blunt and yes, you can fend off the evil hour by regular sharpening with special hand files or more brutally with a special grinder rig but eventually you need to spend the money.

For the technically minded amongst you, a chain saw works by dragging a series of 'chisel' bits across the wood, preceded by a 'depth' gauge which stops the cutting edge from going deeper than 0.6 mm into the wood (see pic). The chisels are about 3 mm wide so, on a sharp, new chain your saw should be throwing off chips of wood roughly 0.6 mm 'deep' by 3 mm wide, size-able chunks to be bashed off at 45 mph and hence the advice to wear a mesh visor. One of your first and best clues that the saw is getting blunt is that the chip size drops till you are just throwing off saw-dust. Next comes the fact that you are actually having to 'saw' with the saw - moving it about across the wood and trying to get the tip to dig in to new depth of cut. With a new chain on you should just be able to gently lower the saw through the log allowing it to do all the work - you are just there to keep it straight and then stop it falling out of the bottom of the log where it might hit the ground. Stones and dirt would blunt it as quick as anything.

That dead hive, Honey frames on the left, empty brood
comb on the right.
St Pat's is also the time of year when the bee keeper should expect to go round inspecting his or her hives. I knew that one of mine - the newer colony - was good as I'd seen plenty of flying every time we had temperatures above about 12ºC but all was quiet in the other, older hive. That had always been the weaker colony but had built up some excellent honey stores last autumn and I had snugged it down with a house-foam insulating 'eke' in September. It should have been OK.

A good frame of honey. All the crinkly white cappings are
wax put there to seal in the finished, store-able honey
Sadly not. It was all dead. That hive had been what they call "brood and a half" format. Bottom was the standard brood chamber with the taller frames for holding the foot-ball sized colony with the egg-laying queen surrounded by a mass of bees to keep the nest at a steady 36ºC. Above that but NOT separated by a queen-excluder was the 'super' box with its thicker but shallower frames of honey comb, where the colony stored its food.

A beautifully clean, empty frame of brood comb, just ready
and waiting for the queen to lay it up with eggs.
Shame she was dead. 
The fact that we have been left the super almost full of honey (it weighs about 40 lbs total but I doubt we'll get quite that much honey off it) tells me that the colony 'died' last autumn. If they'd lived through the winter they would have been using up the stored honey to keep the colony fed and alive - that is why they store honey, after all. It is not for the benefit of humans and bee-keepers!

Back to our lovely "parkland" look after a first mow. 
The brood frames below were mainly completely cleaned out, empty, pristine sheets of (worker) cells (drone-comb is slightly bigger). This suggests that the queen died back in the autumn by which time the colony would not be able to start a new queen and/or get her out on a good flying day to get mated. If she died the colony would have carried on brooding any eggs she had laid up till then, helping them to emerge from the cells and then cleaning out the cells ready for Queenie to come back round laying them up again, as they famously do, at 1100+ eggs per day. If something else had killed the colony AND the queen while they were still a going concern, then these brood frames would be full of eggs, larvae, pupae and adults like a 'still' from any movie of a day in the life of a hive.

Mango and Kiwi chutney. A house favourite
So, where does that leave us? We lost a colony, which is a shame, so we are back down to one hive. We will probably not buy another colony unless someone makes us a good offer but will try, instead, to capture a colony from someone else using the lure-box(es) we deployed last year or REcapture any swarm that might come from our own hive. Meanwhile we can have some fun extracting the wax and honey from these dead frames. Ah the opportunity for mess and waxy stickiness. Need to start saving jam jars or (gasp) buy some proper honey jars.

No sign of any 'bagging up' (udder
enlargement) on Rosie yet. 
Finally, our other entertainments at this time of year in 2017, are to gaze wonderingly at the butt end of some sheep and to take some rubbish photo's. I will explain. Friends of the Blog will know that we put the ram (Silas) to our ewes on 1st November 2016, so the maths says we might start to see lambing from 25th March 2017. We didn't see Silas getting 'anywhere' at first, so we think this is more likely to be mid April onwards, if at all this year.

Looking down on Myfanwy - is she wider or is that just wool?
We are left watching the back ends of our 4 ewes carefully to see signs of "bagging up" (the udder gets bigger a few days before lambing)  or just general 'broad-in-the-beam' ness about the abdomen. None so far. All quiet. I am hoping I can do my visit to the UK safely without leaving Lizzie in the lurch coping with lambing solo.

A spare duvet left by the side of the road.
The 'rubbish' thing was an unusual commission from the village for whom I seem to have become the unofficial photographer. The Tidy Towns group had had a request from the Environmental Health wing of Roscommon County Council to get pictures of fly tipping and road side drops of rubbish. Happy to help, obviously. I went out with local Margaret T. A few posts ago I suggested that I might be the only weird eccentric locally who went around with hi-viz jacket, litter picker and sacks.

Time to do something about littering?
Apparently not. I have since seen a lady doing this up by Crenane Bridge and the issue was raised by another local lady at a recent Village Committee meeting. Margaret T too now, so there are at least 4 of us and, I expect, a whole quiet army creeping about surreptitiously cleaning up their verges.

Happy St Patrick's Day.