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.

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