Yesterday was a good day, OK it was sopping wet with so much rain that we had to postpone our Full Day Bee Keeping Course, but we had some super results in the garden and we’ve had super results in the kitchen this week as well.
When producing your own food, we become so reliant on the weather. For example, our pear trees gave the most fantastic display of blossom a few weeks ago, but as it was still quite cold then, I fear that the pollination rate may have been low. Our peaches, however, were pollinated nicely, but as it was still quite wet at the time, the tree has become infected with peach leaf curl. The chickens don’t seem to mind the weather, but the bees do…
If it’s too cold or wet, the bees are reluctant, rightly so, to leave the hive to forage for food, if it’s sunny and dry, they may go searching for pollen for the developing larvae (hatched from eggs but not metamorphosed into adult bees yet) but may not find nectar as the plants need the warmth to produce it. So if we’ve had a spell of nice weather, the queen is laying lots of eggs (up to 6,000 a day in summer) and the colony are preparing for growth and then it turns cold and wet, we could have a problem. First, the food could run out and the bees risk starvation, secondly, the colony starts to grow quickly with more mouths to feed and less food coming in. If the expanding colony starts to ‘grow out of’ the space in the hive, they may decide to split in two by rearing a new queen and encouraging the old queen to leave, with up to half of the adult bees, to find a new home of their own. This process is completely natural, yet when the leaving bees move out as a swarm it can seem quite scary to us humans. As bee keepers, if we inspect the hives, frame by frame during swarming season, we can try to anticipate what the bees are planning and can help them find a new home in a spare hive if need be, to prevent us losing them or distressing our neighbours. However, back to the weather, there are often times when we plan to inspect the bees and then decide not to open the hive due to cold or wet conditions. If the inspection gets delayed too long, we may miss crucial signs that indicate that they are planning to swarm and may end up trying to precariously collect thousands of precious food-producing insects from the highest point of a tree!
Yesterday was a prime example. I was planing a full inspection of both colonies as part of our Full Day Bee Keeping Course, yet decided to postpone the course due to the weather. I counted back the days to my last inspection and checked the forecast for optimum weather over the next couple of days. As it had been ten days since my last inspection and we’d had great weather over the weekend with reports of several swarms in the area, I was itchy to check inside. I waited for a break in the rain, spotted that they were flying happily and donned my bee suit. Good job too as one colony had completely filled up the brood box, the family home where brood is raised in a nest, and the queen had laid eggs on 9 of the 11 frames. There were no signs of them rearing a new queen to encourage a swarm, so I gave them extra space by putting a box of empty ‘super’ frames on top which they can use for storing honey. There is a wire grid on top of the brood box to exclude the queen from venturing up into the super box, this will keep the frames free from eggs and larvae and will be used simply for wonderful honey.
I’m thrilled to have supers on at this time of year, they weren’t needed until July last year, so if the weather cheers up, we should have a super honey harvest!
We’ve been practising more recipes for our Cheese in a Day course and have had great fun making mozzarella. The technique is very different to those used for cheeses that drain in a cloth or are shaped in a mould. For mozzarella, you have to warm the curds in hot whey allowing them to reach melting point, then you stretch by hand several times until you get the desired consistency…
We have updated the planned recipes for our next course on Wednesday 29th June and will now be making:
- Hand Stretched Mozzarella
- Tangy Feta Cheese
- Mould Ripened Camembert
- Rosemary Water Biscuits (perfect with cheese!)
- Honey & Whey Bread
One of our favourite crops that we grow here at Hen Corner is asparagus. Whilst it’s often the first vegetable ready to be collected from the garden we have to wait patiently knowing that they won’t peek their little heads out until at least April, but once the plants are awake for the new season, the super spears seem to grow before your very eyes and need harvesting almost every day. We cut our first crop on 23rd April and in just over two weeks have harvested nearly £35 worth of the regal beauties! We can keep collecting the asparagus until the end of June and then we leave it to fern allowing the plants several months to photosynthesise and renew their strength before winter comes around again.
I know what we’re having for tea tonight! Mmmm…
Our new season of outdoor/animal courses are well under way with regular Full Day Bee Keeping and Urban Hens – Keeping Chickens in London so if you’ve been thinking about trying something new, do get in quick!
- The chickens have laid us nearly £350 worth of eggs since January which we are delighted to sell through our Micro Bakery
- We’ve enjoyed lovely visits from both local Girl Guides and Brownies
- New stamps and labels have arrived for our new brand that will be launched soon with a shiny new website
Jobs for this week:
- Plant out the tomatoes so that they can reach for the sky
- Help a new bee keeper with his first hive inspection
- Teach 60 local children how to bake bread as part of Real Bread Week
Join us on the Journey!