November update.

The weather is still good here with daytime temperatures in the middle teens. However it’s cold at night and this week the trees have finally started giving up their leaves. The whole garden has started to take on the look of autumn at last.

This osteospermum is still looking good and the cyclamen in the summerhouse has finally come into its own after I brought it reduced at the end of last season.

In the polytunnel after removing the summer crops I moved in a lot of pots that needed winter protection.The warmer days have caused an outbreak of mildew and mouldy leaves so I have been cleaning the plants regularly. I have also had to remember to water which is a job I don’t expect at this time of year. With hindsight I perhaps should have left everything outside for another month but at least it’s a job ticked off the list.

The cauliflower seedlings that were eaten by caterpillars are recovering.

Outside the sprouts are a different story

What with the caterpillars still appearing, the wooly aphids and sooty mould and the lack of leaves the poor things are looking decidedly feeble. I’ve not given up on them yet though!

The parsnips look hopeful although the leaves are flopping a bit.

The beds are all still full. Leeks, celery and calabrese in this one.

Raspberries still cropping although they are few and far between now.

The bed of peas still give a few pods but again there’s an attack of mildew which make alot of them unattractive.

Unlike this marigold that has self seeded itself and looks a treat and this strawberry that just might ripen fully.

I’ve harvested two pots of sweet potatoes as well.

Neither did brilliantly in the heat of the summer but I’m pretty amazed by this one which weighs a whopping 2lb.

If only all my veggies were this successful.

October update.

The weather has taken a real turn for the worse. The sun may be bright but the temperatures are cold and last night we even had hail stones that laid in piles. This all seems so much worse when your house still has no heating and falling masonry due to a water leak of phonominal proportions.

Outside the garden clings on.

The dahlias I grew from seed in the spring have been lovely and, although everything else in the bed has gone over, they still flower with abandon.

A heather in my blueberry bed makes up for the death of the actual blueberry bush.

A tray of viola seedlings needs a permanent home. The front garden is calling!

My new strawberry bed is establishing well. A November strawberry would be amazing.

In the polytunnel the peppers and chillies are still cropping and lots of tender pots are ready to over winter.

My cauliflower seedlings were eaten by a sneaky group of late caterpillars but, since planting out, look like they might recover.

My £1 bargain pear tree will be a fun experiment.

The edible fuchsia which quite honestly tastes horrible has got tired of my insults and is not ripening but my bargain bucket herbs are coming on a treat.

Outside the Brussels are struggling with white fly, wooly aphids and sooty mould but give their best.

Mildew has attacked the peas, who gallantly pod on.

Sweet potato still looks fairly green and the onion and garlic bed looks healthy if not a bit weedy.

The same can not be said of the raspberries that have been on their last legs all summer and yet still fruit. Amazing plants and definitely worth the space.

George the cat followed me everywhere today and I struggled to keep his tail out of all the pictures. So here he is, along with Mr Bones.

Happy Halloween.

Autumn sunshine.

It’s been a difficult month here, full of ups and downs, but today has been lovely. For Xmas we were given a voucher to go Segway riding and it’s only now that we have been able to fit it in. We brought an extra ticket for Miss C, drove into Huntington to the venue and spent a happy hour spinning in circles and driving around the woods. Great fun!

After a snack in the coffee shop we went for a walk around Grafham Water. The sun was lovely, the water no so.

For some reason the water was thick and murky and edged with this unattractive foam. A bit worrying for a reservoir we get drinking water from!

On the way home the view across the fields was lovely. I took a few pictures of our big skies to remind me of the sun when winter arrives

Many years ago Miss C asked hubB why there is always one wind turbine in the group that doesn’t work. He told her it’s where Santa’s elf sits to oversee the naughty and nice list. She might not still believe him but she still looks for that turbine.

Today, this was the one.

Christmas may be only weeks away but today it felt like summer still.

Mutant pumpkin

Remember this pumpkin that was brazenly growing up a fence panel?

The plant had reached the roof of next doors garage and although it was loving the sun it was also blowing in the wind and rubbing on the wood so it had to be harvested.

I was curing it in the summerhouse when Miss C noticed it was starting to rot on the damaged part so I decided a pumpkin soup was the order of the day.

We brought it into the house and happily chopped it in half only to realise something wasn’t right.

Miss C instantly recognised courgette genes and started tutting, as only a teenager can. She hates courgette with a vengeance and seeing that she might be getting it in a soup for tea was more than her usual sunny nature could contemplate.

The pumpkin flower has obviously been pollinated by a wandering bee visiting from a nearby courgette plant. The fruit is just all seed with little flesh and smells quite acidic.

Miss C was much happier with the butternut squash soup we made instead!

September update.

The weather here has taken a real turn and we are definitely now in autumn. Although the temperatures have been good we have had more rain and in the last few days a lot of wind

This part of the garden was my pride and joy last week but now with the sunflowers broken and blown over and the dahlias stripped of lots of their petals it’s looking very sorry for itself. Everything in it was grown from seed this year and the whole point of it has always been that I would compost everything in the autumn and leave it bare all winter. That way I can dig out all the persistent weeds and dig in lots of goodness. It also gives me a blank canvas to plant all the seedlings I grow each spring but never have room for.

On the other side of the same part of the garden is this mess

We took down a huge mixed up bundle of trees, bush and weeds between us and next door only to find our neighbour had filled the no-mans land behind it with rubbish. The new fence was put on hold while we cleared it and then life took over, closely followed by a swarm of bees. We had no sooner sorted out the first swarm when another moved in. In the mean time the spare earth called me to plant just a few pumpkin plants,

Which climbed over the weeds and up the neighbours shed and over his garage!

Some butternuts which grew through the hive legs

The bees are using the leaves as landing boards and seem happy. They will be moved next week but for now have enjoyed their close proximity to the garden to build up their reserves.

A couple of summer squash I was given also joined the mix, along with some late sweetcorn and leftover zinnias. They were a plant to far and have not done so well. Like every year I vow not to plant so close next year.

The tomatoes are finishing. The cucumbers have been replaced with peas and I picked 9 more peppers this morning before remembering to blog! These chilli are hot whatever the label says!

Plants outside still look green and lush. The late peas are podding, the sprouts have outgrown their butterfly net, the leeks, parsnips and celery have tons of leaves and the new strawberry bed is flowering.

The rhubarb is still crazy and I have my first ever bunch of grapes. All be it mis-shapen and tiny.

Even the raspberries that look as if they are on their last legs are still fruiting prolifically.

I intend moving them this winter, should time allow. But then we also intend putting in the new fence, sowing a new piece of lawn, cutting down some trees, clearing out an overgrown ivy or two.

The garden is never finished and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Who wants to shop, rest or party at the weekends when you can chop things down, dig them up and make changes!

Changing the eco system.

It’s early days at the apiary. I’ve only been there for just over a beekeeping season, but already the environment is changing.

When we arrived last early summer the trees were smaller. There were a lot of stinging nettles, no sign of smaller birds, no berries on the trees in the autumn. It was very undisturbed down there which was, in part, a good thing.

I was delighted the first time two young crows hopped around my feet and walked with me to the bees. They knew no fear having never seen humans at their young age.

The grass was long and getting through could be difficult, my visits have not gone unnoticed by the local dog walkers many of whom have made special journeys into the copse to see what I’m up to. The grass now has a clear track through it. Good for dry legs in early morning but also a more obvious entry to anyone who wants to be up to no good. Hive thefts/vandalism a regular worry to ‘beeks’.

The trees have grown well over the last year. Considering the copse was planted many years ago this year’s growth seems extraordinary and I think a lot of that is also down to the bees.

The bees have pollinated everything they could get their little wings on. Previously the only thing in the area were the bumblebees and there’s not many of them to be seen because there were no other flowers later in the season to keep them going. My regular journeys and the farmers thoughtfulness in mowing the track to help me, has allowed more wildflowers to grow along the verges. This in turn has encouraged more butterflies and bumblebees.

The smaller birds are also seen in larger numbers. I hope they are seeing all the insect activity in the air and are following it in. Hawthorn and cornus are full of berries this autumn which in turn will only attract more bird life.

The extra tree cover has also given them more nesting opinions and the leaves have blocked some of the stinging nettle growth and allowed other smaller weeds to grow. Miss C has been delighted with the caterpillars she kept finding.

More smaller birds are attracting birds of prey and so far as well as the buzzards, who sit and watch me work the hives, I’ve also flushed out sparrowhawks, kestrels, barn owls, the long eared owl I’ve written about previously and what I think was a goshawk. The trees are a wonderful quiet place for all birds to rest between visits around the villages. The pigeons and ring collar doves are really taking a hammering but they seem to be able to breed almost all year round so hopefully they will cope. The ground is regularly littered with corpses which in turn will attract fox and badgers, both of whom have left evidence of their presence even if my wildlife camera hadn’t caught them!

The trees are showing signs of being nibbled by rabbits or deer as well so I guess they also enjoy the solitude.

In all I claim credit on behalf of my fuzzy friends for what I hope will be the continued improvement to an amazing ecosystem. Let’s just hope it doesn’t become so nice that everyone starts to find it. Humans ruin nature, in my experience, and already empty water and beer bottles and the odd sweet wrapper are becoming a more regular occurrence.

The season’s coming to an end, it’s always sad to think another year is almost over but the future looks bright in one small copse of trees!

Am I a beekeeper or a cruel manipulator?

On social media recently my local vegetable box company proudly announced the introduction of organic honey.

Now as a bee keeper I was instantly interested to know, firstly, how they can guarantee organic status in an insect that flies at will and secondly, how much they sell it for!

If I’m honest I can’t remember the first answer and they didn’t tell the second ( it probably makes Manukau honey look cheap). So I had a quick look in the comments to see if anyone else had asked the question for me.

I was amazed by the strong feelings honey invokes in some people. It’s tantamount to cruelty and slavery to entrap bees in hives apparently and more than that it’s a sin punishable by keeping beekeepers in wooden boxes themselves.

The most popular comment with likes running into three figures was from the woman who has brought three bee hives, put them at the bottom of her garden and is leaving them to live a free and natural life without any input from mankind ( or woman kind in her case!) She is proud that they swarm regularly, ‘wander off and then come back and re-nest’ ( her words) in the spring.

It got me thinking…

Honey bees are a man made insect bred from strains from all around Europe and even the world for their ability to make honey, resist disease and any number of other traits. The ability to live alone in the wild probably never even considered.

Honey bees do naturally swarm, but to leave them to it is often allowing them to die a slow death, as these ones found in the frost last winter.

We do take their honey but a good keeper doesn’t then leave them to starve. We feed alternatives or better still, only take the excess.

Bees get diseases. Sometimes you have to treat with something if you want them to survive, just as you would your pets or children.

Bees are livestock. They need the intervention of humans. They could probably survive but would they thrive without us. In fact in this modern world of neatness and order would they even survive. Let’s face it we aren’t doing such a good job of protecting the rest of the environment or wildlife.

If the most popular poster had written that she went out and rescued a litter of kittens which she then put in a rat infested barn ( all cats eat rats after all) and hadn’t looked at since, would she be so popular. I think not.

Bee keeping may not suit all but like everything, if you are going to do it, do it properly. Be informed, ask questions, take advice and listen to it.

If you genuinely think keeping bees is a crime then don’t buy any and become a criminal. Look for other ways to help the species.

Plant more forage, put in a natural pond, allow your garden to run slightly wild, ( Slightly. I’m not advocating abandoning your plants either.)

Buy local honey. Support local bee keepers. Work with your surroundings and that will support the bees. Then we’ll all be the winner!

August update

It’s been hot this summer, really hot, with temperatures regularly in the mid thirties. I’ve struggled to keep up with the watering and some parts of the garden have suffered.

Onions and sweetcorn have been harvested and this is now going to be my new strawberry bed. It gets a lot more sun than the old one so I expect better results. I couldn’t bring myself to cut down the self sown sunflowers that were growing amongst the corn so hubB staked them for me with parts of an old gazebo. Nothing goes to waste in our garden!

Shallots from this bed didn’t do as well as hoped. Some grew huge while their neighbours hardly grew at all so I don’t think it was just a water problem. They didn’t split into numerous bulbs either so I wonder if the sets were faulty. The bed now has autumn peas and a sweet potato in it. I also sowed some Pak choi, mizuma and carrots. It’s left over seed and spare bed space so I have nothing to lose.

The polytunnel has been difficult as well. The tomatoes are growing but later ripening. Temperatures have regularly been up to 50 in there and that’s just to hot for them. The cucumbers have been rubbish and two of the three plants have totally died now. A late planted aubergine given to me by a friend is slowly doing something.

My outside cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets have fruited well but succumbed to the heat. I have taken them out and put in some spare peas. I don’t know how they will do but we will see!

The raspberries have also suffered, their shallow root system, and distance from the house and water, meant I just couldn’t keep them damp. I’ve decided to move them this year and am planning on preparing the soil better and giving them more care. I think freshly picked raspberries are my favourite crop.

My pumpkins are looking hopeful this year. Even if I did have to hang over the fence into next doors garden to take this picture. It’s heading into his apple tree so I might have to knock on his door and ask for my fruit back!!

July update.

England is known for its seasons and the weather is a constant source of conversation. This year it is hot. Very hot. We haven’t had rain in this area of the country in weeks. My three 1000l waterbutts are empty and hubB has diverted the shower into a smaller butt which we use every evening for the polytunnel and pots.

For all that, the garden grows. It’s a bit hit and miss. Everything is struggling in the heat, it all seems behind to previous years but it carries on. One good shower of rain will probably see an explosion of growth, mostly in the weed departments!

The polytunnel is doing ok. Cucumbers have started cropping, the tomatoes are there but not ripe.

Gherkins, a new one for me this year, grow anywhere and everywhere it seems.

Peppers are starting to appear although the bushes are still tiny.

Fruit is a success so far. The whitecurrants are over and the red are prolific. I don’t like either but am saving some red to add to jam making for their pectin. Blueberries have done well in their new bed and blackcurrants are ripening fast.

The early sown sweetcorn is just starting to flower, the later one is a long way behind. I staggered them so that I didn’t get cross pollination and hope it will work.

Pumpkins look better than last year at this point but that’s because I’ve paid them a lot of attention and the hot weather has kept slugs away. Last year the slimy darlings ate every pumpkin as soon as they appeared.

Cougettes turn into marrows over night if you don’t eat them at every meal. I saw a recipe for a sort of courgette pattie to eat with poached eggs for breakfast but I’m not sure Miss C wouldn’t leave home at the thought. Courgette is not her favourite vegetable!

Onions are odd. Some of the autumn planted setts are huge while others look no different. The spring planted ones are similar with the red doing better than the white but only just.

Garlic did well and is lifted and drying. I’m down to my last bulb from last year so I can honestly say I’m self sufficient in garlic.

The bees from my solitary garden hive love borage but contrary to what I’d read, pay no attention to phycelia. They are everywhere and I realise how much I’ve missed having ‘ the girls’ in the garden. They will be with me for a while as I have some doubts as to their health and have no intention of taking them to the apiary until I’m sure they are not going to spread disease to my own bees.

New tenants.

Beekeepers attract bees. Sometimes we go looking for them but in my case they seem to come looking for me.

A bait hive is basically a smaller hive, known as a nuc, that contains a few old frames previously used by bees. Bees like areas that are already attractive to other bees and that’s exactly what happened a month ago when a swarm moved in without me even noticing. My bait hive was around the back of the shed in an overgrown area where we keep bits to ugly to be seen. A nuc is small and easy to lift so I am usually able to just lift and carry it to the apiary when I’m ready.

This year I’m not ready, a hive stand in the apiary almost collapsed under the weight of honey and with extracting that, and moving and fixing/strengthening the stand, I’ve been busy. The nuc became over crowded and I was forced to move the swarm into a brood box and stand it on an old oil drum, out of the way.

Coming back from the hives last Sunday I have hot and sweaty. I am guilty of abandoning a broken brood box and super into the dump area. In a spate of stupidity I then dumped some empty frames into the boxes and cover them with an old floor. I’m out of roofs and thought that would keep the bees out.

Yesterday morning, seeing my rookie error, I made a mental note to clear them up as soon as possible. I then went out, came back, had lunch, started some weeding and forgot. Suddenly the air went black, the noise of buzzing was alarming and the biggest swarm I have ever seen descended on the garden. By the time I have processed what was happening they had started pouring into the tiny gap between the roof and the broken brood box. I raced into the house to fetch the camera to film it, giving Miss C a yell as I did, and the two of us stood in awe as the bees flew all around us.

Withing minutes most of them had vanished from sight. The garden went quiet and the excitement was over. It had taken less than 5 minutes.

HubB groaned when he heard we had more bees, he likes to pretend he doesn’t like them but I think he might be mellowing. This can only be a good thing as I now have two swarms to move to the apiary. I will need another stand for them and, from the look of the size of it, I will need a strong man to help carry one of them. I don’t think I can do it without him.

Before that though I need to open them, sort out the mess of tangled frames, put it some new and cleaner ones, find them a roof and make them a new entrance.

There’s a lesson to be learned there, but I won’t learn it. I’m messy and unorganized. I should be ashamed but I thrive on a challenge and this is certainly going to be one. Bring it on!!