Wednesday 29 June 2011

The reverence of the Maternity Wing

They're at it again! Those hens! Two gone broody, one under the big Burdock bush by the water tap and one under the rabbit cages. Now the Burdock bush is in a high traffic area, especially when it gets hot because all the chicken flock congregate in the puddle beneath the tap to wet their feet and have a paddle. A water dish is also handily placed by the tap for dogs and chickens to sate their thirst, thus producing more activity. Not to mention the builders who have been toing and froing on the other side of the bush as they work on the Middle Barn, oh and the cement mixer placed just in front of the bush which has been noisily active for several days.

And the hen just kept sitting under the bush with a dedication which was impressive to watch.

At first it wasn't too bad for her. The vegetation was quite vigorous, and hardly at all could she be seen. And then someone, (NOT me!) decided that the bush was too large, and while it is a naughty type of bush because once it has flowered the Burdock plant makes these scratchy, sticky, seed heads which can give one quite a swipe if one is bare armed and bare legged, anyways someone, ( I repeat NOT me) cut it. Not in total. Just heavily trimmed. Her shelter had been reduced by half.

First there was one egg. Then two. Then one. Then three. Then one. And it came into my head that this should not be so. To blame: either Bools, Gus, the magpies of which there are several now that they have raised their young who are no doubt extremely healthy youngsters because of their diet of eggs, sheep's poo, piglet's poo, pig poo, and the leavings after all have been fed.

Action! At nightfall, with stealth, the hen under the Burdock was lifted up by Hubs, with moi lifting up the remaining egg. Into the dog kennel she was put, on a bed of straw, with the egg tucked up again beneath her.

Action! With continued stealth, on hand and knees, Hubs pulled the other hen out from under the rabbit hutches. Right at the back of them she was. But no eggs. Still......better to put her somewhere safe, so into the piglet transport box she went, again on a bed of straw, and tucked up underneath her I put three fresh eggs one of which was hers from yesterday and which I had been saving for the newly purchased egg incubator.

Well all this was a couple of days ago. But here's an odd thing..... there seems to have come upon the Tall Barn, which is where they are now in residence, a sort of quiet hush. A waitingness. It is as if the air is in suspension.

And so Labartere has a Maternity Wing. Of course it is nothing like an authorised hospital-type environment. For a start, the 'expectant mums' have to cope with me sorting out the sheep fleeces over their heads (I am separating various parts of the  individual fleeces into piles of 'clean', 'sort of clean', 'a bit daggy but do-able', 'definitely a bit beyond do-able but still could be used at a push', and 'yucky, dreadfully daggy, definitely no-go'.) And then there is Jean-Pierre and his co-worker to-ing and fro-ing. Yet the air still seems to hold a quietness. Do people-type Maternity Wings hold that same quietness I wonder! I think not.

The hens have hot botts now. But they don't complain. When they come into broodiness that is what happens: Hot botts. To help them go un-broody one has to cool their botties down. Not sure how one does that, but should the occasions arise in the future then a search on the Internet will no doubt provide the answer. One thing for sure, though, they don't moan or carry on about their aches and pains! Perhaps that is why there is this waiting silence hanging in the air around them. It is so strong that I have started tiptoeing and talking quietly just so I do not disturb the quietness!

Three weeks time we shall know if we are to have littl'uns. Fingers crossed for at least one chick between the pair of them!

Et voila: The Maternity Wing:

To the far left, the dog kennel in which is the Burdock bush hen. To give her privacy I have lent her my throw. On top is a pile of 'clean, wonderfully clean' fleece. On the chair on the lower right is another pile of same. I struck lucky with that particular sheep's fleece. The rest are mostly yucky. Behind the kennel is a pile of onions newly harvested, waiting for me to make them into a tidy pile after Hubs threw them down in a heap. Behind them is an assorted jumble of gardening pots which were quite tidy once - until the hens decided that it was fun to rummage amongst them. To the far upper right is the other hen. I put some pots and stuff on top of the wire on the roof of box so she could feel private. In front of her is the pile of tiles waiting since January for our builder to come and lay them in the Half Barn.

Meanwhile life goes on:

These two are fixated by the red bucket. It is the animal feed bucket. Wherever it goes, so do they. Hubs is in charge of the red bucket. Therefore wherever he goes so do they. He may or may not be carrying the red bucket though. But this does not seem to worry these two. They trot along behind him anyway, just in case the red bucket should miraculously appear.

However.... I am now having to buy eggs. Unless I am sharp and keep my ears skinned for the hens telling me that they have just laid an egg and then dash to wherever it is they have laid, the magpies will get there first. I know that all should live in harmony, but we are starting to list ways in which to deter the magpies from nesting here next year. I favour trapping and then taking it aways off to release. Hubs is erring on the side of catapult or shot gun. I am, however, trying to deter him, his fly-swatting activities making me feel concerned for the general safety of all. Bless.

That's it, then. The End. But only for this blog! How could I not continue to share the ups and downs of trying to run a homestead with you all, and I hope I give you as much enjoyment as I get from reading your wonderful and interesting blogs.

Monday 27 June 2011

Nicely cooking!!!

Phew, but the temperatures have suddenly rocketed here. 35 yesterday, probably higher today, the ground of the Courtyard being so hot that you could hardly walk on it yesterday, which is probably why a couple of the hens were paddling their feet in the puddle beneath the outside water tap!

To cool Max off I have taken to giving him a squirt of the hosepipe. He is in two minds as to whether he should tolerate it or not, as can be seen by his 'happy' upright ears and the 'unhappy' gnashing of his teeth. Probably thinks it is an infringement of his space, me sending water into his patch. But he stands and lets the water run over him nevertheless. Hope it cheers him up now he is without company.

Hubs came up with the idea of putting the two piglet girls in with him to remedy this situation, but I was less that enthusiastic. They will start having seasons soon and they are only half grown but he would not take this into account and still feel the need to have a go having practised with Tess for nearly a year and he might get stuck and then there would be direness in the piggy camp.

Anyways, the piglets are fast outgrowing their small temporary paddock, but Hubs came up with the idea of letting them out into the sheep paddock during the day, when the sheep are over in the Side Field therefore leaving the paddock free. Good idea. Piglets romped over the grass, and rotovated the sheep's bedding thus helping the hens who also help out with this task.

And here's an oddness. To get the piglet girls used to us we need to train them to follow the bucket. Up to now they have been cute, but themselves. But when we went into the paddock one of the girls raced up to us and did nibbly things to the parts of us she could reach, as could be seen by the round piggy marks stamped on our legs and shorts made by the muddiness of her nose. And suddenly she had become one of us, part of the team. And it felt like Tess had transferred her spirit into that little piggy. Odd that..... And every time I think of Tess I 'see' an image in my head of her jumping up and racing toward me, as if she is well and happy.....

But now the sheep are out into the Home Field, so are in and out of their barn all the day long, which means the little piggies have to stay where they are. However, upon making a check on them yesterday, they were not to be seen. Oooohh deeeaaarrr! So where? Had a look in the Home Field. Sheep at the far end, looking like they were sheltering beneath the small oak tree. But no! They made a sudden dart to the right, shoulder to shoulder in a tight squash. Off they went. And to the left of them, hot on their heels, two reddish blobs trotting along behind. Ahha! So that's where they were, messing about with the sheep! Raced into the house to alert Hubs. Grabbed a bucket of maize. Out to the field. And there they were, those two on-an-adventure-but-now-needed-to-come-home piggy girls, heading towards us at a fast trot, the sheep having meanwhile galloped back to the barn. Oh but those little girls were pleased to see us! And didn't one of them glue her nose to my leg as she followed me through to their paddock, as if to say 'Don't leave me mum!', whilst the other one tried to get into the sheep's water trough which is an old Halfords box. She managed three legs but the last one couldn't squeeze in.

And so these adventuring girls remain within their small patch today, but we are very pleased to see that they regard us as 'parents' and that they will return to us when trouble is brewing, which also means that they should follow us when we move them about the farm in the future.

Meanwhile..... made a check on the bees. Queen cage down on the floor. Picked it up and repositioned it on a frame after first opening the sugar stash part so she could eventually get out. Not much progress has been made in the hive, but the weather for the best part of the week was not condusive for flight, and now it is frantically hot. They are really up against it. I feel troubled for them. But.....the ant community have resisted the urge to start a colony in the lid of the hive, put off by my liberal sprinkling of Quatre Epices. 'Cinnamon', the Internet said, is what you should use to deter ants in the hive, but didn't know the French word for cinnamon (it's 'cannelle' apparently), so used Mixed Spice, which I think the Quatre Epices is. Anyway, it worked! Ants: zero. AND the bees are flying with more purpose - instead of kind of falling out of the hive then flying off, they zoom straight out, intent to get to wherever it is they are going. They look more purposeful, so perhaps the queen has given them a boost.

The temperature is starting to rocket up again, so had better go and make a check on our outside team. Hope you are well, and I hope you have a lovely day.  

Tuesday 21 June 2011

....and then Tess died

And so it came to be the evening of the day. It had been a hot day. After several weeks of cold and wet weather the sun was welcome. That is, until late afternoon when it became so hot that I was beaten back into the house, all  effort expired.

Out to to our Tamworth Pig Paddock. Max up and waiting for his evening meal. Tess down. 'Twas not good, you could see that, 'twas not good. Nothing we could do. Except that I gave her a scratch round her ear just to let her know I was standing by, and she responded by snortling. And that was that. Her journey now.

A midnight check and she was quiet, calm, and sleeping. Into the deep sleep she must have gone soon after that because I was up at five to see her, and she was no more in this life. Max was chatting away to her, telling her to get up but she was never going to do that ever again.

Off to tell Hubs. Cup of tea, then swing into action, that's what we did. Max separated from Tess, seduced away by a super duper bucket of food. Best not to have him anywhere near the scene of the Tess Recycling Project. He would have interfered. He is always irate when Hubs is nearby. Looks upon him as a possible challenger for Tess's affections. Anyways he was away in the other paddock, with the entrance between the two paddocks blocked by my kitchen table, that being the only large block of wood we had to hand.

Chains, rope, tractor. Hubs fretting. A big task this, the Tess Recycling Project. All I could do was stand about feeling useless. She was starting to redden. Chemical reactions starting to break down her body parts, the energy of the Universe at work. Needed to get a move on. Hubs into paddock. Rope around her back legs. Chain around her front legs. Back out of the paddock. Up onto tractor. Put lifting mechanism on. Up she came. Down again she plopped, the front chains having slipped. Expletives darted through the air as Hubs clambered back into the paddock. Chains repositioned. Up on tractor again. Up into the air Tessy came. Down the path she went, jiggling about a little bit as the tractor bounced over the furrows of the path.

A little distance away, the fire pit. It was not intended as a fire pit. It was originally a huge hole our builder made with his digging machine, into which rubble from the house was supposed to go, but it was never finished. Good job really. It has served up well, that fire pit.

Now the gathering of the wood. Masses of it. All our dry wood for next winter's fires. Not to worry. Needs must. Build the fire. Last year's sheep fleeces. Anything. Fire must burn hot hot hot.

Tessy put on log pile. Rolled off it. Yelled instructions from Hubs sent me scrambling up onto the seat of the tractor. Pulled a lever. Shooting upwards came the lifting arm of the tractor. Ah! Too enthusiastic! Nearly made Hubs fall over. He was in the firepit with Tess, trying to position her better. Lower the handle now. Did so. Too quick again. Hubs nearly sent into a sprawl with Tessy, who was starting to inflate a teensy weensy bit. Instructions  yelled at me again. Up, I got the arm up, and gently this time.

Then I went and made a cup of tea whilst Hubs carried on with fetching wood. Fire lit. Flames dancing high. No smoke though, just a very cheerful fire. Did a visit to my neighbour over at the Chambre d'hote, to tell her to close her bedroom windows. Just in case an aroma pervaded the air during the burning of Tess.

And it came to me that Tess had been looking life-tired for some time. Hubs thought that we had caused her demise but I think not. Yes, the heat was fierce and she probably over heated. Pigs can't sweat the heat out of them, which is why they need a wallow: the mud cools them down. And yes, the wallow had dried out fast and was the driest it had ever been. But I think that Tess had had enough in life. She was sleeping for longer and longer, and had been declining in the effort to show interest in life. But it is only in hindsight that I recognise this.

My overwhelming feeling is that she is glad not to be here any more, and all I have is a sense of relief for her. I think the heat finished her off, but she was not in good health anyway when she arrived just under a year ago, this I now recognise. And bless her for contributing to one of our many learning curves here. This learning we shall take forward with us while her chemical constituents get recycled into the chemical banks of the Universe.

Did you know that we are all made from the same chemical bank? That bits of you could have been all sorts of things before your parents came together to make you? That DNA gives you the roadmap for the construction of you, but that the chemicals needed to build  your physical structure comes from the same chemical bank which every single living being on Earth uses for its growth as well. And that the chemical bank is derived from the stars of the Universe. Stardust, then.

So fare thee well, Tessy. We did the best we could for you. You never gave us piglets, but then I don't think you were ever meant to. I think you came here to teach us about the gracefulness of nature which a female pig can have. Burn you well, and let your spirit fly high in the sky. RIP.

PS. We didn't recycle her into the freezer because my instinct was that she was not well enough for us to do so, but we thought about it and would have done so had she been sound. As I say, on reflection, I think that she had been in declining health for some time.

Saturday 18 June 2011

An unexpected arrival!

"What's this?" I said, upon arriving back from a food shopping trip and seeing a packet parked upon my computer keyboard.
"Dunno. Came in the post" muttered a busy and 'I-don't-have-time-to-stop-and chatter-and-so-why-haven't-you-got-lunch-yet-and-why-have-you-been-out-for-longer-than-you-said-you-would-be' mildly irritated Hubs.
Anyways.....investigated the packet, and this is what it said was inside: 'Live queen bee (x1). Live attending bees (x5) all enclosed in plastic cage'.

She'd come! Yippeeidaydo!!!! But.......What to do! What to do!! What to dooooo!!!!

Well open her up. So I did:

Yes, but now what to do! What to do!! Now what to doooo!!!!!!

So scrambled onto our apiarist friend's website for instructions: 'Can keep queencage in a dark place for a day or so.' So I put her in the cupboard. And shut the door. Then went out to find a puddle of clean rain water. Scopped some rain water into wine glass. Back to cupboard. Gingerly opened the door half expecting to be buzzed by escapee bees. No. All still in the queen cage. Could see a leg waving about. One was alive at least. Dropped in a drop of rain water into the queen cage. More went in than I meant, but it flowed straight through the cage and onto the floor, which was good. At least I did not drown anyone. Cage back into cupboard. Door firmly shut. Sent email to Lucy to say that I got the queen, although surprised that she had not said that she was going to do so. Message back: didn't send queen, but think that it was Patsy, her assistant. Anyways, not to worry. She's here. And God bless Patsy!

Leave her in the cupboard then. Copy the 'queen introduction' instructions from Lucy's website: 'give sugar syrup to the hive before introducing the queen'. So made some sugar syrup. Then went out to a rehearsal with other folk I am playing music with on Sunday. Went into avoidance mode about Bee Project. Time for bed.

The following morning. Hubs: "When are you going to put the queen in the hive then?"
"Oh, perhaps tomorrow, or Monday......." says moi, still in avoidance mode as to the Bee Project. So Hubs took control. This happens when either one or the other is doing the avoidance thing - one will push the other along, which means, I guess, that we are pedalling the same bike. What I mean is that when one of us stops pedalling then the other one will keep on doing the pedalling to keep us travelling forward. Teamwork!

Into our gear then:

.....with me being thoroughly silly and Hubs saying "Oh get a move on Vera. I haven't got all day!" and him looking stern faced at me all the while I was making a photo-shoot, as can be seen in the above photo!

...then off we went, with Gus and Bools trolling along behind:

...... I was bringing up the rear, still trying to stifle giggles.

Out to the hive we went. Off came the lid. Ants. Thousands of ants inside the lid. Off it came. Out into the air the ants found themselves flying, as Hubs swung the lid about to encourage their evacuation. Next lid off. Yahooooo! Bbbbeeeeez!!! Still at one end, same as before.

Lifted a frame out from the no bee zone. Put that on the ground. Moved the other frames along, slowly. Got to a bee-frame. Not many on. Next frame, more. And what was this! It looked like those little girls were building some cells, and the same for the next one, lots more bees too although not enough to get them through the coming winter, but it is only June so they should have time to increase the colony and stack up some honey, but they have a lot of hard work ahead. A bit like us really.

So Hubs jammed the queencage between the two most populated frames. Hope it doesn't fall to the floor of the hive. Hope it stays in place. Hope we didn't squash any bees.

Lids on. Sugar syrup in tray outside hive. Should be put inside the hive but nowhere to put it, so outside the front door it goes. Other bees, however, do take advantage of this bounty. How do we know this? Because I watch them partake of the syrup then fly off in the opposite direction to our hive. Not to worry, at least some of it goes to our bees.

Gussy limped up. Oh no! Grass dart in his foot again. Second time in three days. Hubs investigated. Bad one this time. Swelling. Vets? Probably. Just paid ninety pounds out for the vet to come and give medicine and take blood tests for the sheep. But: must be done. Thought I would try the river. Not to throw myself in to! No, not that! Thought that the cool, fast flow of the river would sooth his foot. Seems to have worked. Not much limping now. Worked for me too. I forgot how soothing paddling in the river can be, albeit with wellington boots on.

Meanwhile, Danny and crew turned up. Half Barn to be done at long last, so we can dispense with the caravan to sleep in forever? No. Afraid not. They seem to have bypassed the Side Barn and are pushing on with doing the roof of the Middle Barn. It looks like all the roofs will be done soon. Will post up photos in the next blog.

So the new queen is in situ. Have to stay away from the hive for at least a week. Then we have to go inside the hive and release her from the queen cage. But that is for next weekend. For the moment, though, I think I might go and have a lie down!

Thursday 16 June 2011

Still Queenless

So she didn't arrive, the queen bee, shipped out from Lucy in the UK suitably packaged and with the appropriate documents attached. Noooooooo! What happened was that she fetched up back with Lucy from thence she was put back into a hive with some bee chums. Which was good. At least she stayed alive. However, another package (some bee equipment) took only three days to arrive here from the UK, and that was by normal post. So Lucy, a very helpful apiarist, has offered two alternative ways of getting a queen to us:
1) Put her in an airy travelling box and send her by normal mail to France.
2) Get Lucy's Mum to give her a lift in her handbag when she comes over to France for a holiday. I would then go and fetch her, (the queen, not Lucy's Mum although she would be more than welcome to visit us if she so wished) or she could be put into the French postal system (the queen, not Lucy's Mum!)

Ah so! A couple of days ago, in through the door, with a very glum face, came Hubs. "I'm sorry" he says, "But all the bees are dead. I lifted the lid up (of the hive) and there weren't any inside".
I knew this to be so. So off we went, my intent being to empty the hive of all carcasses and put it away for next year when we would start again with the Bee Project. Meanwhile, our bee keeping equipment had arrived, which at least made me feel optimistic that we would indeed keep the project going forward, but next year. 

A few bees were flying about, but the hive is snuggled in beside a large and florally busy patch of blackberry bushes. Visiting bees then. With a flourish Hubs lifted off the roof. Ants there were in abundance. Still in full flourish, Hubs lifted off the top board. No bees to the right. Yikes!!!!!!!! But there were BEES TO THE LEFT!!!! Yessir!!!! BBBBEEEEZZZZZZZ!!!! Strewth, but we never moved so fast to get those bees covered back up again, the shock of seeing bees, real live bees, was too much to cope with especially since we were not in bee keeping gear and were suddenly made to feel very vulnerable being in shorts, t-shirts, and hatless. The bees, meanwhile, remained quiet. We were not attacked, or stung. 

And did you know that: a colony of bees can live for quite some time without a queen.
..that male bees are called drones. That all drones do is mate with the queen. They have no stinger so cannot sting although may pretend they are doing so just to give you a fright. They do not do work. To pass the time during the day they all go off and enjoy a 'boy's jolly', this being done at a distance from the hive, them possibly being evicted from the girls in the hive who are busy going about their house duties and who do not want them underfoot. Apparently they all hang out together, the boy-drones..... but I guess they have to enjoy they day because when winter comes they will be thrown out of the hive for good, them being too expensive food-wise for the girls to keep during the cold months, and so they will die. 

So we are still queenless, but still have a portion of bees left in the hive. Will have a look later on today to see what they are up to. I will let you know how I get on with doing that. It will be my first time of lifting the frames up. I have a smoker. That is a useful implement for quietening the bees down apparently, should they get feisty. And I have a proper bee keeping jacket complete with veil, so now I can actually see what I am doing - the temporary veil blocked my view so I couldn't even see where I was walking very clearly, let alone get my hands in amongst the bees, clad though they were in latex. (My hands, not the bees!)

.............but we do still have bees, and we might be having a queen sometime soon! The Bee Project is still a goer for this year......

Friday 10 June 2011

Not looking good....

Upon putting my ear to our beehive yesterday there was a heavy silence coming from within, although one or two bees flew in and out of the entrance porch. Nevertheless there was no humming at all. 

This morning I did the same. Silence. And it came to me that perhaps the bees had succumbed to the long sleep. I felt the need to have a look inside the hive, but didn't.

It has been very cold here. Winter cold. With heavy rains interspersed with patches of sunshine  but which do not carry sufficient heat to warm the air. Last night I put the electric blanket on. Today I am of the mindset that perhaps it would be a good idea to put some thermals back on again. For the bees, I think, without an established hive to support them comfortably, that the stress of being relocated to here, plus the shock of a new hive to get established, plus the very cold weather, well.....I think that they are no more. 

Plus: I ordered a queen for them from the UK. She was put in the post on Wednesday with the Royal Mail's next day delivery system, so expected her to arrive yesterday. Halfway through the morning, with a flash of horrified intuition, I realised that I had not given the senders of the queen my telephone number which meant that the delivery people would not know where to find us. I order a lot of items over the Internet. As yet, I have had no problems. But always we are rung up by the delivery man for instructions as to where we are. It is the way down here in SW France. It is a sprawly countryside, with minimal, well spaced out villages and you can't find anyone unless you have specific instructions as to where they are. 

Anyways, Hubs stepped in as I went into a spiral of panic, spent ages and ages first ringing Royal Mail in the UK, who said that the she had been handed over to the French delivery people (Fedex) and that she would spend three days in customs. (Next day delivery?) An ages and ages long search finally fetched up the Fedex phone number. No, not in their system yet. No, they don't deliver things, another company does that for them. Phoned them. No, no package for you in our system. Hubs at least got them to make a note of our phone number for when she does arrive. 

It's not looking good. Three days in customs means that she won't start travelling down here until probably Monday. Looking for Wednesday then.  A week in transit. 

And so I am having an 'offload' moment with you. Was in the middle of washing up, which I find an endless repetitive cycle at the best of times, and I had a bit of a forlorn moment about my bees. 

Ah well, talking to you has cheered me up. On the good side, at least I have gained bee-keeping experience, and a fellow farmer popped by the other day to say that he would put the rest of the fence poles in for us. He is doing that as I am speaking to you. It means that the last field will be fenced, the one I was cutting the fence line of, and that is a big step forward again for many reasons which I won't go into here. On the downside, the builder popped by as well, to say that he was six months behind schedule, and that he was not likely to do the work on the Side Barn any time soon. Means that we shall keep sleeping in the caravan, maybe for some of next winter again. I was feeling a bit lumpy about that, but am straightening my shoulders, lifting my chin and psyching myself into thinking good thoughts about doing so. But will fumigate it because I think it is getting riddled with other living beings, some of which come from Bools and Gus! 

Ah well. Thanks for listening to me, and now off to do some shopping. 

Lessons to be learnt: do not allow 'givey up' thoughts any headspace when things are not running according to plan. 

And here is the poem which has kept me going through all of the years:

Don't Quit

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high'
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must - but don't you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don't give up, though the pace seems slow -
You might succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor's cup.
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out -
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt -
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so afar;
So stick to the fight when you are hardest hit
its when things seem worse.....

Wednesday 8 June 2011

And the rains did fall and so did I!

And so the heavens have opened with thunderous rumbles and sharp flashes of lightning. At long last we have rain. Buckets and buckets full of it. 

'Twas upon seeing the blackest of storm clouds above my head and feeling the first splash of rain upon my skin that it came into my mind to rescue my now dry washing from the washing line. With a skill born out of years of practice I got the washing into the wicker washing basket. 

The chickens don't like rain, but they do like food. Their usual practice is to hang about the front door hoping to espy either me or Hubs who might perhaps give them a morsel or two. 

As per usual, Bools and Gussy were hanging on my heels. I don't know what they were hoping for, probably their dinner as I was running late after having spent the day out in the field cutting down with hand shears the vegetation between the fencing poles so we could get the fence up. It was a long, hot, and tedious task, and I had to resort to counting. Counting? What I do is: clip fifty times with bent over back, then stop for the count of ten to have a breather. Concentrating on the counting helps me to inch forward. The grass was thick and shoulder high. The nettles were stingingly present. The ground elder, also shoulder high, was pretty but in the way. And then there were the sharp unfriendly spikes of blackberry bush lacing in between. Overlaying all was a vine of some sort, which sort of knitted the whole lot together very enthusiastically into a riotous tangle. Sometimes, though, I would count to one hundred! Then I would stop and rest for thirty counts, probably either leaning up against one of the poles or bent over out of puff! 

Nearly finished. Only about twenty more poles to go, which are about a metre and a half apart. 

Hubs meanwhile had been messing about with the tractor with a friend. I clipped on. Ten more poles to go. 'Keep on counting Vera. Think of the bod and the tightening of those under arms', so onward I kept going. Nine more poles. One clip, two clip, three clip, etc....

And then: A roar. The tractor. Swinging across the field, racing towards me. Hanging off its rear was the grass cutter, obviously now mended as could be seen by the wide swathe of cut grass lying in the wake of the tractor. Along the fence line it went, making wider the path I had already cut. And it went along those last nine poles in a flash of an instance. I felt cheated and could not smile at a joyous Hubs who, with a flourish, yelled "DeDa! The tractor's mended!" 
"I'm going indoors to lie down" was all I managed to say. Good that the tractor was mended of course, but I had been robbed of the pleasure of feeling smug because I had, with a stoicism which surprised even me, managed to cut the entire field line all except the last  nine poles. 

Meanwhile Hubs raced back to the house. Inside he went. Door shut so the chickens could not invade. Kettle on for tea. Thunder clouds thick in the sky. Plodding across the field feeling vaguely upset about the robbing of my smugness, first drops of water. To the washing line then. Quickly. Job done. Washing basket held to chest. Washing basket now cushioning my chest as chickens, dogs and my feet all got into a tangle and I did a tumble which not only barged open the front doors but broke one of the old hinges off one of the door as well. 
"What are you doing down there" said a surprised Hubs, looking at the washing scattered all over the floor, Bools licking my face because I was at his level for once, Gus having disappeared probably thinking that it was best he kept out of the way in case he got told off, the chickens all hurrying away, it being obvious that they were not going to get food with me lying on the ground with sprawled legs and still clutching my wicker washing basket. 

And then it rained. But at least I had saved my washing, didn't do unto death a chicken although Gus had a run-in with one of the chickens a couple of days previously which had resulted in a broken leg and so into the freezer she had to go which was why Gus has been keeping a low profile when it comes to anything which looks like it could be made to be his fault after all he had only been guarding his bone and the chickens do love to annoy him so really it was the chicken's fault that she got bitten because if she had just gone on about her chickeny business then she would still be alive today, and Bools had managed to have a love-in with me which is something he doesn't get the chance to do any more because in the UK he used to sit beside me on the settee when I was watching TV which is something I don't do anymore so he doesn't get to have the cuddles either. 

Bee Project: Held up again. The queen which was being sent from the UK has not been sent because there were 'problems at the depot which meant she would be longer in the post than would be good for her health'. Also, apparently, it is better that she be put in the hive when it is sunny weather, so it is best she stays in the UK for another day or two until the weather clears up a bit down here in France. A search on the Internet said that the bees should be alright in the hive for a while. Apparently they slow down their metabolism if they don't have a queen to look after, which enables them to live longer than the six to eight weeks they normally would. Hope they manage to do so.

Sheep Project: Soggy. Run-off water ran into their barn, soaking the floor. Looked like a bath tub in places. Not good. Scooped up the wet straw to replace with new. Bought some new straw. Needed two bales. Bales were big. Could only get one in the boot of the car, and even then it was half hanging out. The other bale inside the car on the back seat. Hubs was not particularly enthused about the state of the car. Not to worry, sheep now have dry bedding. Vet coming this morning. Some sheep have coughs. Internet search: Bot fly probs. Need medication. Could do it ourselves. Not the energy. Vet can do it.  Bon courage to the vet though. It is muddy, very muddy, around the sheep pen. 

Smallholding Project in total: Phew! We remain upright, although some of the team do sometimes take a tumble when the chickens and dogs get underfoot!

Friday 3 June 2011


Well they arrived. The bees. Here they are:

Ummmmmm..... Hubs and I stood and looked at the box. A loud bzzzzzzzzzzzing sound emanated from it. Said Hubs, "How many are in the box?"
"About ten thousand".
"What! that box?"
So we stood in awe of the box. It was only a little box really, but it packed a mighty punch inside of it judging by the upset sounds that were being made by its occupants. 

So we left them, according to the email instructions, to 'cool down' in the Tall Barn, and Hubs got busy: 

He cleaned out one of the old hives we got last year. Banged a few bits of wood around the exterior to cover up some holes. I think it had been chewed by mice. Or rats. Whatever. 

And got clipped around the foot of a young oak tree which we think will be a good place for the hive, it being a shady spot, and sheltered. It is also quite near the house, but at least we can keep an eye on the bees and they can get to know us. 

Et voila: (The hive was not tilted as the photo would suggest!)

Meanwhile, I put my head into this: 

.....and made some sugar syrup. Now you might think that we looked totally unprepared for our bees. We were. But not through laziness, but because of the probs with the barging of the sheep through the electric fencing. And plus, it has now rained, which means urgent business needs to be done on the veg plots. Anyways......ummmmmmm......

So with the book in hand, back to the Tall Barn. 
"How do you get the bees out?" Hubs said.
"Well, you have to get them out of the packaging"
"How am I supposed to do that?"
"Gotta get a hammer then...."
"But you might upset them if you bang the box..." but Hubs was off, intent on his task of the moment, so he was marching as if to war. He walks like that when he has farm business. Makes him look like a real warrior-type-farmer-man!

I was right. The thwacks on the walls of the box alarmed the bees no end, as could be heard by the noise they made. 'I told you so' remained hanging in the air between us. 

Then the actual bee cage appeared before our eyes. There were a lot of bees, all buzzing about. 
"What's the book say we need to do now", said a very mildly panicky Hubs as the reality of actually having real live bees hit home to him. 
"It says to spray them with sugar syrup", which we did. The effect on them was immediate.      They all flopped down, saturated with the liquid sugar. I would have felt the same if someone had shoved the hugest bar of Cadbury's Fruit and Nut chocolate at me. 
"What next", says Hubs, now in all of a rush to get this job over and done with, suddenly picking up the bees and charging out to the hive with it, with me following along behind, trying to ooze calmness to all, the dogs following and romping around thinking it was all a good game, and the chickens following on behind in case some tasty morsels of food  should happen to come their way. 

"The book says to get the queen out. I think its that white thing hanging down inside the box" I said as we arrived at the hive. 
After another fleeting 'ummmmmm' moment, Hubs plunged his hand, suitably attired in a plastic glove, into the cage.

A big 'Ummmmmm' and 'Oh dear' moment, as we saw that the queen was deceased. 
"That's it then!" said Hubs, all the rest will die now.
"Well they might not...."
"They will".
But defeated I would not be, so I instructed Hubs to up end the box so all the bees fell out into the open hive, as per instructions in the book. By this time some were sugar-charged and were in 'up-and-at-em' mode. Time to beat a retreat. Lid on. Away into our day. 

I have found a curious quietness on Labartere since we have arrived here. Often I have pondered about the lack of bees flying amongst the flowers in comparison to the number of bees that flew into our UK garden. 

Yesterday I was bumped. As I walked through the front garden I got bumped by a bee. She looked like she didn't know where she was going - all lurchy and stumbly she looked, and obviously a newbie. And I knew she was one of ours. They were flying!

Out to the hive I went. And yes! Loads of bees all buzzing about. Plus ones that were obviously on guard duty because I got buzzed at. Now this can be very intimidating, when a bee is having a look at you and telling you to 'watch your step and if you are naughty and threaten the rest of my family they I will give my life to stop you'. In other words: sting to protect, then die. So I went. 

And for the rest of the day I watched the flowers about the place become alive and full of the energy of foraging bees. It was delight! Meanwhile I got onto the Internet and searched for a new queen. Possibilities of getting one here next Tuesday from the UK. French company which sold us the bees shut until next Monday so can't contact them to see if they will send us a replacement queen, but everyone says that they will. Leaning towards the UK queen though. She would be a Buckfast queen. Anyways..........

Ummmmmmmmm........Just on our way out for a meal with our neighbours that night...
Hubs: "I told you they would die. There is a big pile of them outside the hive. Come on, can't do anything about that now, we're late as it is". I felt very dispirited. Hubs said, "Never mind. We tried. And we will get some more bees."
It was a late night. Day over. Stamped in my head though, was the 'pile of bees'. It was a cold night as well. I expected them to be no more. 

Up at 5. Quick spin on the spinning wheel to wake me up. Out at 6. Found some old net curtaining to put round my face, covered myself up generally,

 then out for a look: 

They had clustered round the empty queen cage, which we had discarded in our haste to hive the swarm. They looked frosty with cold. The dogs had a sniff. No life. The chickens were on their way to have a look, ever vigilant for tasty morsels. 

And I thought that if I lifted the queen cage from the bee bodies and put it into the hive, that perhaps the remaining bees, if there were any, would cluster around that and stay inside the hive. So I put my fingers, with plastic gloves on just in case, into the pile and pulled up the queen cage. 

No, they were not dead. They wriggled and squirmed and buzzed at me, not very happy about being woken up. Taking a deep breath,  I dropped the parcel into the now open hive, breaking the rule that 'one should not, absolutely not, look inside the hive for at least a week when one has put bees into their new home.' 

Ummmmmmm...oh so well what to do now: I raced back to the house, grabbed a spoon and bowl, then back to the pile of bees, scooping them up a spoonful at a time, then dropping them into the hive. Did as many as I could. Am sorry that my inability to have clear vision through the net curtain caused me to stand on the pile of bees a couple of times. Didn't mean to. Was only doing my best. But try telling that to a couple of guard bees who rose to the occasion marvellously quickly and started telling me 'clear off you 'orrid creature'...... So I did, leaving a much smaller pile of bees on the ground, which had now turned into a heaving mass of bodies still very much alive. Hooray!!!!, it came into my head that they might need feeding. Into the kitchen I went. Bzzzzzzzzz. And bbbbzzzzzzz again. Inside the house. Two guard bees. And my bravery did a collapse as I started flapping my arms at them, having quite a fright at the thought of them following me into the house to attack me. But why wouldn't they do just that! After all, I was the perpetrator of much chaos in their lives. Why wouldn't they want to have a go at me!

And so I stopped flapping about, opened the windows and doors so that they could hopefully make a return to the hive. Unfortunately this seemed to give permission for the chickens to invade the house, the open door being an invitation which they seem unable to refuse. that's it! Our first experience of bees. We may, or may not, have a hive of bees. I may, or may not, get a sting from a guard bee waiting for an opportunity to have a go at me as I move around inside my house. But I tell you what, I do so hope that those bees decide to keep on trying to make a home with us. 

And to help them along the way, I made a breakfast for them of a huge dish of sugar water, with landing platforms floating on top in which were several dollops of honey, and I went back out to the hive and put it on a stool in front of their entranceway, shooing the dogs and chickens who were, as per normal, all following on behind. 

If you wait a moment, I'll just pop out to see if they are flying.....

No.... none about....but then ...yes! There were a few having some breakfast on the dish, and I walked away with a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat. Don't know why! Just did........