I recently got chatting via twitter with James who is starting out in beekeeping. His website, The Surrey Beekeeper is a diary of James’ discovery of bees and beekeeping, but before you head across to the Surrey Beekeeper, here is a taster of how James got into beekeeping, so sit back and enjoy and I promise you won’t get stung!
Beekeeping, beekeeping, beekeeping. What on earth was I thinking? At the ripe age of 31 I decided to become a beekeeper. I originally put it down to an osmosis type effect of being a keen gardener but I later decided it was the fact that my father was a Morris Dancer and I was going through a rebellious phase – trust me nothing can compare to the moment, when you are 13 years old and your mates find out your father’s antics at the weekend. Therefore becoming a beekeeper is actually a pretty “cool” thing to do I suppose (at least until my 18mth son becomes a teenager and I accidentally tell one of his friends my secret – I wonder if that is how my mates found about my own father?)
Having said all of this beekeeping is hitting a crescendo of interest at the moment and this is predominately down to the fact they are having a really hard time. Bee colonies are being wiped out around the world; in fact colonies in the UK are less than half what they were only 20 years ago. Each year there is a new theory but still there is no concrete evidence of what is really happening but there is definitely an issue with little mites which are enjoying the game of piggy backing the young bees and basically sucking their blood and their immune system with it. There is also an issue with pesticides, so much so that the British Beekeeping Association have recently cut all ties with pesticide manufactures. Both of these issues could also be connected but whether separate, or together something is fundamentally wrong and when you consider that over 30% of our food is pollinated by the humble bee you realise how important this issue is. Already the Almond is under threat as there are not enough bees to pollinate the trees so reinforcement hives have to be transported to the west of America each year just to help them out – hand pollinating thousands of acres of almond plantation is simply not an option (incidentally this is already taking place in some areas of China and the staple equipment includes ladders, long sticks with feathers and hundreds if not thousands of volunteers even for the smallest of plot). If I look back, these reasons along with my love of the garden, I know, I know, I am only 31, led me to enquire about beekeeping. So what can you do?
There are many routes that you can follow if you are based in the UK but let me tell you how I went about it as a guide. Firstly I got in contact with the British Beekeepers Association (www.bbka.org.uk) and looked to see if there was anything going on in my area. To my astonishment there was an “association” just up the road, one of nine in Surrey. I was amazed, I thought I was the only silly person to consider becoming a beekeeper. I then made contact and they sent me information about a course which I thought sounded like a fantastic idea. I signed up for the course and was told that it consisted of 10, two hour evening classes. I nearly fell off my chair as I thought you would just get a hive, wait for the bees to fly in and then in a few weeks a little glass jar would neatly appear at my doorstep. In hindsight, those 10 theory (did I mention that I didn’t actually see a bee in this time?) classes were some of the most insightful classes I have had the pleasure of attending. I was hooked and immediately began to read every book about the subject.
It wasn’t until this Spring that I actually got involved in a hive properly and, as part of the membership fee of the said association, I started to attend the practical sessions. Firstly I am glad that I did the theory first as it all started to make a little bit more sense but secondly, for the first few sessions I had to fight the urge to run a mile every time a hive was opened or when a bee would walk over my hand – having been taught to run or practice tennis swings every time a bee was near ever since I was a small child, this was a difficult urge to resist.
I can only say that beekeeping is one of the most exciting whilst pleasant and relaxing things I have done in my relatively short life and I urge anyone to take up the hobby. If not for the shear enjoyment, we do need food on the table and if Einstein is to be believed, should we ever be without the honey bee, we would only have 4 years to live.
I am currently about to pick up my own set of bees from a local beekeeper and I can’t wait to have them in my own hive. Should you want to follow my progress please join me and my diary at www.surreybeekeeper.co.uk
If you have a farming story, memory or farm visit that you would like to share or a farming issue that you would like to raise, then please send me your story or article and I will happily include it on a guest appearance post.
I thoroughly enjoy reading a lovely website called A Growing Delight and learning all about life in Australia through the eyes of Alice and her family. Alice belongs to a writing group and back in August she wrote the story you are about to read for her writing group. She has kindly sent me her wonderful heart-warming story to share with you all, so sit back and enjoy reading about Gordon the farmer and the blind visit…..
Gordon was an amazing man. I don’t know anything about his early life, and he was in his early 20s and I was still at Primary School when I first met him. My friends and I knew Gordon by sight but he didn’t know any of us by sight, for you see, Gordon was blind.
However, blindness didn’t stop Gordon’s determination to become a farmer. His family lived in Melbourne but each Monday morning he would board the train for the 100klm trip to the tiny West Gippsland town of Lang Lang. On arrival he would walk the 15klm to Heath Hill along the Westernport Road, sometimes being given a ride by a passing motorist. Gordon came to know this road well, and many of the local farmers came to know the tall, dark haired figure of Gordon very well, too. On Friday afternoons he would set out from Heath Hill on the return trip to Lang Lang to catch the train back to Melbourne, sometimes accepting a ride from a farmer or even the local school bus. His weekends were spent in Melbourne, no doubt some of the time with his fiancée, Rita. During the week at Heath Hill Gordon was engaged in building a large, corrugated iron shed, divided in two by a passageway open at both ends. Half of this shed became his milking shed and the other half was to become home for many years for Gordon and Rita after they married, and their increasing family, which ultimately numbered 4 girls and one boy, plus another boy whom they adopted. All of their children are now grown up and married and Gordon and Rita are grandparents many times over.
Gordon was responsible for one of the most memorable days of my life. I was 19 years old and teaching 3 days a week at the local school, where two of Gordon’s children were now attending. This one-roomed school had an enrolment of about 25 pupils in 7 Grades, all of whom were taught by the Headmaster, Paul, on the days that I was not there. Gordon walked up to the school one day to have a talk to Paul about an idea he had for bringing a group of children and teachers from the Royal Victorian Institute for Blind to the school on a day visit so that they could see how a country school operated. But it wasn’t only the school that Gordon wanted these children to experience, he wanted to share the experience of country life. His initial suggestion, when put to the district families, was readily accepted and an invitation was sent to the RVIB.
On the 20 September, the school was the venue for a miracle of co-operation resulting in a miniature agricultural show, and an experience long remembered by all those who took part. Early in the morning tractors towing a variety of farm machinery such as ploughs, mowers, rakes and hay balers, began arriving at the school, closely followed by sheep, pigs, goats, horses and a variety of pets. The tractors and machinery were parked in a paddock next to the school ground and the animals were either tethered or penned in enclosures nearby. At 10 o’clock a bus with 20 children and several teachers and other staff from the RVIB arrived.
The children had of course been told about the sort of things to expect, and all were keen to explore. The parents who had brought the machinery and animals stayed and became integral players in this amazing day. The sighted children each formed small groups with their blind visitors and their teachers and eagerly showed them around the school, slowly and carefully explaining all that their visitors could not see. Time was spent not only patting but also running their hands over the animals to build up a picture in their minds. They learned to identify the animals not only by shape but also by smell and sound. Farmers patiently explained the workings of tractors and machinery, allowing the children to climb over and even to start the tractors. The owner of the farm nearest the school took several children at a time for rides on a trailer loaded with hay and pulled by the tractor up to his cowshed. Here the children could explore the milking machines, cow yards, and even try milking a cow by hand.
All too soon is was mid-afternoon and time for the farmers to start up their tractors and head for home and their waiting cows, while we at school bade farewell to our new friends. Our visitors may have learned a lot about country life that day, but I think we learned even more about the courage and resilience of children living and enjoying life despite having what we would consider a major handicap, the loss of sight. It was a day that was talked about for many weeks by all who had been fortunate enough to share in Gordon’s wonderful vision.
Every Monday I try to post a guest appearance farming story that I have been sent by one of my readers. Today’s guest appearance is a little different as I wanted to share the thrilling news that I have actually had one of my farming stories posted as a guest spot on another site. Curtis from Growing Thumbs, who appeared on my site with his memories of milking the cow, invited me to share an occasion when I have used farming equipment in the garden. Curtis has written a great introduction to my story, “For some time now. I have been reading a very well put together blog called Farming Friends. It is a very informative and fun blog about Farming and Gardening. Sara puts you right in the action with all her adventures in farming life.”
My story, which is a true story, is called The Vegetable Garden Under Attack. If you would like to read it then visit Growing Thumbs Guest Spot now and then pop back and let me know what you think of my true story.
If you have a farming story, memory or farm visit that you would like to share then please send me your story and I will happily include it on a guest appearance post.
Every Sunday I write a post linked to gardening and nature as part of Green Thumb Sunday and over the weeks I have visited lots of excellent sites, learnt many gardening facts and viewed stunning photography that has left me inspired. One of the sites I visit every week and am in awe of is The BenSpark website. Drew is an amazing photographer who also replies to everyone of my comments personally which I appreciate very much. On a recent visit to Drew’s site I read about a trip he made to Shelburne Farm and found the photographs made me feel like I was part of the farm tour too. Read on to find out exactly what Drew got up to on the farm…….
I went to Shelburne Farm in Stow, Ma recently. It was partly for apple picking and partly for photowalking. You may be familiar with the picking of apples but the activity of photowalking might not be mainstream, yet. Photowalking is the act of going out, preferably with a group of people to take a walk around an area and take photos. That is the activity, taking photos. Whether it be in an ordinary place or at a fair or at a fun location, you can photograph anywhere and it is a good time.
Shelburne Farm offers photowalkers and lovers of fresh fruit a plethora of activity. For the photowalker an Apple Orchard is a great place to shoot. Apples make good subjects and the beautiful day outside makes for great light. Mix in kids enjoying apples and you have the opportunity to take great portraits of families at play. For those into fruit and veggies an Apple Orchard is the best place to get our fruit and veggies because you picked the apples and know that they are fresh.
At Shelburne farm there are many activities for kids. There is the hay maze and pyramid, the john deer tricycle tractors and a moon bounce. They even have a sandbox and a large tractor on display that they can sit on for photos. The farm has many varieties of apples as well as peaches, there are some more fruit varieties but you can check that out on the website. I was there to take photos. Sorry, it is what I do, I take a photo each day for my blog The BenSpark and I have been field testing a great device called the GiSTEQ PhotoTrackr to help me automatically geotag my photos. I can then play the whole trip back through Google Earth; it is a fun program and a great product that never leaves my camera bag.
The farm has a farm stand and store where they make up old fashioned apple cinnamon donuts as well as cider, cheese, and various other items. They also sell some spinach squares and hot dogs for lunches. They also have candied apples, pumpkin pie, apple pie, kettle corn and other goodies. The area around the store is nice for families to sit and enjoy the day. Overall for a $14.00 bag of apples you get a wonderful day with the family and if you take your camera, many memories for years to come.
This weeks guest appearance is a true story from my husband Steve’s childhood, although he won’t want his family to know as he told me that I am the first person he has ever told this story to – let’s just hope that they are not reading this right now!
When I was a young boy I always used to help out at harvest time. In those days the some of the grain was handled in bulk but some was bagged off the trailer and stored temporarily in bags.
When grain is stored it must be below a certain moisture content otherwise bacteria and moulds can grow and cause the grain to spoil. When it is stored in bags the moisture content can be higher (up to about 18.5%) than when it is in a bulk store or in bins (only up to about 16.3% moisture content). One can get a good idea of the moisture content of grain through experience and biting the grain to see how crunchy it is.
Even so, back in the 1970’s we had an electronic moisture meter to measure this parameter as accuracy is very important. These were precision instruments and very expensive – ours was manufactured by Marconi and was a large grey box with dials and knobs and an elecrically operated needle a bit like a speedometer on a car which would swing in one direction or another depending upon the moisture of the grain.
Before the grain could be tested it must be ground which we did in a mill (that we also used for producing animal feed). After grinding the flour like material was placed into a cell where it was compressed and then the machine would take it’s reading from this compressed flour. The spent flour was emptied back into the sampling scoup and then tossed over the wall into the pig stye, where a lucky pair of fattening pigs would get a treat each time a sample was measured.
I was taught to use the moisture meter from an early age and I was probably only about 8 or 9 years old when I went to test a sample of grain. I completed the test and tossed the spent flour over the wall and into the pig trough to hear a clunking noise as the flour hit the porcelin trough (made from an old drainage pipe, concreted into the pig stye). I had inadvertantly thrown a piece of the moisture meter with the flour over into the pigs! The pigs had immediately jumped up to get their treat and within seconds one of them had this piece of metal in it’s mouth and was chewing it. What to do? I didn’t want the pig to swallow it, nor did I want to chase the pig and for it to drop the piece of metal somewhere in the deep straw where I couldn’t find it. Luckily the pig dropped the metal after what seemed like for ever but was probably only about 10 seconds. The metal wasn’t damaged so I replaced it and said nothing about the incident, that is until right now (about 24 years later). I was always more careful after that day.
Curtis @ Growing Thumbs has been gardening for almost 20 years and his website is full of gardening tips and tricks he has learnt along the way. We have become blogpals via comments left on each other’s sites and I recently learnt that Curtis lives near his grandparent’s farm and thought that he might have some interesting farm memories that he could share with us. He does and he has, so if you are sitting comfortably then Curtis will tell you about the………milk cow on the farm.
When I was about 8 or so my Grandmother bought a Jersey milk cow so she could have her own milk. Lucky for me and my parents, we lived next door so more milk and cream for us.
At first getting used to this milk was difficult. This stuff was full bodied with a little cream still in. Once we got used to it, drinking milk at the school or while out tasted strange and thinned out. My Grandma had enough milk that she sold it along with butter. Butter talk about work!
At this time she had chickens making eggs for us and to sell. I remember them buying the chicks there were 100s of them.
Milking a cow is no easy task. Milking is one thing. Having to milk in the morning and evening day in and day out is something else. When the cow had a calf you had to milk her some for the calf which we hand fed and the rest for the dogs and cats. Because there is a certain period after giving birth when the milk will not be any good for human consumption. I think it was six weeks then.
After my Grandparents going through nearly two milk cows and all the work that came with it. They sold the last one. Again going back to store bought milk. A change that took time to get used to it. But now when I do drink milk, it’s skim milk.
So the next time you go out and buy a gallon of milk or other dairy product. Remember there was a lot of work put in it.
I recently visited This Is My Patch – a lovely website that records the sights, sounds and events in Louise’s “patch” in West Sussex. We have regularly been commenting on each other’s sites and I was delighted when I received an email entitled farming story from Louise. Excitedly I opened the email to reveal the bold heading -A memory from a holiday spent down in Cornwall in the 1970’s. So if you are sitting comfortably I will transport you back to the 1970’s for a Busman’s Holiday …
…..when I was a kid my family and I went down to Cornwall to stay in a self catering cottage which happened to be on a dairy farm. It was early evening and there was a knock on the door, standing there was the owner who explained that he was having trouble with delivering a calf; as my dad was a pig farmer and had delivered many a piglet, he was able to help out with emergency assistance. As my dad ended up delivering the calf ‘single handed’, the owner, to show his gratitude named the lovely little steer, Steve, after my brother! … a memory I shall never forget.
Recently my in laws decided to take a day trip to Sunk Island and came back saying what a lovely place it was and how it was worth a trip.It was then that I came across this new website Sunk Island where I was able to find out about what life and farming life is like for the villagers of Sunk Island. The story you are about to read was sent in by Sally from Sunk Island. Sit back and enjoy meeting ‘Bronte’ the dog and be thankful that you cannot smell him!
It was a bank holiday Saturday in the summer. The sun was bright and warm, so the doors into the garden were wide open. We were expecting visitors & as I made last minute preparations, I noticed something move out of the corner of my eye. I looked again, and saw a dog, that had darted in from the garden, and was standing silently in the corner of the room beside an armchair.
He was a middle sized dog – and very ordinary. He was an ordinary shape and an ordinary colour – so ordinary that he was quite appealing. He was a browny, cross-bred type, with a hint of corgi, but the size of a bulldog. He had a long tail, at half mast, which vaguely waved, periodically. His collar had a metal tag with the name ‘Bronte’, and a phone number. We shut the doors, so that Bronte would not escape, and telephoned the number on the collar. Bronte’s owners answered and promised to collect him, “a bit later”. They lived on the other side of the island, so Bronte had travelled 4 or 5 miles across the fields as the crow flies.
We soon noticed a smell, which grew stronger and stronger as the sun streamed through the windows and heated up the room. It was definitely the smell of pig slurry and as we looked more closely at Bronte we realised that he was covered in it.
In those days we had a large slurry lagoon where all the waste from the pig unit was pumped. It was very deep, and full of a bubbling, slimy slurry. It was securely fenced with barbed wire & netting to keep people away, as the lagoon was a danger & people could drown if they fell in.
Bronte must have crept under the fence and jumped in. What a strange thing to do. We took the smelly dog into the wash house and put him in the large sink filled with warm water and gave him a good shampoo. He stood stoically as we washed him thoroughly and then made sure that all the dog shampoo was rinsed off him. He seemed quite happy for us to rub him dry, and then he went to sleep on a heap of towels.
We were beginning to worry that no-one was going to collect Bronte, when there was a knock on the door. It was Bronte’s owners who had had visitors for the day. To prepare Bronte for their guests they had given him a bath, first thing in the morning. They said that Bronte did not like being bathed and that was probably why he had run off. But they were horrified to hear that he had escaped to the slurry lagoon, probably hoping to get rid of that special bath time fragrance!
The strange thing was that Bronte came for three or four years running, always on a May bank holiday, and his first stop was always the slurry lagoon! Even so, we were pleased to see him and greeted him by name. It was not until he had visited us on several occasions that we realised that Bronte was not Bronte after all, but that his owners were Mr & Mrs Bronte!
Thanks to The Cottage Smallholder for this wonderful award and kind words. Fiona said the farmingfriends “blog is a real down to earth breath of fresh air. I have learnt so much from it as it is packed with useful, highly readable interesting information. Sara co hosted our Interblog Guinea Fowl Breeding Event.” As you can imagine I was thrilled and honoured to receive this award from Fiona whose blog I admire and enjoy greatly.
The Thoughtful Blogger Award is for “those who answer blog comments, emails, and make their visitors feel at home on their blogs. For the people who take others’ feelings into consideration before speaking out and who are kind and courteous. Also for those bloggers who spend so much of their time helping other bloggers design, improve, and fix their sites. This award is for those generous bloggers who think of others.”
I think this award has a lovely message and epitomises how the blogging community works. I have made some super blogging friends from home and abroad.
My nominations for the Thoughtful Blogger Award go to;
TopVeg – A “top” site with a fantastic writer who has become my friend via the blogging world. TopVeg always answers my vegetable questions and has given me the confidence to set up and run a school gardening club. We have also written a set of growing cards together and TopVeg sent me leeks to grow in my garden after it was flooded.
A Growing Delight - A “delightful” site which provides an insight into life “downunder!” Alice has contributed to make my blog better with her excellent entry for the monthly photograph competition and her well written guest appearance farming story, with another story appearing very soon.
My regular reader and blogpal Boggywoggy from Oregon and I share a passion for animals especially guinea fowl. I found BoggyWoggy’s site on Technorati when I searched for guinea fowl and over the last few months have corresponded via comments on each others site. I always love reading BoggyWoggy’s comments as they are both complimentary and humorous. So you can imagine it was no surprise when I read this comment left last week……….
“I just downloaded a video onto YouTube in your honor! It’s called, ‘Moo!’ I created the video while visiting a local ranch with our Swedish exchange student, Albin. He’d been here for about a year and was due to head home in mid-July. The owner of the ranch took us up in the hills above his home for a “new-American-style” cattle drive. Yep, that’s right…we rode up in his HUGE Ford Expedition, watched as he opened a gate, and yelled, “C’mon!” All of the cattle came racing over the hillside in the background, then stopped and just looked at all of us. I pulled out my camera as they made the decision to go through the gate he’d just opened…”