FIRST TIME TO CATCH AND HIVE TWO BEE SWARMS – 1st wk in June 2014

Before moving to Tacumshin, South Wexford, I was living in a housing estate and my bee hives were always on someone else’s land. Not being able to look out the kitchen window and see the bees meant all to often, they swarmed before I had a chance to gather the box and other bits to capture the swarm and hive a new colony.

Now we have moved to the country and are blessed to have the remnants of an old orchard at the back of the house where my one and only bee hive was brought from Balbriggan last year. I was all set to split this hive when one day recently I realised it was too late. Thousands of bees took to the air and circled appearing like the vortex of a mini tornado. All I could now do was wait an hour or so until they had settled on a branch or a post temporarily, while scout bees were sent out to find a new home for these runaway bees who had swarmed with the old queen from the original hive.

In the meantime, I found a large cardboard box, an old curtain and a bee brush. Protected by gloves and bee suit, I found it quite straightforward to hold the box under the resting swarm and knock it off the branch into the box held below. Then the box was put upside-down on the open curtain on the ground. When all the stray bees found their friends in the dark corner of the box, I tipped them in to the spare empty brood box I had prepared ( in ‘Blue Peter’ fashion) earlier.

The beekeeping advice is then to remove any spare queen cells by inspecting the old hive, other than one or two so that a replacement new queen will hatch to carry the old colony forward. Unexpectantly, however,  another swarm appeared a couple of days later. This is known as a cast-swarm, I am told. It is a smaller secondary swarm accompanying a newly hatched virgin queen. Being smaller and the queen needing to mate before laying can begin, means cast-swarms often don’t make it through the winter as they are often not big enough to stay warm in the cold months.

However, I am hopeful that the three hives we now have will survive if the fine weather continues and all three can go into the winter with the health and numbers to make it through the cold months ahead. Swarms caught in May stand the best chance of surviving as they have more summer weather ahead

Hiving a swarm. The upturned cardboard box, containing stragglers, on the old curtain, forms a runway up to the new brood box entrance.

Hiving a swarm. The upturned cardboard box, containing stragglers, on the old curtain, forms a runway up to the new brood box entrance.

to build up numbers and stores. As the saying goes, ‘Swarm in May worth a load of hay, swarm in June worth a silver spoon, and swarm in July not worth a fly’!

THE SPUDS IN OPW WALLED ORGANIC GARDEN LOOK FAR BETTER THAN OURS! – 4th wk in May 2014

'Casablanca' can be first early potato or left in the ground as a maincrop. Here the OPW Walled Garden shows the plants at their best.

‘Casablanca’ can be first early potato or left in the ground as a maincrop. Here the OPW Walled Garden shows the plants at their best.

This is a difficult blog to write. I’ve just been to Bloom in the Phoenix Park. The ‘Casablanca’ potatoes in the OPW Walled Organic Kitchen Garden are a picture of health, weed free and in lovely straight rows. On the other hand, here in Tacumshin, our ‘Casablanca‘ potatoes sown in  ‘Aran beds’ or ‘lazy beds’ are struggling. Lack of water could be a factor. Another factor could be that we did not plant into the soil but instead laid the seed on the strimmed grass and turned another sod of grass upside down to cover the seed potato. The dense grass roots are slow to break down in these near drought conditions. We will get a crop. However it  may include more small potatoes than we would like. Nonetheless, the digging to harvest the crop will loosen the soil to help make it friable for the next crop, probably a green manure.

E.U. NEIGHBOURS’ DAY, COMPLEMENTS THE ‘TRANSITION TOWN’ MESSAGE – 3rd wk in May 2014

Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I was asked to say a few words to the community of neighbours living near Redmond Park, a well used tranquil public space in the heart of Wexford town, recently, to mark E.U. Neighbours’ Day. Good theme, but to me it is about much more than calling to see if a neighbour needs help or a chat. Looking out for neighbours is vital, of course and thanks to Senan O’Reilly, Wexford Tidy Towns Association and D’Lush Café in Wexford Arts Centre for all the help.

Neighbours’ Day began in Paris in the year 2000. It generally takes place on any Friday in May. The basic theme is to promote neighbourliness. However, working together in a neighbourhood, is a bulwark against the major challenges of peak oil and climate change. Strengthening local connections is a key step towards re-developing local economies and local self-reliance. Other steps on this path are all part of the transition to a society which can meet its needs without depending on fossil fuels.

Rob Hopkins,  while lecturing on sustainability in Kinsale, Co. Cork, coined the term, ‘transition towns’, to describe the steps towards ‘powering down’

Neighbours' Day in Wexford which also attracted some newly elected county councillors, who hopefully will help the area make the transition to fossil fuel free living.

Neighbours’ Day in Wexford which also attracted some newly elected county councillors, who hopefully will help the area make the transition to fossil fuel free living.

local energy consumption, while improving quality of life. Check out http://www.transitiontownkinsale.org. Rob now lives in Totnes, Devon, in England so another good website in http://www.transitiontowntotnes.org.

SOLAR POWER GROWING THE VEG AND NOW HEATING THE WATER TOO – 2nd week in May 2014

Growing fresh food to do away with the need to import a tired version of the same thing is one way to cut down on the burning of fossil fuels. Installing solar water heating panels on the roof is another way to save using oil. It will take a few years before the cost of installation is made back on the savings from not having to buy oil. Given that oil prices will inevitably go up as peak oil production looms, the pay back period may be shorter than we might think.

The team from Kelly's Insulation & Plumbing, Wexford lifting Italian made solar panels into place.

The team from Kelly’s Insulation & Plumbing Co., Wexford, lifting Italian made solar panels into place.

DUNCAN STEWART INSPIRES COMMUNITIES TO BECOME MORE SELF-RELIANT – 1st wk in May 2014

The broadcaster, architect and campaigner for a sustainable future, Duncan Stewart, ‘gets it’ when it comes to understanding how precarious our global food supply system has become. Food supply is, in effect, floating on a sea of fossil fuels. The non-organic fertilizers and the armoury of weed killers and pesticides are oil-based, likewise the machinery, processing, packaging, transportation, storage, etc. If oil is too dear, food will be too dear, if it will be available at all. It may never happen, you may say. Well, it did happen – in Cuba. Russian oil supplies ceased when the USSR collapsed – and the people of Cuba went hungry. Fortunately, they had good organic agriculture researchers in their universities who could retrain chemically based farmers and many new farmers to grow food without oil.

Recently, Áine and myself met Duncan Stewart who was campaigning for Green candidate, Grace O’Sullivan, in the Ireland South EU Constituency. Duncan spoke passionately with many facts at his disposal about the urgency of developing local food economies in Ireland. Ireland has 10 times more beef than its people can eat, likewise Ireland produces huge amounts of dairy goods. However, the amount of fruit and vegetables (which could be grown in Ireland) and which is now imported every day, points to the need for more horticultural production and more horticultural producers. At present many producers are getting out of horticulture.

Áine and myself, inspired by Duncan, are liaising with other organic producers in South Wexford, in the hope we can put a food co-op together to make sure continuity of food supply for the present and especially for the future when oil will no longer be a part of the food chain.

Organic horticulturalist, Áine Neville discussing the prospect of  setting up an organic local food producing co-op in South Wexford with eco-change maker, Duncan Stewart.

Organic horticulturalist, Áine Neville discussing the prospect of setting up an organic local food producing co-op in South Wexford with eco-change maker, Duncan Stewart.

 

PRODUCTION OF CRUDE OIL FLAT SINCE 2005 – ARE WE READY WITH ALTERNATIVES? – 4th wk in April 2014

I am grateful to Eamon Ryan, leader of the Green Party in Ireland, An Comhaontas Glas, for a recent tweet posting about the BP Statistical Review of Crude Oil Production  2014. This is the oil industry talking about how it sees the future unfolding. Against a backdrop of a 2.8 fold increase in oil prices since 2004, the Review explains that the main 20 oil producing countries in 2004 had a 26% of world oil production. That share has now dropped to 16%.

How come this has not resulted in a global oil shortage? The Review tells us that other countries, mainly Russia, Saudi Arabia and the USA have increased production to offset this oil shortage. However the USA uses all the oil it can produce and still imports about half its oil needs on top of that.

So Europe has to hope that Russia and Saudi Arabia co-operate with the EU and continue to sell us oil, albeit on THEIR terms. If we don’t like those terms, the next most plentiful suppliers are Iran, Iraq and Libya, not the most popular holiday destinations for European holiday-makers! Hopefully the peacemakers in these countries will succeed in bringing about peace and goodwill for all concerned in this region.

If we want to take our oil buying business elsewhere, we will probably be dealing with countries where oil production is in decline like Indonesia, Algeria, UK, Norway, Mexico and Venezuela. It is a racing certainty that one day soon, (if not already,) these countries will say they have no spare oil to export.

Ironically the growing threat of runaway climate chaos can only be averted if more countries stop using most of the available oil BEFORE it runs out. This may sound like an economic death wish, but it is really, on reflection, a prescription for a future sustainable economy. Not only sustainable, but more efficient, more community self-reliant and a more competitive economy. No more easily obtained oil also means a society where human work is more valued and more affordable than oil based energy which has done much to replace human work since it economically came on the scene 150 years ago.

A Shell oil company analyst, Rhodri Owens-Jones, speaking in Dublin recently, said that by 2060 solar power will be the biggest global source of primary energy. The question I would like to see analysed is ‘has the world enough metal and other materials to make enough solar panels to replace all the oil we currently burn’? Or have we a plan, in a structured urgent way, to power down energy demand in energy hungry countries, like

Harnessing the sun's energy in Cloughjordan Eco-Village, Co. Tipperary, Ireland's largest prototype solar park to date.

Harnessing the sun’s energy in Cloughjordan Eco-Village, Co. Tipperary, Ireland’s largest prototype solar park to date.

Ireland? The Shell analyst points to 2040 being the date that global oil production goes into terminal decline, or 2030, or sooner, unless we plan our homes, cities and economies to use far less oil.

Interesting facts from the oil industry. Can Governments continue to ignore them? Learning to live, grow food and run a country without burning oil is the ultimate challenge of political leadership.

COMPOST TOILET – A WAY TO CUT DOWN ON WATER CHARGES – 3rd wk in April 2014

Having moved to a bigger exposed plot we need to plant more trees to shelter our kitchen gardening from the wind blowing in from the Saltee Islands. One way to encourage tree growth is  a mulch in the spring with well rotted compost or manure.

With this in mind, it was great to check out a clean and smell free compost toilet in the Eco-Village in Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary recently. If one has the space and is even a mediocre handyperson, a compost toilet is a good idea. No flushing of litres of drinking quality water after answering Nature’s call will save money once the water charges kick in. The resulting good compost for mulching the trees can also save money, previously spent  on buying  bags of commercial compost

This compost toilet has a two chamber concrete block base. One chamber is in use which the other is closed to allow contents to compost for a year before becoming  useable as a tree mulch.

This compost toilet has a two chamber concrete block base. One chamber is in use which the other is closed to allow contents to compost for a year before becoming useable as a tree mulching material.

.

Once we finish building the cob oven, the construction of a compost toilet like the Tipperary model in the picture will be next on the project list.

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