Note the flat bag of fondant under the Perspex crown board. The eke ( half a roof one inch deep) creates the recessed space for the fondant. On top of this goes 2 layers of cardboard for insulation and then the full water-proof roof.
Another tip from expert beekeeper at the South Wexford Beekeepers Association last meeting, John Morgan. He warned that February is the month when the bee hive is at its most vulnerable. Stores of honey are depleted and the weather is too cold and flowers too scarce for gathering pollen. So if one has not fed one’s bees already this winter gone, now is the time to do it.
The recommendation is to feed fondant, not syrup at this time. The bees prefer the fondant in this cold weather. I bought a large bucket of fondant from the in store baker in Superquinn, Swords, Co. Dublin. (Yes, that long ago!) It has lasted me a few years and only half the bucket is used so far.
To feed the bees, one uses an eke (shown in the photo) to create a recess on top of the frames under the roof in the brood box. Into this recess is placed a flat resealable freezer bag of fondant. A hole the size of a 50c coin is cut in the middle of the bag. This hole is placed as close as possible to where the cluster of bees are hanging out on the frames. The bees will eat their way through this fondant starting with what is exposed by the hole. It should be interesting to see how much of the fondant was eaten when the weather warms up sufficiently to open the hive to see if I can find and mark the queen. This must wait until the daytime temperature is consistently over 10 degrees centigrade.
The South Wexford Beekeepers (www.southwexfordbees.org) organise very informative talks on the first Thursday of the month in the Teagasc offices near Johnstown Castle just outside Wexford town. Recently the very experienced beekeeper, John Morgan, gave an excellent talk and demonstration of what to do in the apiary this time of year. In short the answer is ‘not much’. However, I picked up a few tips like – check the bee access in not blocked – feed with fondant – watch out for robbing and close up any dead hive to prevent this – plant bee-friendly trees and shrubs and construct and repair frames, supers, brood boxes etc to catch swarms in the coming summer.
John made me think anew about bees and cold weather. I had heard that bees don’t mind cold, it is wet that kills them. However, John mentioned insulating the hives with cardboard under the roof and below the mesh floor. This makes sense. A little like us putting on an extra jumper instead of working to generate heat. Life is tough enough for the bees without making them work harder in the hive to stay warm and use up valuable stores of honey in the process. So out I went the day after the talk at lunchtime ( the warmest part of the day) and put a couple of squares of cardboard under the roof and under the mesh floor. I’ll remove this insulation when the temperature rises above 10 degrees c. and the bees and out foraging, perhaps in March.
It is on frosty mornings like this that the bees will appreciate the brood box insulation. Wait for a mild day to insert the insulation, however.
No better way to get warm on a cold day that to load manure in to a trailer and then to barrow it to areas of bare soil in the veg and fruit garden. Once the manure is spread, we like to cover the manured bare soil either with old straw or sheets of black plastic. These plastic sheets are removed before planting out seedlings in April or May or later. Meanwhile the sheets of black plastic are weighed down with a few shovelfuls of builders’ sand. This sand can be dug in when the plastic is removed to lighten our loamy soil.
Note the small trailer which gets refilled again and again with horse manure. This is then barrowed to bare soil areas.
The plan is to re-use these sheets of plastic year after year. During summer and autumn, they will be folded and stored away ready for re-use next winter.
Our idealistic first year here in Tacumshin, Co. Wexford saw us plant 18 rhubarb stools. We had great hopes that the large characteristic rhubarb leaves would block out light and keep competing weed growth under control. How wrong we were! For a start, the wind here near the coast flapped the rhubarb around so much that it did not thrive.
Having been taught a lesson by nature, we erected an artificial wind break. In due course, trees and hedging will create natural shelter, we hope. As you can imagine, the weeds grew very happily in the rhubarb patch. Weeding the patch was a delicate matter as we had to avoid damaging the hidden buds on the rhubarb stools. So we chose to simply rip up the weed growth with our gloved hands, no trowels or hoes this time around.
Anyway, the patch is now recognisable as a rhubarb patch again. We have spread some well-rotted manure between the rhubarb stools. We may further mulch between the plants with thick straw or plastic. Vigilance
Áine taking a breather from hand weeding the rhubarb patch, while Stocaí Bána observes proceedings from the wheelbarrow.
seems to be the name of the game in keeping weeds under control.
The Christmas break gave us a chance to take a couple a bracing walks around this corner of Co. Wexford. Looking out of our front window is Lady’s Island Lake and beyond that the iconic sight of the Carnsore Point wind farm. It is heartening to see the elegant blades of these 14 Vestas turbines turning peacefully with their 12 MW capacity. To think, this is the same site which was earmarked for a nuclear power station in the 1970’s.
Part of the Carnsore Point windfarm contributing clean energy to Ireland’s total renewable energy capacity which can power 1.7 million homes.
I had just finished shovelling horse manure into a trailer for spreading on vacant veg and rhubarb plots when Brendan, our postman arrived. Among his letters was a thin package. Inside was a beautifully illustrated book for children called ‘Robby the Robin’, by wildlife guru from children’s television, Dale Treadwell. It is a clever and witty story about a territorial robin who comes across as bossy. I can say for certain that my 4 year old niece loves it. This book will certainly help her interest in observing wildlife to grow. Thanks again Dale, my Aussie mate! Long may we see you enthral young audiences on Irish television. Australia’s loss is Ireland’s gain! The book (as they say) is available in all good bookshops. BTW, Dale has another book out, ‘Harry the Hedgehog, which is also great.
‘Robby the Robin’ keeping an eye on my manure shovelling before feasting on the tiger worms uncovered.
The mild weather threw open the possibility of firing up the cob oven when friends and parents travelled from Counties Meath and Dublin for a visit to Tacumshin, Co. Wexford. The weather was not warm, however, so the wood fired oven gave off some welcome heat as the pizzas were cooking. Admittedly, most of the pizza toppings were bought in, but the bell peppers were grown in the greenhouse and some of the wood was a remnant of boughs that broke of in the storms of last February.
Lighting up a cob oven takes over an hour before the cooking heat is just right, so no point cooking just one pizza after all that trouble. Having a few guests makes it all very sociable and worthwhile. Each pizza cooks in three minutes so nobody is left waiting too long. Roll on the spring and milder weather for more cob oven cuisine
Enjoying rapidly cooked made to order pizzas from the cob oven are Áine, Barbara, Brendan and their sons, Ferdia and Cillian, with my Dad.
– baking bread is the next challenge!