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Month: March 2011

Buzzy time

Buzzy time

Spring has well and truly sprung. The last few posts have been about how rapidly everything in the garden seems to have taken off. With the plants sprouting, so have the number of jobs I have to do. We plan on getting some more chickens – this time to eat, so I need to build another henhouse for them, we need to fix the well and get some sort of irrigation system ready for the baking hot summer, the barn needs renovating, shelves still need to go up, the list is endless. However, some things are getting done – I repaired the potting shed roof and strimmed the garden – a big job which takes at least a couple of days. I have left some areas unstrimmed however. My excuse is that these areas should be left to nature, encouraging the insects, wild flowers, birds, pest predators etc.

We have also got one of our next major projects up and running – bees!

We’d got word from a friend of ours that there was someone in the Dornes area, not far from here, who had bees and hives for sale. We headed down there with great anticipation and came back with a hive full of bees and all the necessary equipment. We were also quite proud of ourselves in conversing with this guy all in Portuguese (we are still very ashamedly poor at the local lingo). As instructed, we set up the hive in a good place at the bottom of our garden and let the bees settle for a couple of days. Only then were we to inspect the hive.

We have a beekeping guidebook and it explains what to do on this first inspection: try to spot the queen (she is slightly longer than the normal ‘worker’ bees), see that she is laying i.e. try to spot eggs in cells and grubs in various stages of growth and also to see if there was any honey. Basically just to check that everything seemed OK. The book also said that when you buy a nucleus – which is a starter colony containing only a queen and a few attendant bees, you don’t need to smoke them as they will be very calm.

We chose to inspect them first thing in the morning as we knew they would be still asleep (or whatever the bee term is). So, Jackie settled at a safe distance, camera in hand ready to record the moment.  I must admit I felt a bit like Dustin Hoffman in Outbreak approaching the hive all suited up.

And then our troubles began.

We had not actually bought a nucleus, but a pretty full hive. Morning is not a good time to open up the hive as everyone is at home rather than out foraging. We had Iberian bees which have a reputation (well warranted I will vouch for already) for aggressiveness.

While I was gingerly taking out a frame to inspect it, clouds of bees took off in front of me. I could see them all over my veil. I almost felt they were going to bite through the gauze. However, I maintained my calm. Then, I heard a scream. It was Jackie running down the garden. “It’s in my hair, it’s in my hair. Arrrrrrrrggggghhhhh!” I didn’t see her for a while but she had only suffered superficial wounds. One sting to the scalp which was not painful. I carefully put the frame back in the hive and then replaced the top. Unfortunately there were bees all over the rim, so a few got squidged, which also makes them angry. I then retreated. I didn’t find the queen and am not even too sure what I saw.

But the story doesn’t end there. Later, in the afternoon, I was strimming the garden quite some distance from the hive and I heard a buzzing followed rather quickly by a sharp pain in my hand – one of the blighters had got me after all!

The bees obviously are not going to give us their honey without a fight but we remain determined. Next time we are using the smoke!

We also made a video for our English teaching site Unfortunately (perhaps) most of the more exciting moments were not captured on film and the section with me examining a frame is necessarily ‘artistic’ (and accidental) as by this stage Jackie, the camerawoman, had dropped the camera and retreated to the safety of the house.

To anyone who knows about bees there is also a glaring error in the narrative. The queen doesn’t lay the eggs in honey but in an empty cell. After it hatches, the other bees then feed the larva with royal jelly and pollen. The honey is put in cells purely as a store for the winter months.


Marching on…

Marching on…

Both January and February, despite being winter months, weren’t too bad and we were able to eat outside in the courtyard for lunch quite a few times (although a roaring fire was going come the evening). They both had, however, a week or so of almost non-stop rain. Now the weather forecast says the same is going to happen for March, our mantra is always it’s good for the garden! For the chickens it’s water off a duck’s back…

Two weeks ago the first lot of seedlings planted back in February were showing but already it’s time for the sprouts to go in the garden. I’ve already put in a few broad bean plants (although why I have no idea, I wrote in my gardening diary not to do them again at this time because of the aphids but I forgot to get them going in the autumn).

So seeds sown in the polytunnel recently: sweet corn, peas, french beans, courgette, buttercup squash and yet more toms. Seedlings already up are the sprouts (above, two weeks ago and today), cauliflower, watercress, leeks, melon, bell peppers, cauliflower, calabrese, runner beans, cucumber, artichoke, loads of different toms and a range of herbs. Seeds sown directly into the beds outside: parsnips, fennel, beetroot, different kinds of carrots and rainbow chard. Plus three kinds of potatoes have been planted too. I hate seeing the empty beds (next year I’ll do more autumn planting) but am really pleased so much is on the go now. The companion plants, marigolds and nasturtiums, are also doing well.

The last of the leeks were eaten last week, and we are on the cabbage now. Apart from some onions, parsley and celery there’s nothing to eat. We should be eating the purple sprouting broccoli but, although it’s almost my height, there’s nothing apart from leaves (below right). I know it can take a long time (started a year ago now) but we are getting very impatient, no wonder it’s expensive in the shops. It will be our first time to try it, hope it’s worth the wait.

And talking of waiting, many of the produce needs our patience. The asparagus is shooting up but we have to wait for the third year’s crop (luckily that’s next year), a year on the artichokes are at last showing signs of producing something (above left) but I’m not sure if we still have to wait before we eat those, and we can only take a little of the rhubarb too – fingers crossed on that one as there doesn’t seem to be any signs yet…

Meanwhile all the fruit trees are doing well and as soon as the rain stops there are three big projects for us, watch this space!



While Jackie was suffering with the wind and rain at Casa Azul, I was back in the UK where the uniform grey was cheered by snowdrops and the first signs of crocuses and daffodils. Here and now, however, the crocuses and daffodils are already on the way out to be replaced by tree blossoms. Already, one of our plum trees is in full bloom and is being quickly followed by the peach and even the apricot which we only planted last year.

plum tree in blossom
plum 2
peach blossom
apricot blossom
apricot blossom

As my sister visited us in September last year, she never realised we actually had grass in the garden (by then it was just a red dustbowl). So here’s a photo for her.