We finish 2011 with some sad news – our bees have buggered off. Or, to put it technically, absconded.

When winter started they were very quiet as expected but some of them were still out and about foraging as normal. We were very lucky as there was plenty of food available as our rosemary bushes were still in flower as was a large eucalyptus tree in the next field to us. Then yesterday they seemed to be very active, chewing up their wax and dropping a lot of it just outside the hive. This morning I checked again and all the bees had disappeared!

Every one had gone leaving behind a healthy-looking hive with plenty of honey and pollen stores. After a bit of web research it’s still not clear what has happened. The presence of wax outside the hive and some telltale signs inside the hive, indicate robber bees – i.e. bees from other hives stealing the honey. But I think they are just opportunistic, stealing the stores after my bees had already skipped off. So I think the bees I saw yesterday were not mine but these new scavengers. Mine had already gone, maybe some time before.

healthy looking comb - a ring of pollen stores and some honey in the corners

Apparently absconding is rare but it does happen – the strange thing is, it is usually a result of some kind of disturbance or when there is a lack of food – neither of which has happened here. I have to say I’m absolutely devastated.

I won’t be defeated though, it’s just back to the drawing board. In the new year I’ll ask around and see if I can find out what has happened and get some more bees. Every cloud has a silver lining however, as there is a fair amount of honey in the hive I can harvest and I can render down some wax to see if we can make a candle or two.

In better news, in the winter sunshine, which we’ve had plenty of, we managed to spend some quality time enjoying the garden and doing some bird watching. What started it off was a rare sighting of a great spotted woodpecker on the walnut tree. It stayed for ages which was great. Then we started to notice loads of other birds. In all in about an hour we saw 14 species: blue tit, great tit, meadow pipit, thrush, goldfinch, greenfinch, chaffinch, sparrow, robin, blackbird, black redstart, pied wagtail and serin. And that’s not including a buzzard which we saw the day before soaring high above the garden as well as long tail tits which often fly through the olive trees in small family groups. No pictures here but they are all on our bird page

I’ve also been busy in the kitchen. I used up some spare tiles to line the kitchen shelves. I have to say it makes cleaning them much easier and looks a lot better too.

tiling the shelves

Of course Jackie has been busy in the garden as ever and here she is doing some weeding ably assisted by the hairy one.

As you can see the veg patch continues to feed us over the colder months and although we’ve pulled the last of the (delicious) turnips up we still have swede, chard (partly grown for its amazing colour), beetroot, leeks and some sprouts on the go. Soon some calabrese will be ready and with luck, some peas. Jersey new potatoes were planted yesterday and Jackie’s also busy planning next year’s crop hoping for an even bigger harvest. The almost daily sunshine this month has meant lunch outdoors but with only a few days rain we’re hoping January will be wetter to water the newly planted trees (shade for the hens) and fill the well but the weather forecast is sun for the next 10 days (we’re only slightly complaining!).

We mustn’t forget the hens who laid a total of 1064 eggs this year and gave us wonderful eggs benedict on Christmas day.

Meanwhile the oranges are growing bigger than ever and we’re both looking forward to new projects we’re planning for 2012 – come and visit and see for yourselves!

So here’s to a Happy New Year to our friends and readers and hope it’s a good, productive and peaceful one!

Feliz ano novo!

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