Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Queen Right Hives

If you look closely you should see the queen in the above photo. She is to the right of the photo with a red marking and a clipped wing. She is very long in comparison to a worker bee, and in my opinion, beautiful. 
This is the queen from the nuc that I bought in. She was already clipped and marked by the breeder. The red mark makes it much easier to spot her when going through the hives' many frames. The one clipped wing prevents her from flying. The theory is that if she decides to leave the hive with a swarm, she would fall to the ground beside the hive. She may climb back up into the hive or die. But the worker bees of the swarm would return to the original hive. A new queen would be reared and the strength/population of the hive would not be effected. I hope to mark and clip every queen next spring to prevent loss of honey production.

The apidea box failed as I had expected. They tore out the queen cell immediately, but a lesson learned and I will not be repeating that error twice!
I had removed the queen cell from a hive that had eggs present and I was not sure if the queen was present. It turns out that she was not present and I took their only hope of a queen replacement. I give them a fresh frame of brood from another hive and will check on them in a few days.

I reunited another two hives together with newspaper. One requeened well with good brood pattern and stores while the other did not. They have a better chance of survival through winter/spring if they are reunited into a very strong colony. I placed the brood box on top of each other with newspaper separating both boxes. It will take them a day to open a hole in the paper but by then the queen pheromones should be present in both boxes, allowing the bees to recognise each other as one hive under one queen. This hive can be seen in the photo above.

I removed the apiguard empty packets and placed feeders on each hive. The nuc has been moved into a full hive box. I do not wish to overwinter a nuc or any weak hives. I may unite the nuc to a stronger hive yet. 
I hope to go into winter with three strong hives and come out of spring with three strong hives. 
In the next few weeks I will close in the mesh floors and fit mouse guards. Until October, I will be feeding them heavily with sugar syrup, after that they will cluster and any feeding is too late.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Why I'm not frugal

Being frugal has been very popular for a few years now. 
While its traditional meaning comes from the term fruit, a living that is fruitful, the modern concept of frugality is based solely on the prudence of money.
In this post I refer to the choice of frugal living rather than the need.

For my family, I do not agree with living frugal. I feel that life, and its experiences and memories should be measured in values other than solely monetary.

I do not understand how a day can be measured by the amount spent or saved.  For me I take many factors into account when judging the prudence or thrift of a day, an activity or a future purchase.

I judge these on factors such as:

Time versus money 
The effect on family life
Health benefits
Relationship building 
Learning experiences
Making good memories

I then judge the balance of these factors against the quality of life it produces.

An example of this would be our plan to purchase expensive water sport equipment. A frugal person would disagree with this purely on a financial bases. But to us for an investment of money, we would gain health benefits and exercise, happy childhood memories for our children, the learning of new skills and closer family bonds. When the equipment has fulfilled its purpose, it can be resold.
Would this create an improvement in our quality of life? Yes!

Another example would be with food. If we were frugal, we could cut our food budget in half and still feed our family easily. It would have a negative impact on health, due to poorer food choices and provide us with less joy. Therefore we would never do this as it would decrease our quality of life.

I have met many people and read many blogs who have chosen frugal, very frugal ways with their food shopping. I am always worried about their choices as they rarely factor in their long term health. I am sure this can be done in a healthy way but I have yet to see it. Surely the side effect and treatment of diabetes or obesity are not frugal?

Somethings are just more important than money! 
I hope to die with an average bank account but with life well tasted! I guess everything is a manner of balance within the bigger picture. 

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Making an easy yeast bread

Bread is so easy to make and yet very few bake theirs. 
I have encouraged a few friends and neighbours recently to try it, who were pleasantly surprised at how easy and satisfying it can be.
We make bread everyday here, from brown soda bread, white yeast or ciabatta. 

Today I made a simple white yeast load tin bread. I do not use recipes for bread as I known the texture I want to get from the dough. 

All you need:
Strong white flour
Olive oil
Warm water

I pour a good amount of white flour in a mixing bowl. I then add a pinch of salt, a good spoon of our honey, a teaspoon of yeast and a small pour of olive oil. 
I then add warm water into the bowl and use my hands to mix the dough together.  I will add more flour or water depending on what it needs. I am looking for the dough to be similar to the photo above. 

I then empty the dough into the table and knead it for 5-10 mins until it begins to become elastic.
I then shape it for the loaf tin or into multiple smaller dough rolls as below.

Then leave the bread alone to rise for a few hours. Once risen put it in the oven for 30mins at 200*c.
Take out and allow to cool before enjoying!!

Monday, 19 August 2013

Saving Flower Seed

Many flowers have gone to seed in the garden. I am busy collecting flower heads for seed to save for next Spring.
I collect them in large volume so I can use them generously. This gives them an advantage over the weeds, as they are tightly grown. The weeds cannot compete well for space. 

I collect flower heads when they have dried out on the stem, but before the flower has a chance to broadcast their seed. 
I dry the seeds out further by placing them on a tray for a few days on top of the warm plate of the range. I add some rice into a bucket and then add the seed as they come ready. The rice helps absorb any moisture that might be there, so they don't spoil in storage. 

The small birds had gotten to this ripe sunflower head before me. I will leave maybe forty sunflower heads on the stems to feed the little birds.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Setting the bees up for winter

The Summer rush of beekeeping is winding down. Yesterday I did a thorough inspection. 

It is that time of year to take off any honey supers and put on feeders and mite treatment. I am using apiguard on all my hives. It is a sweet feed that the bees will work on and draw down into the frames therefore spreading the chemical treatment that is in it.
It is a foil pack that once opened is put on top of the frames, as you can see in the first photo.
We did not get any honey this year, although it was a good year weather wise. The bees put their effort into increasing the number of hives for next year.
I started the season with one hive after loosing two during the winter. I now have 4 full hives, 1 nuc hive and hopefully a virgin queen in an apidea box. I am very pleased with this!

I have three hives that are queen right and laying well. And two hives that have recently hatched virgin queens. I am watching these to ensure they mate and lay well to build up the bee numbers for winter.
I found a single capped queen cell yesterday in another hive that has a queen. I removed this carefully and put a scope of bees into the apidea box and pinned in the queen cell and added sugar syrup. I realise I made the error of adding the queen cell to quickly. I should have left the bees in the box for a day so they would except the queen cell. When I check it again tomorrow to open the entrance, I am expecting it to be torn out and the queen killed. 
I was hoping to rear a mated queen to have available, should I need one for a struggling hive.
I have two feeders on the new bought in hives, as they will need a lot of feeding before winter. I will put on mouse guards, feeders and closed floors by the end of the month on all hives.
They will need a lot of feeding up until October, before they cluster.
We will be buying our honey from the bee association this year :-(

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

August update

As the evenings are getting shorter and cooler, we are trying to make the most of the weather by getting out on the lake as much as possible.
I need to buy dry suits for the winter, so we can keep going out on the water. It is breathtakingly beautiful. 

When I was feeding the hens yesterday morning, I found a dead hen sitting in her nest. There is no sign of injury or disease and I can't remember what age she might be. She might have died from old age, but I can't be sure.

I can now add beans to the daily veg basket. I can't remember the varieties that I planted but they have done well in the tunnel and I am looking forward to reclaiming space in the there for winter seedlings. 
I have given the 'forest' in the tunnel a serious pruning. The air is moving more freely and light is filtering through.
I have far too many tomatoes plant which I might have to thin out. I am waiting for the sweet corn to fully ripen and to harvest the rest of the beans. 

I am very late with winter planting in the tunnel but I have the door beds planted with beetroot, turnips, kale, winter greens and cabbages. 
The onions are not dry yet as it is raining too much. I will need to move them into the shed to help dry them out fully before storing them. 

As you can see, the courgettes are still produces well. I am almost sick of courgettes now. I have another batch of soup to make from this lot.
They may look small in the photo, but they are massive!
And there is twice as many in the tunnel that need harvesting again tomorrow. And another batch of soup tomorrow !

We are going cow shopping later this week. To a farm about an hour away that milk 120 jersey and jersey x holstein.
We will have our pick of heifers and cows to choose from to replace MamaMoo.

I will be sorry to see her gone, but pleased to have a younger fresher cow in her place.
MamMo is drying herself off now and is only producing 4-5litres a day now. And is empty and infertile. She will be brought to the factory at some point this month.

The pigs are doing well and putting on great weight. We expect them to make butcher weight by the end of September.  They will be replaced by another batch of weaners as soon as they go.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Courgette Soup

I am harvesting courgettes everyday now. I planted far too many courgette plants as two are really enough for the hungriest families.
I have been giving them away to neighbours and using them in cooking everyday. 
But I still have far too many!

So for the last three days I have been making 5 litres of courgettes soup each day for the freezer. 
God bless deep freezers, they really are so important to the smallholder. 

I will be glad of these soup when we are well into winter.
It is very quick and easy and costs me nothing as it is 100% home produced except the salt. 

I collect 2-3 large onions from the roof of the pig house and a few cloves of garlic. 

Once cleaned and cut, I sweat these in butter on the hob and then add 2-3 large diced courgettes and some chicken stock.
Simmer for a while and then use a handheld blender to get a smooth texture. 
Allow to cool and then box, label and freeze.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Thrifty Housekeeping - Stocking up the larder

The key for our household when grocery shopping and stocking up the larder is keeping hubby away from the task!

He has a super sweet tooth and doesn't do shopping lists or budgets.
We spent on average €60 a week when doing our grocery shopping. This would usually be dividend equally between food and household products such as toilet paper, nappies and detergent.

I have narrowed my larder essentials down to three items; strong flour, sugar and oatmeal. 
From the flour, it is the bases for bread, pancakes, pasta, pastry, pizza, buns and bases for soups and sauces.
From the sugar, it is the bases for jams, chutneys and home brew. 
From the oatmeal, it is our breakfast staple of porridge. 

We do purchases of course a large variety of other products but never dairy or meat in a supermarket. 

As we produce so much fresh food, it is very important that we can store it for again. The deep freeze is very important to us for this, as well as bottling jams and chutneys.

I do think the biggest change needed is a change of attitude towards food. We did at one time, decide what we fancied to eat and then buy it, cook it or both.

Now we ( mainly me! ) go for a walk in the garden, count the eggs brought in that day, check out the meat in the freezer and have a look at the larder. Then we know we have the ingredient for x number of different meal choices and we decide on one then.
At the moment, it's any meal that uses plenty of courgettes, tomatoes and new potatoes.

We could get the grocery costs down much lower, but again we are not frugal!
We like to treat ourselves, eat out occasionally, have cheat nights every now and again and most importantly eat healthy proteins and fats instead of cheap carbohydrates.
Another factor to be considered is that we send about €10 a week on rolled oats for the animals. Which is a food cost, as it helps produce the eggs, milk and bacon.

In summary, we feed two adults and three children for about €40 a week plus another €30 on household products, due to a considerable investment of our time.

I find everything boils down to choosing between time or money.
You can sell your time for a wage but then have no time to be more self reliant and therefore you would need to spend your wage.
If only we could have time and money!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Thrifty Housekeeping - Heating

It is amazing how quickly attitudes changed. It was only three years ago when we started renovation work on the cottage. The workmen were horrified that    we wanted solid fuel and not oil or gas as our only heat source.
They assured us that we would regret it. It was inconvenient and old fashioned but we know that oil prices were going to keep rising, which in time would make solid fuel more attractive and popular again. We were correct.

The thing I love about solid fuel is the choice. We have the choice to burn so many different fuels, from turf, coal or timber. We can buy in small quantities or large. Produce our own or buy in.
When you burn oil, your only choice is oil.

In our cottage we have a stanley range in the kitchen. This heats the water and eight radiators. It will easily cook the dinner or boil the kettle or even bake the bread.
It uses a bag of turf a day during the milder months. It would be lit from afternoon onwards. 
During the couple of colder months, it uses two bags a day. It is lit first thing in the morning and the firebox filled up before bed. It would still be hot in the morning. With the embers still glowing, it is just a matter of adding a few more sods of turf and emptying the ash box.

It produces a very warm kitchen and we usually leave the doors open so the heat travels throughout the cottage. Sometimes I wonder if we needed the radiators at all! 

We have an open fire in our sitting room. We will put in a non-boiler stove during the winter to improve efficiency. We only use this when it is very cold to boost the heating. 
We are plumbed for hot water solar panels. But we have yet to have the panels installed. At the moment our hot water is heated by emersion during the summer but hopefully this will change soon. The panels will boost the cylinder temperatures during the winter meaning that the stanley range will not need to work so hard.

A plot of turf bog came with the cottage. It is located about six miles away. It gets cut by machine in May usually, depending on weather.
We then turn, foot and bag the turf to bring home. It is then dry and burns well. 
We also fell twenty mature trees a few years ago that we still have not cut and stacked yet. As I said before, hubby has a very long to do list.
We usually buy kindling to start the fire and a few bags of coal as it burns hotter during Dec/Jan when it is very cold.

Our heating costs for the year are a few hundred euro. To pay the machine cutter, some coal and kindling. 
And a few hot evenings spent in the bog turning turf to dry it before bringing it home. 

Monday, 5 August 2013


When bringing in the cow this evening for milking, I noticed some field mushrooms near the gate.
I was delighted! It brought back fond childhood memories of collecting mushrooms with my late dad in the autumn. We would walk to the back fields of the farm amongst the sheep and easily fill the bucket. They were very plentiful, before the use of artificial fertiliser and have since become scarce.

We would then bring them home and without washing them, place them upside down on the hot plate of the turf fuelled range and sprinkle them with salt. As they cooked they filled with yummy juices. 
They were so delicious!

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Thrifty Housekeeping - Intro

I hope to start a series about thrifty housekeeping. 
And just to be clear, I don't blog about being frugal nor do we live a frugal life. Our motives are not financial. Other than having greater financial freedoms, our motives are more family, lifestyle and health based.

So anything I will write about will take into consideration cost, but not before considering the balance of nutrition and family life.
 I read many frugal food blogs, while many of these are wonderful and thoughtful, I find that many choose food cost over any nutritional consideration. 
How can food be considered separate from the nutrition it provides?

I feel that this is false economy. What you save now, you will pay later with you or your families health. 

I will start a series covering how we here run our cottage and smallholding. Covering points from:

Heating our cottage
How I stock the larder
Menu planning
Up cycling furniture 
Feeding our animals
Managing on one income

While our little home runs on very little, it is not perfect. My list of DIY jobs for hubby to do is endless! But he is working his way through it. 
We have at times the dreaded 'laundry mountain' that can hung around for weeks growing until I finally tackle it.
Every surface inside of the cottage is full of sticky little handprint that reappear quicker than I can clean them. And the boys haven't yet learnt how to aim for inside the toilet bowl.

I guess homes are never perfect, as they are in constant motion. All we can do is make good memories!

Friday, 2 August 2013

The broad bean harvest

It is that time of year again. The veg garden needs lots of attention and I lack the time!
I have harvested the onions and garlic, which are currently drying out before I store them. I got around to clearing out the outdoor planted broad beans. 

The stalks were fed to the pigs, all veg waste gets thrown into their sty much to their delight. 

I spent the next 2-3 hours podding beans in front of the tv, so it wasn't all bad!
I now have over a dozen bags of broad beans in the freezer and more saved for seed. 
But the polytunnel looks like thick jungle and I am behind with winter planting.  

So I feel the pressure. I keep having a dream where all the bees swarm!!
I haven't been able to inspect the hives this week due to heavy wind and rain and I worry that they might swarm if there is a short break in the weather. The weather is forecast to improve tomorrow so I will be checking them first thing.
The wind has damaged many of the sunflowers growing in the orchard. 

On the positive, the grass is growing well due to the damp warmth. And the chickens are enjoying dining on worms that have had to surface due to high soil moisture. Easy pickings!

I save as much flower seed as possible. I collect dried seed heads from the garden and store them. We have many varieties saved and I keep them in my 'mixed wildflowers' jars. 
When we turn or clear soil we alway sprinkle in the seed mix. It produces such beautiful arrays of colour throughout the seasons. As we buy more plants and flowers each year, our varieties increase. These mixes are very expensive to purchase in stores, this way we can be very generous with the seeds without the guilt over the cost. 

Mama moo is doing great. Ever reliable!
We are not sure if she took the last Ai straw but we are not in a rush to purchase a new cow as yet. She is still producing well and she is such a pleasure to milk. The nicest, quietest cow and I would be delighted to find out that she is pregnant. Otherwise her future with us will be short. 
We only have space for one cow and she must pay her way!

Lots of green lush grass...