Thursday, 14 March 2013

More lambs

Three more Ouessant lambs were born outdoors in the snow this morning. They are incredibly hardy creatures! I managed to persuade all three mothers to go into a pen near the house so I can watch over the babies for the first few days. Once they have had their first drink from mother, they never seem to look back. By three days old, they can run as fast as the rest of the flock so the danger from foxes is reduced.

Less than an hour old and already capable of trotting along behind its mother.

That important first drink. This little female lamb takes some colostrum from its mother a few minutes after coming into a rather cold world.

This morning's three new arrivals, - two males and a female.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Fooled you!

When I last posted something to this blog, I made a remark about taking two steps forward and one back. Well, I was wrong. We had ten days of freezing north east winds with wind chill down to -11°C (12°F) which just put everything into suspended animation. There was no sight of the sun and nothing advanced at all. I have a friend who is an organic market gardener and he went away for a week during this time. When he came back, none of his plants, even those inside his polytunnels, had grown in the slightest.

We finally had a couple of nice days over the weekend and we even had lunch out of doors on Saturday when it was sunny and warm. But all that was just to fool us!

Monday the 11th of March, ten days away from the official start of spring, it snowed. Tuesday it snowed all day and this region was put on a red alert. Hundreds of vehicles were abandoned on the roads, whole villages had their electricity cut as cables fell and in the middle of all this, our ewes started to produce their lambs.

I was up in a blizzard at 5.30 on Monday morning checking on a new arrival and then yesterday another one was born in the snow. The poor little thing was shivering so I picked it up and carried it under my coat while I tried to persuade its mother to move into a spare stable. She would not OBEY so eventually I had to catch her with a flying rugby tackle and carry her bodily to shelter. Mum and baby are doing well.

These are Ouessant sheep, a small breed from an island off Brittany. They are incredibly hardy and need very little help which is a good thing since I am not a shepherd! With all this snow on the ground though, I am having to feed them some hay because they just can’t find the grass underneath.
There is a flock of twenty ewes at the Manoir and they all lamb at about the same time so the dawn patrols won’t be needed for too long.

A clump of bamboo which collapsed under the weight of yesterday's snow

Hazel catkins which will still be providing pollen for the bees once they can get out again.

I will show this view at regular intervals throughout the year to show the changes which occur as the seasons progress. I must admit, I did not expect to be showing deep snow in mid-March!

I am careful to leave the snow which is blocking the hive entrances since any bees that ventured out in this cold would almost certainly die. They get fooled by the brightness of the sun shining on the snow into thinking that it is a good flying day.

Isn't that pretty? The sun was only out for a few minutes this morning but I managed to take some pictures before it disappeared again.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

What a great time of year

Here we are, still in February but everything seems to be waking up already. Yesterday, even though there was a chilly start to the day, the birds round us treated us to a good attempt at a dawn chorus. The sparrows that nest in the holes in our gable wall were squabbling and chattering and the blackbirds look really busy everywhere.

The thermometer climbed to a dizzy 9°C yesterday afternoon and with a completely clear blue sky, you could be forgiven for thinking that spring had arrived. Officially, we have to wait another four weeks for that.

I noticed that the flower buds on the three peach trees in the orchard are beginning to swell. I have already given them a precautionary treatment against peach leaf curl. It was really bad in last year’s humid conditions and it was only Bordeaux mixture which finally seemed to do the trick.

The bees were extraordinarily active yesterday afternoon. All the queens are now in lay and whenever there is a chance, the field bees get outside in order to gather pollen, a little nectar where they can find it and of course, water. Most of the pollen coming in at the moment is from the Hazel catkins and bright yellow but some of the bees were coming back with pinky orange pollen in their baskets. Perhaps from Alder catkins or perhaps from Snowdrops?

I watched some bees working amongst the Celandine flowers which have opened along a sunny bank under the woods. Here they seemed to be collecting nectar rather than pollen as they were going from flower to flower without stopping to pack anything into their baskets.

The first dandelions have started to open and together with the daisies, Celandine, Snowdrops, Crocus, Primroses, Viburnum Tinus and Gorse which are all in flower at the moment, the bees have a pretty good selection to choose from. So far, amongst the trees it is only the Hazels and Alders which are providing anything useful in terms of the quantity of pollen the hives need for their spring build-up but the Willows are just beginning to bud.

We are expecting a few cold days now with a wind from the north-east so I should think that things will slow down for a while. Two steps forward, one step back!

These two field bees are bringing in pollen from different sources, - the yellow from Hazel catkins and the orange probably from Alder. The bee nearer to the camera is possibly older than the other since she has less "fur" on her thorax and abdomen.

 Like a flight of bomber aircraft coming in to land, three Caucasian bees bring in a good load of Hazel pollen during the afternoon of February 19th.

This bee is collecting some nectar from a Celandine flower. There are no big nectar flows in this region until the Dandelions flower from March onwards.

The Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, will not really be in full bloom until some time in March but there are already a few flowers around.

There probably is no month of the year when the Daisy, Bellis perennis is not in bloom. Even after the most severe frosts or when there is snow on the ground, they just keep on flowering.

An old favourite, Virburnum tinus, an evergreen which comes into flower here at the end of winter and keeps going until the early summer. Quite a number of insects like visiting the flowers.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

A bit more snow

It snowed for a while again yesterday but the ground wasn't cold enough to make it stick for long. Now it is just very wet and dark and a good time to be somewhere warmer.

Despite all that, spring is trying to happen all round the garden. Still no daffodils open but their buds are yellow and it will only take a few sunny days to get them going. I saw buds opening on some of the willow trees yesterday which is good news for the bees. The willow catkins are probably the most important source of pollen for their early spring population build-up so I hope the weather is a bit kinder soon.

The primroses and snowdrops are still going strong even if the primroses are looking a bit battered from having been covered with snow for a while.

These primroses are growing on a very steep North-facing bank which never gets any direct sunlight. Despite that, they are increasing in number each year especially since we cleared the bank of brambles and other scrub.

Snowdrops naturalised on a ditch bank where they seem to do really well. Their red/orange pollen will be gathered by the bees if the weather is warm enough.

Thousands of snowdrops along the bank of this ditch which takes surplus water away from the stream before it reaches the lake inlet. One day I am sure that all this will collapse and the old lime trees will topple in to the ditch.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Well, that bit of winter didn't last long.

Well that bit of winter didn’t last long.

All the snow has melted and we have had a week of showery, mild weather with temperatures up to 14°C. The bees think it’s spring and at least one of the queens has started laying again. Her workers were bringing in masses of Hazel pollen on Tuesday, - a sure sign that they were feeding new larvae.

Hazel is not the best in terms of protein content but at this time of the year it is pretty much the only pollen available in bulk and it helps the bees start their population build-up as they try to get ready for the first big nectar flows later in the spring. They will still be using their honey reserves for quite a while yet and might need feeding if these start running low.

Hazel catkins start appearing after Christmas and some trees will still be in flower in March.

The bee crossing on to the hive floor from the landing board is carrying Hazel pollen on her legs 

It looks like the first Daffodils will be out within a week or so and already there are quite a few other flowers out such as Snowdrops, Winter Aconite, Primroses and Hellebores.

The Winter Aconite, Eranthis hyemalis