Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Springwatch is boring

As a rule, I’m not a risk taker. Ok, so I’ve jumped out of a plane a couple of times, jacked in good job & thrown away a great income, and taken up beekeeping even though I’m afraid of buzzy, flying, stingy things. But as a rule, I’m not a risk taker. It goes hand in hand with being a pessimist.

So as soon as I heard that Wales was suffering it’s driest start to the year since the “severe drought” of 1976 (I must have slept through that, or been too busy discovering the joys of Fisher Price to notice), I flipped into obsessive compulsive water conservation mode. No water can be wasted – if I’m waiting for the shower water to warm up I place a washing up bowl in the shower, the potato washing water goes on the roses, the egg water goes on the herbs, and mud from pig snout snuffling of my legs at feeding time is washed off in the stream.

Two new water butts, bought on the cheap from Ceredigion County Council, now form our new water catchment system to harvest rainwater from Cwt Mochyn’s roof. Best of all is Dave’s patented, hi-tech, stream water siphoning system.


Watering the polytunnel, vet plot and fruit patch now involves multiple trips to and fro with laden watering cans, but it’s good exercise with added weightlifting. I reckon I’ll be in top form and ready to represent my country come the 2012 Olympics.

In an abundance of caution, we’ve decided to get a borehole drilled as a back up to the spring. Hayden, the water diviner, came today to test the site for a source of water. He wandered around, Dave in tow, waving his hazel sticks. When the sticks hit upon a potential drilling spot his sticks jerked about “as though he was wrestling a boa constrictor”, or at least that’s how Dave described it. Obviously Dave had to have “a go” with the sticks. He felt a gentle jerking but nothing special. Obviously water divining boa constrictor style requires more skill and practice than 30 seconds of random twig waving. The good news is that Hayden’s success with the sticks means that we get the thumbs up and boring can begin.

Meanwhile, the latest news from Beewatch is that the drowning was not fatal. The bees are flying. I found the queen bee today, and even spotted some larvae, small and white and glistening, curled up at the bottom of the cells. Those should be sealed up by the workers within a few days and before too long a fresh batch of worker bees will hatch.


From left to right, that’s Betty, Belinda, Becky ….. Don’t worry, I’m not really so mad as to name all my bees. I do feel strangely maternal about them though. My distress at the drowning incident was quite genuine, especially since my motivation in starting beekeeping was to do my bit for this beleaguered species. In my relief at finding the queen alive and well I almost forgot to be scared!

Sunday, 27 June 2010


So who came up with the idea for me to become a beekeeper? What was that person thinking? Crazy fool!

Day one as a beekeeper started well. We arrived at Mr Bee’s home, chatted about solar power and boreholes over a coffee (as you do), got suited up (I caught my hair in the hood zip & Dave had to rip a chunk off to free me – I’m such a natural) and then headed over to the hives. Lovely docile bees. I was calm as you like during hive inspection and the separation of my nucleus into their travelling box.

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The journey home, which I’d been dreading, was completely uneventful. No escapee bees. In fact they were so quiet that I was sure all had expired from over heating, despite us driving home with all windows down. It started to go wrong when I was left alone. What little knowledge I’d acquired from bee school evaporated the moment the lid of the box was open and I was greeted by the sound of hundreds of bee vuvuzelas.


I knew I had to double check that the queen was on a frame and safely in the hive. But could I find her? Could I heck. Even the big blob of Tippex on her back didn’t help. I could feel the first waves of panic. Keep calm, keep calm, just get the bees in the hive, it’ll be fine. Vuvuzelas get louder. Smoker dies. Keeping cats is so much easier. So queen or no queen, the bees are bundled into the hive. Now time to feed them sugar syrup. Up end feed bucket over hive. No one told me that you need to wait for the vacuum to form before you up end the bucket. Out runs sugary water and bees are washed away in a sugar syrup tsunami. I just hope the queen isn’t now encased in a crispy caramel coat like a toffee apple with a sting or its back to Mr Bee with another fat wad of cash.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Growing, eating and the green eyed monster

I love it when summer comes along and the cucumber, courgette and beetroot gluts begin. To pickle or to roast, that is the question. I’m only just tucking into last season’s sweet pickled beetroot and already I’m making plans for this season purple beauties. My new find is beetroot hummus – easy to make and even easier to eat.

Last year we were drowning in a sea of lettuce as I failed to follow the successional sowing principle. This year I’m successional sowing. And we’re still drowning in lettuce! The difference now though is that the compost heap has competition for the wastage in the form of four hungry piggies.

This week we paid a visit to Blaencamel organic farm, down the road from us. It was there that I met the green eyed monster. Row upon row upon row of fantastic tomato plants twining up to the polytunnel roof, a forest of courgette plants in a mist of humidity, sweetcorn that grows taller than 6 inches, and piles of swollen garlic bulbs. Ok so they’ve had 30 years practice compared to my meagre 2 years of experience, but I can still be jealous. Their secret is perfect manure. My secret is 2 parts hope mixed with 1 part pessimism. No wonder Blaencamel is doing so much better than me! 

In times of doubt I turn to pickles and preserves. Out comes the maslin, in goes the fruit, out comes scrummy citrus marmalade and jewel red strawberry & gooseberry jelly. Joy in a jar!


Friday, 25 June 2010

Fit as a butchers dog…

Well I know we have only just taken delivery of our first weaners, and Phil has given them all cute names, but we had to go and see the butcher we are planning to use to turn our carcasses into yummy pork! Rob and Carol have been providing this service to farmers for 20 years, and as luck would have it, they happen to live round the corner from us.

We have already taken orders for six half pigs, so we wanted to see what people would get for this, and Rob invited us up to see him butcher a whole pig.


Each half of pig will give around 16 pork chops, 24 slices of belly pork, a sheet of ribs, 10 different types of joint, scored, boned and rolled, fillet, 1 kidney, 2 trotters, cheeks and 2kg of sausages.

He also produces his own dried cured bacon, and hams. Whilst we are going to make a lot of our own sausages and hams, in order to sell to jo public, we would need a whole separate processing room to comply with Meat Hygene  regulations.


This picture is of Carol packing individual joints of half a pig……..Mmmmm


Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Trinny goes on a road trip

Trinny is sick. Trinny needs to go to tractor hospital. So today she went on a road trip. It was her first time on the public highway, using gears that she never knew she had.

I followed behind in the car just in case she couldn’t go the distance, keeping my hazards flashing as car, after car, after van, after van, overtook us. Surprisingly there were no horn blasts or rude gestures. Everyone in Wales is used to encountering tractors on a highway, both with and without stinky trailer dribbling animal wee onto the road.

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I chuntered along, bringing up the rear and never getting out of 2nd gear, sometimes simply coasting along in neutral and still catching her up. Unfortunately for Dave, a long journey on Trinny’s bouncy seat with minimal padding and dodgy suspension is not good for the back.

On our arrival at tractor hospital, Trinny met some fellow sick and aging tractors – she drew nose to nose with her own kind and I had a Thomas the Tank Engine moment. Trinny was handed over into the care of John Pickering, a man with a very English sounding name but a very Welsh sounding voice, and an ability to converse at length about shafts and oiling without so much as a smirk.


Fingers crossed that it’s not terminal and that John the tractor surgeon is a damn sight cheaper than Colette the vet.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Here come the girls!

The girls now seriously outnumber the boys at Banceithin. Girls 10 Boys 3. And that’s before the queen bee and her thousands of female worker bees have arrived!

Our Oxford Sandy & Black weaners arrived from Kidwelly at 9 o’clock this morning. If the early morning “look at me, I’m laying” squawks of the chickens didn’t wake our guests in Hen Ffermdy, then the “oh my gawd, what the hell’s happening to me” squeals of the piglets would surely have done the job. Like little children, the piglets had nodded off in the back of the van during the journey, but being grabbed by the leg, jabbed in the neck with a needle, and dumped into a strange wooden ark, was an awakening of the rudest kind. A few minutes later, exhausted by this experience, all four fell fast asleep.


An hour later, the sleepy heads emerged into the sunlight. One was rather reluctant and stayed in bed while the others started rootling around the ark. This earned her the name Harriet, after a certain teenager who came to stay in Cwt Mochyn at Banceithin.


Next up is Alice. She’s more ginger than all the rest, and was the first to venture away from the ark.


And then we have Ally (blonde face, white bottom) and Davina (black patch on each eye & a half white bottom), who were so busy grunting and rootling for food by the ark that they failed to notice that Alice and Harriet had left them.


Now all four of them are rootling and grunting contentedly. In fact I’ve hardly seen their little faces yet as it’s been snout down since they arrived. From left to right, in the picture below, we have Davina, Harriet, Ally and Alice.


So far they’ve stuck together, following the fence line around their run, which has so far withstood the pressure of four wriggly piglet bodies wedged up against it. Eventually this system led them to their water trough. Alice promptly climbed in for a bath, filling the trough, displacing most of the water and leaving nothing but dregs of dirty bath water for her sisters to drink. The sun is shining again today, so I’m off to Lampeter to buy some sun-cream for my new piggy girlfriends – afterall, it’s never too early for a girl to start looking after her skin!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Spring Watch, Welsh Style – Part 2

Thanks to our very own nest box camera (also known as Cole-cam), we can bring you pictures of our resident barn owl chicks.


Mum is a real beauty. We think that the fluffy white cotton wool bundle is 3, or maybe even 4, chicks. I wanted to call them owlets, but apparently that’s not the correct term. Their desirable residence has a minimalist, rustic look. Some might say it’s a bit “boxy”. Why spend money on a fancy owl box with porch when a few bits of old plywood nailed together and propped up against a shed wall will do just as well. The shed itself is in desperate need of a clear out (and an owl poop clean up), but to minimise disturbance we’re putting off the job until the chicks have fledged, which will be at least another 4 weeks. What a shame.


Our first beehive is now installed. It’s a second-hand national beehive standing on second-hand, not pretty but practical, brieze blocks.


We’ve set it up at the edge of the field where the orchard and fruit patch are in the hope of getting some good pollination action. Although there’ll be no such action until the hive is home to a colony. At the moment my brood chamber frames have wax foundation only and are in need of some bees.


The Mr Bee of Wales has promised me a nucleus – five frames of wax with queen bee, brood (that’s bee larvae in its various stages) and a thousand or so worker bees. All being well by end of July I’ll have a full colony of 40,000 bees! That’s a whole lot of buzzing and a sack load of sting venom.

I’ve been busy with my bee book reading and last week attended my first bee school practical class. I surprised myself with my calmness as I approached Ron’s very active hive, trying to dodge the bees coming and going along their flight lines. As he opened the hive I stood as still as possible, holding my breath, as though hoping the bees wouldn’t spot me standing there in a baggy white suit big enough for two. Oh my goodness, so many bees, crawling everywhere, buzzing, buzzing, buzzing. The longer the hive was kept open for all us learner beekeepers to have a good rummage, the louder and more insistent became the buzzing. Fair enough really. I think I’d be a bit narked if someone took the roof off my home and started moving the furniture around willy nilly. Up until now, all I knew about bees I learned from the film “Swarm”, but after 2 hours with Ron I could find a queen, a drone and a worker in a colony, identify a queen cell, and spot larvae in honeycomb. Obviously the moment I’m on my own with my own colony all hell will break loose and I’ll be running across the field, arms flapping, with a swarm of angry bees after my blood!

Friday, 11 June 2010

Not Morecombe or Sykes

Meet Eric. He’s an asylum seeker from Easter Island, persecuted in his homeland for being too pale, too small and made of wood.


Meet Eric’s mushroom friends.

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We decided that the quarry look needed softening. A chap in a lay-by was selling his carvings, so we did a bulk buy deal and drove off with a car full of wood.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Spring Watch, Welsh Style

So I am sure lots of you have been watching Spring Watch at the moment, and it has inspired me to get out there and try again to get a picture of our resident Barn Owl. During the development of the cottages we noticed a barn owl continually flying around, so in order to provide a new home, I erected two owl boxes. One I purchased at great expense and was located high up a near by sycamore tree. The other I fashioned at no cost by nailing together a load of old plywood I had lying around, and put it up in our large green shed. When we reached the stage of closing the cottages up, we waited with baited breath to see if the owl would migrate to one of it’s new homes. One night I was watching the chickens who are situated under the posh box (I know, with hindsight, maybe placing a bird of prey house above the chicken run was a bit daft, but the chickens are a bit too big I think for most Barn Owls!), when I heard a rustle in the branches, and the tell tale screech, and a beautiful owl flew out. Then to my surprise a second owl came out…..We had a breeding pair. I spent a few nights after that trying to photograph them, but the shy beasts seem to know when my camera reached it’s limit for available light before venturing out.

Over the last two months I had noticed an ever increasing amount of guano being splattered around the base of my home made box in the barn, accompanied with a lot of noise in the day. When the family von Cole where up last week we finally got the evidence that this box held the mother of 3/4 ugly balls of fluff! We have chicks. So back to Spring Watch, tonight I decided to try again with the photography. As it is very light in the evening I hoped for better success, and after only 15 minutes waiting with Charlie overlooking the grassland, she flew right over my shoulder hunting for dinner for her noisy little fluff balls.



Chris Packham has nothing on me……… (apart from being a very knowledgeable naturalist and professional photographer!)

Monday, 7 June 2010

That was the week that was

The first week of Banceithin Farm and Holiday Cottages being officially “open for business” is now over and all is quiet, the sun has passed and the rain has started. If every week in the life of our business is the same as the first, my crystal ball tells me we’re in for a most pleasant time. Although if I were to drink as much alcohol in every week as I did in the first week, it’s unlikely that I would live to see many weeks. In my defence, it’s not every week that I get to celebrate the launch of a new venture.

We were blessed with beautiful weather, fantastic guests and an abundance of fun. The week can best be described as:

- an episode of “Baywatch” (a hot sun, sand in the sun cream, Dave tip-toeing tentatively into the Atlantic waters and Jules “bird watching” on the beach)

……… sandwiched between

- an episode of Springwatch (Jules’ owl-cam capturing three fluffy, white, wide-eyed chicks living in our shed, spotting the cuckoo for the first time and me chasing naughty Nessa with a redstart chick in her mouth)

- and an episode of Countryfile (team effort learning the traditional rural skill of upside-down wobbly pig fencing with wonky posts)

……….. garnished with

- an episode of Top Gear (truck bunny hopping as Alice & Harriet weave around the orchard at the wheel of the truck)

- an episode of Casualty (I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say there was blood involved and it wasn’t mine)

- and an episode of the Sky at Night (star gazing as Terry’s Chinese lanterns drifted into the night sky, last seen heading for the coast).

All in all, a week to remember.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Many hands make light work

You go on holiday. It’s a glorious day. What do you do? Go to the beach? Go for a ramble in the Cambrians? Erect some pig fencing?

Blog readers will know that Dave is not averse to roping in guests to lend a hand on some project or other. True to form, week one at Banceithin Farm and Holiday Cottages and the troops rallied round for a team fence building afternoon.


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Terry was on fence post knocker in duty and the entire family von Cole pitched in with hammers, wire cutters and strimmer. The farm has never witnessed so much industry and glamour (that’s the Cole girls not Dave) all at the same time! I reckon two more weeks of bookings and we’ll have the entire farm fenced off, a weed free veg plot and maybe get the front of the house painted.

Meanwhile there’s been a dip in egg production. The girls have got such a taste for freedom that the moment the gate is open, in a flash of feathers, they’re out and running. We’ve had to incarcerate them for two days in a row to find out if egg laying has stopped or if, as we suspect is the case, two of the girls have found themselves an alternative nest box somewhere in the long grass. Dave squidged Hera in the gate trying to keep her in – instant scrambled egg!