bee on comfrey

Today’s Treasures – Bees

Today’s Treasures – Bees

bee on comfrey

Some interesting facts about bees:

  • There are over 25,000 species of bees.
  • Honeybees live in a colony, but many bees are solitary and nest alone – but often near to other bees.
  • Most bees live for about 6 weeks, but some bees live for years.
  • In one day, a foraging honeybee can visit up to 2000 flowers.
  • It takes around 12,000 bee hours to make a 1.5 kg jar of honey.

beehive

Male bees do not sting, and their job is to mate with the queen.  The worker honeybees are female and do sting – but only when it’s really necessary as they are damaged in the process and die afterwards.

Turning nectar into honey is a two-stage process involving chemically changing the sugars in the nectar from complex to simple sugars and reducing the water content. When complete, the honeybees seal the honeycomb with a white wax cap. This keeps the honey fresh in a natural airtight container for the winter.

If natural, raw, unfiltered honey is stored properly in sealed containers it can last virtually forever – the bees’ honey-making process combined with the high sugar content and low pH prevent organisms from damaging it.

beekeeper

Bees love my herb garden, sage and thyme, lavender and chives – and, later in the year, hyssop, rosemary and marjoram – and they love the wild flowers – especially comfrey and foxgloves.  I’ve spent many relaxing hours watching them popping into foxglove bells and cleaning the pollen off the fairy shoes – as Enid Blyton so elegantly described the stamens.

Wild flowers are generally much better for bees – cultivated forms are often hybrids propagated by cuttings and they have evolved without need for pollinators so most produce little nectar or pollen.  So, plant old-fashioned varieties of hellebore, salvia, rudbeckia, cosmos, sedum and verbena – and snowdrop and crocus for early spring when there are very few flowers – they provide a much-needed source of pollen for our bees.

Some businesses have planted wild flowers around their car parks and installed beehives – like Midcounties Co-operative – who now have a head beekeeper, Lee Franklin, at their head office in Warwick.

www.midcounties.coop

Published in the July edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Poetry

Today’s Treasures – Poetry

Poetry can be sad, beautiful, meaningful, moving, romantic, inspirational, thought-provoking or funny – and sometimes all of these.  Springtime has inspired many beautiful poems:

Wordsworth wrote about the daffodils:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

daffodils

Cicely Mary Barker painted the Apple Blossom Fairy in words and pictures:

Up in the tree we see you, blossom-babies,
All pink and white;
We think there must be fairies to protect you
From frost and blight,
Until, some windy day, in drifts of petals,
You take your flight.

apple blossom

And Robert Browning, living in Italy in 1845 and homesick for England wrote ‘Home thoughts from Abroad’:

Oh, to be in England,
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough In England – now!
And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows –
Hark! where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops – at the bent spray’s edge –
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower,
– Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

buttercups

Which reminds us what a lovely part of the world we live in – especially during Springtime. Children pick buttercups and daisies; celandines carpet woodlands, followed by a purple haze of bluebells that fill the air with their delicate fragrance; pink campion and stitchwort decorate shady pathways; early purple orchids, stand tall, like soldiers surveying their realm; springtime heralds a rainbow of colours that paint woodland glades in a myriad of hues.

Apple blossom shakes confetti petals on newly mown lawns, catkins tremble on hazel branches, and primroses and cowslips sheltering in the hedgerows, open their petals to the warm spring sunshine.

Published in the May edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

sunlight on field

Today’s Treasures – Happy New Year

Today’s Treasures – Happy New Year

A new year – a new start – January is about looking forward – to Spring – to new beginnings – the trees reawakening with the lengthening days, new lambs in the fields, snowdrops in the woods and the birds in their bright spring colours getting ready for courtship.

sunlight on field

North Shropshire has some beautiful places to go for a walk – Prees Heath Common, Whixall Moss, Ellesmere and Colemere, Whittington castle and Brown Moss – take some corn or bird food and feed the ducks.

Ellesmere

We are so lucky to have the meres and mosses close by – with their easy walking and beautiful views. There are also several interesting canal walks along the Llangollen canal – including the staircase locks at Grindley Brook. The Whitchurch arm of the canal – is now abandoned but continues in a beautiful walk through Whitchurch Country Park – as does the disused canal at Dobson’s bridge – which the swans have now colonised making their nests there each year.

Brown Moss

Several paths cross North Shropshire – The Sandstone Trail, the Shropshire Way – and Offa’s Dyke is on the Welsh border.  Whitchurch Walkers organise regular walks locally: www.whitchurchwalkers.co.uk as do Prees Walking Group – which you can find on Facebook.  www.shropshiresgeatoutdoors.co.uk has lots of great walks – which include some historical information as well as access details.

ducks

Get 2022 off to a happy, healthy start by enjoying our beautiful countryside and treading in the footsteps of historical figures that have walked before us – right back to King Offa at Whittington Castle; the commoners who dug peat for a living on Whixall Moss – and the famous names – Charles Darwin – the naturalist born in Shrewsbury who studied the geology of Llanymynech Rocks; Randolph Caldecott, born in Chester but who created his illustrations for ‘The House that Jack Built’ whilst working in Whitchurch. They all found inspiration from our Shropshire hills, rivers, woods, meres and mosses.

Published in the January edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Bird's foot trefoil

Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Bird’s Foot Trefoil is a common plant of grassland.

Bird's foot trefoil

Lotus from the Greek lotos ‘a kind of clover’; and Corniculatus (Latin) ‘in the shape of a horn’ because of the shape of the seed-pods – which also give the plant it’s common name as the clawlike seed-heads look very much like a bird’s foot.

Another common name is ‘eggs and bacon’ because of the yellow and orange flowers.

bird's foot trefoil - eggs and bacon

The flowers are loved by bees and are a valuable foodplant for the caterpillars of the common blue, silver-studded blue and wood white butterflies.

silvesilver studded blue butterflies

Photographed on Llanymynech Hill – and with silver-studded blue butterfloies on Prees Heath Common.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

chick in hand

Barbara’s Backyard – Hatching Chicks

Barbara’s Backyard – Hatching Chicks

I’ve written this blog as a reminder to myself of the specifications and times for hatching chicks in an incubator – and when to do what – but it should be helpful to anyone else thinking about hatching chicks.

An incubator is designed to regulate incubation temperature (about 99.5 degrees F for hens), and humidity (between 35-45% until the last two days when it should be raised to 65-75% for hatching) and some also rotate the eggs – if it doesn’t – then you have to do this manually.

A broody hen does not of course know what temperature her nest is – or the humidity – or how many times a day she has turned her eggs – but she seems to get a better hatching rate than my incubator!

Choose eggs ideally up to 7 days old – but they can be up to 14 days old.

Wipe the eggs if necessary – and store pointed end down. Egg shells are porous so don’t wet them.

Mark the eggs – I put an ‘X’ on one side and a ‘O’ on the other side – and I use a felt pen although often a pencil is recommended – but my eyesight isn’t that good!

Turn the incubator on and leave to warm up for a few hours.

Put the eggs in the incubator and leave for 24 hours to settle – day 1.  On the following days you need to turn the eggs 3 times a day – this prevents the embryo sticking to the shell.

Turning 3 times a day means that they are a different side up every night.  Don’t panic if you miss a few turns – hens can’t count.  But it helps if the eggs are a different side up each night.  I keep a notebook and mark every time they have been turned with a ‘O’ or an ‘X’.

Candling – is holding an egg against a light to see if a chick is developing – this can be done at day 8 but you can see better at day 14.  I don’t do this because I only have a tiny incubator so only have 8 eggs to turn and as an amateur, I am never sure what I am looking at.  It also means opening the incubator more which upsets temperature and humidity, so I just turn them three times a day and top up the water – and hope for the best.  50% hatching rate is normal, the most you are likely to get is 80% hatch.

Day 18 – increase the humidity to 65% and stop turning the eggs – just leave them until they hatch – usually 21 days for hens.

Turning the eggs on the 21st day, it’s incredible to think that there might be a little life inside each egg, a tiny heart beating, just waiting for the right moment to break the shell. Life is amazing. 

My Silver Grey Dorking chicks never started hatching until day 22 – and sometimes it was day 25 before the last one hatched – so don’t despair.  Just wait and DO NOT be tempted to help them.  It can be really painful hearing a chick cheeping, but their chances of survival massively increase if you leave them alone.  (There speaks the voice of experience.)

One chick took 3 days to hatch from pipping – so don’t worry.

chick in incubator

 

If you try and help, the chick may not absorb the egg yolk properly, and its legs may not develop properly.

And you don’t need to move chicks – they can happily stay in the incubator for 72 hours before they need to be moved to a brooder.

Absorbing the yolk gives chicks enough nutrients for about 72 hours – which allows other eggs to hatch before mother hen leaves the nest to find food and water.  Newly hatched chicks spend the first 4 days mostly sleeping – so don’t rush to move them.

brooder

Most of what I have read says that the first few days chicks need a temperature of around 95 degrees F – which is nearly the temperature that they hatched at – then it is recommended to

reduce the temperature by 5 degrees each week until week 6 – when you get to 70 degrees.  In practice, the chicks just move further away from the heat source as they grow.

And temperature depends on a lot of things – the size of the space they are kept in – the number of chicks that hatch – one chick is going to be much colder on its own than cuddling up to brothers and sisters – so the best advice I have read is to use common sense.

If the chicks are all huddled together cheeping then they are probably too cold.  If they are asleep together then they are fine.

If they are panting and cheeping then they are too hot. If they are hopping about and drinking and eating then they are OK.

chick in hand

I use hay as bedding but you can use shavings, sawdust, or straw, whatever you use it needs to be changed regularly.

Chicks need chick crumbs for the first 6 weeks, then you can give them growers pellets – it’s a good idea to feed a mixture of both for 2 weeks, gradually reducing the crumbs.

Mother hen will peck corn into tiny pieces for her chicks but your chicks will have to put up with pellets until they can fend for themselves.

chicks 4 weeks old

Chicks at 4 weeks old

At 8 weeks they will have all their feathers and can go outside but they will still need protecting from rain and wind – and predators – and will of course need to be indoors at night.

Introducing them to the hen house can be a bit fraught – and I leave this as long as possible as hens will have a pecking order and the current residents will want to demonstrate this quite forcefully.

hen with chicks

Ducklings take 28 days to hatch and the humidity needs to be higher. So I tend to leave mother duck to this task. The most wonderful thing about ducklings is the first time they find they can swim in their water bowl.  I have read that ducklings shouldn’t be allowed to swim until they have their feathers – but as long as they are warm and can get dry quickly – and the water is very shallow – I have never had a problem with tiny ducklings having a swim!

When they get older and go in a proper pond, they discover that they can swim underwater and they get so excited splashing from one end of the pool to the other, wonderful to watch.

ducklings in pen

 

 

 

stroking a sheep

Dorking chickens – and amazing coincidences

Dorking Chickens – Amazing Coincidences

The story started last year during lockdown when I hatched some Silver Grey Dorking hen eggs in an incubator.  All five hatchlings turned out to be cockerels – so we couldn’t keep them all.  Sadly a fox got Dillon our resident rooster – se we needed to keep one – three of the others went to a neighbour, the fourth one escaped this fate – so we were left with two cockerels who just about tolerated each other.  I advertised for ages on www.preloved.co.uk, then, last week, I had an enquiry from www.wildlife-sanctuary.org.uk and yesterday we delivered a cockerel to them in Pendeford, Wolverhampton .  We had trouble finding it and turned round in a car park – which I noticed was a Midcounties Co-op – at Coven (coincidence number 1)

We met Mark and Tina who run the sanctuary – which is a sensory park – set up to give anyone with disabilities a wildlife experience in a safe space and offering autism therapy and land-based learning.  They explained that they particularly wanted Dorking chickens because they are one of the oldest breeds.  The children wanted a bird dinosaur and this was the nearest they could find!  Dorkings have five ‘toes’ – an extra claw on the hind leg which possibly demonstrates this.  They were absolutely thrilled with their new cockerel.

Needless to say, we were shown around and met extremely tame sheep and pigs – I had never stroked a pig before!  (They are bristly!).  I asked where they got their funding from and Mark said that Midcounties Co-op (not The Co-op like people usually say) had helped a lot, initially funding a ramp for disabled access.  Then, last Christmas, during lockdown, they were at their wits end, having run out of food for the animals and birds – and they rang Midcounties and asked if they could have any out of date food – Midcounties have been supplying them with food ever since.  I explained that I was a director of www.midcounties.coop Amazing coincidence.

The final coincidence is that I put some more Dorking eggs in the incubator – and yesterday the first ones hatched.  Hopefully there will be some ladies who will have a lovely home with a beautiful cockerel – making autistic children happy.

Bonnie the pig featured in several Midcounties stories as a piglet.  We were talking about animal welfare and Tina said she loves the fact the co-op source food sustainably and buy from suppliers who properly care for animals.  I would love to see this story on a co-op advert –  after all – “It’s what we do!

stroking Bonnie the pig stroking a sheep

Today’s Treasures – A Taste of Summer

Today’s Treasures  A TASTE OF SUMMER

In these dreary days before Spring really gets going it’s nice to look back on summer and the flowers that bloom in our English Country Gardens.

Daffodils, hearts ease and flox
Meadowsweet and lady smocks
Gentian, lupine and tall hollyhocks
Roses, foxgloves, snowdrops, forget me nots
In an English country garden – according to the song by Jimmie Rodgers

And poppies and evening primroses, cosmos and sweet peas with their vibrant colours and heavenly scents, which all brightened us up during 2020.

evening primrose

It looks like Easter is going to be as exciting as the non-event that Christmas turned out to be, but at least we have a vaccine now – and our most vulnerable people have some protection.

Whilst we wait for the celandines, coltsfoot and primroses to follow the snowdrops and crocuses as spring unfolds, we look to the herb garden to brighten up home-cooking which I am sure we are all getting heartily fed up of doing.  Take-aways are simply not the same as sitting as a table with a glass of wine and a beautiful view and being presented with a menu that you don’t have to shop for or cook.

Some herbs grow through the winter – rosemary, thyme, sage and bay leaves – others are very effective as dried herbs – and make delicious flavours for the simplest meals – tarragon chicken, garlic and parsley bread, minted peas, pasta with basil and oregano.

In the summer I always freeze some fresh herbs in ice cube trays – chopped mint and parsley and grated horseradish for sauces, and basil and marjoram to add to pasta dishes, chopped coriander for curries.

Herbs – fresh or frozen – also make excellent herbal teas – hyssop regulates blood pressure, peppermint helps digestion, chamomile for stress relief, lavender helps sleep, sage is stimulating, fennel is relaxing.

lovage

Published in the March edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Butterflies, Bees and Blackcurrants

Today’s Treasures –  Butterflies, Bees and Blackcurrants

bee on borage

Life can be a challenge sometimes and, although places are opening their doors again, people are still scared to go out – and anyone who had social issues before – has much more to deal with now.  But people have found solace in nature – growing vegetables and enjoying walks and found life’s little treasures all around them in flowers and trees and butterflies and bees.

I walk around the field every morning and there is always something new to see.  When it’s been wet, toadstools spring up unexpectedly overnight and when it’s sunny butterflies dance along the hedgerows.  The buddleia flowers are opening and butterflies of all colours love its purple blooms.

toadstool

I bought a packet of mixed seeds ‘flowers for butterflies’ and planted them in an old wheelbarrow, they’ve been really pretty – corn cockle, cornflower, field poppy, vipers bugloss, forget-me-not, corn marigold.

wheelbarrow of flowers

I always leave some ragwort at the edge of the field for the Cinnabar Moth and in July I check every day for the appearance of their striking orange and black caterpillars.

cinnabar moth caterpillar on ragwort

The blackcurrants are ripe and the kitchen is fragranced with the rich aroma of blackcurrant jelly and the anticipation of that first delicious mouthful on toast the next morning.

The chicks that hatched in an incubator during lockdown have grown.  Dillon III – who was the only one to hatch successfully in the first batch – is the boss and leads them on forays around the garden.  They are quite mischievous and keep finding ways to get out – under or over the fence, trying my patience somewhat!

chicks

The herb garden is at its best – and the bees love all the blues and purples – sage, hyssop, thyme, rosemary, chives, borage and marjoram.

herb garden

Life is not about the destination – but the journey – every day is a gift – fill it with moments to treasure.

Published in the August edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Summer Gardening Tips

Summer Gardening tips

Use grass cuttings to mulch around plants – retains moisture and stops the weeds growing.  Use on runner beans, peas, broad beans

French beans – and I use straw once the beans start to grow to keep the pods off the soil.

 

And fruit bushes

Don’t mulch potatoes – I found out (to my cost) that it encourages blight – earth up instead to encourage more potatoes – and suppress weeds at the same time.

Use straw around strawberry plants to keep the fruits off the soil – the straw helps to deter slugs as well.

In late spring when you repot and split houseplants you can plant the extra plants outside – they won’t be frost proof but they will last all summer

This is Kalanchoe – this year I planted out pink Streptocarpus too.

Once the first broad beans are ripe, cut off the tops of the plants – it stops them growing too tall – and getting blown over – and it also helps prevent blackfly.

And cut off the tops of runner beans when they reach the top of the poles – stops them becoming top heavy and susceptible to windy days – and if you can’t reach them you can’t pick the beans anyway!

Grow nasturtiums alongside runner beans – helps deter blackfly – not sure whether it’s the smell of nasturtiums that overpowers the bean scent – or whether the blackfly just prefer nasturtiums – but it certainly seems to work – and they look pretty too.

Grow purple flowers to attract bees and butterflies – and put out a shallow dish of water filled with pebbles for the bees to drink from.