dimanche 18 mai 2014

Update in the veg Plot for May 2014

image Today has been the first day this year that I have enjoyed planting in the garden. It is sunny, but not too warm with some man made clouds due to early chemtrailing this morning. The plants I bought at the local plant fair two weeks ago have been in my mini greenhouse acclimatizing, and are now ready to plant. I started with my cucumber teepee, having changed its location in line with my normal crop rotation to benefit the soil. We have been gardening here for 13 years and as we are surrounded by cow farmers who reseed their pastures with hardy, fast growing rye grass and fling fertilizer about, it has been hard to fight this virulent grass which seems to take over the beds every year. We swing between a no dig, mulching method and digging with our antique mechanical digger! A total contrast, I know, the purists will be shocked, but the no dig method and raised beds could not cope with the crazy grass which has adventitious roots that run along underground sending up strong shoots everywhere!! So, while I still cover beds in cardboard, carpets and a heavy mulch in the growing season and winter, it is still usually necessary to dig at least some of the beds each year with the digger. A compromise because of local conditions. We did not really have a winter this year at all, very mild, only one occasion when the temperature dipped below freezing, minus 4 degrees C. Previous years we have had to battle with weeks of temperatures below minus 15 C!! So we have to be prepared for anything. Everything has been early this year, Spring, the migrating birds, bulbs and flowers over a month early. The sparrows are already on their second brood in the nest boxes and the Blue Tits are not far behind. I bought organic cucumber plants as usual at the plant fair and they were about 8 inches tall when I planted them around the base of the teepee this morning. I usually dig a hole, water in the hole, add some home made compost and plant the plants at a slight angle in towards the poles and string. I have more cucumber plants to go out but I left space around the teepee for a few sweet peas just to liven up the bottom of the garden. I then put in six of the 20 tomato plants I also bought at the organic supplier. I like colour on the plate for salads, so I have a mix of small yellow pear tomatoes, Green Tiger striped, cherry tomatoes, Delice du Jardin (a normal tomato!), a pineapple flavoured one, Crimea a nearly purple, large tomato and Andean Horn, a long pointed shape. I also have so e Brandy Wine tomatoes a friend sent me from the US. Quite a collection! The last thing I managed to do this morning before taking a break to write this was to put in a second row of Oregon sugar snap peas. The row I planted four weeks ago next to the new row are just starting to twirl onto the bushy sticks. The broad beans, planted 5 weeks ago are about 9 inches tall and looking strong. They needed to have the weeds scuffled out from between the rows. Spring has been quite damp with lots of rain, so all the grasses and weeds have been growing like mad around here. The bean frames and nets have all been repaired ready for the seeds to be planted. I did not rotate the position of these frames this year so we decided to change the soil, and dug out about a foot and replaced with a mix of soil and compost. We a,so reconnected all the hoses to automatically fill up the water barrels around the garden when we pump water from the well. The trees and flowers up at the house are all watered from the rain water collection barrels. So a good morning in the garden, and by the way the swarm of bees is still with us!

mardi 13 mai 2014

The Bee Files

We started keeping bees when we lived in the UK about 30 years ago. It was something I had always wanted to do and at the time we had a big garden sheltered by the dreaded Leylandii trees and a disused railway embankment. I read all I could about beekeeping, bought a couple of books and ordered a colony ready hived from a bee far in Gloucestershire, before I had even finished the first book. So we kept bees happily and kept neighbours sweet with honey gifts for five years or so until we decided to move to France to retire. Of course some of the bees had to come with us..... We contacted DEFRA in the UK responsible for giving me a permit to take a hive of bees out of the country. They were inspected by a beekeeping expert, health checked a d given a 'passport'. At no time was entry into France considered and the only advice the 'expert' gave me was not to say anything about them unless asked at the ferry!! This we did and as usual we passed straight through customs in Le Havre!! It is a ten hour drive minimum in a fast car with few stops to reach our destination in the southern most tip of France, however we were traveling in an old Land Rover with a heavy trailer, and intending to make an overnight stop somewhere in a motorway Aire. This is a long time for bees to be shut in to a hive. We had put an open travel screen on to op the brood box, and had taken off the two supers of honey we were taking with us, they were wrapped up in the trailer. The colony was a large one and we made frequent stops to check on the bees, giving them the maximum air possible. We had a sugar syrup spray made up and each time we stopped we sprayed them lightly with this, to keep them busy and calm. When we made the overnight stop at an Aire, a parking area on the motorway, we opened the back of the trailer while we prepared the inevitable pot of english tea and some sandwiches!! When we had stopped for lunch earlier in the day we opened the trailer again, it did not take long fir the bees to attract some 'friends', after only about ten minutes we had a small gathering of about twenty or so local bees, attracted by the pheromones being sent out by our bees who were probably quite stressed. Anyway, the journey down took us about 20 hours. When we arrived we off loaded the hive first onto its stand we gad prepared on our previous visit. We sprayed them and left them to settle for a couple of hours, then took off the entrance block and put on a roof. We stood back to watch as they could well have been angry, but no, a few at a time the bees came out, making quick flights to orient themselves and back to the hive. Our beekeeping record in France was not so good, the hive thrived and for two years we kept two or three hives. Then collapse, the bees disappeared almost over night. I did everything I could to research this and in our area things are difficult because at that time the vignerons sprayed a lot of nasty stuff on and around their vines, and a new radio and telephone mast has also been installed on a hilltop in view of my hives. So the collapse could have been due to a number of things. So we cleaned out our hives and stacked them all up next to the dog kennel. Occasionally we had scout bees investigating and once we caught a swarm but they did not stay. Several times in the next few years we were asked to collect swarms from trees and between window shutters, but while the collections were successful the bees never stayed, so the hives sat there redundant except for ants and moths, for 10 years. Last Friday we were sitting outside eating a very late lunch with friends when one of them commented on the large amount of 'flies' overhead.........they were not flies, they were swarming bees! Our friends wanted to dive for cover. Ut we persuaded them to sit and watch as swarming bees are too full of honey with too much on their mind to sting. So we watched as other bees joined them and the noise increased, and then they started to quieten down and the cloud of beesabove our heads began to disperse. We encouraged everyone to try to keep an eye on them to see where they went. That was easy because they didn't go far, straight to the pile of hive boxes and in through a gap between two old honey collecting 'supers' . All was quiet. Our guests were pleased because the imagined threat was gone, we were pleased because we had a small colony of bees hived with no cost or work. The only one not pleased was Frida, our old rescued hunting dog, who was sat in her kennel right next to the new residents, giving us 'the look'!! Four days later the bees are still with us, so it looks like we are beekeepers again!

Screams In The Night - Part Two and Five Cows Shot Dead

The incident of the screaming man has been brushed under the carpet,with the mayor and farmers saying we had mistaken a cow crying!! I was annoyed at this as I can tell the difference between a cow and a human! However, My next nearest neighbour down the valley went to help another friend out with her bees and she described the man, with his red beard, as having been wandering around her hives, and asked to buy a pot of honey with a cheque. He said someone had stolen his rucksack and things and he had been sleeping rough!! Definitely our man and quite a looney, a little 'slow' maybe. So he is still around as that was on Thursday after the screaming. Maybe that was when his things were being stolen? So still a bit of a mystery. It looks like it is forgotten and now being joked about.......serves them right if they find a body in two year's time like the other one! We did our duty and reported the screaming. And the main story would be: "The Mystery Why Any Crimes Reported By Foreigners Are Not Investigated" !!! LOL It is still weird, because people keep seeing him around here, My neighbour, then a beekeeper friend from the next village about 6km after My neighbour's house, which is even more remote than ours! People have likened him to an elf, a wizened old man, Cat Weasle (a character in a 1970s children's programme), a hippy, a tramp etc. if he had his rucksack stolen, maybe that was all the screaming? But why deny screaming? And why has he not asked the police for help? Of all the people that saw him, none have said he asked for help. At My friend's mill where she keeps bees and sells honey, p he was seen among the hives, a dangerous thing to do, then when questioned he asked to buy a pot of honey for 12 euros, he said he had no cash, then pulled a cheque out of his back pocket to pay, he made the cheque out for more and she gave him a few euros change so he could get a coffee. Of course this could have been a dud cheque, but he is still hanging around. If he had committed a crime you would expect him to high tail it out of the area. Actually not easy to do if he didn't have a map, and after the event near us, we now know which direction he went in which was deeper into the forested Corbieres. Not the actions really of a criminal on the run. He was also spotted hanging around in another village later and he had been able to buy a coffee, presumably with the cash back that the beekeeper gave him. Time will tell if the cheque is dud! But it will have an address on it. Such a small community of people for 10 k in each direction from here, and a convenient, almost medieval gathering at the plant fair, now everyone knows of his existence if not his exact whereabouts! So really, everyone is on the alert. However this does not really instill confidence in the French Gendarmes, who are army and not police, but in control in these remote areas. We need also to remember that we are on one of the routes used by the Resistance in World War two and before, through the Pyrenees. The forest in this area is still thick providing perfect cover. Unfortunately these routes are now used by illegal immigrants on their way up through France and Spain, after perilous crossings of the Mediterranean Sea. A body was found two years ago just 300 metres outside our village. It was just a skeleton and the bones had been scattered across a wide area by wild boar, but his rucksack was beside his skull, untouched for two years. He was discovered by a cow farmer who spotted the rucksack before the grisly remains. In the rucksack was 20,000 euros, and maps of the area. No sinister story here though, he had been trekking to Bugarach Mountain and Rennes le Chateau, and had died of natural causes. Both these places deserve a blog article from me. Bugarach Mountain is a place of pilgrimage by UFO enthusiasts, and was recently a place supposedly thought capable of turning into an alien spaceship to take people away from the earth when it was forecast to end by the Mayan calendar on 21 December. More questions were left unanswered some months ago when a local cow breeder had Five of his very pregnant cows shot dead in the field. I knew nothing about this until I noticed the corpses, swollen and fly blown, piled up on an open trailer right beside a layby on the main road as I came home from a restaurant quite late at night. I saw legs and hooves sticking up in the aur and was instantly reminded of all the horror of the slaughter during the Foot and Mouth outbreak in the UK, about 15 years ago. The stench was so bad I could smell it three hundred metres away at my house.......i contacted the town hall to find out that they were waiting for the gendarmes to come and check the bodies before they could be sent for disposal and processing. It had already been a week since the shooting. This story finds its place into this article because it was another crime against, or reported by foreigners. The gendarmes had to be pushed hard by a petition to the Prefect signed by all the local mayors, to investigate the shooting. People around here, not only farmers were worried. First cows, then people. Was this some looney or a local person on a hidden agenda? Even then it was not really investigated, and the dutch farmer and his girlfriend were at one stage barricaded into a friend's house with guns, expecting reprisals. To this day, this crime has never really been investigated, but there has been speculation and everyone seems to know who the perpetrator is!! But the crime has just been allowed to be forgotten by the fog of time.