A Castle in the Sky

In March 2013, after years of talking about it we eventually sell up and move out of the city with our 2 year old, Gracie. We both grew up in the countryside and this is what we want for our daughter. So we swap a 2 bed flat in London for a small country pile on the west coast of Scotland that needs a lot of work. I've done a bit of interior design and my partner, Ed has a good knowledge of the outdoors – but we're on a tight budget and we've both got a lot to learn. It's a life time's project and this is a record of our adventure…


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Right on the doorstep… (Nov 9)

Friends are here for a long weekend and we discover a new walk just over the hill that takes us through a pine forest to reveal great views of the loch…

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Harvesting honey (Aug 18)

The end of the summer means the end of the honey flow.   So last week we took the first honeycomb from the hives.   When I say ‘we’ I do mean we, as this time I borrowed Ed’s spare bee-suit jacket and hat.  Intrigue took over.   I was charged with stacking the frames which meant I could keep some distance but in the event I felt quite protected.   I did suffer a psychosomatic attack of itchiness though – just enough to keep me on red alert…

We removed all the honeycomb from the stacks at the top – 10 frames in all – and reduced down the size of each hive. Only a third of the cells on our frames are ‘capped’ or sealed over with bees wax.  Each capped cell it’s own miniature, hexagonal pot of perfect honey with it’s own lid.   Ed’s a bit disappointed about the capped to non-capped ratio – and as our  ‘bee-catcher’ sadly didn’t attract another swarm (see our First Hive – May 11) this is all our honey for this year.

To get the honey out the caps are sliced off and the comb goes into a spinning machine.  At this time of year Neil the bee-man has a honey extractor in his (apparently very sticky) kitchen.   Today is extraction day – and Ed’s returned with a bucketful of honey that we’ve just transferred into small jars…

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There are 33 jars in all which is much more than we expected so we’re delighted.  It has a very delicate, floral flavour which could be partly lime flowers, as the huge lime trees on our drive were buzzing this summer…

The bees will now hunker down for the winter and the colony will become much smaller.  They stop doing all the normal bee-type things so they live longer and the queen stops laying eggs. We’ve left enough honey inside the hive to feed them through till spring.

Ed thinks that we should be able to produce around three times as much honey next year, as the bees have now made all the honeycomb.  God knows what we’ll do with it all?   He’s already talking about farmer’s markets but I think we’ve got quite enough on our hands for now…


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Wild flower meadow patch (May 31 weekend)

We dream of a wild flower meadow in the paddock (see last year’s The Paddock  – May 20) but as this is going to take some time, I’m getting started on a beginner’s patch in the walled garden instead.

Last year we let a lot of the grass grow unchecked – partly to cut down mowing duties and partly to see what would happen.  Unlike the paddock the walled garden has no brambles, docks or nettles to deal with – so we left 3 sections of grass to grow wild this year.   It’s a daily treat to open the garden door and see the pretty long stems swaying in the wind.

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Now all we need is flowers…

So I’ve taken on one patch as my first real garden project.  I’ve been keen to take ownership of something outside, but so far the house has taken priority.  I’m also not naturally green-fingered but I’m keen to improve so I’m hoping this will kick-start me into action.

This weekend was my last chance to get going as we are away for most of June and then it will be too late to plant seeds.

I picked out blue cornflowers and red poppies (both grow wild here) from the packets Ed bought me for my birthday last year.  He also found a strange implement in the gardening shed which looks like it might have been used for cutting holes in a golf course – it has a tall handle that sits on a hollow cylinder about 5 inches wide and 3 inches deep and as you twist the handle bar it cuts out round sections of earth.   Armed with this and a bucket of soil and compost – I planted 18 random holes in amongst the grass – it seemed like a fitting number.

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It’s a bit of an experiment.  A more fool proof method might have been to plough up the earth and spread seeds mixed with sand (the gardening programmes I’m watching with Ed are starting to have the desired effect) – but the golf course version requires much less effort.   Soon after we get home we should see if it’s paid off .  If it has, then this could also be the answer to turning our 2 acre paddock into a meadow – as well as the beginning of my gardening career…

 


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Our first hive (May 11)

The weather is good and the bees are busy – so Neil ‘The Bee Man’ is here to split one of his hives and get us started on one of our own.    Catching a swarm is one way to start a new colony (see Busy Bees – Mar 1) and ‘splitting a hive’ is apparently another.

So Ed and Neil transplant the queen with a load of her followers into our new hive…while I keep my distance.   The rest of the bees are left behind.  These will now create a new queen by fattening up a female larva with loads of royal jelly.   I’m learning the ABC of bee-keeping through Ed – it’s totally captivating and slowly drawing me in.  Although my bee-suit’s still on order…

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Up in the walled garden we also have a swarm-catching plan.   It’s less whimsical than a scented ‘bee-catcher’ in the yew tree, as described by Mr C – apparently the yew tree is too close to the house.   Instead it’s a box with some old honeycomb inside perched on top of the wall – but the fact that ‘scout’ bees might locate it and then guide a swarm there to start a new colony is still a pretty enchanting idea.

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So we have our first hive in the paddock and a hive-in-waiting in the walled garden.  If all goes to plan we should have our first honey by the end of the summer.