February 21, 2011

Bees at the bottom of the allotment

I've always been fascinated by bees and last summer I decided to join the local Beekeeper's association to find out if I could ever be brave enough to keep bees myself.

Joining a BKA is a great place to start because you can learn a lot from other beekeepers and share ideas and experiences that relate to your particular region. A good association will also offer well organised practical demonstrations and relevant lectures. Some have a mentoring system (look at www.britishbee.org.uk for local associations).

After having a couple of 'hands on' sessions with the hives at the teaching apiary last summer, I decided to enrol on a 3 day beginners course (if you are a member of a BKA you have automatic access to any of the courses). The course aims to provide sufficient information about bees and beekeeping to beginners so that when you start keeping your own bees you will have a good idea of what is going on in the hive, what to do next and your responsibility to the public. It also addresses how best to care for the bees, the equipment needed, the year's tasks in the apiary, extracting and preparation of honey products.

There were no live bees on the course but the lecturers were all experienced beekeepers who were happy to share their knowledge and wisdom. The sessions were lively and informative and by the end of the last day I definitely had a dose of 'Bee Fever.' Now I am hooked it is possible that enthusiasm may cloud my judgement... Beekeeping is so fascinating it is understandable that beginners want to rush out and buy a couple of hives straight away, but beware, I was warned that beginners luck was invented for beekeeping! Perhaps I should develop good handling skills before expanding my enterprise too greatly!

Watch this space...

February 02, 2011

Pots, glorious pots!

It's that time of the year again, when I need to take stock and think about the successes and failures of last years growing season. I'm not really someone who is organised enough to keep a record but I'm usually pretty clear on a) which varieties didn't work out b) which ones really shone and c) the wild cards which were surprising and memorable. 

I tend to do most of my thinking and planning in the potting shed, which looks out over the raised beds and has the most beautiful panoramic view as a backdrop. I do feel very lucky indeed. Being there also means I don't get distracted by the things I need to do back home. So last weekend I donned my wellies and marigold gloves and brushed out the shed, cleaned tools and washed out the pots, trays and root trainers in readiness for the new growing season.

You are probably thinking this is all very virtuous, but the truth is I really like it. It's much more rewarding than doing the housework because the hard work pays off in the end with tasty supplies of home-grown fruit and vegetables, which you have lovingly grown and nurtured from seed. I've decided to throw in a few wild cards again this year. It's a great feeling when you come across something you really love that you just won't find on the supermarket shelves such as Kai Lan, Egyptian Walking Onion, Oca and Yacon.

To find out more about growing unusual types of fruit and vegetables I would highly recommend looking at Mark Diacono's book 'a taste of the unexpected.' Mark is head gardener at River Cottage and runs Otter Farm, the UK's only climate change farm and home to orchards of olives, peaches, almonds and apricots.

And if that's not enough to whet your appetite, he's just opened an online shop which sells all manner of wonderful delicacies for you to grow. I defy anyone not to get caught up in the buzz of growing and trying something new. It's contagious.