Browsing Posts published in April, 2012

Three day course on husbandry for bees!

This week, myself and Diane have attended a three day course in the art of husbandry for bees at the beautiful Wood Lane Countryside Centre in Sheffield.A suit to go and meet the bees in.

It was put on by our good friends Ground Work South Yorkshire as part of the Sheffield Bee Buddies Project which we were involved with last year.  As I’ve previously said, funding has now come through to continue the project, but at the end of this year, we’re on our own!

All the hives and equipment will be ours rather than the project’s, so to start to help us on our way, this three day course was organised for future ‘Hive Managers’, which means that Diane and I will be the first ‘port of call’ should there be any emergency -like a swarm, for instance.

Our tutor was a brilliant chap called ‘Bill’ who’s a senior member of the Yorkshire Beekeepers Association.

Sheffield Beekeepers Association is a member of the Yorkshire association, so when I join the Sheffield branch, I’ll automatically be a member of this.

Unfortunately, the weather recently has not been kind to bees -they really don’t like the cold and rain, but on the Monday and Tuesday we were able to spend some time out at the three hives actually sited at the centre.

Up to the right here you can see Diane all kitted out before I checked her zips.  Putting on a bee suit reminds a little of scuba diving!  Every one has to check their partner’s zips to make sure they’re all secure against any bees that might want to wander inside.Checking the brood frames.

As soon as we got outside, our head beekeeper, Charles wasted no time in taking off the hive-top, then the feeder and crown board then the ‘super’ which in a few weeks time -if the weather picks up!- will be full of honey.

You can see it on the left of this photo behind Charles who’s holding the queen excluder upside down having just taken it off.

Because she is a little larger than the workers, this excluder stops her going up into the super and laying eggs.  The supers are just for honey!

Starting at a frame on the outside of the brood box, he lifted it out, carefully shook off the bees -over the rest of the brood box, then inspected the frame.

And this is where it starts to get very complicated!

When you’re checking bees and their hives, you have to watch out for many, many things.Bees in their brood box.

Firstly is the condition of the bees themselves.  Do they have much varroa on their bodies?  This evil little mite is now endemic amongst all British bees, so you wouldn’t have to call up the regional bee inspector.

More serious diseases are American foulbrood and European foulbrood.  These are notifiable, so if you see these, or even think you see either of these, you’re straight on the phone: “HELP!”

Luckily, these two evil diseases haven’t spread this far North yet, so you’re probably more concerned with the look of the frames.

You should be on the look-out for drone cells (…they’re longer, and stick up out of the frame…) and also possible queen cells.  These are shaped like peanuts in their shells, sticking right up out of the frame.

Holding a frame of bees.

Anyway, this was meant to be a fairly short post, but I kind of got carried away.  Bees tend to do that to you.

Suffice to say that please don’t take anything I say as being ‘Gospel’ when it comes to bees.  As you can see, I’m just a ‘Newbie’, and probably will be (bee!) for years to come, but the Good News is that bees are the second most written about subject in the English language.  There are absolutely loads of great websites, millions of books written and you really could not meet a friendlier and more helpful bunch than your local bee keepers.

…But I’m scared of bees!

Well, so was I!

Up until going on Jez’s previous course for keeping bees last year, I would run a mile if I thought there was any chance whatsoever of seeing one.

Now, well, I’ve completely changed my tune.

Bees are great!

Sheffield Environment Weeks

If you’re a regular LEAF visitor, volunteer or just a ‘LEAF Website Reader’, you’ll remember that every year we host an event for The Sheffield Environment Weeks festival.

This year is no different!Sheffield Environment Weeks

See us in Sheffield Environment Weeks

Every year, Sheffield City Council and local environment groups hold Sheffield Environment Weeks.  Its a great way to show Sheffield’s ‘Green Credentials’, meet friends old and new and generally get an idea of the sheer range and breadth of some of the projects that Sheffield Environment Weeks showcases.

Our contribution to Sheffield Environment Weeks

So as you can see on the poster to the right, as part of Sheffield Environment Weeks we’ll be having an ‘Open Evening’ on Wednesday May 30th from 7.00 ’til about 9.00pm.

If you click on the image, you’ll see a full-sized version.

Print it out, put it somewhere visible!

Don’t worry if its raining that night -we have plenty of roomy gazebos to shelter under, and if you do get a little chilly, then you can always stand close to our pizza oven which will be in ‘full swing’!

And talking of pizzas; you can get the chance to make your own, then watch it cook.  You’d better not blink, though!  When the oven is up to temperature, we reckon it takes a little over 90 seconds to cook one -much hotter than a ‘standard’ oven!  And the taste of our totally organic vegetarian pizzas?  Simply ask a regular volunteer, or better yet, choose the toppings you want, arrange it all ‘artfully’, then 90 seconds later, tuck in!

Of course, there’ll be Plot Tea, Mitzi, our Plot Cat (…and Honorary Vice ChairCat…) may make an appearance, and we hope to have a few more surprises for you.  Keep checking this site for further details and maybe some ‘teasers’!

And talking of Plot Tea, you’ll be able to see (…and use!..) our unique ‘Pallet Privy’, so cunningly designed by students from Sheffield University last year.

So if you do nothing else for Sheffield Environment Weeks, then make sure you make a date in your diary for May 30th, and we’ll see you then!

They said it would rain…

…But today, it didn’t!

Unfortunately, I had some urgent business to attend to this morning, so I didn’t arrive until nearly lunchtime.

Ian, on the other hand, had been down since seven this morning!  He’d been happily ‘pottering about’ (…as you do on an allotment…), planting bits and bobs and watering stuff in the main greenhouse.

After a lunch of bacon butties cooked ‘al fresco’ (…Marvellous!..), I set to and partially untied the pear tree.All tied up!

To the right here is before I took off the top blue rope, and you can see the iron stake and lower binding holding it firmly in place.

Untying the rope was no problem, but as I did it, I noticed that the trunk ‘sprang back’ slightly, loosening the tension in the bottom rope.

I think tomorrow -if the weather holds!- we’ll have to re-tie the bottom bindings more securely.

Top rope off.Here you can see it from another angle after I’d taken the top binding off.

Yes, I know its not quite straight, but its certainly better then it was before I originally tied it off a couple of months ago!

When the freesia I planted around it have flowered and died back in a couple of months, I plan to heap a load more soil around the base of the trunk.

This will ‘plant’ it more securely and it will cover up the very small roots that are currently on the surface of the soil.

Looking at the tree, the blossom has mostly died off, and I’m hoping that our new bees were installed in time to catch the nectar and do their job.  If the flowers were anything to go by, we should have a bumper crop of pears this year.  Fingers crossed!

Elsewhere on our Plot, Ian was keen to show me some of the red cabbage seed we planted a few weeks ago showing themselves.Red Cabbage!

To the right here is a close-up of one of them.

Ian remarked that he could only tell they were red cabbages amongst all the weeds by comparing them to the seedlings we have in the greenhouse which were planted only a week or so earlier, but with the warmth and shelter have come on slightly more quickly.

Tomorrow when we go down, one of the first jobs will be to put some upturned bread trays over these little guys before the pigeons spot them!

You may remember that awful yellow-piping monstrosity that had been ‘built’ around the patio area we now sit on to drink tea and put the world to rights?  Its been ‘coiled up’ on the other side of the path, looking a right cat’s breakfast.

Today, I bit the bullet and took it apart.  It was made from different lengths of yellow gas pipe, various ragged pieces of netting and some rotten wooden stakes.

It was fixed to the stakes by three inch ‘posidrive’ screws.

Undoing the screws was a nightmare!  Trying to unscrew them from wobbly bits of wood that I couldn’t hold down properly because of the piping being in the way, then fighting with the wretched netting…  Yak!

Anyway, its done now, so we’ll have to figure out all the different lengths and what we’ll use them for.

Tomorrow, the weather looks to be grim, but not as grim as Monday or Tuesday.

Still, that doesn’t worry me!  I’ll be nice and warm and dry for the first three days of the week on our bee training course with Charles our head beekeeper.

And I can’t wait for that!

Lookin’ For The Lad.

Unfortunately, there was no ‘Plotting’ today -the weather’s been horrid!

It been raining now pretty much constantly for the last three or four days, apart from the odd bright spell when you think, ‘Ah, it’s over!’ only for it to start raining even more heavily within minutes.

Still, we certainly need the water.  With large parts of Britain under threat of drought and with hose pipe bans already in place, I heard yesterday that the forecasters reckon it could rain like this for an entire month and we’d still not get the water-table back to where it should be at this time of year.

Well, I’m all for a bit of rain, but I’m thinking of the stuff I’ve got in the ground -and the stuff that’ll be ready to go out in a few weeks, and I’m thinking of the digging I’ve yet to do, and I’m thinking that a little sunshine would be great!

So today, I’ve been down town and over to Sunny (not!) Hillsborough to see a couple of people I had to see.

When I got back, I started doing jobs I’ve been putting off for ages here at ‘Wardian Towers’.  Jobs like clothes washing, cleaning the bathroom and kitchen; that kind of stuff.

When you live alone, there’s not much motivation to be had when faced with a huge pile of washing up, but an old friend once gave me an invaluable tip:-

Before you start a job that you really don’t want to do, but nonetheless needs doing, put a smile on your face, turn up your music then pretend you enjoy doing what you have to do.  Pretend that its a fun job, and within a matter of minutes, why, it is!

And it works!

Pretty soon, you’re humming along to the music, having a whale of a time!

Of course, a certain member of this household, some would say the main guy around here doesn’t like it when his Dad’s clearing up and making noise and moving stuff from exactly where he wants to sleep.Staying out of Dad's way....

After a ‘tantrum’ (…during which I tried really, really hard not to laugh…), he stalked off to ‘Catch Some Zeds’ on his own.

So, a couple of hours of happy, noisy mayhem, I’d finished.

Time for a cup of tea, I thought.  Time for a quality ‘chill’ moment with my cat.

But my cat was nowhere to be found!

You’d think in a one bedroom flat there wouldn’t be many places to hide, but Alfie knows exactly where he can have some quiet.

I eventually found him here.  Sat on the bedroom windowsill, looking out at all the people struggling up the hill, laden down with shopping bags, fighting the wind to keep their rain hats on and their hoods up.

Ha!  He’d better hope it stops raining tonight, because he’ll be out in it himself!



Watch this space…

You must have caught the news recently?  There have been items about the new ‘Raspberry Pi’ single-board computer that the government is hoping to get into schools to teach children proper programming rather than just how to use ‘Word’ or ‘PowerPoint’ (…shudder.  I HATE ‘PowerPoint’…).

We think this is a very, very good thing.

Of course, guys of a similar age to me will fondly remember spending hours and hours over their ZX80’s or ZX81’s typing in programs to play ‘Space Invaders’!  Aaaah…  Happy days!

Nostalgia aside, its great that the Government have finally seen sense and decided to overhaul the computing curriculum.

AnywayDad, what ARE you going on about?

I’ve been following the progress of the little Raspberry Pi with great interest.  As soon as it was announced that it was available, I was one of the hundreds of thousands of guys and gals who totally crashed both the Farnell and Radio Spares websites, all wanting our orders there and then.

When Farnell had put their servers back together (!!!), they mailed me and said that they had received my order, and that my Raspberry Pi would be dispatched late April.  Well, today I received a polite mail telling me that the dispatch is ‘imminent’.


So what’s this all to do with a growing project here in Sunny Sheffield?

Well Dear Reader, as soon as my little board arrives, I’m looking to hook it up to the Electric Bike!

Out go the LED displays and little LED ‘tell-tales’.  In comes a full HD display!  Full high-definition graphics!

Out goes assembler programming, in comes Python, C, C#, HTML and CSS.

As the title says: Watch This Space for further fun and photos!

(Yes.  That photo is obviously my cat, Alfie.  This was his look this morning from my knee as I shouted in glee that my Pi was on its way.)

A quiet and gentle day…

…Made even better by the fact that there was no hedge to cut!

Ian had already put the kettle on as I arrived -this time lighting a small fire in the barbeque that The Old Fella had left us.  And a fine cup of tea it made, too!

The weather today was forecast to be very rainy, but as it hadn’t started by mid-morning, we decided to light the ‘Big Boys Burning Fire’ in the old oil drum and see if we could get rid of some of the privet cuttings.Two red cabbages make a showing.

After a couple of false starts, we finally got it going, and were merrily burning at a great rate of knots when there was a loud cry from over the bottom fence; “Aaaargh!  I’ve got my washing out!!!”


Still, as soon as the lady asked us, we put it out very quickly -we had water on standby in case of; ‘Fire In The Hold!!’ (…Which when you really get it going, happens surprisingly often -and surprisingly quickly!..)

So, at a bit of a loss for jobs, we decided to properly stake the pear tree to stop it swaying alarmingly even in the slightest breeze.

Now, Diane has said that we probably shouldn’t stake this tree -she’s all for ‘letting it naturally be’, but I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I’m afraid I must disagree slightly.  The way it swayed in even the slightest breeze can’t have been good for the roots.

Ian had found a three foot metal spike some time ago, so I very carefully positioned it as close to the trunk as possible, then very gentle tapped it in using a lump hammer.  I’m sure I didn’t hit any roots as it went in.

When there was only about a foot of the rod sticking up out of the ground, Ian and I very carefully put some plastic sacking round the delicate trunk, then bound it securely to the stake with some of that blue rope there seems to be so much of.

Of course, in all the excitement, I didn’t get a photo of it, but promise to tomorrow!

We then went to ‘play’ in the greenhouse.  We planted some more peas, and I went around taking photos of stuff.  That shot up to the right is one of the pots of red cabbage that Ian planted a while ago, and if you look carefully, you can just see the two young seedlings showing themselves.The early peas are making a go of it.

This shot to the left here are the first early peas that Ian put in, already making a go of it.  In a week or so, these will be ready to go out, and we’d better get some proper netting up to try to combat the ever-greedy pigeons.

After we’d done all this, we just sat on the patio, idly chatting; planning where stuff is going to go.

All great fun!

Tomorrow is a LEAF afternoon, but I’ll be down first thing to carry on pottering in the greenhouse.  Ian will be down later, so we’ll have to see what trouble we can get in before heading up the lane to LEAF!

And yes, I’ll get the photo of the pear tree!


Right. Thats it. I’m done.

No, really.  I mean it.

I am now officially sick to death of lopping 6 feet off privet hedges.

But more of that later…

I was the first to arrive at The Plots this morning, so wasted no time in feeding the ‘Honorary Vice ChairCat’ Mitzi-Moos.Once there were three beds, now there is one!

After a little fuss and quick catch-up (…Well, she is HVC, after all.  She needs to be kept in the loop…), I went down to the bottom plot -The Demonstration Plot- and had a look at ‘the boys’ + Diane’s terrific work yesterday.

Yes, this shot up to the right is the same piece of land as I took the photo of yesterday.  This is after Gary, Shaun, Patrick, Derek and of course Diane, have worked their magic on it.Another potato bed, ready to be planted.  Nearly.

To the left here is the front bed of the same plot I mentioned yesterday.  The guys have taken out all the bindweed, rubbish and general detritus to leave it nearly ready for planting up this week.

After feeding and chatting with Mitzi, I plodded my weary way down to my plot.  Weary, because I seem to have been cutting hedges for at least two lifetimes, possibly three.  For my past sins, no doubt.

Still, as soon as I unlocked my gate, I felt the now-familiar ‘lifting of spirits’.  I felt ‘back home’ on my plot.  A great feeling.

Even the sight of the last of the hedging couldn’t dampen my spirits.  I was on the home run.  Soooo nearly finished!An hour or so into it this morning.

To the right here is the hedge after about an hour’s lopping.  I was starting to see my next door neighbour’s plot for the first time, and I was anxious to see just what lay at the end of my hedge.  Would there be a pot of gold?

Possibly not, but it would be fun finding out!

By this time, Diane, Shaun and Matt had arrived, so after a very quick cup of tea, I went down to carry on.

Wassat in the corner?And very quickly discovered my ‘pot of gold’.  An Anderson Shelter that was obviously put up before the last war.

The steel of the roof and walls is still secure, and there’s even an old chimney in place.  Unfortunately, the wood burning stove from beneath it is long gone, but that won’t stop me ‘acquiring’ something to go in it’s place.

Pretty soon it was lunchtime, so I wandered up the lane to see the guys.

As we were waiting for the kettle to boil, a bee landed on the table in front of us.One of 'our' bees, laden with pollen.

Notice it’s back legs with it’s pollen sacs full?  At first we couldn’t work out where this dark pollen had come from, but on later thinking about it, my betting is that it had been down to my plot and plundered the berberis next to the small greenhouse!

Early afternoon saw the arrival of my next door neighbour, Jim.  He’s fighting like mad with his plot next door.  He’s already cleared most of it and is starting the digging that you always have to do on a new plot.  Still, he’s going down to Wilko’s this week to buy some onion sets and seed potatoes to put in, so at least he’ll be able to see as he’s going that there’s already stuff in the ground, growing.

At three o’clock we broke for tea and went up to see the guys busy at work on the LEAF Plots.

During tea, Jim gratefully accepted some rhubarb with the intention of ‘persuading’ his teenage daughters to make the family a crumble.  We’ll hopefully get a report of how it all went next weekend when he’s back down!

All too soon, it was time to go, but as I left my plot, I couldn’t help but take a quick, proud shot of all my work.

As I left this afternoon.All the greenery you can see in this shot to the left is stuff I’ve already cut down!  Next time I’m down, I’ll clear it all up and probably have a fire -if the wind’s in the right direction!

Matt left at much the same time as me, but Diane and Shaun were still hard at it working on the potato bed by the fence.

It was looking pretty good, and next time I’m down I’ll get some more shots of it.

I won’t be down tomorrow, but Tuesday -if the weather holds- I’ll be back ready for more work.

This time, with no hedge cutting.

Hooray for that!


Obviously, its not only the second sunny morning of the year, but after all the grey, rainy and cold mornings of late, it appears that way.

A little later, I’ll be heading over to Area 34 -its far too nice to be stuck in front of my computer all day.

And what will I be doing?

…Why, cutting back the hedge, of course!

I have been doing this since before I was born, or so it feels.

Why stop just when I’m starting to hate it?

(…Sorry to be so negative here, but the coffee has yet to kick in…)

Women everywhere!Girlies everywhere.

(…And before all you lads get excited, I’m talking bees here, boys.  Sorry…)

Yesterday afternoon saw the arrival of Charles, our new head beekeeper and three hives, and up to the right here was how they looked this afternoon.  Marvellous!

As I was saying the other day, we’ve been way too long without them, and its good to see them back.  Even though today, with it being so cold and generally miserable there weren’t many braving the weather, it was great to be able to sit on the ‘Chatting With Bees Bench’ that Ian (no relation) and I built all that time ago and see some out and about.

Tomorrow the weather is set to be sunnier, so when I’m over there, I’ll get some shots of them coming and going.

Today was a day off digging!

The area for one of the new potato beds.Here’s a shot of one of the two areas that we (…well, Gary, Shaun, Derek and Patrick, mainly…) dug over before we started.

Under that pile of soil was a carpet, so we had to weed the soil, move it up to the Orchard Plot in wheelbarrows, then remove the carpet from underneath.

When that was done to our satisfaction, the lads (…minus me -I was down on my own plot…) then dug it all over and extended the bed to include the one that you can see with the bread crates on.

In doing so, we’ve ‘gained’ a path to plant in, and tomorrow I’ll have a load of bedding plants for down the side of the hedge I’ve nearly finished on my own plot.  In return, LEAF will be gaining a couple of jasmine plants that Ian potted on a couple of weeks ago from down on my plot.

These two beds -there’s another by the fence at the other end of the plot- will be potato beds, and in the coming days, we’ll be whacking loads and loads of seed potatoes in.  You can never have too many potatoes, especially at the rate we get through them when we have a fire!

Our friend, the robin.Mitzi, our Plot Cat was elsewhere this morning, so our friend the robin came to help us.

Well, he didn’t help as such, but he certainly got more than enough grubs to feed his no-doubt growing family.

In this shot to the right here, I hardly needed the zoom on my camera on at all -he’s getting so tame he comes right up to us.  And when he wasn’t with us, we could hear him calling from the nearby trees: “Hurry up and get me some lunch!” he seemed to be saying!

It was far too cold to be sat around drinking tea and chatting over lunch, so after a quick bite to eat, I went down to my own plot to…

…Carry on cutting the hedge!

While I was there, I just had to take some photos in the greenhouse.

My, how stuff is shooting up!Beans, jumping for the sky!

At the back here are some of Matt’s ‘Assorted Runner Beans’, and in the foreground are some of the broad beans that Ian planted a short while ago.

In the brown tray you can just see the edge of to the left here are some white cabbages that we’ll pop out in a few weeks time.

Of course, we’ve got some organic slug pellets and of course, we’ll have some proper netting up to stop those greedy pigeons.

On the other work bench in my greenhouse, Ian had started off some leeks, and here they are to the right.Leeks and ...something?

The long, thin things are obviously the leeks, but there appears to be something else in there with them.

There’s too many of the same thing for them to be merely weeds, and when I showed this to Ian he admitted that he may have planted something else in there as well and then completely forgotten what he planted.  I guess it’ll be exciting trying to work out what they may be!

Anyway, I’d better get off.  Hopefully more tomorrow…

Shorts and sun hats, anyone?

Ah, not today, Ref!

Today was much colder than of late, and as the day wore on, the wind picked up.  By the time Ian and I left for the afternoon, it was gusting quite badly.  Any thoughts of just sitting drinking tea were straight out of the window.

Unfortunately, I had a major disk crash this morning so was a little late, but Ian, being the ‘early bird’ had already planted loads of stuff in pots and trays in the larger greenhouse.Dwarf French beans.  Soon!

He also directly planted three rows of dwarf French beans (…see photo…), then a little later planted some dwarf French purple beans at the other side of the patio.

After the obligatory (…quick!..) cup of tea, Ian started working round the bay tree between the two greenhouses, taking out the surface weeds, then literally fighting with the humungous dock roots.  Of course, he won, but sometimes it was a pretty close thing!

Purple Swarf French Beans.  Soon!To the left here is the area he put three rows of the purple dwarf French beans in, then covered it with a screen we had ‘spare’ from the smaller greenhouse.

We figure the Old Man used these in high summer to keep the greenhouses aired but used them to stop the greedy pigeons from going in the greenhouses for ‘lunch’.

Of course, when these beans are large enough to be of no interest to the birds, we’ll take it off and store it.

And I carried on with the hedge-lopping…

I swear, when I close my eyes, all I can see are the great gnarled and twisted branches of privet.

Still, because it was that much cooler today, we got quite a lot done:  We weren’t standing around chatting, but had to keep warm with physical activity!Going, going, going...

And to the right here is my effort for the day.

Yes, I know it looks no different to the last shot in the last post, but believe me when I say I cut another six feet of it today.


Lunchtime, Ian cooked a couple of pork steaks on our rocket stove, and these wrapped in breadcakes, washed down with ‘Area 34 Tea’ really were just what was needed.

The weather forecast for tomorrow has been changing quite a bit over the last few days.  A while ago, it was saying that tomorrow it would rain cats and dogs.

Checking this morning, they’re saying it’ll rain all day, but only cats and dogs in the afternoon.

This could well mean that I get a ‘day off’ to nurse my aching back and dab the scratches and cuts all up my arms.

Oh, and see if I can breathe some life into this computer…


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