Beginning bee keeping

Although my Dad was a bee keeper I’ve somehow never got around to it. For the last two years I’ve had two Warré style top bar hives but they have been tenantless. Arrangements for a nucleus keep being stymied, largely by the appalling difficulties facing beekeepers in this world of climate change, pesticides, and new diseases and predators. Hives were supposed to arrive in our orchard this spring from a local bee keeper but the long wet winter weakened his colonies to the point where they weren’t strong enough to be transported to a new home in blossom time – and their absence can certainly be seen in the poor set of apples on many of our trees.

So I was delighted when a friend said his bees were showing signs of swarming. I’ve dusted off one of my hives, applied wax foundation to some of the bars along with granulated honey and lemon grass, and it is going visiting – it won’t be home until a young, strong colony is ready to investigate the joys of life in Tobersool.

But what is a Warré hive? Most beginning bee keepers have only heard of National’s or Langstroths, both of which take a lot of looking after – indeed manipulation seems to be one of the attractions of the hobby for many bee keepers along with the honey of course. They are made with great precision and fitted with ready made foundations for the cells in which larvae will be raised or honey stored. A Warré top bar hive is a little different. It mimics more accurately the hollow tree which was the preferred home of our native bees and the bee builds its own cells to whatever size it likes. it encourages the bee to move around more and spend more time grooming and less time manufacturing honey for the beekeeper to harvest. What? you say. Less honey? Yes, I’m afraid so. But the beekeeper does less work and the bee may need less medication and care and attention. To add to the honey shortage Warré suggested that instead of harvesting honey as the modern beekeeper usually does, feeding the bee sugar syrup instead to take it through the winter, the honey should be left for the bee all winter, only being harvested in May or June. He believed that honey is the natural food of bees and had micronutrients that were lacking in sugar syrup.

I’m inclined to agree with him – I’m sure that creatures fed their natural food – honey full of pollen and minerals – are going to be healthier than those living on syrup. We’ve seen enough research on this for humans in late years and why should bees be different? And I’m sure that movement and grooming are also going to lead to improved health. We’l see

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Teaching slugs to swim

Turns out slugs can’t swim. I’ve just been out with my trusty phone switched to torch mode and a handy recycled takeaway container to see why so many of the plants in my (very) raised beds are failing to thrive. Well you’d fail to thrive too if about a billion slimey little greyish things – and a few whacking great black or orange ones – were chewing away at your skin.

Now if it had been day time and I’d been hunting under pots the slugs would get tipped into the hen run for the delectation of the egg layers, but that doesn’t work after midnight when the hens are tucked up asleep for the night dreaming of whatever it is hens dream of. Those sleepy chirrings and cluckings always sound as if they are dreaming.

Anyway, they aren’t around to gorge on slugs. So I tipped the slugs into the water bowl anyway – a nice deep old washing up bowl. Most seem to have stayed exactly where I dropped them though a few made it out. From experience I know that quite a few of these survivors will decide the safe place to spend the night is under the bowl so tomorrow morning I’ll dump live and dead slugs onto the spot where the ark is being moved to, and the hens will breakfast royally

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What is a Spanish omelette

I doubt if a Spaniard would recognise this version of a Spanish tortilla but it is more or less the recipe I grew up with – or rather the guidelines I grew up with since it was always too vague to be a recipe.

If you keep hens, as we tend to do, you find yourself at times with a lot of eggs so an egg dish becomes a main meal at least every couple of days. Our family tortilla is something of a dustbin recipe and therefore very cheap, especially if the eggs come from hens which are getting a proportion of their food as table scraps, insects and the slugs I gather every evening. (Don’t say ugh! this is the natural food of hens and they will be healthier an happier with slugs and insects, as well as grass and clover, in their diet.)

Yesterday we ate at one of Dublin’s tapas restaurants and our friends had tortilla. We looked at the pallid objects in the tapas dish and decided it wasn’t for us. We are used to bright orange yolks and a lightly browned surface. These slices had neither. So here is what I made for lunch today for three of us.

In quite a bit of olive oil I gently fried a small piece of left over salami, diced, about four scallions (spring onions if you are English), sliced, three medium potatoes, diced small, a slightly overgrown courgette, diced small. It became obvious that the potatoes were going to take their time to cook so I threw in a few tablespoons of water, put a well fitting lid on, set the timer for five minutes and went to watch Dustin Brown finishing off Leyton Hewitt at Wimbledon – this guy is quite something. When the timer went off I threw in half a cup of frozen peas, left at the bottom of a bag, and congratulated myself on clearing out some freezer space. Five more minutes of tennis followed and then I headed for the bowl where I keep the eggs on the counter – we write the date on each egg in pencil when we collect them so I used up the oldest which were laid five days ago. And a couple from four days ago. Six in all for the three of us. I turned on the grill, beat up the half dozen eggs with a pinch of salt, stirred the vegetables around and spread the eggs over them in the pan. Then I left everything alone on the gentle heat for a couple of minutes so that the base was quite well cooked but the top still liquid. Two more minutes under the grill and the top was set and lightly toasted. Normally I’d have spent that two minutes running out for some salad leaves from the garden but Tsonga was now on the screen so that was me rooted to the tv again. Maybe I’ll do something for dinner that involves salad instead.

Just time for a cup of tea and a couple more games of tennis and I’ll head out to plant up some more perennials in the bed I’m reviving in the back garden.

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Eating the yucky bits

After a week of immersion in paperwork as we catch up on our taxes we are settling back into everyday life – he’s writing a paper and I’m planning next year’s garden, planning and attack on the clutter in the bedroom (planning is better than dealing with it), and making dinner. The tax bill has left me feeling very conscious that food is supposed to be eaten, not left to go out of date. Very fortunately I invested in beautiful free range pork and bacon last weekend. It seemed extravagant at the time but when I sat down and worked out how many meals it would make I reckon I got great value. Especially as the wonderful Peter Whelan, of @TheWholeHoggs gave me a couple of pigs trotters and some bacon ends as a bonus. More of the bacon ends later but here is what became of the trotters.

Recipe – pigs trotter and barley risotto


.Stage 1

2 pigs trotters

2 litres water

2 carrots

2 medium onions

2 sticks celery

2 sprigs rosemary

2 large sprigs thyme

Cover the trotters with water and soak overnight. Bring to the boil and boil five minutes. Remove from the heat, pour off the water, rinse pan and trotters in cold water well to remove any scum.

Cover with 2 litres water and add the carrots, scrubbed and half lengthwise, the onions, with the skin on but quartered lengthwise, the celery cut into lengths that wil l fit in your pan and the herbs – I used these because I had them in the kitchen and they worked well, use what you have to hand.

Place it all on the lowest possible heat and leave to simmer until the trotters are soft. (Next time I’m going to use the pressure cooker for this stage and see what it does to the texture and flavour.) Leave until the trotters are cool enough to handle.  Lift them out and separate the bones from the rest of the trotters – bin the bones (or bury them deep in the garden – bone meal is a useful fertiliser).

Chop the meat, tendons, fat and skin into quarter inch pieces. Do the same with the carrots, onions and celery. Discard the sprigs of herbs and the outside skin of the onion and any carrot tops, celery leaves etc that have gone mushy.

Stage 2

I cup pearl barley

1 cup white wine

Chopped trotter and vegetables

1 litre stock

1 tsp salt

Bring it all to a simmer and leave until the stock is absorbed – 20 minutes to half an hour depending on how long the pearl barley has been sitting at the back of the cupboard. Add hot water if necessary, stir as and when needed.  You don’t need to stir barley as you would rice – indeed in my book it is better only stitrred towards the end to stop it sticking.

You will notice I didn’t use all the stock – trotter stock is so rich it is too gloopy in my book if you don’t cut it with water and wine.

I didn’t tell the family offal hater what was in it – he loved it. A soothing dish for an autumn evening.  Even if I’d had to buy the trotters the whole dish would have come in at around €1 a head! And there’s still nearly a litre of stock (some of the liquid evaporated) for soup.


Adding saffron would be good. And of course the brilliant Fergus Henderson uses Madeira to make his famous (infamous) trotter gear, which I didn’t find out about until after I made this. Where has it been all my life.

A bayleaf would have been good in the stock but it was raining and I didn’t want to go out to pick one. Chopped parsley added at the end would have been brilliant, and maybe a little Moroccan preserved lemon. Don’t know why I didn’t think of both as they were in the fridge at the time.

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Small world

When Phileas Fogg took that famous bet and set off around the world it was to see how small it had become – so small that one could circumnavigate it in 80 days. Nowadays we circumnavigate in the blink of an eye, and perhaps that is why our world is so much more fragile than Jules Verne’s.

This blog will be one middle aged and overweight woman’s view of that fragile world, with maybe bits and pieces of other stuff thrown in from time to time. It won’t be a diary, it may not even always be true – more a sort of meandering reflection.

This evening it is a few words from the sofa at the end of a long hard day when none of the chores have been done, the food was frozen pizza and the carbon footprint has taken a knocking. Meditating on whether to watch the latest episode in the trial by tv of the Roman Catholic Church, clean up the kitchen, or head for shower and bed with some light reading. It’s been a hard few days intellectually so current bed time reading is Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series. Officially children’s books (according to Terry) but enough in the content to give pause for thought between the laughs. You’ll never trust fairies again after reading Pratchett.

Meanwhile I check the ash forecast to see whether husband will make it home from Germany on thursday – looks as though he will – and the weather forecast to see whether its worth putting the washing out before I go to bed – it isn’t, there’s rain forecast so I’ll leave it be until morning. Line drying, rather than using the tumble dryer, not only saves energy and is less wearing for clothes but has the added advantage that exposure to ultraviolet kills any bacteria that have survived the lower temperatures of modern washing machines. And it means that I don’t have to go out in the evening chill when there isn’t even the compensation of starlight.

So goodnight chores, goodnight cats and its off to bed with a good book

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Hello world!

Well! I did it! I signed up for a blog!

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