Thursday 26 September 2013

September on the Cornish Coast and back to Harvests and Honey

St Michael's Mount

Thanks to all for wishing me a good break in my last post. I spent most of the time on the Cornish Coast loving the scenery, the sea air and the fabulous sounds of the waves and calling sea gulls.  Unfortunately, the weather was what you might politely call 'mixed' i.e. we had some days of rain and mist when we couldn't even see the sea.  I have to admit that this is unusual for us, because we're generally very lucky with the weather when we've come down to Cornwall either in late spring or early autumn. But there you are...our luck ran out!

Anyway, when the sun comes out it transforms the coast into stunning blue seas and skies that's wonderful for watching wildlife. I loved all the Kestrels; I've hardly seen any at home this year but there were many along the coast and so close, too...

And then there was this cheeky little bird, which I think is a Rock Pipit...

Naturally there are all the beautiful views...

Logan Rock

And also the sunsets over the of my favourite natural sights.  It makes me realise that I don't see many spectacular sunsets at home, there are too many trees to the west of us that obscure them (although I do catch some lovely winter sunrises over the fields).  But on holiday I often saw the whole sky ablaze over the sea and so had to try and catch a pic....

Sunset behind St Michael's Mount

David and I had plenty to arrange before we went away, such as organising our businesses (although the phones have to come away with us, of course). But the main difference this year was that we had to change arrangements for looking after the smallholding.  Our two sets of parents have always been truly wonderful and looked after everything before now, but they can't really manage this anymore, so we arranged for others to come in.  And it all worked out really well - the animals behaved themselves (mostly...with some despairing looks here at Cador, the difficult gander) and we relaxed knowing that the animals were being very well cared for.  Such a relief!

So it's back now to the fruit and berry harvests - and lots of delicious tomatoes.  We didn't get any last year, so this year's crop is really precious.  I'm also finishing off extracting and storing the honey, although I didn't get as much as I hoped this summer, in the end.

This is the equipment used for extracting honey...

It includes an uncapping knife to uncap the wax from the honey in the frames, a metal extractor to spin out the uncapped honey from the frames, a strainer to strain out any bits in the honey after extracting and a bucket for storage. But before I do any of this I need the two small pieces of white plastic by the honey jar. These are 'bee escapes' that are put into a wooden board in the hive between the honey frames to take and the rest of the hive - and they are designed to allow the bees to leave the honey frames and go through them into the hive - but the bees can't come back i.e. they're one way.  Their purpose is to clear the honey frames of bees so that they can be taken away bee-less.

The honey frames are usually cleared of bees in about 24 -48 hours with the bee escapes, but the flying bees know what you're doing i.e. stealing their honey, so they'll do their best to get it back (if they spot the frames again, they won't leave them).  That's why it is also important to shut all doors and windows when extracting honey because any passing bee will discover you and let every other bee in the neighbourhood know.  And then the wasps join in...

Extracting the honey is always quite an operation, but worth it. The honey pouring out from the extractor tap is gorgeous; so pure and golden and natural (thanks to the bees; this is their hard work). 

Next job, preparing the bees for winter...

Monday 2 September 2013

An Ancient Forest, Clouded Yellow Butterflies and Gathering Local Yew for Medicine

Ambresbury Banks

Last week I had to visit somewhere just outside Epping Forest, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to nip into the forest itself.  Epping Forest is a beautiful place, full of majestic, ancient trees - but unfortunately it often gets a bad press. It's close to London and has gained a bit of a reputation as a crime scene - crime writers love it, and often use it as a backdrop for all sorts of grisly plot-lines. But this is so unfair. The forest has a long and fascinating history - and of course it's full of wildlife. Herds of deer can often be seen grazing amongst the trees.

I wanted to see Ambresbury Banks - an Iron Age hill fort that lies within the forest.  There was a legend, once, that Boudicca made her last stand here against the Romans, but this has been disproved in recent years. Instead, it's believed that this was border country between two powerful Iron Age tribes - the Trinovantes and the Catuvellauni. The fort was built around 500 BC either as a boundary marker and look out or as an animal fold where animals could be brought in times of attack.

Map of Ambresbury Banks, 1881

I suppose because it has always been a border, there is a road running by - and today this road is very busy. This is a shame, because it's difficult to get a sense of atmosphere, unless you're good at screening out traffic noise (which I'm not good at doing.)  I can't quite imagine the warriors of the two tribes staring at each other across the B1393!  Also, this area wouldn't have been this wooded, of course; the trees would have been cleared at this time to give a good view across the Lea Valley.

The banks would have been about three metres high and the ditches outside about three metres deep.  The fort had become redundant by the Saxon era and the forest was allowed to grow around it again.

A Yew Harvest for Medicine

I was going to add something about my re-queening of a couple of the beehives. I'm currently in the middle of this and I've already had a set-back due to a wasp attack on some of the bees...Grrr! But I'll now be writing about the re-queening in a future post because I'd like to mention here about some unusual harvesting that's just been taking place locally. A company from Yorkshire has been collecting clippings from a yew hedge for use in anti-cancer drugs.  The yew-harvest takes place for a few weeks at this time of year; yew-hedge clippings are taken from all over the country and are then sent to cancer-treatment laboratories.

Clippings from this yew hedge are used in anti-cancer medicines

I find it fascinating that yew - known as a poisonous plant - can be used to do so much good - and that back-garden hedges can be vital for the production of sophisticated and life-saving modern medicines.

Our own harvest...

On the smallholding, the courgettes are finishing, but the tomatoes and mushrooms are ready to eat...

We bought dowels, impregnated with mushroom spawn, several years ago and planted them into these logs. Nothing happened for three years or so, and then they did - and every year since, we've had mushrooms. We usually pick them early in the morning at weekends and have them with fresh eggs for breakfast.

Clouded Yellow Butterflies

Finally, I'm still looking out for butterflies although there aren't so many flying now it's late summer. But I did see some lovely Clouded Yellow Butterflies in an area of wildflowers close to the smallholding...

I'm taking a break - and a blogging break - until later in the month. I'm going to enjoy catching up with everyone's blogs then!

Wendy x