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Follow our progress running the nursery, watching wild bees, keeping honey bees and creating our own bee-haven in south Oxfordshire

Dont do too much weeding!

In winter time almost all perennials look terrible; they carry last years now dead leaves, flop on top of each other and then get covered with tree leaves to give the overall impression of grey/brown mess.  Tidy gardeners may have gone round at the end of Autumn cutting back old growth and clearing the debris into the compost bin. Others may leave this job till spring, which provides more cover for insects and small rodents but does mean you have to live with a mess.  I tend to be in the latter camp but mainly so that I don't accidentally destroy all the self-seeded little wonders that are the plants natural renewal process. A few of the plants I sell are either annuals, biennials or short-lived perennials which rely on setting seed to replace the old plants. These include the cheiranthus (wild wallflower) - pictured above -  echium vulgare and borage. All fabulous bee-plants in their way so you do not want too loose them in the tidying process.

The cheiranthus produces many small seedlings at the base of the old woody plant, so they are quite easy to find if you leave the woody stalk in as a marker. They are dark green glossy stars and just need to be slightly thinned to 10cm (3inches) apart to encourage nice bushy plants.IMG_0280

The echiums (pictured left) look terrible after their first year and you could be forgiven to thinking they were some terrible thistly weed so I provide this picture to aid their identification if you have forgotten what you planted. Have faith and by summer they will transform into blue spires that provide nectar all day long.

Similarly, borage (below)can also be mistaken for a weed in winter. It sets seed very reliably but by mid winter the leave may well have become a bit tatty; see this picture from my garden where I think the rabbits have been helping themselves to the tasty leaves.  You may remember where you had the borage planted, and the seedlings will be within 30 cm of the where the parent plant was but that may now have rotted completely away. If you are likely to have trouble remembering you might want to find the seedlings in October and lable them if there is a risk your hoe will get them.

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Getting the bees ready for the new season

Today was glorious; it started out at -3 degrees but by mid-afternoon the hives were basking in the low sun and the bees were all out having a party. We have been getting our equipment ready and this seemed like the perfect conditions to open up the hives for some late winter treatement.

This is first time we have opened the hives since a mild period in early December. At that time we were concerned that one of the colonies had no external signs of life but, thankfully, we found it was just ticking over.

We were very relieved, today,  to find the brood boxes quite full of life but it wasnt warm enough to lift out the frames and check for signs of new lava. Both hives had a surprising amount of food; honey and fondant. We must have been overly generous.

The frames of honey have set hard so if the bees dont eat it we will have to work out what to do with it. Maybe we will retrieve the fondant to encourage them to eat the honey and empty out these frames ready for re-use later.

We also treated them for varroa mites using oxalic acid. This has to be done before they start to expand the brood. A warning to anyone who hasn't done this procedure with a syringe before; you can't fill the syringe direct from the bottle as the nozzle is too short and you cant pour the liquid into it either as it comes out the bottom. It would appear that you need to pour it into a bowl first but the instructions dont tell you this. I hadnt worked this out in advance, so there I was, standing in the field needing 3 hands and trying not to get chemicals all over me and my friend Amanda.  Very tricky.

We are aiming to try and increase our hives from 2 to 4 this year by dividing the brood and using a technique called 'artificial swarming' (I am sure there will be blogs to come on this).  Therefore we want to get them off to the very best start to swell in numbers to a size that will divide giving two viable colonies.  So far, its looking good.