Monday, November 10, 2014

Time to explore

Weald and Downland Open Air Museum

Chris is very good at finding places that I just adore. The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum is a collection of very old buildings that have been moved here from all over the country and preserved as a complete town. The scent of woodsmoke drifted over the village, and I sat in the winter sun and sketched until bits of me went numb. 

Weald and Downland Open Air Museum

There were people here whose whole purpose was to wander round in costume and talk to visitors. I think this might be my dream job. And I just love those timber framed buildings and interesting brickwork.

Jelly fungus

My other current obsession is fungi (see previous posts) and I was pleased to add a couple of new ones to my collection, including these Jelly Ears.

The potting shed

There were some charming little scenes set up in the houses, and you could imagine that any moment the gardener was going to walk through the door. It appealed to my love of preserving garden produce - the strings of onions and garlic hanging up and the neatly stacked fruits are a bit of a dream of mine really. One day I would love to have a pantry where I can store dried vegetables and jars of home made jams.

Chickens and grain store

I can't help comparing life then with our lives now: rushing from one thing to the next, sending emails and writing reports, so busy that we have to do our shopping online and get it delivered. Don't get me wrong, I love the life we live and I am very lucky in so many ways. And I wouldn't change our centrally-heated home with electricity and running water for any of these cottages, however charming they are. But I think there is a lot to be said for living in harmony with the world around us, following the pattern of the seasons and using our natural resources wisely. 


I thoroughly enjoyed our morning exploring here, and I'm glad that we get the time to do things like this. Maybe modern life isn't so bad after all.

Monday, November 03, 2014

To be a better sketcher

Lugley House

Making sketching a regular part of my life became a resolution in 2012. My production schedule has gone up and down depending on other things are going on at the time, but two years down the road I find I am consistently filling a journal every couple of months. My loved ones are very good at waiting for me while we are out ("hang on a minute, I need to sketch this") but I am also getting more confident about standing on street corners and sketching on my own.


I'm also trying to record a bit of the world around me. If I only draw when I've got something pretty in front of me, it'll make nice pictures but I'd like to do more than that. I've lived in the same town for most of my life and I can already see changes from when I was younger...I have a feeling that in 20 years' time the sketches of shops and buildings will be interesting reminders.

Cafe Isola

And it's all practice isn't it? Even my worst sketch is better than one that never makes it on to the page. With each sketch that I do I feel like I am getting closer to SOMETHING. I'm not sure what that is, yet. People have commented on my 'style' but I don't think I've worked that out yet. There is still so much to learn. Still so much to sketch.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Too far gone

I think not posting anything since July qualifies me as a terrible blogger. I could go back and re-cap everything since then, but really I think it's too far gone. So instead, I shall start again with the best of intentions and see how far I get this time.

1.11.14 Autumn walk

It's been warm. Really warm. Like wearing t-shirts in October warm. Which is wonderful, if slightly confusing. We finally reached the end of bee-keeping season and the girls are settling down for the winter, which means we get weekends to go off and explore and DO STUFF. Mostly, this has been going for walks, seeing lots of amazing things, and generally having a wonderful time.

Honeybee on ivy

The honeybees are making the most of the long autumn and stocking up for winter.

Red squirrel

Autumn is a great time to see wildlife, and the red squirrels here made my day. You'd think that living with small fluffy animals, I wouldn't want to see more of them. But I do, oh I do. I loved noticing the differences between the squirrels and our degus, even down to the fact that the squirrels will come right up to you for food and yet it took us MONTHS to get the degus to eat out of our hands.

Birds feeding

I don't really think of myself as a bird-watcher. But as we go out and about, I find that I always want to know what things are. What's that bird? That tree? That plant? And the more I know, the more I want to know. Which might be why I've joined so many Isle of Wight nature groups on Facebook. I want to know ALL THE THINGS.


The last few weekends have been full of wonderful things. I'm quite emotional about it really - there's so much beauty around us and I love that we have the time to enjoy it together.


I love noticing all the little details, and feeling like we're making the most of every minute of this glorious autumn. These are good days, my friend.

Fly Agaric

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Round Up

I knew that the early summer months would be busy for us, and I wasn't wrong. We've both been busy with work, and our bee empire is expanding well and takes up most of our weekends. The summer term has been and gone and we are into the holiday season here, which changes work for both of us. We still have a few more weeks of busy-ness before our own break at the end of August.

The bees have (mostly) stopped swarming and begun producing honey in crazy abundance. This is such a good year and we are very lucky to be taking advantage of it. We have hives in new locations which are doing really well and also give us space to expand if and when we need to. I've learned more in the last couple of months than I would have thought possible - about combining colonies, dealing with laying workers, assessing viability, all topped off yesterday with a day's learning about queen rearing.

An unfortunate side-effect of being so busy with the bees has been that the allotment has suffered and we haven't grown as much as we'd have liked. There are only so many hours in the day and we've had to prioritise - the bees need us. It's a shame but I'm certainly not complaining! And we have still managed to grow some things - nothing tastes like fresh peas straight from the garden.

My sketchbook is full and still growing, but I am so far behind with scanning and posting things online that when I do get around to it there will be a deluge. I might leave that for the colder months to remind me how lovely summer was. 

In between all of this, the working and beekeeping, digging and tidying, picking and packing and putting things in jars...there have been so many moments of magic. Times when we went for a walk, had a picnic somewhere beautiful, or discovered a new place and enjoyed a beautiful view. And those are the times that remind me just how wonderful life is. 

You can see all the photos above on my Flickr page.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Stretching our legs

It's been a while since we went on a proper walk, and we certainly hadn't planned to this afternoon. But the weather was nice and we didn't have our beekeeping why not? I met Chris after work and we took a picnic lunch up to Brading Down. Lots of planes, microlights and autogyros taking advantage of the still, calm weather.


To work off some of the excess lunch we decided to stroll down, across and back up. We've done this walk before and there are always good things to be found. I didn't have my proper camera with me today but I was very grateful for my phone:


I do love bees. If I'm honest, I might love bumblebees a little bit more than honeybees. I mean, look at them! They're so cute and almost cuddly. And their ridiculous bodies that look far too big to can you not love a bumblebee? We saw so many all the way round on our walk, lots of different varieties as well which is quite pleasing. Definitely a sign of a healthy ecosystem.


Wild roses were out in bloom, and we also saw our first blackthorn. Late spring/early summer can be a tough time for honeybees to find forage as we traditionally get a 'June gap' when the early flowers stop but before the next ones blossom. But with blackthorn out already, it looks like we won't have to worry about that this year.


Chris and I have very different styles as we walk. He is very much interested in the animals and wildlife that we find, can tell what sort of bird is which and is always the first to spot something interesting like a lizard sunning itself on a leaf (we found one of those today too). I love to see all these things, but I also really love all the different plants and flowers that we see. I really want to get better at knowing what things are, and I think my next purchase is definitely going to have to be some kind of field guide to wildflowers. In the meantime, I shall settle for taking photos and identifying plants once we get home. I'm pretty sure this is the Common Spotted Orchid, but I'm happy to be corrected if anyone knows better! Quite a thrill to find as I've never seen it before, despite the 'common' in its name.


Even though we were walking on bridleways and established paths, the vegetation was so lush and overgrown that it felt as though we were exploring unknown territory. I could have easily stopped here for a long time and looked out at that landscape. I am constantly amazed by how beautiful this island is. 

Our path took us past a small farm in the middle of the woods that had peacocks - really - wandering around. And as we walked past them we noticed a kerfuffle in one of the trees nearby. As we watched, two young jackdaws emerged from their nest in the tree and took their first flight. Slightly uncertain and distinctly wobbly, they were shaky to start with and one of them even crashed into the undergrowth nearby and then had a hard time trying to extricate himself from some stinging nettles. We could hear their parents calling from the branches above, and finally a third fledgling popped out from the nest and flew precariously to a nearby branch. I was quite concerned about them, but as we watched they all seemed to get the hang of their wings and flew away. A magic moment indeed.


There was plenty more magic on our climb back up the hill: a group of four or five wrens hiding near a nest in the woodland; a baby rabbit that watched us get closer and closer before scampering to safety in the warren; and some neatly nibbled nutshells that are the sign of a dormouse - something Chris would dearly love to see. It felt good to stretch our legs and get out from the routine of Saturday beekeeping, and our efforts were definitely rewarded today.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Photo vs. Sketchbook

Wood anemones in Firestone Copse

I almost always carry my camera, and I definitely always have my phone on me. If I can't take a quick snap of something then I feel very lost indeed. I also generally have a sketchbook with me even if I don't have my full watercolour set. What I don't generally have is the time to sketch on the spot, especially if we are in the middle of a walk somewhere. I've been dithering a bit over putting sketches from photos in my journal, because it sort of feels like I'm not doing it 'properly'. Thankfully, I seem to have got myself over that now and I am enjoying transferring some of my favourite photos into my sketchbook.

0414 030 Firestone Copseweb

Like anything, it takes practice. I don't want my pieces to be photo-realistic because I don't have the time for that, but I guess I'm aiming for a certain amount of realism. Working in the comfort of home means I can also take the time to sketch in pencil first without adding ink, and I'm enjoying this new challenge.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Tea and scones

The trouble with sketching is that I need to sit down to do it. And I haven't yet got to the point where I feel comfortable enough to whip out a folding stool and leave Chris standing there while I do a quick sketch. Inevitably, this means that there is a fairly large number of food and drinks recorded in my sketchbook - mostly tea and cake. 

Tea and scones

Sometimes I feel self-conscious about it: "Oh no, I don't want to look as though all I do is eat." But hey, if it's good enough for this lady then it's good enough for me. 

More tea, more scones

This page at Dimbola was an experiment in working straight in with a paintbrush rather than sketching first. I found it very difficult and the blue pattern nearly drove me potty. Looking back with the benefit of a couple of month's hindsight, though, I can see things about this sketch that I really like - the shape of that vase at the back, and the shading on the cup which was an interesting shape. I should probably make the effort to work without a pen more often.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fitting it all in somehow

0314 024 Allotment web

I can't believe these sketchbook pages are from March and we are already midway through May. How did that happen? Time is whizzing past at the moment, and we are very very busy with all things allotment and bee related. At times like this I think keeping a sketchbook, and scrapbooking, are more important than ever. It would be easy to feel as though we are so rushed off our feet that there is no time to relax or enjoy anything. But the act of sitting down and sketching - whether it's from life or a photograph later - or putting together a scrapbook page, helps me to remember all the wonderful moments that make up our days. Reflecting on life likes this helps me to make sense of my worries and treasure all my joys. 

0314 025 Ducks web

Anyway, I am slowly catching up with scanning all my pages to share them here and on my Flickr page. These are the last few from my landscape format journal. I was struggling with the paper in this one - much rougher than I am used to and too absorbent for me to work happily on. I tried persevering with it but I seem to have abandoned it now and moved on to a portrait format, smooth-paged journal. I do envy people who seem to have found 'the journal' for them and have stacks of them beautifully ordered. My OCD does not enjoy having books of all size and shape lined up on the shelf. Still I guess it would be very dull if I didn't experiment a little bit.

0314 026 Camellia web

There is so much to be grateful for. I am a very lucky girl indeed.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Now, where did I get to?

20140505_150442 (768x1024)

It's been a busy couple of weeks here at Bee Central. More captured swarms, more artificial swarms, and many many bees. Chris and I have to remind ourselves not to complain about the amount of work involved because it is all so good, but it is easy to get a bit overwhelmed at times. Today, I finally managed to get numbers on all our hives so that we can keep track of which one is which. When we only had a few it was easy to tell them apart, but now we have so many I need a spreadsheet to keep everything in order. I do love a good spreadsheet. 

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Over the last couple of weeks our efforts have been hampered slightly by wind and rain which has made it difficult to get the hives open to do our inspections. But we have still managed to collect three more swarms, including one which was hidden in the long grass on the allotment. We had gone to the allotment to collect another swarm, and didn't even realise this second one was there until we went through it with the strimmer. Fortunately most of the bees were unharmed, and seemed grateful to be rescued from their plight. I think they must have been there for some time as they were very small - a sign that they had used up all the honey that they fill themselves with before swarming. They're now safely tucked in a hive and will hopefully grow and flourish.

In between beekeeping we have made good progress on the allotment itself, digging over several beds and planting some small plants that I purchased at the farmer's market. There's still a good bit to do, but it feels very good to have made such headway. It's hard to get things done sometimes because there is so much at the allotment to distract me, like this 'bee hotel' that hangs on the shed where mason bees nest. You can see some of the tubes are filled, some of them have had a bee hatch out of them, and there is a bee that was just visiting emerging from the side. 

20140505_162220 (1024x768)

We have spent today clearing some land that will be used for beehives. It's very close to our best apiary so I'm hopeful that it will be very successful. John and Sue, our apiary hosts, have been very tolerant of our rapid expansion but it will good to clear some space so that they can get back into their garden! 

Sunday, May 04, 2014

A week is a long time in beekeeping

20140428_164732 (768x1024)

Last week was a week of two swarms, our second and third of the year. On Monday we were called after work to a very small swarm on the same tree in St Helens that most of our swarms land on. They had been there some time, but we got the call late and then couldn't get there until after work. They were still on the branch so we got out the equipment and set about collecting them as usual. Being such a small swarm, we found the queen fairly easily and put her into the nuc. And then we found her again. And again. She really didn't want to stay! I had recently cleaned the nuc with soda crystals, so we wondered if there was a residual scent that was putting them off. The skep has never been cleaned and is full of a good bee-ish scent, so we tried that instead. We managed to get them in and from there moved them away and transferred them to the nuc. Hopefully the bees would accept it now as their new home.

20140502_171317 (768x1024)

Friday afternoon, another after work call out to another swarm. This one was slightly bigger, and strangely enough it wasn't on the 'swarm tree'. Instead it was on a branch of another tree nearby. Again, we hadn't been able to get there straight away due to work, and by the time we arrived it was starting to get chilly. The bees were quite grumpy at being interfered with and both Chris and I got buzzed at angrily. Despite that, these bees were actually pretty well behaved, and did all the textbook things that I've been told about and never seen. Chris got them in the skep first try, and immediately they flocked around the entrance and started fanning - a great sign that the queen is inside as they tell all the other bees that this is the place to be.

20140502_172538 (768x1024)

The bees all gathered round and were trying to get underneath the skep as well as through the entrance, but almost immediately set up a little marching train going from the bottom to the entrance above. Perfect! We waited a while and watched, and the small cluster of bees that had been left on the tree melted away before our eyes as the bees realised that the skep was their new home. After that, it was a simple manoeuvre to transfer them from the skep to a nuc and leave it in a safe place. Well done girls.

As we were in St Helens, we decided to check the nuc that we'd put Monday's swarm in to. Empty. The bees had obviously decided they'd rather go somewhere else, and flown off. Not a bee to be seen. It's the first time this has happened to me and it is rather disappointing. I can't help feeling slightly responsible as I washed the nuc - but I'm not going to be too hard on myself about it, because they were also very reluctant to go into the skep. Maybe the fact that they had been there some time meant that they had already found a better place? I guess we'll never know.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Making a habit of it

One of the habits I am trying to embrace this year is to keep a sketchbook with me at all times, and to sketch wherever I may be. This is all well and good, but sometimes it gets really cold. Other times people start talking to me. I like people talking, I really do, but not when I'm sketching.

I've also noticed that I have a habit of drawing churches. It's not from any particular religious sentiment, mostly it's just that they are interesting buildings. It does occasionally involve freezing in a churchyard though. 

0314 021 ShanklinOldVillage web

I am way behind posting my sketches on here, partly due to laziness because I can't be bothered to scan them, and partly because I do like to have one or two 'in hand' just in case anything happens and I can't sketch for weeks on end. No-one said this had to make sense, right?

In any case, it's probably safe to post these which I did in early March. We had an afternoon of terrific fog, a thick blanket that covered everything. Fog isn't particularly fun to sketch but it did make for some interesting skies, like this sunset behind the church. This sketchbook is the lightweight one I keep in my bag - it's not designed for watercolour but it takes it really well, and because it's a cheapo sketchbook I don't feel bad about drawing loose and fast and with lots of interesting lines. When I use my 'good' sketchbook I find myself trying to make my sketches much neater and more precise.

0314 022 Churchgate web
The lychgate. Done in about five minutes just as I was leaving. Isn't traditional English architecture wonderful? I love the slightly wonky roofs and pointed Gothic arches. Once upon a time I wanted to be an architect, but you can't build that sense of history. I'll settle for sketching instead.

Friday, April 25, 2014

An Easter bonus from the bees

Easter Monday we managed to get out to check on some of the rest of the hives. One of the challenges of having so many now is that inspections - especially if something unexpected happens - can take quite some time. First thing was to take a look at the swarm we collected the other day. Although we didn't want to disturb them by taking the lid off, I wanted to see if there was any sign of activity at the front.

Swarm settling in

Oh yes, they were busy! It's really exciting to see them so active and I'm looking forward to getting a proper look at them next time. After that, it was on to proper inspections of the other hives at this site.

Disposing of an unwanted guest

Bees have a very orderly society; each bee has its role. These two are performing their duties and evicting a wax moth grub. I know they do this but I've never seen it before, and neither had Chris. When they got the grub to the edge one of the bees flew off with it and dropped it unceremoniously on the ground. Fabulous to see!

This is our most established site and the bees here do really well. As evidenced by this hive below, which was busily producing queen cells ready to swarm. There's a high probability that this is where the swarm on Good Friday came from. (Queen cells point downwards, Chris is holding the frame upside down here).

Queen cells

So, a queen cell means an artificial swarm into a nuc. But wait, what's this? More queen cells?

More queen cells

This hive did a similar thing last year, and we had lots of swarms to deal with. This year we are determined to manage the situation better and so instead of leaving these beautiful queen cells for the bees to deal with (often the bees will destroy unwanted cells, or a new queen will go round and destroy her rivals) we have pre-empted things by splitting this hive in to four. It's a bit more of a risk but we are still aiming to increase our hive count rather than maximise honey production.

Eating the honey

These girls had plenty of space on the other side of the hive but had decided instead to build a load of wild comb in the gap here. (Yes, we should have filled it but we didn't have a dummy board). So when we lifted the lid, we broke the comb and the bees were straight in there to get their honey back. 

Pollen packed in

And here, you can see that one of the cells was filled with pollen. When bees store pollen they head-butt it into the cells and you can see that there are layers of different colours and type of pollen. Isn't it beautiful?!

I'm hoping to document more of our beekeeping adventures here on the blog this year, especially as we expand our number of hives. The bees are endlessly fascinating and I hope you think so too.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mandalas in my sketchbook

0314 018 Mandalas web

Often when I am sitting and waiting, or in front of the TV when there's nothing much on, I get my sketchbook out. I don't always feel like doing a figurative drawing but just moving a pen to make repetitive patterns is very soothing. These pages live in my sketchbook and I go back and add to them over time.

0314 020 Mandalas web

After I've done my doodling, I will go back with my watercolours and add extra detail. Sometimes the page takes on a whole new life once I start adding colour.

0314 023 Mandalas web

Other times, I paint a watercolour background on some random pages in my sketchbook and wait until I have a doodle to fill them. Flowers and curves are very much my 'go-to' shapes, and pink/purple/blue is my colour palette of choice at the moment. Sometimes these doodle pages are where new ideas start to emerge and sometimes they are a 'comfort zone' where I don't really think about anything much. They're more about the process than the finished result, but somehow that makes me like them even more.

Thanks for sharing my sketchbook!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Beekeeping begins for real

We've already been inspecting most of our hives and have been optimistic about their progress through the winter and into spring. Yesterday we got the chance to inspect the last three which hadn't been opened this year. Surprising doesn't really cover it!

taking off the first lid

The first hive we inspected was number 16. The sheer number of bees was incredible - they're doing really well. It's really full and we shall be looking to put a super on them soon to give them more space.

chris showing mindy how we inspect

Beekeeping was a team effort as we were accompanied by our friend Henry, as well as Amanda and Jamie. Amanda received a bee suit for Christmas and this was her first chance to get it dirty. Beekeeping is not a particularly clean and tidy operation.

these girls have been busy! Their hive was very full.

Luckily for me, having so many pairs of hands around to help meant that I was free to take photos. The girls were very tolerant as I got up close and personal with my phone to take some shots. I like to make the most of it, because as we get busier my chances to do this will be less and less.

inspecting and hunting for the queen

So, first inspection done and all looking very positive. On to the next hives, which were moved here last week from one of our Newport apiaries due to some building work taking place. Both hives showed signs of bringing on new queens, so we performed artificial swarms with them both. This involves taking the existing queen out, putting her into a smaller hive (a nuc), then leaving the nuc in place and moving the old hive with bees in to another spot. All the flying bees should then return to the nuc, so we will be left with half the bees in each hive. It sounds straightforward, but the most complicated bit is finding the existing queen to move her. Sometimes queens are really easy to spot, but neither of these wanted to be found and we had to go through both hives several times to catch them and this took quite a while. One split was fairly straightforward, so now we just have to wait and see what happens with the new queen. The second split was a bit more complex, as the queen we removed looked very small - possibly a virgin queen. This suggests that the old queen had died and the bees had replaced her. However, there were still queen cells with eggs, so we risked either the new queen destroying her competition, or another queen hatching and the bees swarming away. Doing an artificial swarm like this will hopefully give us the best chance of keeping all our bees.

big swarm

This all took much longer than we were expecting, but it had been a great introduction for our new beekeepers and a great chance for them to see lots of action. But the day wasn't over yet! Chris' phone rang several times as we were packing up, so he returned the call to be told 'we've seen a lot of bees flying at the bottom of the garden.' You can never be certain about swarms unless the person calling you is a beekeeper, but as we weren't far away we popped along to have a look. Oh my. A huge swarm of bees on the same tree that we collected most of our swarms from last year.


Another team effort - we all took turns in brushing the bees off the branch and into the nuc. There were certainly plenty of bees for us all to have a go. Once most of the bees get the idea then they will sort themselves out, but there were a lot of bees trying to go through a very small entrance so it did take some time.
waiting on the branch

The bees are all very calm, though, and I'm probably the least likely to get stung here than I am at any other point. For a bee to sting they have to bend themselves in half, but before swarming they've already stuffed themselves full of honey, so they really can't bend very easily. I did get one try and sting my leg, but that was mostly because she got caught up in my trousers rather than any real anger.

watching them go in

There were so many bees that in the end Chris and Henry took the lid off the nuc to try and brush some of them in, and I think we got most of them. At any rate, those that weren't safely collected will find their way back to the hive they originally came from. And there is our first swarm of the year! Apparently we missed being the first on the island by one day, but this really isn't a bad start. I wonder what the rest of the year will hold...