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...

Sunday, April 06, 2014

A whole other language

0314 010 St Helensweb

When I was a little girl, I read a lot of books. I knew lots of words and I wasn't afraid to use them. I can remember teachers being very impressed by 'the range of my vocabulary'. These days, the language I am interested in is the language of art. If you read this post  you'll see what I mean. How do I say what I want through my painting? Roz Stendahl, the artist whose blog I linked to, is constantly looking for new ways to say what she wants to on the page. If this is a language, I am still learning the alphabet. Quick brushstrokes to indicate sea or rocks. Soft, cool shadows to show land in the distance. Layering colour and creating forms.

0314 011 Godshill web

The thing is, like with any language I have to practice to get more fluent. And so I keep drawing, keep painting, and sometimes it clicks and everything falls in to place. Like when you manage to order your meal in a foreign restaurant without the waiter laughing at you. 

These sketches are just from a couple of afternoons out last month. One done on location, and one from a photograph. I do enjoy sketching from life but sometimes it just isn't possible (especially when you're on a muddy walk). Either way, fresh greens and spring flowers make for much more interesting pages.