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I love Christmas. There – I have said it. I am not a bah humbug person. I play Bing Crosby from the 1st December onwards. The decorations go up. My List of Presents book is consulted to make sure that, during the year, everyone on my list has had a gift thought of and purchased or made. Sounds like I am in control? I hope so! Because the reality is that things will happen here that are a surprise…
Let’s start with the bees. We know that right now the colonies will have decreased in size, the drones (male bees) will have been chucked out by the workers (female bees). The larvae comprising the Winter Bees will begin to develop. The bees will have begun to store their honey and nectar as near to the brood box as possible. We hope they have enough stores and we remove very little from Autumn onwards in order to leave them enough for Winter. Occasionally though a colony for some reason just does not have a huge amount of stores. So in order to get ahead of this problem, we ‘heft’ each hive (see how heavy it is) and if it seems a tad light, we quickly open up the hive (to stop the cold getting in) and feed the bees with some specially made fondant. It is a good thing we did, because we discovered one colony in need of feeding. Normally all our colonies go into Winter with more than enough stores. We have already covered the tops of each hive with fleece to help keep them warm. Ordinarily the bees move their wings to keep the hive at a constant temperature but occasionally the effort means using more of their stores than is ideal, so we always cover the hives now.
Bee Hives in Winter covered in fleece
Then we have the hens. They lay eggs based on hours of light. They need daylight to develop their eggs. So they do suddenly stop laying at this time of year. We don’t mind that, particularly for the rescue hens who have, before they came to us, lived under 24 hour lighting to keep them laying. You can never know exactly when they will stop laying each year. This year, they have stopped quite early. Not many folk know that eggs are seasonal food - that is when hens are allowed to follow their natural cycle. Here is a photo of our lovely Tammy who was a rescue who came to us with terrible gapeworm which nearly killed her. Oodles of antibiotics and weeks later, look at her! Having a lovely dust bath with a full set of feathers.
Tammy the Hen
As for the ducks, well, where do I start? Scooby the Mallard still follows his two much larger ladies around and they exhaust him! They have long legs, being a different breed to Scooby, and just glide about the place. He waddles after them trying to protect them even though he is half their size! The surprise with the ducks is that they continue to lay eggs into the winter, despite the diminishing light levels.
In the Garden & Greenhouse
In the garden, we are planting fruit trees. One of our dogs, Chuck, loves to chew sticks and he thinks that the trees are sticks… So we have to fashion protective areas for them. So far, the surprise is that he has not eaten a single tree!
Chuck eyeing up the fruit trees to be planted
I have planted up my bulbs. Now, most years I have the excitement of being surprised by the bulbs that pop up, because I lose the labels. This year, I am very proud that I have managed to save the labels and affix them to the pots!
As for the herbs, I have begun to sow seeds and continued to take cuttings. But not before I gave my Rhino a good clear out! I have not done that for the 18 months or so (I think) since I got her so she was very much in need of a clean! I don’t mind little bugs and things overwintering in the greenhouse during the winter, but I do like to clear out the areas that would have housed whitefly or greenfly at the end of summer. Then I place polystyrene on the shelving, and fleece over the herbs on winter nights, to keep them warm as I do not heat the greenhouse.
I leave you with a photo of my favourite Christmas herb – Foxley Thyme. It has gold, green, red leaves. Just so perfect. I bang on about this herb every Christmas – so no surprise there! If you have a favourite herb, stick it in the middle of your Christmas table and just look at it daily. Have a little munch if you fancy!
So – from my Rhino, The Herbs, ducks, hens, dogs and bees, I wish you all a Merry Christmas. Keep safe and well. And I shall see you all back here at the farm in January.