Friday, 2 September 2016

Hornet Horror

Last week (24th August) I saw an Asian hornet, Vespa velutina, at the beehives. Not good news. The hornets are capable of killing off whole hives of bees.

I phoned the Agents Rurals (a rural warden service) who where quick and efficient, arriving an hour after my call with a trap and a load of instructions.

I have been checking the trap and the area around the hives; the clue is to look for the severed heads of worker bees. The hornet takes the thorax, which provides protein for its larvae.

So far I have not found any.

But I am on guard:

Kung Fu Crofter

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Bee Tongue

A fascinating piece - if you like words - from the University of Barcelona, has helped me understand why people in Catalonia use so many words for beehive. Some people here say it's a 'rusc' and others that it is an 'arna.'

Research by Maria-Pilar Perea and Germà Colón Domènech at the University of Barcelona that might be of interest to Dr Jarrett over in his Corner of 10th Century Europe, shows the development of at least six words or phrases for beehive. 

'Rusc' in yellow, 'arna' in green

Their map shows how 'rusc' was the word used in the Barcelona area, while 'arna' was used in western Catalonia, at least since the 13th century.

Which of course led me back to Scotland, where I can remember my Mum using a word that was not 'hive.'  She called a hive a 'bee-howff', which means a bee-residence or bee lodge.

In Scots we also have;

  • Bee-bike, or byke, defined in the Scots Dialect Dictionary as a wild bees' nest, and in Chambers Scots Dictionary as also meaning a swarm, an assembly of people, or unexpected good luck. In the old days, finding a wild bees' nest was unexpected good luck
  • Bink, defined in The Scots Thesaurus as a hive
  • Ruskie, a straw beehive

Truly we speak in bee-tongues.

Special thanks to Teresa at the Catalan Beekeepers Association for this information.

Monday, 15 August 2016

It started with a seed...

...that got caught in Fidget's (the sheep) neck. 

Then some more got caught there, and then Quim the shepherd told me that this is a common problem. Some sheep feed with their heads low down, near the ground - and get covered in the grain that falls out when the rest of the flock eat.

It had become a real problem, so I replaced our tall upright hay feeder with a home-made one, knocked up from scrap wood from around the Croft.
Bits, and a bit of a plan

It's made

It works!

Scrap is SO useful!

Bugs at the Croft

A selection of images to reassure you that despite the pesticides that are being sprayed around the world, this little corner of Catalonia still has a load of lovely bugs.

Stink bug sex, in full colour

This is a potter wasp nest, beautifully built on a blade of grass.
Potter; The Cupboard under the Staircase

This is the beauty of leaving your skin behind.

I jumped out of my skin

And here is the life on our thyme flowers, on 26th June of this year:

Monday, 18 July 2016

We're Renewable!

We just signed up to have our electricity supplied 100% by renewable sources - thanks to the lovely people at the Som Energia cooperative.

The process was easy, quick and cheap. Just €100 to join the cooperative as a member, and then a simple form to complete.

I had considered installing solar voltaic panels at the Croft, but the cost of the panels and the converter, with enough power to run a large house and our three water pumps (well, irrigation and recycled water), was prohibitive. Som Energia supplies certified renewable energy mainly from wind power.

One more step toward a lower-carbon footprint...

Friday, 3 June 2016

Fit on the Croft

Working on the Croft is the equivalent of paying an exorbitant fee to a fancy gym, except it is free. Last Saturday I shifted 60 bales of hay, using - at least this was how it felt - every muscle in my body.

Hay sweater
Shifting hay at the Croft means picking the bale up in the field, lifting it into the back of our trusty Nissan, piling in five more bales, driving over to the hay pile, and stacking them up. Not for lightweights...

Luckily, the Croft helps me recover. We have the beautiful Spiny Golden Star (Pallenis spinosa) in flower at the moment. 

Good for the spine

Our neighbour Dolors has shown me how to soak the flowers in alcohol and make a muscle-rub. It's an incredibly effective treatment for a back made sore by the hay-bales.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Runny Honey

My first honey harvest today!

Miquel had loaned me his centrifuge, and today started sunny and calm, so I set out the kitchen ready for the harvest:

Not ergonomic, but it works
I sealed the windows. Not to stop the bees coming in, but to stop them getting out. If they escape they head off to tell their mates, and in no time you have 10,000 bees trying to get in to rob your harvested honey.

Then up to the hives with all the necessary equipment...

..and back with one full upper and two sets of frames. It has been rainy, so the bees are not yet really ready with the honey.

In the kitchen I weighed the honey.
That honey is dense

Then removed the cappings from the frames, centrifuged them and filtered the  honey. 

Watch that knife, Crofter.

Result: 26.5kg of fresh honey!

Friday, 20 May 2016

Snail's Place

This, I think, is a Girdled snail, Hygromia cinctella, or possibly a Trochoidea elegans, elegantly climbing a dandelion leaf:

Sitting on breakfast

  My friends over at El Cargol del Montseny (appropriately, 'The Montseny Snail') suggest that it might be Helix aspersa or Helix pomatia, but this one had a flattened profile, not the fat round of the Roman snail.

Anyone out there an expert on snails?

Monday, 16 May 2016

Floral sex

There are lots of ways of reproducing in the animal kingdom, as the brilliant Olivia Judson has shown; her 'Dr Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation' is the funniest biology book I've ever read. Here are a couple of much more mundane examples from plants and fungi, gathered yesterday at the Croft. 

In the flowers camp I have picked two that illustrate another point - food and sex; the first is a Broomrape (Orobanche alba), a parasitic plant that has no chlorophyll and survives instead on the juices of, in this case, the thyme plant. The Thyme Broomrape has a sort of sweet smell of cloves and cinnamon. The second is an orchid, Orchis militaris. Both flower, and thus depend on pollinators to reproduce. The orchid may, like many orchids, have a specific pollinator species - which would mean that both it and the Broomrape depend on another species for survival.

Thyme for more juice
Military Orchid, in pacifist pink

 For spores, here is a splendid fungus; I am rubbish at identifying them, which is why I rarely collect them to eat them, but a friend of a friend suggests it might be the edible Leccinum Lepidum, or possibly but less likely a Suillus granulatus

Faeries be here

Monday, 9 May 2016

The Next Village Along

When a person dies people here in Catalonia say that she has 'gone to the other neigbourhood.' On Friday morning our lovely Hazel went to the other neighbourhood - I'd rather think of it as the next village - after a short illness.

A scent of a dog

She was a kind, empathetic dog - one of the crofters called her 'a sweet dog' - and had lived at the Croft for eight years after we brought her home from a rescue kennel nearby. She was highly adapted to live with humans, understanding our moods (flattening her ears while we had one of our debates), ready to walk anywhere, and loving of all of us. When one of the Crofters was away for a while he or she would be enthusiastically welcomed by Hazel on their return; this was especially true for our two children who grew up with Hazel around them. We are all missing her, our lovely Hazel.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Crofting Gallimaufry

It has been a week of action here at the Croft.

First, Patrick (now a year old) has started halter training. He doesn't much like it, but the apples I feed him make it bearable.

Yeah OK but what about that apple you promised?

Then, for Sant Jordi, the poppies came out.

Just poppin' out

And yesterday, Dink the bantam hatched five lovely wee chicks.

Dinx chix pix

Life goes on going on.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Wetter winters, drier summers

I am a typical Scot, totally obsessed by the weather. But just in case you share my interest, here is a trend:

April Showers
This graph compares 2006-2008 (three years, inclusive) with 2013-15. It shows how much wetter or drier it was in the later period by comparing the same six month periods in each three year group, ending in the month shown on the graph. I hope you are following at the back of the class because there will be a test later.

In simpler language: in the three six months periods from July to January 2006, 2007 and 2008 we had an average total 404mm of rain over those six month periods. But in the three six month periods from July to January 2013, 2014 and 2015 we had just 338 mm. In other words the late summer and autumn 2013-15 was a bit drier than the late summer and autumn 2006-8. The difference was that the later period was 16% drier, so the first point on the graph is below the zero line. But the six month periods ending in April (i.e. November-April) were much wetter in the later (2013-15) period. In fact the later period was 42% wetter than the earlier. Geddit? 

This data does not include the very dry winter we had this year.

There could be many explanations for this shift in the weather (which is consistent, by the way, whichever pair of three year periods you use). Whatever the cause, winters and springs have been much wetter at the Croft during 2013-15 than they were 2006-8, and summers and autumns are much drier. Overall rainfall in the two periods has not varied much; total rainfall 2013-15 is only 3% lower than 2006-8.

There you are. The weather is a wonderful topic for conversations, a subject for hours of debate...

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Spring has Sprung

Walking in the mountains above the Croft today we came across these beautiful Hepatica nobilis, flowering at 1100 metres.

A Noble Liver, indeed

Spring is here, and the bees are getting busy. When I opened a hive this past weekend I found bee larvae in various stages of development, on the top bars of the hive. I am now on constant swarm-patrol, watching out for signs of queen cells...

Who took the roof off?

Friday, 19 February 2016

Spring Nectar

The bees are out. 

Green flower power

It's the early flowering in this unusually early spring, as our Mediterranean Buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus) produces its anonymous wee green flowers. 

The Buckthorns are buzzing with bees - my wee black bees, and big bumble bees. Spring has sprung.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Donkey Tears

Arran the donkey has a swollen eye.

A week ago, the swelling completely closed the eye, and he looked very dejected. We started washing it with a tea made from thyme (the local treatment for eye infections) and called Vicenç the donkey vet. By then, Laialuing had also developed a similarly swollen eye.

With the help of Vicenç we managed to get the swelling down so that he could use fluorescent eye drops to look for injury in the eye. He found a tiny spine. This means that the probable cause of the swelling is the falling spines from Pine Processionary (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) larvae. These spines have a barbed end like a wee harpoon, and cause stinging and a rash. Perhaps because of the mild winter we have a serious outbreak of Pine Processionary nests across the Croft and neighbouring land, so the donkeys can easily be infected. 

We are looking into ways of controlling the Processionary population but the blighters live at the top of our tallest pine trees so they are hard to reach...

Friday, 29 January 2016

Whither the weather?

Writing about the weather is one step more Scottish than our infamous tendency to talk, endlessly, about it. So I'll keep this short:

It is dry. Very, very dry.
Since 1st December 2015 we have had a total of 4mm of rain. Average rainfall over that period is 74mm, so we are 95% down.

It is too warm, for January.
Here at the Croft - we are 300m above sea level - we have barely had frost all winter; just a handful of sub-zero nights. In normal winters we get many frozen nights and a few pipe-bursters that drop below -8ºC.

As a consequence we have mosquitoes active in January (the frost would normally kill most of them off), and bees that are awake and about but can't find nectar.

And now there are concerns over forest fires - something we worry about in July, but not (normally) in January. Here is the February rain forecast from the European Forest Fire Information System: the beige areas mean lower than average rainfall is forecast, and thus higher than average fire risk.

You still not sure about global climate change? Really?