The day when everything happened

I walked down to the allotment this morning, never dreaming of how much would happen. There are weeks when nothing much happens then everything seems to happen on a particular day. Today was that day!

After saying hello to everyone, I began to clean out the chicks. Steve dropped by and said they looked a little cramped in their coop. I agreed. Where should they go? The greenhouse, although much bigger, is far too hot. Steve said to put them into the main coop as they were big enough to cope with the older girls. I was surprised that they could mix at 11 weeks old but Rhode Island Reds are large fowl. They should be able to hold their own. Phil, Steve and I took a chick apiece and walked down to the main coop. Confusion reigned for several minutes as the new comers were assessed by Millie, Polly and Hattie. There were the usual pecks and skirmishes but nothing too dreadful. Millie is a bully however, she wouldn’t go for the chick who we think is a cockerel. When Millie tried to intimate him, he stood tall and she backed down. Hilariously, at full stretch, he is taller than Millie. She didn’t try anything with him again, saving her pecks for the two girls.

Before I got too engrossed in cleaning out the coop, I called my husband over and we checked under the table in the greenhouse. I had a sneaking suspicion that the mice that have been visiting our shed have been living in there. Sure enough, there was a nest hidden underneath the table, complete with three baby mice. When they are full grown, we will remove everything from the greenhouse to encourage them to stay away.

In order to keep an eye on what was happening in the coop, I decided to start cleaning the nest box out. It’s a job that usually takes a couple of hours but the drying of the box and boards should be much quicker due to the heat. The chicks spent most of the time huddled together in a corner of the coop, making sure to keep me between them and the older girls. By the time I got halfway through, my husband reappeared. We watched the chicks for a few minutes and decided now was the time to name them. The chick who loves to climb on me is Aggie (short for Agatha), Cassie is the shy one who is always behind the others and our boy (yes, I finally admit he is a boy) we are calling Tommy. Some cockerels can be aggressive but Tommy has a lovely temperament and I want to keep him for as long as possible. The advantage with having a cockerel is that the pecking order is clearly established with the cockerel in charge. All the squabbling stops because the girls aren’t jostling for the top spot.

Just as we were deciding what to do next, Cliff spotted a cloud of bees over the site hedge. We followed its progress as it moved along the length of the boundary hedge. I yelled for Steve who appeared and we gave the hives a quick check. None of them looked like they were responsible for the swarm. Maybe it had come from elsewhere? Steve dashed home to call a local swarm specialist and to get Phil to come down. The swarm guy came from Middlewich so it was half an hour before he appeared on site. Happily, the swarm had settled in the boundary hedge at a point where it overhangs into the street. Whilst my husband was busy digging over the weedy section, I went to get a closer look at the swarm.

The bee man arrived quite quickly, changed into his bee kit and set up a ladder so he could reach the swarm. On the pavement, he set up a mini hive ready to out the bees into. Phil lent him his tree loppers and with Steve’s help, he cut the branch with the swarm and placed it carefully on the top of a polystyrene hive. Next, he shook the branch hard so that all the bees dropped off the branch and into the hive. Quickly, he put the lid of the hive on and tightened the strap around it. So far, this is what we have done on site, except that the bee man was far more efficient. But what he did next intrigued me. He took the strapped up hive, climbing up the ladder one handed, proceeded to put the hive into the tree, balancing it on the boundary fence. Then he started to spray the surrounding branches with Jeyes fluid. He explained afterwards that the Jeyes fluid removed the queen’s pheromones from the tree, making it easier for the remaining bees to follow her scent into the new hive. We left the hive up in the tree to allow the bees to get into the hive. Steve declared it was time for a tea break and invited the bee man to join us. He did so and Steve managed to persuade him to take a look at our hives before heading off.

As my new bee suit still lost in the post somewhere, I volunteered to be scribe. We have found it increasingly difficult to remember what’s happening with each hive. Especially now there are seven hives. The bee man carefully combed through each hive with Steve and Phil helping, occasionally shouting some stats at me to write down. Interestingly, although we have caught swarms quite well we didn’t realize that you need to feed a swarm when you place it in a new hive. Phil has researched how to make bee syrup and has made a vat full to bring down to do into the three swarm hives tomorrow morning. The bee man also recommended putting the swarms into smaller hives or blocking off half of the brood box so they don’t have to heat a big space. He also marked three Queens for us using a special contraption which catches and holds the queen so a drop of paint can be added to her back. Whilst all this was going on, my husband was putting the nest box back together and adding new bedding before digging over part of the weedy section of the plot. Ever the star, he disappeared off to the shop to get us cold drinks as the heat was relentless.

After the bee man left, I made a start on the pond. I was absolutely determined to get the basics done today. The soil was baked solid in the pot so I used two full watering cans to try and soften the soil. My plan was to remove the bulbs and flowers from the pot, replanting them in the raised bed at the bottom of the plot. They should provide a lovely screen of flowers with the jasmine, honeysuckle and passion flower climbing above. It took a while to get the plants out because even though I thought I had soaked the soil, it had only softened the top couple of centimetres. I arranged the flowers and bulbs in the bed before transferring soil from the pot to the bed to build up the level of the soil. I made sure I watered the bed thoroughly to help the plants take. The remaining soil in the pot was used to build up the ground level on the side of the veranda. As a final touch, I swept out the pot and moved it to the centre of the veranda.

Next, we laid out the pond liner. As there was so much of it, we added a double thickness layer to the pot. This should hopefully help protect the liner. The liner I had bought was miles too big but we have spare for repairs or even to make another smaller pond somewhere else. The liner needed to be tight against the bottom and sides because as soon as the water goes in, the liner is impossible to move. After sorting out the liner and trimming off the excess fabric, we moved the pot back into position in front of the willow screen. My husband ambled off to find a hose and began to fill up the pond. I went for a walk around the site to try and find wood, logs or stones to go around the outside of the pond. I didn’t find anything but I will keep an eye out. One thing I did find was a rejected piece of decking board. With a bit of work, it will make an excellent ramp to help wildlife safely access the pond.

Just before we started to close up, Steve swung by and gave us a bird box. It was buzzing. Apparently the bee man had given it to Steve who passed it on to us. Inside the box was a mini colony of bumble bees. I knew from my bee hotel, that they prefer the west facing side of the shed. Using a screwdriver and a long screw, I fixed up the bird box. The bee man had helpfully covered the he with a small section of metal grill taped into place. Slowly, I removed the tape until it was held on only by a few millimetres. I stepped back and pulled it off. Out came the bees, several medium sized ones and one that can only be described as a whopper. They went backwards and forwards for a while. I hope they stay. With bee numbers in serious define, every colony is important.

We did a final watering of the plants and I was excited to see how many of the potatoes are thriving despite their late planting. Let’s hope we get a good crop this year!

As I put away the sail, I sat on the bench outside the shed thinking about what had happened today. It seems crazy that so much can happen on a small allotment site in the middle of a northern town. Days like today are part of what makes being on an allotment site so magical.

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