I am a Keeper of Bees

I have been fascinated by bees for years.  I lived in California, over 15 years ago now, and a friend allowed me to help with her bees once and that was it, I've wanted to be a bee keeper ever since.

After moving to Ash Cottage one of the first things I did was sign up to the local bee-keeper's association and take their introductory course.  It finished a few weeks ago.

Friday was my birthday I had a wonderful day; went for breakfast with my mum and sister, Anna, received most of my bee keeping gear as gifts, spent the day in the garden, and ate the yummiest birthday cake EVER.  After a birthday party with friends on Saturday, both little foxes headed off for sleep-overs with their friends so that Mr Fox and I could get up early Sunday morning to pick up the bees.

A fellow bee keeper in my association was selling off some over wintered queens with their first colonies.  So we drove to pick up my first colony of bees.

The bees after returning to their hive the night before are sealed into the broodbox.  Can you see the blue sponge stuffed into their entrance to stop them getting out?  That was all there was between us and 50,000 bees in the confines of old Betsy, our 15 year old Volvo estate.

Bees are naturally woodland animals and like dappled light.  But they also need the warmth of the sun on the hive for much of the year in our temperate climate.  Although we have a large garden, we do also have 2 dogs and 2 children, so the hive has been positioned at the edge of the garden, close to veggie patch which will, at some point, be fenced off from the rest of the plot.

Once in the garden we decided to face the hive entrance into the hedgerow along the side of the river that is the western boundary of the garden.  This should encourage them to fly up as they come out of the hive, sending them as quickly as possible above head height in the garden and so avoiding collisions between bees and people.

Once in position and the sponge removed from the entrance, they were very active and have continued to be so for the last two days.  Non too friendly for the first 20 minutes they have since appeared to be quite happy to let us stand just to the side of the hive entrance to the north - they mostly seem to fly off to the south towards the fields at the back of our garden.  Watching them come and go from their brood box is all I've been able to do since Sunday.  I'd been told not to open the hive for a couple of days but just let them settle.  They were inspected before being closed up on Saturday and there were no queen cells - so, today I need to do my first inspection.

Best Birthday Cake EVER!

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Little Rituals

first morning coffee
Monday's coffee in Rob Ryan enamel mug

I recently read a lovely post on my Bloglovin' feed called Little Rituals by Gillian from Tales From A Happy Home.  Gillian's post was about the small daily rituals which, after moving home, are the things that make your new house your home.  And it set me to thinking; I LOVE our new house and in the short 9 months that we have been living here it has become the home of my dreams, for the rest of my life, absolute heaven.  I don't mean to gush, but it has.

And Gillian is right, it is the day to day rituals, things that you only do in your own house that make it your home.   So, here is a very ordinary day, Monday to be exact, but one that brought me much pleasure.

mrsfoxs chickens

Little Louis seems to always get up first, and too early.  He comes into our bedroom and wiggles around in our bed, making snoozing impossible, but, I have a new trick up my PJ sleeve.  I send him off to let the chickens out of their house.

Little Una Fox has a barking dog alarm clock which goes off just after 7am, over, and over, and over again.  Mr Fox gets up for work, and brings me a cup of tea in bed before he goes - Isn't he grand!  I don't feel alive until I've had my tea, washed my face and applied my Fushi Oils.  They are an indulgence that I decided I deserve now that I am in my 40's.

Fushi oils
But my day begins proper, much like Gillian's by the sound of it, after I drop the Little Foxes at school - now only a 90 second walk rather than a 30 minute drive away. On my return I have my best coffee of the day.   Fresh ground, made in an espresso pot bought before the Little Foxes were born.  The cup I use is very important.  It is usually one of a choice of 3, but each cup has a slightly different meaning for me.  The one I went for on Monday means - "a day in the garden".

Even though the school run is now such a brief excursion I still get greeted by our two dogs, Bea and Beau, like I've been gone for days.  Sometimes this ends in disaster, as I trip over them extracting a yelp from the victim and a non too savoury word from me.  On other occasions disaster eludes us and we have a bit of a love in, the dogs and I.  Tails wagging, neck scratching, jockeying for position and general over-excited chaos on a small furry canine scale.

Then we do our tour of the garden.  When Mr Fox is home he and I walk the garden, but otherwise the dogs like to accompany me.  We check the chickens,...

and this is why we check the chickens; evidence of a fox having taken a rabbit in our garden last night

I gaze at my apple trees for a bit, and dream of my orchard.  Planting the three apple trees was all quite a palaver, so to see the blossom on them now is wonderfully reassuring.

We also take in the veg patch and green house where I've sown seeds that I'm hoping have germinated.  Little green seedlings are a cause for celebration.  Hopeful watering of all other seed trays and plants in pots elsewhere in the garden brings my garden tour to a close.

I sit at the computer for a bit once inside.  I'm still not sure where my favourite spot for sitting at the computer is in this house.  I've been moving it around.  But I quite like the table in the back room at the moment.

I check emails and Facebook; friends are so scattered these days, all over the world from the US and Canada to Australia and Bangkok.  Do a bit of writing, upload some photos.  Then remember that I am supposed to be doing the shopping online not getting distracted.

I do agree that a home is not a home until you've broken in the kitchen.  And most of my toil in the garden is all about edible crops.  At Ash Cottage the kitchen wasn't in too bad a state when we moved in.  But shortly after our move, one by one, everything functional broke down, including the cooker. So, we bought a reconditioned Aga, built on site it was great to watch it grow in my kitchen, and as we are talking rituals, it has become something of an idol to be worshiped.  I do a fair but of cookery exchanging (my marmalade for her pesto, sloe gin for elderflower cordial, that kind of thing) with my friend Jennie and last weekend she leant me her ice cream maker.  I've made a batch of blackberry ice cream and with the spare egg whites a batch of meringues.

Where one woman's rituals is another woman's chore, in Tales From A Happy Home, Gillian writes eloquently, and supplies beautiful pictures, of her house-work; bedding changed and beautifully made up beds, washing on the line.  With the greatest respect to this lady I'm not going to do that.  I go by the adage that no woman on her death bed would say; "I wish I had spent more time doing the house work".  My house work is done as quickly as possible, the bare minimum, "a bit of dirt never hurt" as my granny would say, in her spotless house(!).  It's a quick, kitchen - post breakfast detritus cleared, bathrooms - given a quick swipe (yes, swipe not wipe), beds made, kids clothes picked up off the floor and stuck in the washing machine, then get back out in the garden.

Today, I wanted to get the second bed of potatoes into the ground.  Which involves moving huge piles of soil from an old compost heap onto the veg beds on the other side of the garden.

Can you spot the potato?
This quiet, simple, sometimes strenuous, repetitive to the point of meditative activity is why I love gardening.  Sharing a chat with my elderly neighbours over the garden fence, exchanging tomatoes for runner bean plants.  A quick snack for lunch, and a couple of drink and chicken watching stops mean that I am little more than started on the potato beds when it is time to pick the Little Foxes up from school.  Gardening eats time.

On a Monday the children have no after school clubs, so they come straight back home and go say "Hi!" to their chickens.  As it was such a beautiful day they persuaded me to turn the sprinkler on for them to play in after tea.

I had to stop my toil to watch them screaming and jumping into the cold water, a beautiful end to the day.  Straight into the shower for those two, PJs, hot milk and a madeleine while they wait for daddy to come home.  Mr Fox usually puts the children to bed while I do our dinner.  That is his most important ritual and sometimes I join him to listen to the bedtime story.

As Gillian asked; outside my open bedroom window I can hear birdsong and cars.

And I can hear the creaks and groans of my house bending and stretching her old bones.  I talk to my house, she is a she. I like to think our inhabiting her is something that she is a willing participant in after some years of neglect.  That we are gently restoring a lady in her middle years (I don't like to call her old!) to something of her former glory.  Each day we live in her, no matter how ordinary or normal, is nourishing her as much as she shelters and protects us.

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Mrs Fox's Chickens

Mrs Fox's Chicks

This Easter we got week old chicks from my little foxes old school, who take part in the Living Eggs scheme.  The scheme has been running for 10 years and gives schools and nurseries the opportunity to hatch their own eggs, to give children the opportunity to see that special moment when life comes into the world.

The children adore them and have named each one; Astrid, Anoushka, Agatha and Ashleigh.  Last week they moved out of their brooder into their new run in the garden.  Here they are, aren't they grown?  About 10 more weeks and we should be getting eggs.

Mrs Fox's Chickens

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I have just finished the Beginner's Bee Keeping course with the Bishop Stortford Bee Keepers Association .  It has been lovely to put the kids to bed of an evening and then drive over to Hopleys Garden Centre in Much Hadham to listen, learn and talk about bees with others as enthusiastic (if not more so) as I.  The course was great and I met a lovely group of people, both BSBKA members, committee and fellow "newbies"; thank you all!

In the second week we all made a hive, split into teams we each worked on a different section of the hive.  The team I was in made the brood box and frames.  It was great to realise that with basic carpentry skills I will be able to build and maintain my bees' home.  And doing something with my hands, made the course come alive for me.  I've been babbling about bees to anyone who will listen ever since, reading up on these fascinating creatures, and getting more and more excited that I will soon be a bee keeper.  At the end of the session, whoever emailed first could buy the hive we'd all built.  I was home in a flash and emailed my interest, so here she is in the garden at Ash Cottage.

Thank you John for delivering it - look at that dappled light in the photo.  Apparently bees are into a bit of dappled light.

So, I have the hive and frames, I'm hoping to pick up my first colony of bees on the May Bank Holiday weekend.  I have been browsing the bee keeping suppliers websites for about 4 weeks now in various states of confusion.  I am just about ready to purchase what I think are the absolute essential things I'll need to have for the bees arrival: 
Bee keeper's all in one suit (v. important!), 
J shaped hive tool, 
bee brush, 
1 gallon contact feeder,
...that's what I've got on my order, is there anything else that those of you with more experience than I would say I have to have?

I thought it was the honey and doing my bit for the environment that would be my main interest in bee keeping, but I have become fascinated by the creatures themselves.  Bees are amazing.  Don't get me wrong the honey is still a big attraction.  Little Una Fox gets repeated bouts of tonsillitis.  We use Manuka honey to treat it, and if we catch it early enough it prevents going to the doctors for antibiotics.  I am hoping to switch to raw honey from our own hive for the same result.

And then of course there are all the delicious things you can make with honey.  Sarah, my fellow newbie noticed The Guardian had an article on the Ten Best Honey Recipes  the other weekend, I fancy making the Madeleines.

So soon I will be a bee keeper! < small scream of excitement >

To the land where the honey runs
In rivers each day
And the sweet tastin' good life
Is so easily found
A way over yonder
That's where I'm bound

"A Way Over Yonder" lyrics by Carole King

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Crafting a Fairy Party

Ahh, yes, that is lovely woodchip on the wall in the picture above.  My workshop in our new house is last on the decorating list, in fact it is barely unpacked, check out Mrs Fox's Den for the story. 

Mrs Fox's Fairy Teaparty party-box is one of  our best sellers.  On Tuesday, after the lovely relaxing May Bank Holiday, I spent much of the morning putting together a party box for 8 to send out to a client.

I think the little drawstring cloth bags I sew for the party bags, really make the party favours seem special.  But I have to admit my favourite item is not something that we make but the Fairy Wishes Cup-Cake Kit we include.  They make up 24 fairy cakes (geddit!) and, along with the cardboard teapot vase, they make such a sweet little party table display.

Fairy Wishes Cup Cake Kit £9

I also use the ice cream van containing ice cream cups and spoons to decorate the party table and then whip out the oh so useful items inside in time for dessert.

Ice Cream Van - Ice Cream Cups & Spoons £9

Mrs Fox's Fairy Tea-Party Box contains:

Fairy invitations and thank you cards

Balloons x 20 in pink, yellow & purple

Flower bunting, 2 x 3m

Mrs Fox's MYO paper fairy kits

Teapot table centrepiece/vase

Paper cups and plates in pink & yellow and fairy napkins.

Fairy cup cake kit (makes 24)

Mrs Fox’s Fairy Party Bags: cotton drawstring bag with fairy glider, make your own paper fairy kit and felt pens, balloons, sweeties.

10 pink spotty birthday candles

Mrs Fox's will put the whole party box together and mail it straight to your home.  You can purchase the Fairy Tea-Party Box for 8, 16 or 24 children right here.  Or if your number of invitees falls somewhere between these numbers please email us and we can send you a quote for a Fairy Tea-Party Box for the number of children you wish to invite.  Here’s how it works:
  1. Purchase your party box for 8, 16 or 24 children.  Or if your number of invitees is substantially different email us first.
  2. Email us  info@mrsfoxs.com and let us know your child’s name and party details and the number of children you plan to invite.
  3. We’ll send your invitations out within 3 days (but usually sooner) and the rest of your party box can then be sent out very soon after.
Mrs Fox’s can also supply; party game kits, bunting, signage and hand made decorations to add to the fairy fun. Take a look at our blog for ideas, if you have any questions email us, info@mrsfoxs.com
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