Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Visiting Old Knobbley (an Ancient Oak) and Julie's House

Old Knobbley
I'm not having a holiday this year - and I'm starting to miss going away just about now, when the weather's very hot and I feel like an excuse to not do very much with the day. Perhaps it's also because the garden and the trees are looking a bit tired in the heat and in need of some pepping up, too. We had a brief glimpse here of autumn just last weekend, with strong winds and a bit of rain, and although it passed very quickly it does feel like summer is coming to an end. So I think I'm ready to go away, have a break and then come back and look at the smallholding with fresh eyes, ready for a new season.

But that's not going to happen. Instead of a holiday, David and I are having a handful of days out. It's not the same of course, but it is an excuse to go somewhere different for the day, to relax and to have a good lunch! We had the first of these days at the very end of July, and we spent part of it visiting Old Knobbley and Julie's house.

These two couldn't be more different from each other. Old Knobbley is an ancient oak, about 600-800 years old, and Julie's house is...well...a modern house (or piece of art depending on your view). But they're geographically very close to each other in north Essex, so both can be visited in a couple of hours.

Old Knobbley's trunk, close up.
Old Knobbley is a wonderful tree. Like other ancient oaks, it's losing its heartwood and it looks like it may have been hollowed out by a fungus (essentially it's been eaten from the inside).  It was pollarded in its youth and has survived a fire at one time. It's also surrounded by other trees and so there's a danger that these will crowd it out and stop it receiving the sunlight it needs to survive. Fortunately, the local community and the local council are aware of this (there are many people caring for this special tree). Old Knobbley is a local celebrity; it has its own website and Facebook page, a book has been written about it and numerous paintings made of it. It has also come second in a 'Britain's favourite tree' contest.

I love oaks (who doesn't?) and all ancient trees, and I'd long wanted to see this one. If Old Knobbley is 800 years old, then it came from an acorn dropped in the early Middle Ages, perhaps around the time the Magna Carta was being signed. I find that incredible.

Julie's House

After visiting the ancient and gnarled Old Knobbley, we went to see the shiny and new Julie's house - a fantasy house created by artist Grayson Perry. Grayson Perry is Essex born and bred, and has created a back-story for the house based around a fictional Essex woman called Julie. It's been described as a shrine, a secular chapel, a folly, a fairy-tale house and a 'ginger bread' house.

It has artwork inside, which unfortunately we didn't see as it's closed to visitors. So we just had a good look at the outside of the house. This is covered in images that look like ancient female fertility statuettes. I did think it missed something - and realised that this was Grayson Perry himself. Really, he should have been there to explain it all!

I've no idea if the house would be practical to live in (people have been able to enter a ballot to stay in it as a holiday home). I imagine, from photos I've seen of the decor, it's a bit loud to say the least. It won't age as beautifully as Old Knobbley has done and I wonder if it will it last as long? I do like, though, the wild meadow garden to one side (or is it the front?) which should be great for pollinators.

In any case, it's certainly a fun house for today; truly eccentric and very unique.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Weeks of Computer Problems with an Absence from Blogs

My old computer has been dying slowly over the past few weeks and although I tried hard to revive it, it eventually gave up altogether. So I went computer shopping, bought a new one, set it up etc etc. All this means that late July's blog post is still unposted (the photos wouldn't load) and I haven't been able to follow other blogs. It's been frustrating, to say the least.

But now I'm looking forward to catching up soon. In the meantime, as it happens to be World Honey Bee Day, here is a photo of one of these wonderful little creatures on some fleabane, out now of course and loved by bees, butterflies and moths x

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Lambs, Lavender and Robber Bees

The new lawnmowers have arrived! I haven't named them yet, so they're still known as 'the lambs'. They settled into the flock at once and have already guessed that I mean food (they've been getting treats). They're always getting separated and will call for ages across the field, until they work out how to reach each other again.

We have a mix of ages now in the flock, from our ancient sheep (a stiff and ambling fourteen years) to these new lambs (just over four months). But it's not the sheep but the bees that are preoccupying me at the moment, because I suspect that one colony is robbing the other. Why do I think this? Because I've been watching my two hives closely and observed a few key signs. Firstly, that one hive doesn't have much food - even though there is a healthy, foraging colony in there - while the colony next to it is doing very well. This colony has always been strong and brought in plenty of food, but I believe they've been topping up their stores with stolen honey from raids next door.

The main clue that robbing is going on is from my observations of the 'robbed' colony. The 'home' bees are flying directly in to the entrance unchallenged, but there are also bees that are flying in a sort of zigzag motion before the hive. These are the robbers looking for an opportunity to get by the guard bees at the entrance. Sometimes they'll get caught and a fight will follow, but often they're getting through the defences and into the hive.

So what can I do? It's very difficult to stop robbing once a colony gets the habit and I wonder whether this began when the 'robbed' hive was knocked over in the spring and their stores were exposed. I have to do something, anyway, otherwise the 'robbed' colony could eventually lose heart, give up and decline. So I'm going to begin by reducing the entrance of the 'robbed' hive to one bee space, which means it'll be more easy to defend. I'm also going to try something I've only just read about, which is to cover the hive with a wet sheet. Apparently, the 'home' bees will find a way in under the sheet, but the robber bees are put off by it.  I hope it works, because not only are these poor bees facing robber bees, but before the month is out, they'll have to contend with aggressive wasps, too.

When all my bees are foraging beyond the apiary, they're finding the lavender we have in the garden. Last year we planted lots of both butterfly and English lavender before the house so that the bees can forage on the butterfly lavender in May and June - and then they can move onto the English lavender in July and August. Lavender is one of the best bee plants - it's great for honey bees, bumblebees and solitary bees.

Other insects love lavender too, such as this painted lady butterfly

Some of the birds are also interested in it. They're welcome there - as long as they don't destroy the plants!

I also spotted these new visitors by the lavender bushes last week. I don't know where they've come from but it can't have been far because the ducklings are so small.

They were last seen wandering along the lane towards next door's orchard, where there's lots of long grass that should give them plenty of cover and, hopefully, keep them safe.