March, a busy month for the school farm this year.

March, with its longer days and warmer sun, is here and the pace of life on the school farm is quickening.crcklep

sheep1The first of our pure bred Llyen ewes is due to lamb within days, and the rest of our ewes should lamb over the next month or so. Our Sow, Crackle, is back from her visit to the boar and is now obviously pregnant, she should, if all goes well, farrow at the end of the month. To make space for both Cracklepigs215 and the sheep to give birth, under cover and out of the weather, three fattening pigs and the calves have to be moved out of the barn. The pigs are soon going to become food for us and the calves, having been tested for ‘Tuberculosis’ and found to be disease free, will be going to market to be sold.

One of the poly tunnels has been cleaned and prepared and potatoes were planted early in February – we are hoping there wont be a late frost which could damage them. An early planting of potatoes is a chance worth taking, we hope to get new potatoes more quickly and other potatoes will be planted in a succession over the next month as well.

geese1Outside there are changes too. We still have four geese and we have now found eggs in their shed. Who is laying the eggs is more difficult to say, one bird is obviously a gander, he hisses at anything new to him and can be sneakily aggressive!  Which of the other three is laying eggs is still unknown…

With the help of our able ‘ELBS’ students we are also part way through extending the concrete floored manure storage areaDrain added (this waste needs to be contained and controlled, it’s a potential pollution source) and they also helped install drains around the poly tunnels. The drains should prevent rain water getting inside which has been making the tunnels wet and sometimes unusable.

bees1Finally the bees certainly know it’s spring, they were very busy a few days ago collecting a variety of pollens – where they we’re finding so many flowers early in spring is a bit of a mystery, probably from gorse, willow trees or in the varied gardens of the town.

More updates soon!

Pigs, Ducks, Geese and more …

Finding work to do at the farm is never difficult because there is always so much to do.  Today (Monday 18th August), we decided to move the new weaner pigs from the barn into the field.  Moving 4 excited pigs can be highly amusing and today it certainly was, one of them is very stubborn! To see them outside, running around eating the plants, digging their noses into the soil and wallowing in the mud is very rewarding.

weaners 2



Ducks and Geese:

The ducks and geese have also been moved to an area where they have fresh grass to eat.

Ducks in pond

Aylesbury and Khaki Campbell Ducks



Saturday 23rd August: And finally on the moving of animals, our lambs and Calvin have also been moved to a field where there is more grass for them to eat.  The rain due this weekend will be very welcome as the grass is very dry but hopefully the sun will shine once more and we can watch the grass grow and enjoy a last sunny week of our summer holiday.

And a few other notes.

Where are our ewes? They are in a big field on Dartmoor for the summer. You can, just, see them in the picture. The field has recently been cut for hay, the new grass is short and sweet, just how the ewes like it, which was why they were far to busy to walk over and see me….


And after we took off the honey it’s time, again, to check the bees for Varroa. The pictures shows some of the 75 or so mites (the tiny red and oval disks with legs) done for by the first two days of treatment of one of the hives. They were collected from below half the hive as they fell out – so maybe 150 in total or about 75 a day. Since the treatment continues to remove as many mites for several weeks there may be several thousand mites in the hive – a dangerously high number!


In the Summertime …..

when the weather is fine and all the students and staff are hopefully having a well-earned break, life at the farm continues to be busy – and hasn’t it been busy for the first couple of weeks.

As well as Andrea and Pete who are on call 24/7, our loyal band of volunteers continue to do their morning duty.  This involves not only feeding and checking the welfare of the Geese, ducks, ducklings, hens (and cockerels), pigs, cows and sheep but watering of the numerous plants in the poly tunnels.  A big thank you to all of them for their continued support, it is very much appreciated.

Stumpy, waiting for her dinner!

Stumpy, waiting for her dinner!



Crackle and Stumpy are enjoying the warm, sunny weather and are spending a lot of time in their wallows:





Friday 1st August, saw the arrival of 4 new piglets/weaners which Andrea and Pete picked up at the Exeter market. (Photo below). They are currently settling in and will be out in their paddock shortly.


The ducklings and goslings are growing fast and have now taken on their adult colour:


It has been a busy few weeks on the bee front too.  The bees have produced an amazing amount of honey and we have been extracting it from the hive.  I will let the expert fill you in on the details.

Pete writes:

Thanks Cheryl.  After a warm July there was a lot of honey in the two beehives – but how much isn’t certain until it’s harvested.

Experience teaches us that it’s better to remove the honey as soon as it’s ready or it will crystallize and be difficult to remove from the combs, so, firstly we went to the beehives and quickly removed as many combs of honey as we could before the bees realised and objected! We took it all to one of our changing rooms which could be made ‘bee proof’ – the bees couldn’t get in, or so we thought…





Then it’s time to harvest the honey. Each comb has to be uncapped with a knife (the cappings are made of beeswax and also collected – you can see them in the bucket). Frames are a exact shape so that this can be done evenly.

We put the uncapped combs into the extractor, spun them, the honey flies out (you can just see that in happening the picture), collects in the extractor and we run it into a bucket then through a filter into the honey tank. It’s left there for a while for bubbles to slowly rise and then the crystal clear honey is put either into bottles for sale or buckets for long term storage.


Honey being spun out by the extractor


Emptied frames.

Fairly simple but very sticky! And the bees find their way in (well, it is ‘their’ honey) and gradually the room fills up with bees so we can only harvest the honey in small batches.

How much honey did we get in the end? It looks like about 45kg from the two hives. That’s a little under what might be expected from strong beehives in such a good summer, but one hive did swarm so we lost some honey gathering bees, and we also made up several new colonies as well. All in all its been a very productive beekeeping season.


Summer time, and the (honeybee) living is easy

For bees, at least when the sun is out and it’s dry and warm. June and July are the main time bees get honey in Devon – this is when clover and bramble, our main honey plants, flower. But, it’s been so hot at the farm that looking at the bees has been put off until yesterday when, with the weather a bit cooler, I had a look.junehive

They already had three supers on but last time they were looked at there was very little honey so I hoped this time there would be a lot more. If the weather is good bees can gather a lot of honey in a short while.

box3I took the lid off the first hive and looked in the top super. It’s fairly full of new honey, and the next two are as well – perhaps 15kg! You can see the new white honey comb in the frames.


Brood in a super

I then looked at the other hive and was surprised to see this:

It’s not honey – it’s brood. So the queen has, somehow, got past the excluder into the supers. The excluder has to be perfect so the bees can get through but slightly bigger queen can’t, so maybe the excluder is damaged. At least this shows why beekeepers use excluders – any honey in frames with brood can’t be extracted until the brood has hatched.

Hive with excluder

Hive with excluder

One frame in this hive did nicely show the freshly collected honey. The bees have to ‘cap’ it (put a wax cover over each cell to seal it so that it keeps – they’re just starting to do it on part of the frame) and then it will be ready to harvest.honey2


A swarm at the farm?

Not quite. The bees did try to swarm, but we made changes to the colony before they did.

If you look at the picture you can see a ‘queen cell’, hanging from the bottom of the frame. Inside these special cells bees raise queen bees, not often more than a handful in a hive each year. The queen lays an egg in the cell and the hatched bee egg gets better food, more space and instead of becoming a worker bee a larger queen bee is produced. Bees produce these queen cells just before they swarm, so we knew the bees wanted to swarm, and that soon, in about a week, a new queen would hatch from the cell.


But, because queen bees, without exception, will not tolerate another queen in the hive, one of two things must happen*. Either one queen kills the other or the old queen leaves the hive before the new queen hatches, taking many thousands of bees with her – the swarm.

We don’t want all those bees to leave because it’s all those extra bees that might get us some honey – they are our honey getting workforce. So, to prevent swarming, we did the following.

We took the frame and queen cell, plus some new frames, put them into a new hive, shook in many thousands of bees from the original hive and took them to a new home (so, in a way, we did let the bees swarm but under our control). Here that queen should hatch, mate, build up the new colony and later we will either let her continue or bring the new colony back, to ‘unite’ it with the old one . We would then still have one big colony for when we get most of our honey – in July.

All that effort seems to have worked, the only mistake we made was to not  remember to take pictures of it…

And the honey we thought we might have? Well, the weather over half term has been poor and the bees have not been getting any honey. See our next post for details…

*very occasionally you can find mother and daughter queens in beehives (a process called ‘supersedure’) usually in the autumn when bees replace the queen but swarming would be impossible.


Beeautiful weather

It’s been a beautiful, warm day at the farm, and the bees are responding by both working hard and by thinking about swarming.

HawthornWarm weather makes life easier for bees. They spend less energy keeping warm, can fly for longer and the flowers secrete more ‘nectar’ for them to collect. One useful type of flower in early May is Hawthorn pictured to the left – there are thousands of flowers in the picture, and many such trees near the farm.


NectarThe picture to the right shows a frame part filled with nectar collected by the bees that they will slowly turn into honey in the next week or so. Nectar is a sweet liquid produced by flowers in tiny amounts to attract insects for pollination – so the picture shows the result of thousands of visits to individual flowers (the nectar is easier to see if you click the picture for a bigger image). When fully filled each frame can hold a kg of honey, but, the weather has to hold for this to happen, if it rains a lot the bees might have to eat the honey instead…

When bees swarm they prepare special cells to produce queen bees so the colony can then divide. If that happens we’ll post a picture here but for the moment here is a picture of one of the beehives full of bees.

Beehive and super