Spring is decidedly here. I was just looking through my photos from last year to find a new Facebook cover photo for April.
Last year at the end of March it looked like this outside...
Not very spring like, in contrast this year we have barely had a harsh frost, let alone several feet of snow. Theoretically we could still get some cooler weather, but now we're in to April there's the knowledge that it will be short lived, and certainly not in to double digits below freezing.
The warmer weather has meant the bees are out and about far earlier. This isn't necessarily a good thing, warmer weather encourages the bees to go out foraging, but plants tend to flower based on day length, rather than temperature. If the bees start foraging too soon, and building up the colony they could still starve. In fact death by starvation is more likely during early spring. We've been keeping a close eye on the hives over the past few weeks, and were pleased that 2 of the hives still had stores of honey left, the smaller colony wasn't doing too well, so we did put some fondant in with them.
Earlier this week we checked the hives again This time the warmer weather meant we felt confident to go in to the hives properly. The day time temperatures at the moment are as warm as on many days last summer, so we wouldn't be exposing the bees to too much cold air, and disturbing the hibernation clump they form during cold weather.
One hive was doing fantastically, there are still loads of bees present, signs of capped brood, and we spotted the Queen. They look to be hitting the ground running this year so here's hoping for a nice summer and a good honey crop.
The other two hives however, were not looking good. The hive that we'd fed were still struggling, fondant was maybe the wrong food for this time of year, but feeding sugar syrup in our location in early March is risky, as you can see from last year, March at our elevation is still very much winter.
When we inspected the final hive it was clear they were not doing too well either. Two weeks ago we lifted off the top of the hive, checked they still had honey in the top super (layer) and left them to it. This time there were streaks of brown all over the super, when we went in to the main body of the hive it was even worse. They didn't look healthy, weren't flying in and out, there were no brood, and no sign of a Queen... The bees had all got a really bad case of diarrhoea, it can be caused by an infection, but can also just occur naturally, particularly in spring. The bees have good weather, go out foraging, and start ramping up toward summer activity levels. It then gets wet and cold again, and they're stuck inside, but are in summer metabolism mode, so end up pooing inside the hive. There's not really any treatment for either cause, except to feed them, and hope they sort themselves out.
The brown blobs in this picture are all streaks of bee poo. We're still novice bee keepers, so working out what to do in any situation usually involves consulting a book! So after scurrying back to the house, and reading the advice on offer, this hive have been given a fresh home, combined with the other struggling colony, and given some sugar syrup to eat.
The piece of paper separates the 2 colonies until they've got used to each other, and that way you don't end up with the bees killing each other. The bright yellow blobs on the paper are fresh bee poo, both Mum and I ended up covered in blobs of it from the bees that were flying around while we sorted them out.
Our bee suits are now washed in case it is due to disease, and the old frames will be taken apart, the wax melted down and everything sterilised.
A few days later it looks as if we might have caught it in time, as there's huge amounts of bee activity coming in and out of the hive, and no streaks of bee poo all over the place. Now we just need to wait and see if a Queen from either colony survived. If not, we'll either have to buy a Queen, or hope that the other hive produces a Queen cell in the next couple of weeks for us to place in to this hive.
So much to talk about, I fear this will be a piecemeal post as I want to get caught up, and if I don't do it all in one go I will never get back to writing about things as they happen.
One of the perils of running an online based business is that it's very easy to feel like you've become welded to your laptop. Sometimes it's nice to take a complete break away from being online, and the pressure of having to write stuff, and be entertaining, and to show people new things. Don't get me wrong, I love writing blog posts, but sometimes it's nice to pause and draw breath.
I was away last weekend on just such a break, Skip North is a gathering each year up in Haworth (of Bronte sister fame), technically it's a chance to go shopping at the many treasure troves found in Yorkshire, but in reality it's much more than that. It's also a chance to catch up with friends, share skills, and be inspired. In fact, I bought no yarn whatsoever. I have no photos of the weekend, mostly because I was too busy doing "stuff", and I didn't bother taking my camera, and despite the craze to capture everything using the camera on iPad's and phones I'm not that much of a fan of any photos I've taken this way. If you do fancy reading about the weekend, I can highly recommend taking a trip over to Rachel at My Life in Knitwear, she has proper lovely photos to share.
Of course being away requires social knitting. The sort of knitting you can do on a coach, or while drinking wine, or while putting the world to rights. My knitting at the moment is pretty focused on making fresh stall samples, ones that show off my fibres, and highlight what you can do with 100g of pretty fluff. So before I left, I got this spun up.
This is my Bollywood Gradient, spun as singles so that the colours changed pretty rapidly. I'm combining it with some natural coloured commercially spun Alpaca to make a Spectra. I've got a fair bit of it done, but I've only just finished making a version for myself, so I am starting to get that poking yourself in the eye sensation. I have however made more progress on it over the past 2 days, as I've spent lots of time staring at my laptop waiting for it to do "stuff". My laptop is elderly, I bought it with my Golden Hello bonus when I started teaching, neither the "t" key or the "e" key have any paint left on them, and the glass covering the LCD screen has a hairline crack running across it, the CD drive also has to be coaxed in to action... however, it still works, and I'm a firm believer in not discarding items before their useful life is over. It was in need of a bit of maintenance though. 5 years of file debris scattered about, had left it with whirring fans, and a reluctance to carry out a task in a sensible time frame. So everything was backed up, the hard drive wiped, and I started again from scratch, reinstalling only the important things, and it's now much happier.
The Spectra isn't the only new stall sample on it's way. I also just finished making this.
Another Stephen West pattern, featuring my favourite garter stitch-handspun combo, and the chance to use up a smaller amount of yarn on the border, perfect. This one is worked in a semi-solid BFL/Alpaca/Seacell 2 ply as the main body, then I used some variegated BFL/Baby Camel singles for the contrast.
While I had the dummy out, I also took a photo of this.
I made this shrug 18 months ago, and never wore it because it kept falling off my shoulders. The pattern was one I made up, using the same construction method as the Two-Tone Shrug in Fitted Knits, it fitted nicely off the needles, and then I washed it. It was just before Glasgow School of Yarn, and I was in a rush to get it dry so I could take it with me, and put it over the top of my towel rail to dry. End result was a shrug that was far too wide, and fell off my shoulders, so I never wore it. One trip through the washing machine on the handwash cycle, and it's now back to the correct shape, and fits. A prime example of what The Yarn Harlot talks about in this blog post. Blocking doesn't just apply to lace.... it makes a huge difference to all types of knitting. The yarn is the first ever BoB club fibre, it's Jacob Silk in a beautiful semi-solid blue. The edging is the same fibre left un-dyed. Total amount needed, around 200g.
My little chickens would not make good eating chickens, under all that fluff they're mostly skin and bone, however an ongoing joke in our house is that is Froome (the brown cockerel) isn't careful he might end up as a spatchcocked chicken on the barbeque!
Well this week, Cav has nearly ended up spatchcocking herself on multiple occasions. While she runs around like a headless chicken half the time, and is scared of everything, she certainly isn't daft when it comes to food. Particularly if the food is worms!
The dry weather has meant that Mum has been doing lots in the garden, planting, weeding, and generally tidying up. Freshly turned over soil means worms, and Cav knows this!
Mum often ends up moving her off the patch of soil she's trying to dig to avoid skewering her on the fork.
And this is what it's all about, fat juicy worms that can be turned in to eggs.
Once you've got the alignment right, it goes down in one!
Today we're back to wind and rain after a week of sunshine. I'm very glad to be tucked up inside with the drum carder, and maybe my wheel later on in the day.
Over in the Hilltop Cloud Ravelry group we're hosting an informal Spin Along. Something to fill in the gap between the end of the Ravellenic Games and the start of the Tour de Fleece. It's going to last for approximately 6 weeks, which rather handily takes us up to Wonderwool Wales. Enough time to get a more sizable project done, but not so long that you just put off starting. You can set your own challenge and spin any fibre that you like. Some people are learning to navajo ply, there are first attempts at cabled yarns, and quite a few people are deciding to takle silk for the very first time. I've gone deep stash diving and pulled out some of the oldest fibre I own and am using the challenge as incentive to actually get it spun up!
Over the past few days I have indeed been dyeing everything I can lay my hands on. I'm pleased because I've made a really big dent in the Wonderwool dyeing, providing the members of Pembrokeshire Guild don't come over all light headed at their workshop this weekend!
I've been coming on most evenings and collapsing in to a stained heap... Mum looked at me this morning and asked it the dye stain on my neck was a fashion statement! Yesterday I came in and caught up with my twitter feed and it was awash with awesomeness. There are so many awesome dyers creating beautful things at the moment. It makes me wish there were more hours in the day, because I'd love to buy all the things!
At shows when people complement me on my work I always smile, say thanks, and comment that I simply create things that I love. And I do, I dye the fibres in a way that creates things I enjoy spinning, I use base fibres that I like, I put colours together in combinations that I find pleasing. Fortunately for me many of you share my taste! Butvariety is the spice of life, and just because I create my own fibres, it doesn't mean I can't appreciate the work of others. I get regular squishy parcels from lots of different dyers, mostly fibre but occasionally yarn, and I love working woth something where I've not had to decide upon every detail.
A few days ago I spotted an advert at the bottom of one of my Ravelry pages, and clicked on it, and it led me to a lovely treasure trove. Squeaky Elliot use fleeces from their family's flocks to create beautiful yarn that they then dye. It's just the sort of thing I love to see farmers doing, and a product that I love buying.
I ended up with a skein of Elfyn's laceweight, it's made from Welsh BFL lambs fleeces and is absolutely divine. It was spun here in the UK, and there are only 100 hanks of it, so I feel like I now own something very precious.
She also does a lovely thicker yarn called Gower Wool, whihc uses BFL mixed with Black Welsh Mountain, the depth of colour looks fantastic, and if this BFL is anything to go on wil be absolutely beautiful.
So what shall I make with it?
One of the nice things about living in the UK is the weather... I know that seems like an odd thing to say after the past few months, but bear with me.
Foreigners always joke about the British obsession with the weather but it's beacuse we have so much of it, and it's always changing. Today in Wales it's like being in the Costa del Sol, the sun is out, there's not a cloud in the sky and it's lovely and warm. In contrast these pictures were taken only a couple of weeks ago.
This was a famillliar "look" for Cav this winter, her head feathers are not really wet weather proof!
Of course, stepping outside and walkng towards the shed where the chicken feed is stored has inevitable consequences... they might be small, but they are little tyrants, and no one is exempt from the demand for yet more corn!
The others are content to eat what's scattered for the, but Cav adopts a rather more novel strategy to enure maximum food before she gets chased away.
The weather is set fair for the rest of the week so for the next few days I will be dyeing everything in sight making the most of the good drying weather.
Warning, if you're of a sensitive nature you probably won't want to read this post...
Hello, it is me Gwen-bear again. I want to tell you that I was very clever yesterday.
For ages I have been trying to tell the humans that there are creatures living in the compost heap, last time I tried to tell them this there was a nest of baby rats in the middle of one. Their Mummy had run off and left them when the humans were emptying out the compost, I think that's very negelectful, I would never have done that with my puppies...
(Gwen is a rescue dog, and had a litter of 12 pupppies before we re-homed her, one of whom, is Meg)
The humans had dug out the compost heap, and I decided to help, I found a giant tunnel, and I dug...
and I dug
and I dug some more
and at the end of the tunnel wasn't a nest of babies, it was a giant big boy rat. I caught him, and I killed him. I don't like rats.
After this my Mummy took my rat away from me, apparenty I wasn't allowed to play with him, she put him in something called "the brown bin" (we have a bin collected by the council specifically for food waste that can't be composted), and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't wok out how to get him out. So although I might be clever enough to catch a rat, I can't be that clever... apparenty I don't have thumbs... the humans say it's a good thing as I already know how to let myself in and out of the house.