Impending stork visit?

Thank you God for abundant life, new life, full life, life that never ends. Amen.


I had a lovely visit home to see my American family members. Phil did a superb job of looking after the chickens while I was away…maybe too superb:

Cinnamon in the broody position

Cinnamon, the bully hen, has gone broody. She wants to be a mama. And, having nothing else pressing on me time-wise, I have decided to let her try.

Broodiness occurs in cycles, typically in spring and summer. A typical broody bird will begin to direct all of her energy on creating a clutch of eggs, then sitting on them until they hatch, then raising any little chicks that appear.

I have had to do some quick studying to find out about ‘broodies’ and babies. Because of the breeding of wild game fowl into commercial egg layers, these chicken are not good a brooding. As broody hens stop laying while they sit and raise chicks – a total of  2 months or more with no eggs – the drive to brood has been bred out of them and they are typically culled for meat before Nature has a chance to kick in. Some hens may never feel the biological urge to sit on eggs, while others may feel the urge but not have the staying power to sit for the full 21 days  (maybe longer), and others still may sit through to hatching only to cannibalise the newly hatched chicks. Joy.

So, this is all a bit of an experiment.

Now, we have three hens that lay eggs, and we have two roosters who I have seen trying to mount the hens, but I do not know if the roos have been successful. This is in part due to the difference in size between my little roos and my regular hens. It is also because I have been away for a couple of weeks: I don’t know what they’ve been up to. Whether these eggs are fertile will become clear in due time, but for right now I am assuming at least one egg is and tending to Cinnamon, accordingly.

Five eggs. I don’t know who laid them, but a broody hen will typically sit on any eggs offered to her.

For the last four days she has been sitting on a nest of five eggs and doing very little else. This is normal. A broody hen leaves the nest only once a day to eat, drink, and poo. She may also have a quick dust bath but her time off the nest typically lasts only an hour or so. During the final days of sitting she may not leave the nest at all.

A Chicken Keeper’s job at this point is to make sure the broody hen is undisturbed, and eating and drinking. Some keepers will move their broody hen into a maternity ward – away from the other chickens who may bother them – in order to ensure the best start for all, but as my flock is so small, and the others don’t seem to be bothering her, my plan is to leave Cinnamon as she is in the communal coop, with one change. I’ve put the nest in a movable box.

The nest box area, which is not subdivided, is big enough for two or three hens to sit side-by-side, and all three hens have been laying in the one area. (Cinnamon will stop laying while she is sitting). When she went out a couple of days ago I moved the eggs in the bottom half of  a cat carrier, added some straw, and put the cat carrier in the nest box area. This has given her a bit more privacy and will make it much easier to move her and the eggs if/when the need arises. But it has not stopped Ginger and Clover from laying in there.

A hen can comfortably brood about 12 eggs. Typically, if she were on her own, she would lay one a day until she got a good sized clutch, but she would not really start sitting until the last egg is laid. In this way the first eggs don’t begin developing until the last egg is laid; this ensures they all hatch within 24-36 hours of each other.

As I don’t know if these eggs are fertile, or if Cinnamon will stay the course, I have decided 5 eggs, which are a mixture from the three hens, are enough for this experiment. I have marked the five eggs with a pencil so I know which eggs are to stay in the nest. Each morning when she comes off the nest to eat I remove the new unmarked ones. If I were to leave new eggs at this point, as she is already 4 or 5 days into her 21, she would abandon them when the first ones hatch, and they would die. Not ideal.

I have noticed quite a difference in Cinnamon’s posture and behaviour. She is all puffed up all of the time, clucking to herself, and more wary of everyone. Mama hormones do that. I have told the cats and the dog to steer clear of her, and find it is best if I give her plenty of space, too.

The other four waiting to go out for the day. Cinnamon will stay on the nest, only coming off once each day to eat and drink. I did pull her off the nest today because she wasn’t for moving. She ate well, pooped, and went right back to the nest.

She has lunged at the other hens if they get too close when she is eating – she is obviously trying to get as much food as possible in the shortest time, so this makes sense to me and I won’t try to stop her.

I have read that a hen’s food and water intake decrease by 80% while they are brooding, so if they will take food from your hand, it is good to let them have it. And when she has come off the nest when the others are free ranging I have given her a bit extra corn just to make sure she is getting calorie-rich food.

The biggest worry is water intake. Dehydration will end her life. I have not seen her drink anything, but her poop isn’t too dry.  This is a good sign.

Broody poo near food dish. Regular poo near the top of the photo.

Non-broody hens poop all the time. Broody hens hold all their poop until they come off the nest. These once a day poops are huge and stinky. These are know as ‘broody poops’ and are to be expected.


In a few more days I will attempt to check the eggs for embryonic development. This is done by shining a bright light through the egg and looking for veins and embryos. Known as ‘candling,’ folk use flashlights these days.

Candling is best done at night as the hens go all dopey in the dark and don’t mind you poking round under them quite so much. However, it doesn’t get dark until 10pm and that is way past my bedtime. I will try to sneak the eggs into a dark room while she is off the nest. With the light behind the egg and shining through it, I will look to see if I can see veins under the shell.  If there are veins that means the egg is fertilised and there will be a growing embryo. If there are no veins, the egg is not fertilised and needs to be removed as it is at risk of going off.

About a week later I will candle the eggs a second time, checking for developing chicks. If at this point any of the eggs seem to have stopped developing they will need to be discarded.  Additionally, if any of the eggs develop cracks, rotten egg smells, and/or oozing fluid I will remove those, too.

Maybe I should’ve let her have more than 5.

And there she sits!

It takes 21 days for an egg to hatch.  26 July is the due date. Fingers crossed!





Last day at the apiary

Thank you, God, once again, for safe travels, good conversation, and a chance to catch up with those who live far away.                                                                                                              Keep them safe and well.                                                                                                                  Bless them in their work and play. Amen.

It has been about six weeks since I went to the apiary. This is due to the planning and executing a trip to the states to visit family and the ensuing fatigue that comes from travelling. Though my Lupus does not bother me too much on a day-to-day basis, the cumulative effects of such a trip mean that there isn’t much of me to work with for at least a few weeks. By then it will be too late to to expect anything from them before winter.

Saying that, the last time I was at the apiary was good. My camera worked, so I got a few photos of the activities, and the new colonies were growing.

Aside from the standard checks for each of the hives – adequate food stores, brood, and space to expand – the biggest job on the day was to transfer the nuc colony into a full-sized hive.



This involved moving each of the frames in the nuc box into a standard-sized brood box, and filling up the extra space with frames of food (honey and pollen borrowed from a thriving colony next door) and a couple of empty frames for further development. In addition to moving the frames, the bees also need to be moved. This was done by shaking the bees off of each frame and into the nuc box (one at a time), then when all frames were moved and new frames added, emptying the bees in the nuc box into the new hive. This is done with a bit of shaking and/or brushing them out of the box and into the new hive, making certain that the queen is definitely transferred across.


These workers are fanning pheromones into the air to let their hive mates know where their new hive is. Notice the two on the left – bottoms up, wings flapping away!


Of course some of the bees were out foraging when their mates were moved. So the bees in the new hive came out onto the front porch and began to fan pheromones into the air to tell the returning bees where the hive/queen was. I found it fascinating to watch these bees communicate yet another very specific message to each other: We Are HERE!

Their communication skills are second to none!


Because of the break in beekeeping created by my travels and the follow up fatigue, I have decided not to try and get my apiary open before the end of this season. I will instead use the coming months to watch for sales, collect the equipment I will need, and get things set up for spring.

In the mean time there are county shows and an opportunity to teach others a bit about bees.

And when spring comes I will look at buying a nuc of my own and go from there.

A Day at the Apiary

Spirit of Creation,                                                                                                                          Thank you for the diversity of life in this world – plant and animal and everything in between. Thank you for the chance to interact with such tiny creatures whose lives we can learn so much from.                                                                                                                                Amen.

Sunday was perfect day for opening hives: beautifully sunny and warm with a slight breeze. So we did!

Somerset Beekeepers’ Association – a previous class of newbies

I was so excited I was only able to take in the one hive I was working with, but I think there were 10-15 students plus 4-5 instructors. There were also 6 or so active hives and a couple of ‘nucs’ – new, growing colonies in smaller hive boxes.

Upon arrival at the site we suited up. A proper bee suit is best for beginners. This is because they are specially designed to keep the bees from touching you: the fabric is thick and the fit is loose; there are elasticised cuffs at the wrist, ankle, and waist to keep bees from entering through little gaps; there are lots of zips and Velcro; and the head wear is to die for! Actually, the head wear takes a bit of getting used to, but it is nice to know that the mesh screening allows you to see the bees but prevents them from reaching you.  Also, once kitted up, you can pretend you are a fencer. Notice the similarity in the photos above and below.

In addition to the bee suit, long sleeves and trousers, high socks and wellie boots are recommended. For hands, washing up gloves (Platex in the US, Marigolds in the UK) are thick enough to prevent stings but still allow you to feel what you are doing. And, on top of these, a pair of disposable latex gloves are worn and changed when you move from one hive to another. This helps prevent the spread of disease.

Once dressed, we approached the hives.

The hive I worked on with a proper bee keeper (who has 3 years experience) and one of my classmates was doing very well. I could tell this just by looking at it’s profile. The  brood box – where the queen lives – already had two ‘supers’ on top of it. (The ‘brood box’ is where the queen lays her eggs and the worker bees look after them. ‘Supers’ are where the bees store honey.) As it is well into May, I guess the size shouldn’t have surprised me – the bees have been working hard for a couple of months – but as it was our first visit and a winter hive is only a brood box, with a lid, I wasn’t expecting so much evidence of activity.

The main purpose of checking the hive at this point in the season is to prevent swarming. This is done by looking at the density and type of bees, and looking for queen cells. 

Beehive Anatomy

In checking the hive, one starts at the top and works downwards, layer by layer. So, first off is the roof, which rests upside down on the ground.

Next is the the crown board, a a fairly simple piece of plywood with a hole in the centre and sides. The holes allow for ventilation and feeding (sugar solution or fondant is placed between the crown board and the roof. Bees climb up through the hole to get the food, then climb back down into the hive.

So, there are bees – just a few – under the roof and on the crown board. But once the crown board off you are looking into a box filled with bees. The bees in the super were numerous enough to partially obscure the ‘frames’ that we needed to check for honey, but later – in the brood box – we would have to shake, blow, or brush the bees away to see anything at all.

Each super and brood box holds 10 to 12 ‘frames’ of flat wax ‘foundation’ which the bees ‘draw out’ by adding their own wax. In doing this they change the flat sheet of foundation into a typical honey comb. In the supers they fill the cells with honey, and cap them off with wax. Later in the year they will use these stores to feed the colony, particularly over winter.

The heavier the super, the more honey there is. Though the supers and brood boxes hold the same number of frames, the frames in the supers are about half the size of the frames in the brood box. This helps to limit the weight of the supers. I lifted off the first one and sat it on top of the upside down roof. It was heavy, but unevenly so. In this way we knew there was honey in one end, but not throughout. A quick check showed the back frames were full of honey but the front frames still had plenty of open cells. If this super had been full of honey we would’ve added another super on top of this one when we put everything back together. The new one would be full of new frames of  foundation which the bees would turn into honeycomb.

Bees drawing out foundation


These bees are drawing out a new frame of foundation. Foundation is flat but imprinted with hexagons. The bees add their own wax to the imprint thus creating cells to hold honey, pollen, and baby bees!


My classmate removed the second (lower) super. This was heavier than mine because it had been on the hive longer, and so had more honey in it. By now the bees were flying all around us and landing on us. This we ignored. Mostly.

Below the lowest super is a metal grid board called a ‘queen excluder’. This grid has gaps that the workers bees can fit through but not the queen. This keeps the queen in the brood box making it easier to find her and easier to harvest the honey. So the queen lays only in the brood box, and the supers are filled with honey.

Once the queen excluder is removed we were into the heart of the hive and were able to inspect the brood frames. By now, bees were everywhere. But still, they mostly just kept themselves to themselves, getting on with the work that we were interrupting. It is at this point that we were actually interacting with the bees, touching them, brushing or blowing them away. We removed each frame of brood and checked them, one at a time, front and back, to see what they were holding. We were looking for stores of honey and pollen, eggs, growing larvae, capped cells, and perhaps queen cells. We saw all of these, though not on every frame. We also saw more drones than I was expecting.

Drones are male bees and they noticeably bigger than workers. They have two jobs: to leave the hive to mate with new (virgin) queen bees, and to stay in the hive and help with ventilation/heating. If the drones that leave the hive are fortunate enough to mate then their job is finished and they perish. The drones that stay in the hive help with temperature regulation by flapping their wings. No, really. The wing movement creates a draft. Also, if it is cool out, the action of wing flapping creates heat and this warms the hive.

Drones are so specialised that they cannot feed themselves. They must rely on worker bees to feed them. Once the breeding season is over and the food stores run low the workers will stop feeding the drones and let them die. But come late winter or early spring the queen will begin laying drone eggs again and the cycle of their lives begins once more. .

Our brood box was full. The first and last frames – usually used as food stores were heavy with honey and pollen that would be eaten by the workers and fed to the growing larvae. The frames in between the first and last had a mix of eggs, larvae, and capped cells, and three of these frames also had queen cells in various stages of  development.

Beekeepers at work

It was decided by the apiary manager that we needed to divide this one colony into three colonies in order to prevent the swarming.

So, two nuc boxes were pulled out of the shed and we put the frames with queen cells in each new box along with two additionally frames full of brood. Along with these frames went all the worker bees that were busy working on them. These full brood frames will hatch out and become the workers for the new colony, and when the queen cells hatch – if they hatch – there will also be queens. If more than one queen cell in each nuc actually hatches, the two queens will have to fight it out. The winner gets to be queen; the loser will be killed, I think.

A nucleus hive from .

A nuc box only hold five frames. These will be transferred to a full-size brood box when the colony gets larger.                                             photo from

In addition to the frames with bees and brood,  frames of foundation are also included so that the bees have somewhere to store the pollen and nectar they bring back to this hive. But, as they have very little food on the brood frames, until the new hives get their own food stores set up, we feed them. Sugar solution was put into the top of each nuc, either in a separate container or in a special compartment (two different designs) for feeding.

These nuc hives were closed up so the bees cannot get out (another reason to feed them!) One box has a traditional doorway that was stuffed with spongy foam; the other had a rotating disk that could be twizzled round and closed. Closing them in the nuc box prevents them from flying back into the hive we just pulled them out of. Once their new queen hatches, they will stay with her, but until then they need to be kept in the new hive.


I forgot to say that before  we could remove the frames with queen cells we HAD to locate the current queen. If the current queen had died and we removed all of the new queen cells, that colony would be queenless and at great risk of collapse. We did find her (she had a lovely white dot on her thorax, like the photo in my previous blog) and, to make sure we didn’t lose her, she was collected in a queen clip – a little plastic box that looks like a hair clip. By isolating her we could pull out the frames we needed to move without worrying where she was, and when we were finished with the nucs, and had replaced the frames we removed with new frames of foundation, we released her back into the depths of the brood box. Once we had done that we replaced the queen excluder, both supers, the crown board, and finally the roof. Phew!

Beekeepers Queen Bee Plastic Clip Catcher
a queen clip allows the beekeeper to safely isolate the queen for short periods of time.

We did not do one check – for that pesky little varroa mite  – but because we been in the hive for a long time and we needed to close up and let the bees alone. Hopefully we will do this check next time.

There were no stings, but there were stinging bees. I noticed one poor bee with her stinger stuck through one of my latex gloves. The stinger was not long enough to reach my skin. I brushed her off and she left her stinger behind. Honeybees die after they sting because part of their body is ripped off in the process of stinging. I also notice another stinger close by that one which had been left by another bee. I wondered if the second bee was responding to the pheromones released by the first bee when it stung. Based on the location of that stinger, I imagine I had unknowingly trapped the bee between my finger and thumb and it stung in self-defence.

Later, when I was getting out of my bee suit, I felt suddenly noticed that one of my fingers was stinging and looked down to find a stinger in it. I think this stinger must have been left on the bee suit by some other bee. I must’ve brushed over the stinger as I was getting undressed. It did sting a bit but as there was no bee attached, and therefore no injection of venom, it was not bad at all.

And that was my hour and a half at the apiary!

This time last year I was quite overwhelmed by opening the hive. Not this time. I was pleased that Peter let my classmate and me do all of the handling ourselves (though he did talk us through everything and answer lots of questions), and I was pleased that I was willing to do it and I remembered how.

The bees are just amazing. Though initially it looks like absolute chaos in the hive, stopping just for a minute to take in what is in front of you allows a change in perspective: every single bee is focused on a particular job that needs to be done. The aggression they showed towards us (as evidenced by those stingers) was deserved – we were interfering with them, and their drive to protect their queen and brood is strong. I also wondered if having so many students on site at one time, with all hives simultaneously open, irritated the bees. Lesson learned: the more quickly we work, the better for us all.

I am hoping for good weather next week, and I am anxious to see how the nucs and the main hive are doing. And if I am organised enough and not overly excited I will try to take some photos of my own.

Thanks to all the sites from whom I have found illustrations for the last two posts!

Somerset Beekeepers’ Association – a previous class




Weather delays

Dear God,                                                                                                                                    Someone told me patience is a virtue.  Help me to be virtuous.  Amen.

River Exe near Dulverton

I should have two apiary visits to write about but the weather has been so cold we haven’t been able to open the hives.

We have, however, managed a walk by the river.

The Exmoor Beekeepers Association has two apiaries that students can use – with assistance, of course – to learn the hands-on skills of beekeeping. Sunday afternoons have been set aside for this, as part of the beginner’s course, but if it is wet or windy or cold the session is cancelled.

This is not to say that the bees haven’t been checked at all, just not on the scheduled Sunday afternoons. In the mean time, the apiary manager will be monitoring the weather and when the conditions are right, s/he will make a mad dash to the hives to check them. So, no bee handling for me. Yet.

But there are bees in the garden! And more than I expected to see. Last year we weren’t living here full-time so we only got to check the garden from time to time. I had never saw more than one honey bee in the garden. But this year I have seen as many as six honey bees on the apple tree at one time. Yay!

Honey bee on apple tree in our garden

Where are these bees coming from? I know of three people who have apiaries within a few miles of us, so I am guessing the bees in our garden belong to at least one of them.

When I get my hives set up I wonder if my bees will find our garden? They will be closer to us than the other bees in the area, so fingers crossed. Of course, I won’t be able to tell by looking that they are my bees. I will just have to sense whether they are known to me or not. (Eye roll here).

Why do I think these bees come from someone’s apiary and not the woods? At present there are no known wild/feral honey bee colonies in England.

We have discussed this in class, the lack of wild colonies. To a newbie like me it seems we would want to encourage wild honey bee colonies, but the experienced beekeepers think differently. This is because one of the bees’ primary foes is a little mite called the Varroa. Varroa mites attach themselves to worker bees who carry them back to the hive. Once in the hive, the mites climb off the bees and into the brood chambers (hexagonal wax cells where eggs grow into adult bees) and eat the developing larvae. During the week-to-ten-days that a larvae is metamorphosing the mites will reproduce once, or maybe twice. These new mites will travel into a new chamber with another larvae and reproduce again. With most of the larvae being destroyed there are no new bees to replace the short-lived workers. A colony will collapse in a matter of weeks.


Image result for varroa mite
Honeybee with several visible Varroa mites   from:


One of the main responsibilities of a beekeeper is tracking and treating Varroa infestations. Treating the hive is time consuming, multi-pronged, and does involve pesticides. Unfortunately, the Varroa mites are becoming tolerant to the pesticides  because of overuse (a bit like human- bacteria and antibiotics). It is thought that if there were wild honey bee colonies the Varroa population would increase to the point that all honey bees – wild and kept – would be overwhelmed by them and the entire bee population would be at risk of collapse.

This risk – caused by the mixing of untreated wild bees and kept bees who are already struggling to survive Varroa infestation – is the reason beekeepers do not let their bees swarm. Instead, they spend much time trying to prevent swarming, and, if the bees swarm they are collected and returned to the apiary from which they came. In this way all honey bees can be monitored and treated for Varroa infestation and the Varroa population is kept (mostly) under control.


Image result for queen cells

Bee frame showing honey stores (white wax-capped cells at the top), empty cells awaiting eggs or honey, capped cells (typical ‘biscuit-like’ capping made out of pollen which the emerging bee will eat) with developing larvae, a few cells with eggs/larvae (look in the grouping of uncapped cells within the capped cells – eggs look like grains of rice), and two queen cells (very different in appearance to all other capped cells as they ‘hang’), and a few dedicated worker bees                                                                               from:


Swarming is the natural way a bee colony reproduces itself. When spring comes and the food supply is good, worker bees make preparations to leave their current hive (which may have come a bit overcrowded) and find a bigger and better place to live. Beekeepers have found that by carefully monitoring the number of bees in the hive – workers, drones, capped brood cells – they can anticipate an upcoming swarm, and with a little trickery, prevent it by making the bees think they have already swarmed. This is done by splitting the colony  – removing several frames of brood and food with their accompanying worker bees and putting them into an empty hive that they can expand into.

Of course, the one thing all hives need is a queen. So if you split a hive where do you get a new queen for the new hive? Part of the preparation for swarming is the development of queen cells – special brood cells that hold larvae who are fed a special food (queen jelly) that grows regular worker larvae into queen bees. When these hatch they will fly away, taking the workers with them: a swarm!

When a keeper sees queen cells developing in the hive it is time for action! Either the queen cells are removed and destroyed – this keeps the current colony stable. Or moving the frames with the developing queen cells into a new hive along with the workers and food/brood frames. When she hatches she will become the new queen of the new hive. So, by moving a portion of a colony into a new hive, swarming can be prevented (at least that is the idea). However, timing is everything. The queen cells must be removed/moved before they hatch. Many a bee keeper has been called to ‘come and get their bees’ because they have miscalculated the hatching day of the new queen and the bees have swarmed.

Related image
A bee keeper collecting a swarm, from:
Queen bee in the centre, note her larger abdomen and the white paint on her thorax- this makes her easier to spot amongst the other bees in the hive.  from:










One of the benefits of learning about beekeeping through the Exmoor Bee Keepers Association is that they help newbies develop new colonies on site.

I know I will get some experience working with a bee keeper and an already-existing colony at the apiary. My hope is that I will be proficient enough to participate in the EBKA ‘rent-a-hive’ program in which I will be able to help start a new colony, as mentioned above. If this new colony is successful, and I am able to manage it without too much help, at the end of the season I may be able to buy that hive and bring it to my own apiary.

But before that can happen, we need the warmer weather!

Late for Easter

Hymn of Promise by Natalie

In the bulb there is a flower, in the seed an apple tree;                                                                in cocoons a hidden promise, butterflies will soon be free!                                                      In the cold and snow of winter waits the spring that’s yet to be,                                              unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;                                                there’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.                                              From the past will come the future; what it holds a mystery,                                              unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time infinity;                                                                          in our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity.                                                                      In our death, a resurrection; at the last a victory,                                                                       unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.                                                                                                                                        Hope Publishing Company, 1986

Thank You, again, for new life.                                                                                                            It is all that I need.                            Amen.

I have been reading Richard Rohr’s The Universal Christ and it is messing with my head. I am having to rethink my understanding of Jesus Christ and God. This is, in part, why I am late with my Easter message.


Rohr’s book speaks of the narrow theology and bad teaching, passed down over the years, from which we all need to be released. I am aware we Christians hold on to a lot of bad theology (think Homer Simpson shouting ‘God loves you! He’s going to KILL you!’) but Rohr even questions what I thought was good theology. So, my thoughts are in a state of flux, and as a result a heresy may pop out until they stabilise.


But here it is: Jesus’ death and resurrection is less a message about our sin and more a message about who we fundamentally are: spirits of light and love, forever alive, always victorious over death, never needing to be afraid.


Death is not, and never was, the end. I have often said this at funerals. Instead, death is a time of transition, of passing from one realm (physical) of LIFE to another realm (spiritual). God has left signposts to this understanding all over the earth (see, for example:animals that survive being frozen), but we have been taught that these things are an aberration of – rather than fundamental to – the natural order.

If life after death, or resurrection from the dead is so unusual, why then, do we get so excited when Spring comes? Is it only the promise of warmer weather that cheers our hearts? Or is there something to which we are so fundamentally connected in new-life-springing-out-of-cold-ground that it stirs something hidden within: there is more to life than what we have been told!

Now, I know none of my ancestors have died and risen from the dead on this earthly plane. But I do believe they are alive. And maybe that is what makes Jesus’ resurrection so astounding to us (or so we’ve been told to be astounded) – it happened here on earth, not somewhere else, out of sight. And it happened to shock us into realising that death is not the end, nor to be frightened of.

I love Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 15:

51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed…53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”


I like to think of our physical bodies as a temporary home for our eternal souls. I think that our physical bodies blunt our spiritual senses, but once our bodies are ‘removed’ through physical death our spirits are finally able to fully engage with a world which we only catch glimpses of now. In physical death we change form, but we don’t cease to exist. Death is not the end.

Now, some of the human race have lost this knowledge. There are many reasons for this, but our current obsession with staying forever young as well as our detachment from death (doctors, nurses, and morticians have replaced next of kin in the care of the dead and dying) means we don’t have to look at death very often. And when we do look at it we are frightened. Death is a stranger.

Even the church keeps death at arm’s length. One of my favourite hymns, attributed to my favourite Saint, Francis of Assisi is All Creatures of Our God and King. It is a song of praise, praise that comes from all of creation: sun, moon, stars, wind, water, fire, earth, fruits, flowers, humankind, and last – but not least – ‘kind and gentle Death’. Have you heard this verse? Many hymnals leave it out. Why? It might be a space issue – it is a long hymn – but I think it is because the church views death as the enemy, the antithesis of life. But the truth is death is a fundamental part of life, and this understanding is what has been lost.

Death is not to feared because the Creator of life is bigger than death. Yes, OK, maybe the pain associated with dying – physical and emotional – is something to be afraid of. But if we could be exposed to this pain more often, and as a normal part of life, we might find that it is not as bad as we imagine it to be.


When I was a child we had to have a large tree in our yard cut down as it was too close to the house and posed a threat to the roof and windows. The tree surgeon told us we would need to burn out the stump in order to prevent regrowth. He was right. Even though the massive tree had been cut down, cut up and taken away, it’s stump produced a fascinating array of shoots, all trying to grow into new trees.

Aren’t those shoots a sign of life after death? A sign of resurrection?

Our existence is cyclical: birth, life, death; morning, evening, night; spring, summer, autumn, winter. ‘Around and round she goes and where she’ll stop nobody knows,’ comes to mind. Could it be that ‘nobody knows’ because She – the life force of the universe – will never stop?


I have grown up in a faith that has focused on Jesus’ resurrection as a sign of God’s forgiveness of our sins. The wages of sin is death, the Bible says. And Jesus’ death – so undeserved because of his sinless state – was the only death that could pay for our mistakes. Because Jesus was resurrected, the church says, we can know God found his death adequate payment for humanity’s failures. And, we have been told, if we believe we get to live forever.

I say something different. I say we are created to be eternal beings from the start and we have all of eternity to find God. For some of us it only takes a few years to find God; for others it takes a lifetime’s work. For others still, the search continues into the next life and I think this must be the case. If death holds no power over us, then surely that means we can find God  – and God can reach us – once we leave our physical bodies behind.

Our fascination with Jesus’ resurrection says more about our unnatural fear of death than it does about what we owe God. Life is good, and we’ve been given all of eternity to figure that out for ourselves. And, as a helpful and loving God, who wants to be found, God has left signs of this goodness everywhere we look.


stump removal Honolulu HI



New arrivals and departures!

Holy Saviour, Light of the World, Source of All That Is and Will Be,

Thank you for the changing seasons (though a little more warmth would be nice: it is going to drop below freezing tonight!). There is joy in each flower, hope in each bird song, new life in the warmth of the sun, and most of all: love is here.  


Starksy (behind) and Hutch

Well, we’ve got two new birds! Starsky and Hutch came to us from the RSPCA site at West Hatch, Taunton, Somerset. They arrived there in January, a pair of bantam (small) cockerels (male chickens less than 1 year old) who had been left to fend for themselves. Starsky is the biggest, weighing 1.4 kg; Hutch is 1 kg. They were named by one of the RSPCA staff members.

I have been looking at them since I started volunteering there… in January. We do, after all, have room for 6 birds.

Cockerels, Cocks (over a year old), and Roosters (another name for Cocks) are very difficult to re-home because they can be aggressive and they are noisy. The last pair of Bantams at West Hatch were there for over a year. There are two standard cockerels there too, and they will be very hard to re-home: the bigger the bird the louder the crow and the stronger the kicks. Because we live in the country their noise is not an issue.

The RSPCA does a cracking job at vetting potential adopters. After speaking with someone on the phone about the possibility of adopting them I was sent a form to fill in. Once I sent that back and it was processed I was contacted by a home visitor who came round to make sure  all was well here. The RSPCA also do a cracking job at supporting adopters, making it quite clear that if there are any problems, I only need to ask them for help; and if the birds just don’t work out, they will happily take them back.

As with the introduction of any new flock members, I kept the boys separated from the girls for the first 2 days, and since then have kept a close eye on them. I set up a dog crate in the shed, sprinkled lots of straw around, and gave them their own food and water. They spent most of their time looking out the window, watching for movement of some kind.

Some would suggest two days is too soon for an introduction, but as they could hear each other quite well through the shed wall and the girls seemed curious, I gave it a try.

First, they just got to look at each other: I kept them separated by the hutch mesh, letting the boys run around in the paddock while the girls were still locked in; then I let the girls out into the garden and left the boys to explore the paddock and the hutch on their own.

The following day I decided to put them all together to see what would happen. It was a hectic: the boys alternated between kick fighting with each other and the girls, the girls alternated between kick fighting with the boys and running away, Kelpie kept trying to get a good sniff of the cockerels’ bums (He does this with the girls. They’ve gotten used to it).

I  didn’t know who to feel most sorry for: the boys because they had hens kicking on one side and a dog sniffing on the other, the hens because their home had been invaded by these pompous Napoleons, or Kelpie because I kept telling him ‘No!’ and ‘Lie down!’ every time he tried to approach them. After 45 minutes or so, I separated them again and that night they slept apart.

The next day I let them out at the same time, and things were just as awkward. The boys thought it best to keep the hens corralled in the shed, and the hens were not comfortable with this restriction of movement. I decided to let the hens go into the large grassy garden alone. I was going to keep the cockerels in the chickenarium, as I had the day before, but as soon the hens were out of the boys’ sight…..well there was flapping, clucking, and next thing I see is Hutch, running on his tiny little legs, to find out where the girls had gone! He had flown over the paddock fence! I picked him up and put him with the girls only to see Starsky standing on the same fence trying to decide if he should follow. I carried him over to the rest.

In the garden the girls and boys started out by doing their own thing. But it wasn’t long before the boys had pinned the girls in a corner and were keeping them there. Night came, they slept apart.

The following day a sad thing happened. Little Nutmeg, who had suffered with respiratory issues, had to be put down. She had developed egg peritonitis, something that happens when the egg-making mechanism in a chicken goes wrong. Instead of an egg forming properly and being laid, the egg material moves into the abdominal cavity and festers ( a bit like an ectopic pregnancy, except the egg is not fertilised). It is not immediately fatal but there is no effective treatment, and it is likely to recur.  Eventually the chicken will become septic and die. Death is slow and painful, sometimes taking months to wear the bird down. So we put her to sleep. It was not a comfortable decision, but the best one I think.


But since she has gone, things have settled. It makes me wonder if part of the kerfuffle was caused by the girls trying to protect their poorly friend. In any event, by the end of that day flock of five was more or less mingling. They were mingling in the grass, they were mingling in the chickenarium, and so I decided it was time to try them together overnight.

That was last night. And this morning, all is well in chicken land. Well – but different.

Hutch, though the smallest of all, is definitely Number 1. Starsky is his back up.

Ginger is subdued for the first time even. I think she is still trying to figure out if this is OK, but she is not fighting it.

Actually, it was the bully, Cinnamon, who was most aggressive towards Hutch, but even she seems to have relaxed now.

Clover, being the lowest ranking hen and having nothing to defend, didn’t fight at all. Instead, she bravely approached the boys, walked around or through them and pecked at the ground as per normal. She has acted as peacemaker.

I think Starsky and Clover may become ‘a thing’ as they seem to stick together. I think bossy Hutch gets the two high maintenance girls. Frankly, they deserve each other.

Proper Mingling Behaviour

Now, a couple of other points. It is unusual, but not unheard of, to keep two cockerels. Often these birds are so territorial they will fight ‘rivals’ to the death. But, because these two came in to the RSPCA together, and roosted together without any problems, re-homing them together was/is worth the risk. As long as they feel they have enough space, and there are enough hens to share, the boys should be fine. But if aggression starts up I will have to reconsider things.

It is possible that the boys may fertilise the hens’ eggs, but as the girls are twice their size, it may take some determination for them to succeed. I am not interested in chicks right now, so I will simply to continue to collect the eggs each morning. That will keep any embryos from developing, even if the eggs are fertile.

Hutch crows first….
Then it’s Starsky’s turn!


The last Bee Class was about pests including Varroa Mites. The subject is important but not nearly as exciting as the arrival of Starsky and Hutch, so I will skip telling you about that; the tadpoles have all hatched, the songbirds are nesting, and I have had the pleasure of visiting a nearby farm to ‘help’ with lambing. This included feeding and watering lots of sheep with hay and feeding a couple of lambs whose mums don’t want them, and sharing lovely cakes and breads and cups of tea and conversation with my host.

Spring is lovely! And busy!





The Birds and the Bees

Giver of Life,                                                                                                                                         Help me help you share your gift.                                                                                                    Amen.

The Birds

spring chickens

The Chickenarium in the morning

Well, Nutmeg has been acting up health wise and this has prompted a need for all four birds to be on antibiotics:

The birds seemed to cut back on food intake about two weeks ago, then egg production dropped from 4 to 3 a day. Somewhere in there Nutmeg developed a ‘dirty bum.’ Chickens are good at keeping their back ends free from faeces, so when they get ‘dirty’ it’s a sign something is not right. Nutmeg’s bum was dirty enough to earn her a bum bath in the old dish tub in the utility room: warm soapy water and a bit of swishing and gentle scrubbing with a cloth.

I did not give her a blow dry!

The next day after the bath she was droopy: head down, tail down, even wings hanging a bit. So off to the vet we went. The vet wasn’t certain but thought she might have a chronic respiratory infection that wasn’t showing, so she got an antibiotic injection, and at my request because Clover had woken up with a dirty bum, I was sent home with additional antibiotics to put in their water.

That was last week.

This week Nutmeg is looking better. Her comb colour is improving and her posture is better, and each day she has been more active than the day before. But she is sneezing again, so I need to check on that. Perhaps she does have a chronic respiratory condition.

As the weather is warmer and the rain has stopped we removed all of the winter weather-proofing to improve the ventilation in the run, and I have moved the food and water to a sheltered spot outside of the run, just in case the run has been damp enough to cause a problem.

Hopefully all of this will do the trick, but I am remembering now how much care rescue hens need compared to chickens who have not been used for commercial egg laying: at less than two years of age they are worn out, and this makes them vulnerable.

The Bees


Dandelions are one of the best early food sources for bees so DO NOT pick,                            mow, or dig up until later in the spring!

Bee Class is going pretty well. But…

During last week’s class – on hives –  in which all of the seasoned beekeepers agreed that cedar hives are preferable to all others, I did ask about polystyrene hives.

‘You haven’t mentioned polystyrene hives this evening, or in last year’s class … so, what about polystyrene?’ The instructor fixed my gaze with his. ‘What about polystyrene?’

Which was about all I expected, really.

To be fair, the instructor did point out that he had one – right next to him on the floor, in fact. But because they are so lightweight the wind tends to wreck havoc with them if they are not weighted down properly, and as the recommended way of cleaning them between colonies is to submerge them in boiling water for 15 minutes (as opposed to scorching the wooden ones with a blow torch!), they may be impractical. Add to that their negative environmental impact and the fact that cedar hives may last in excess of 70 years…

All of the usual styles of wooden hives – National, Smith, etc. – now come in polystyrene as well. This means the frames that hold the honey and the brood can be used with either wooden or polystyrene hives.

So I am considering one of each. I could do my own comparison that way. But I haven’t decided.

Peer pressure is hell.

This week’s class was on The Beekeeping Year. We were taught about the yearly cycle of the colony and what care is required when.

Autumn seems to be the starting point as it is the time of year when most of the work has finished and the bees need to be bedded down for winter. Hive numbers begin to decrease from a maximum of 70,000 to 10,000 bees per colony, and it is these 10,000 worker bees who overwinter with the queen, keeping her alive until spring.

Things that will kill the bees, and are to be avoided, are damp and starvation. Damp is avoided by having adequate ventilation, and hives are designed to provide this. As long as the hive is sited well the only thing needed to keep it well ventilated is to remove any snow or ice that blocks the vents. Starvation is avoided by providing the bees with enough food to get through the winter. This food comes in the form of either a liquid or a solid which they access from inside the hive, thus never needing to go out in the cold weather.

It is important NOT to open the hive in winter because the hive will lose so much heat. It is imperative that the keeper puts a generous supply of food into the hive in the autumn so that the hive can be left closed until spring.

However, sometimes the food stores do need to be topped up. The way to figure this out without opening the hive is by ‘hefting’ it – lifting one corner – to see if its weight corresponds to the amount of food that should be in there. If it is too light the bees may have eaten more than expected, and they will need a food top up.

It is better to put ample amounts in in the autumn than top up in the winter. So, put in more than needed in the autumn.

If the hive must be opened in the winter to add food it is best to use the most concentrated form of sugar you can find. Fondant icing is the best because it has a very low water content. It provides all the energy without the hassle of frozen water. Liquid feed may freeze, and this creates the additional work of both thawing the water and evaporating the water before eating the sugar. All of this work is done with bee body heat. By beating their wings, their little wing muscles produce heat. This thaws the ice and, in time, causes the unneeded water to evaporate. To create this body heat the bees needs additional food which may already be in short supply as it is winter. Redirecting energy needed to keep the queen alive may cause the colony to starve and die.

As winter comes to an end and temperatures begin to warm, the bees come out and begin to forage. This is what they are supposed to do. But if there is a brief spell of warm weather followed by a cold snap it may cause problems: The bees will begin foraging before the early food supplies – particularly pollen – are available. This is what I was worrying about a few weeks ago when the I saw a few bees in the garden.

But good news! It was announced this week that the Exmoor apiaries were inspected for the first time this year and all was very well in the hives. Instead of finding starving bees, and they found queens busy laying eggs and glistening stores of nectar in the combs! So it looks like the colonies are a bit ahead of the curve. Well done, bees! And phew.

The hives will not be opened again until near the end of April, when we get consistently warm temperatures. The only thing the bees need in the early spring is to start increasing the size of the hive and the less we mess with them the better. But when the hives are opened again, it will be time for full observational checks –  finding the queen, checking for eggs, larvae, capped cells, honey stores, nectar and pollen stores, and disease.

As the spring season progresses weekly checks for all of the above are necessary, along with any interventions that may be required.

Interventions include adding frames to hold brood (eggs and larvae) and honey, removing diseased frames or old dirty ones, treating for pests, and possibly removing excess honey stores. Some bee colonies do so well in the spring that keepers can do an early honey harvest.

Late spring brings one of the biggest risks: swarms. Swarms are a natural phenomenon. It is how colonies grow and reproduce themselves. Once a hive gets too full of bees the colony will begin preparations to swarm. This is best avoided.

Swarm class is next week so I will write more about how to prevent swarms next time.

After swarm season ends hives still need weekly checks to monitor food stores and reproduction rates. June can be a slow month for foraging as the spring blooms are coming to an end and the summer ones don’t really gear up until July. Colonies may need to be fed sugar solution in June. Come July the keepers main responsibilities are preventing/treating pest infestations and preparing to harvest honey that is EXCESS to the (winter) needs of the hive. More about this later.

Then, at the end of the summer, comes the collection of honey… which is our way of saying sneakily stealing it from the bees when they are not looking. Once the honey-filled combs are removed from the hives, the honey is extracted and the wax is melted down and cleaned for reuse – perhaps as candles or furniture polish, or perhaps to go back into a hive.

And, then you find yourself preparing the hive, once again for winter….

And so it goes: a time of preparing to rest, followed by rest, and then the busy time of new life. With a lot of worry about food all the way through.

Sounds a lot like any other form of life.


Ginger and Clover doing what they do best