Being surrounded by woodland is a real privilege. Some of the trees here are hundreds of years old and are very beautiful, many are certainly approaching mid to old age. When the winds blow, older, weaker trees can end up losing major limbs, or falling completely. Mostly that’s just part of the natural lifecycle, so we leave well alone.
But sometimes the trees fall and block a road. As most roads around here are the only way to get to and from local farms and houses, they have to be cleared straight away. So everyone rallies around with chainsaws, loppers and muscles to help remove blockages. Not usually on the plan for the day, but we like a little spontaneity. and it all makes for plenty of wood for the firepit!
At the other end of the lifecycle, we’ve also planted several thousand native broadleaved trees to create new woodlands, as well as new hedgerows to replace or in-fill existing field boundaries. These plantations include flowering trees for pollinators too, so we’re looking forward to glorious blossoms in the springtime.
Our main variety of livestock at Ty Gallu is of the insect variety – we have an apiary with several beehives. The local area is rich in wildflowers and heather on the Sugar Loaf, and the honey they produce is delicious. We’d like to take credit for it – but it is entirely down to the hard work of the bees and the beautiful Brecon Beacons.
Usually the bees pretty much look after themselves, and we manage them with regular planned inspections, but occasionally we have to get a wiggle on.
During the spring (April to June) bees will usually produce new queens – either to split and create a new colony, or maybe just to replace a queen that’s reached the end of her productive life.
When new queens have matured (they are the only bees who can lay eggs), they leave the hive to mate with drones. They come back to the hive, and through chemical signals attract a swarm of worker bees, then move out to find a suitable location for a new colony. While they are looking for a new home, they often perch on nearby structures (trees, gateposts, buildings and the like).
Obviously this is not good news for beekeepers – best case, they are left with a hive with an old queen and only half the number of bees ( = less honey); worst case, the hive is left with no queen at all and it gradually fades away as the workers die (= no honey!) Ideally we’d have no swarms at all so the bees stay making lots of honey. But if they do swarm then we want to re-home them in hives so the honey making and harvesting can continue.
So in the swarming season, we may need to urgently don our beesuits and go to collect a swarm so that we can re-home them within the apiary. The bees only stay on their temporary perch for a few hours, so we have to act fast. We may look strange, equipped with a surprising range of tools including cardboard boxes, brushes and bedsheets, but it does make for an interesting day at the office…
Slightly less of an emergency…if you’re around later in the year you may get invited to help with the honey harvesting. The stickiest of activities, but the results are very tasty…
Occasionally, whilst beavering away on my latest magnum opus, I look up from the screen to get inspiration – and what do I see? Sheep.
Now mostly the view from the office window is of trees, and distant fields, so sheep close by are definitely not where they should be. So a call goes up, everyone downs-tools, and we set off to become shepherds.
Sheep, despite their reputation, are cunning, and if there is any weakness in a field hedge or fence they will find it. And go through it.
It’s amazing how many of these ‘weak links’ act as one-way valves. Having pushed their way through, then they are unable to return. When mothers and lambs end up on different sides of a fence, then the only thing to do is for them all to join-up. And obviously, that ends up being on our side of the fence.
Not a problem – except when the sheep start eating newly planted trees, or fruit and veg in the garden, or even garden plants!
So it doesn’t happen every day, but if you’re working here, you may be asked to help round up and return these little woolly lovelies back where they belong. Wellies provided!
(P.S. we do have a couple of designer sheep of our own – which of course are always perfectly behaved and always stay where they are put.. They are the brown/black beauties here…)