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Birds and Bees

Birds and Bees
Flow Hive being watched by Richard
Beehive

What do ten lambs, several hundred bees and eight hens have in common? This is no trick question. This is a story about the birds and bees that live at Matua Gardens Retreat.

Many years ago in a past life we used to have several beehives. There seemed to be a reasonable number of bees around this area for long enough but over the past few seasons we have noticed a decline. We had already made the decision, having all the equipment and everything, to get at east one hive, when we saw the Flow Hive being developed. It is a new concept that has come under scrutiny by professional and enthusiast beekeepers alike. Some fear a lack of respect for the bees and treating them like battery hens. Others are enthusiastic about a new way of beekeeping that will encourage more interest in bees.

The merits and morals of farming anything are a whole other argument and not one I am going into. Personally I see these hives as an opportunity to educate people about bees, to see them in action and to be able to pollinate our orchard and garden while adding to our “home grown” produce. Like any crop there is no guarantee of a harvest and first and foremost our obligation is to manage the hive and make sure the bees have enough food for themselves.

We are excited about the opportunity to show our guests where their honey comes from and to educate them about bees. I could watch the bees for hours. The different coloured pollens being carried back to the hive, the different flight patterns, sensing their moods, and trying to work out where they are going, just fascinates me. We do our best to look after our natural environment and to live well within it with a high degree of self sufficiency. We aren’t perfect and we are always looking for ways to improve. I hope that anyone who does get a hive like this or any other hive, manages their bees with respect.

lambs in the shade
Spring lambs

As for the ten lambs – last week we went to buy four. We decided since we had to take a trailer over the hill to do so we may as well get a few more. We arrived at the block to select another two and felt so sorry for them we took an extra four. We have enough grass for now. We would love to have had more but didn’t want to run out of feed and put them straight back into the predicament they were coming from. We will use some for meat and I am talking hard and fast to get the other half to agree to finding a nice ram next year for three or four of the larger ewe lambs.

Free range hens in the orchard
Free range hens

We have eight laying hens. These girls are scratching around under the fig trees up in the orchard. The have developed a great love for the white scrap bucket. We have two buckets. One that gets tasty tidbits like salmon skin, green vege scraps and meat scraps that get fed to the hens. The other gets the rest of the compostable food and household rubbish including egg shells. We have discovered that if the shells are ground up the hens eat them without knowing what they are. There is a danger that by giving them large bits of shell that they get the idea to break their eggs and we don’t want to encourage that. We keep them behind electric netting to keep them safe and to keep them contained. Much as I love watching their antics and enjoy their “talking” they are quite destructive in the vege garden so keeping them where they are doing the most good is better for all of us.

ferret in trap
Ferret in trap

We’ve been having quite a bit of success with the trapping programme -two ferrets, two stoats, two rats and three possums this week. More than a normal month so something unusual is going on.

It’s a bit like the twelve days of Christmas! One beehive, two speedy stoats, three pouncing possums,eight laying hens, ten spring lambs and four fat kereru in the cherry tree.

Californian Quail adults and chicks under rose bush
Californian Quail adults and chicks

Last weekend Richard came rushing upstairs to get out of the living room. He had the door open onto the deck. A pair of Californian Quail with fourteen chicks were taking a shortccut along the veranda when all the chicks rushed in the door and under the sofa. He thought it best to leave while the parents called all their babies back outside. About ten minutes later, after much angst on the part of dad who flew up into the cherry tree, calling and calling and much peeping from the chicks all were reunited. Oh and last but not least in excitement but definitely smallest in size, a pair of rifleman with their chick outside my kitchen window. We have a large retaining wall filled with stones and the rifleman go into the gaps. They can be gone for several minutes at a time hunting for insects.

It’s been a funny old season. Not a lot of rain, some very hot days, some very cold nights – two apple trees have lost all their fruit to late frosts – Mr El Nino is not doing us a lot of favours at present however we do have grass for stock feed which many don’t so we are fortunate.