Busy Bees

Soon honeybees will benefit from our rich floral landscape....& the Honeycomb Gelato will be paid in kind!

Soon honeybees will benefit from our rich floral landscape....& the Honeycomb Gelato will be paid in kind!

 Life is sweet – especially when you know that soon you’ll be contributing to the local bee population’s survival.  But more of that, later in this post….

Unlike the bees so far this year, we’ve had another busy week.  After catching up with things following the Llanwrtyd Wells Festival last Saturday, we had another big batch of gelato to make – & this week, it was the more challenging chocolate: not necessarily so difficult to craft as with just Rich Chocolate, Mint Chocolate & Chocolate+Orange there aren’t the physical inclusions (such as strawberries or cinder toffee shards) to ensure are evenly stirred in; just the fresh, clean ice-cool of pure peppermint oil & the converse warmth of lovely, natural Valencia orange with which to infuse the cacao base mixture.  However, it’s the pasteurisation technique which is crucial, as the poudre cacao has to be so carefully cooked in. 

And this week  – owing to our now seriously-depleted stocks – we were filling Food Centre Wales’ modest vat to capacity; which takes extra care & work as all the mixture in the pasteuriser has to be evenly agitated to properly mingle all the ingredients & to prevent the chocolate from sticking to the searingly-hot sides of the vat – which is not only a nightmare to clean but more worryingly, could potentially impart an overcooked flavour to the mix; which would then mean discarding the entire batch…an extremely expensive mistake.   And trust me it isn’t easy, as the vat has only a tiny agitiation paddle & the mix gets burningly hot but still has to be hand-stirred for effective cooking.

Although in spite of the pressure of time & quantities we thankfully managed to create a beautifully-balanced chocolate, we did unfortunately suffer with considerable adherence to the floor & walls of the inner vat; thus Tony muttered dire imprecations as he scrubbed with an ineffective brush until I managed to scrounge a scourer from Mark which thankfully saved the day (as well as the pasteuriser’s stainless steel liner).   So whilst cooking in the cacao is a hard enough experience in itself as the entire building is infused with the rich aroma of fine quality, dark melted chocolate (certainly not a job to do, if you’re feeling peckish!)  admittedly it is enough by the end of the day to put you right off chocolate when you’ve spent a good 45 minutes trying to scrub solid chunks of  it out of a stubborn stainless-steel drum. 

OK; perhaps I’m fibbing about being permanently put off chocolate, make that ten minutes at most…!  😉

Around 150 litres & three varieities of the finest dark chocolate gelato later, & we were exhausted….well worth the effort though; especially as the Mint & Orange varieties sold out almost immediately.  So, no rest for the wicked then; we’ll just have to make even more….!

Meanwhile, onto our exciting news.  Just after lunch today, the aply-named Mel arrived to discuss a vitally important smallholding/farming/nay, living topic with us: bees.  I say aptly-named, as his moniker in Welsh is also the word for honey; & the gentleman himself is famed throughout Wales for his beekeeping skill which produces such delicious & renowned, multiple-award-winning honey. 

It just so happens Mel is President of our local Beekeepers’ Association; which I hadn’t realised until we were engaged in conversation the other week, casually leaning over the old stone bridge which marks the boundary between our land & that of his endearingly charming son – another true gentleman, in every sense – who farms the land on the eastern edge of the cwm (valley).  The soft whisper of the river echoed Mel’s hushed tones as he spoke with due reverence about the wonder which is the not-so-humble honey bee, the trees dancing dappled shade-&-light across the laughing waters below. 

I’d emphasised our increasing worries about the bee population as a whole; especially concerned that our current honey supplier had advised they may no longer be able to supply even their established customers in the locality as over the past year they’d lost a staggering 140 colonies. 

After discussing our management of the Ffarm Mel had agreed it may indeed provide a conducive environment for beekeeping; & a couple of days later arrived to research a suitable site. 

Now that Tony had returned, discussions commenced in earnest; & Mel had concluded that an ideal spot would be one we’d suggested ourselves; on an unused parcel of land between the hay meadows & our ancient, deciduous woods; providing a wide variety & proliferation of natural flora which has thankfully been untouched by chemicals for many a generation.  Enthusiastically, Tony offered his services to prepare the site, by cutting back the brambles in the area. 

“You’ll do no such thing!”  Mel warned.  “Those brambles will provide an ideal source of food for the bees later on in the season.  In the meantime there’s plenty of gorse & an abundant variety of wild flowers for them; although the bluebell wood might not prove such a draw, as bees seem happier with hedgerow bluebells but less inclined to take nectar from the same flowers, when growing in the woods.”  Well, they say there’s nowt as queer as folk – I suppose the same must go for bees!

So the Grand Plan is: Mel will establish the hives & their colonies, & then manage them for us; so that the bees enjoy the best possible natural habitat – & our gelato will benefit from the finest organically-managed wildflower/woodland honey….as we’ll buy it directly back from Mel.  He’s agreed to loose-filter it too, so that there’ll be more of that gorgeous natural pollen flavour which we’ve found infuses so beautifully throughout the gelato.  And he’s given us a jar of his own honey to try – we can’t wait!

Shortly after Mel departed, our old friends & highly-respected Goat Gurus – Dreda & Rowe from Monach Farms – arrived; they’re staying overnight after delivering some caprines to a smallholder in Crosshands. 

And we were also the recipients of two new recruits to the Milkforce: the first generation of a new breed for us, a pair of statuesque British Saanen ladies – pure white goats who are a little bigger than the British Toggenburgs we’re used to & with (it would already appear, bless ’em) considerably less brainpower!  Both first-kidders, one of the young ladies has already birthed healthy, robust triplets; & both have beautiful full, soft udders; although they were certainly very confused at arriving in unfamiliar premises & did not exactly relish being milked on an unfamiliar stand in spite of Rowe’s extremely skilfull & gentle technique.  Roll on tomorrow; when they have the trials & tribulations of the-up-&-down ramps; & the noises & scariness of the Milking Parlour, to endure. 

Oh dear.  Wish ’em luck…. 

So this evening after the new goats had been milked & settled in as comfortablyas possible, we enjoyed a leisurely, lazy supper at home….& rather nervously, I served some of our Royal Bourbon Vanilla gelato with an apple & cinnamon pie, for dessert.  I was relieved that these grateful gourmets evidently approved!

After an agreeable evening with wine & conversation flowing with equal enthusiasm, we all reluctantly turned in for another late night – as ever, there just aren’t enough hours in such a fulfilling day.

And tomorrow will have even more challenges – sad ones, at that….  😦

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About LittleFfarm Dairy

The LittleFfarm Dairy Team: Jo - Goat farmer & Gelatiere Artigianale, plus General Dogsbody; Tony - Airline Pilot & part-time Herd Manager, Product Taster, Accounts Secretary, Handyman etc!
This entry was posted in Animals, Anything Goes, April 2009, Dairy, Diary, Environment, Farming, Goats, Ice Cream, Life, Livestock, Local Area, Nature, Smallholding, Wales. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Busy Bees

  1. muddyboots says:

    great read, not many ice creamers blogging out there

  2. kate says:

    Ooh, the thought of so much gorgeous melted chocolate is lovely! Good to hear that hanging around the smell for all that time doesn’t put you off chocolate for long too!

    Its exciting hearing about your bees, I can’t wait to read how you get on with beekeeping.

    Your description of the British Saanen goats made me laugh! I saw some at a show recently and thought that they looked very ‘chilled out’ but maybe it was more that there just wasn’t much going on in their heads!

    🙂

  3. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    “Hi, Muddyboots –

    no; it’s a shame more people don’t blog on the subject as after all it is such a popular foodstuff! Glad you’re enjoying our site meanwhile.

    Hi there Kate –

    phew, it’d take a helluva lot to put me off chocolate…! We are really excited about the bees, they are such fascinating creatures & anything we can do to help the environment is pure pleasure.

    Based on recent, further experience I think the goats you saw at the show (was it the Smallholder Show at Builth, by any chance….? I’m thinking of suggesting a like-minded Blogosphere get-together there, next year) probably didn’t have much going on ‘upstairs’ rather than being chilled out.

    I don’t know whether it’s just that we have some exceptionally bright, talented goats here (they can open gates, undo supposedly secure milkstand yokes & even fathom all manner of locks with relative ease – I kid thee not) but the difference between Toggenburg & Saanen brains is staggering.

    Our chocolate-coloured Milkforce as a rule take 2-3 days to work out the milking parlour routine; whereas it has taken a full month before Hattie grasped what she’s meant to do; & poor Melwyn still regularly confuses herself, even now (more about Melwyn & why she is so named in a forthcoming post BTW – I won’t spoil the surprise here).

    In fact I never thought goats could be racist – but beleive me, they are. Poor Hattie & Mel have been quite bullied by the others as they are so evidently ‘different’ – whether owing to their colouring or behaviour though, I’m not sure.

    We used to have another goat whom we assumed was mentally dysfuntional as she never really fitted in as part of the herd (you might remember the tale of Froggie – now renamed Freya & blissfully happy in a quiet, 2-goat home where she’s Head of the Herd in all respects – whether regarding her four or indeed two-legged chums!).

    Froggie used to be ostracised as the others evidently viewed her as ‘not quite right’ & so continually pushed her away, leaving her lonely & confused. In all other a sweet, affectionate goat despite being a ‘bear of little brain’ we decided to rehome her with a friend, as a dedicated pet & house goat. We are so glad we did as she’s now enjoying such a happy, relaxed, healthy & (necessary for her) completely uncomplicated life.

    But we have been surprised to find that Hattie is remarkably similar in so many behaviourial traits, to Froggie; & we now wonder whether it’s just that Froggie may have had a proliferation of Saanen genes somewhere down the line which came to the fore in her personality, rather than actually being mentally challenged in any way.

    At least Hattie & Melwyn have one another for support – although Tippy surprised me the other day as she has apparently become quite attached to Melwyn; & at least Hattie is now holding her own in terms of self-defence & has etablished her place in the herd at last.

    Caprines are such extraordinary, amazing, creatures – by far the most enjoyable (& equally most frustrating) farm animals I’ve ever worked with….wonderful. Mind you I suspect we’ll be sticking with the BTs from now on…!” 😉

  4. Have you ever tasted borage honey? When in NZ, I tried a ga-zillion types of honey as NZers are the leading honey eaters in the world per pound per capita. Of course, I’m sure it is a national economic development scheme because they also make the widest variety of honey one could imagine! Anyway, when reading about your brambles and gorse, it occurred to me that you might (in your spare time of course!) throw a few borage seeds into the wind in that field and reap the rewards. Borage honey tastes like the best quality BC clover honey melting over fresh creamery butter on hot toast. Borage self seeds easily and provides really good bee fodder because it has a long flowering season (early and lasts right through the season).

    I do have a caprine question. Yesterday, a friend was here visiting and asked me why I didn’t get some ‘regular’ sized goats for milking. My response was that I thought they would jump even higher than my little pygmys do. She didn’t think so. How high of a fence do you need to contain toggenburgs or saanens? Or whatever other dairy type goat I might try (and which would you recommend for a small flock?). I like the look of the British Alpine, Saanens and Toggenburgs.

  5. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    “Mmmm, borage honey….

    our local honey farm at New Quay produces a wonderful borage honey, which is light, delicate & delicious. Unfortunately though, it doesn’t make great gelato for that very reason – you need something with a darker, richer flavour as otherwise all it does is increasingly sweeten the gelato without imparting the robust honey taste it needs (which once frozen nevertheless becomes quite delicate but with a distinctive, pollen note).

    However, I will get some borage seeds & scatter them in the area close to the hives to supplement the bees’ diet (without getting too close, ooerr!) – thankfully it’s not on pasture but on a small corner of otherwise uncultivated land; an ideal spot for the hives. Anything I can do to ‘bee happy’ then I will!

    Ref the goats – I’ve found our British Toggenburgs (slightly larger than standard Togs, & less hairy) don’t really jump. But they DO climb – & woe betide us if they spot an opportunity to negotiate a poorly-fenced section of the drystone walling (now very much overgrown so like big earthen banks really) to scramble over! Thankfully this is a rare occurrence; but a real pain the proverbial, when it does.

    In the main our fields are bordered either with fairly tall, thick, very mature hedgerow (mainly hawthorn/blackthorn with hazel, elder, gorse, holly etc thrown in); & standard stock fencing (sheep netting with a single strand of barbed wire above).

    The fencing was already new when we arrived here; so rather than replacing it we have ‘hot wired’ much of it, putting two strands of electric wire standing out from the fence along the top & about 4-6 inches from the bottom. This is to discourage the goats from puting their feet on the sheep netting & damaging it. Personally I’m unhappy about having barbed wire for any livestock; & when we can afford to do so or if fencing requires replacement, we will use a single strand instead (not wood as the goats would oonly eat it!). However if we’d just taken the offending barbed wire off it could have destabilised the entire fenceline, which of course we didn’t want to happen.

    But my concern regarding the barbed wire is very much because if a goat DID decide to jump she could catch her udders; the same going for any amorous male who could badly tear his ‘two veg’ on the barbs (ouchie). At this time of year the males aren’t interested in wooing the ladies so it’s not an issue; all the boys want to do is lounge around & eat (sounds familiar?!).

    BTs are animated caprines; highly intelligent & playful, they have wonderful, individual personalities coupled with a great sense of humour. We’ve found the Saanens to be far quieter & although I wouldn’t relish the prospect of having a large number in a milking herd as they do seem to take far longer to grasp even simple stuff than BTs/BAs, I know from many of my colleagues that they do make excellent house goats – & from what I gather are even more disinclined to jump/climb, than a Toggenburg!

    For a small herd, if you were just going to get the girls to jump onto a low milkstand & milk them either by hand or with a bucket milker, Saanens would be ideal; however you then have to think about what you are using the milk for? If it’s cheesemaking you’d be better to go for the Tog/Alpine types, as their butterfats & proteins are generally higher although yield is conversely lower than for a Saanen. We started with BTs; personally they are my favourites & I wouldn’t want to change to another breed.

    Having not kept Pygmies & not knowing the height of your fencing I couldn’t really comment on the differences; however you may find a full-size dairy goat less of an issue to keep than their more diminutive chums – & you’d certainly get more milk. Regardless, you’ll get hours of fun from them – & doubtless, you will keep them amused as they give you the run-around, too!”

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