Wednesday, 23 March 2016

beekeeping - having a break, death of a colony

I've been keeping now for about 5 years, and it's been a....variable experience. There is nothing like opening up a hive in the spring time and getting a face full of the smell of honey, propolis, pollen and wax.

Then again, being stung, developing cellulitis and having to drop everything and go to the out of hours GP service for high strength antibiotics that give me stomach cramps is less fun.

Less fun also is going away for the weekend and coming back to find an unexpected swarm in a neighbours garden. That's happened a few times. Last year I controlled two extremely swarmy colonies by inspecting twice a week and being more willing to destroy queen cells than have unplanned swarms. I ended up with a queenless colony that way, but they were easily combined with another colony.

Nevertheless, it's been stressful at times, enough that I almost always feel a little anxious before any kind of intervention. So I've decided to take a break for a season or two. Maybe hang around the association apiary a bit, do some studying, build my confidence back up.

With that in mind, I'd arranged to rehome my one remaining colony. It was still upsetting to find the colony had failed over the winter though. Plenty of food, but few bees and no brood - looks like the queen had failed. Maybe I damaged her applying oxalic in mid winter, or maybe she hadn't mated well. She emerged during patchy weather - well, last summer was pretty much all patchy to be honest.

Not the way I'd hoped to end this phase of my beekeeping life, feeling sad and incompetent.

Monday, 14 March 2016

The appeal of the minimal

While I'm sat here chewing my leg like an animal in a trap, waiting for the plantar fasciitis to feck off and let me run again, I've been pondering the appeal of the minimal.

Runners always try to carry as little as possible - it's more comfortable that way. There's a constant process of working out what stuff to carry to keep the bulk down. Water, warmth, food, in that order.

Minimalism isn't completely embraced by runners though, there are many who favour the gadget led approach, and constantly try to improve their performance by the latest in lycra socks, padded running shoes etc.

The bushcraft community have a minimalist strand: limited kit challenges. The challenge is to choose the right gear and have the right skills to keep warm, fed and comfortable, often overnight or for a few nights. Generally warm clothes, some kind of firelighter, a water (boiling) vessel and an axe will do the trick.

Lightweight backpackers sound like they should be minimal, but actually many are chronic kit fiends, constantly buying new gear in search of the perfect low weight set up. For some though, the aim is to have a single, ideal set up that is simple & lightweight. It's just that the quest to attain that simplicity introduces complexity.

Programmers love minimalism too. The very best code does the job as simply as possible. That doesn't mean the fewest characters: code golf is interesting but not necessarily elegant. To be a good solution a piece of code must be simple and concise. Unfortunately marketing tends to mean that software accumulates lots of 'features' as a selling point, when a simpler feature set would often make the application simpler, more reliable and stable.

Poetry is an expression of simplicity, condensing the themes and message of prose into as compact and elegant a form as possible.

I don't know whether there's an innate desire for simplicity and minimalism in people - loads of folk seem to favour accumulating possessions and complex gadgetry. For me though, simplicity has a strong appeal, that comes out in:

minimal shoes
minimal carry for running
lightweight backpacking (without things being disposable)
primitive projectile weapons (simple bow, atlatl, sling)
universal tools (a light hand axe was probably the key tool of man throughout our tool using existence)