Thursday, 24 May 2012

Field Study's Man in E17 dons his marigolden gloves

Compost in the making - May 2012

Field Study's Man in E17 dons his marigolden gloves and delves into some darkness for the purposes of research into retail cargo cults for Field Study International.

There have been frequent reports recently, via EL Beeks (the East London Beekeepers), of honey bees swarming. I experienced being in the midst of a swarm forming anew from one of our hives during a hive inspection. The swarm clustered on a nearby willow dome and became enmeshed in the complex interweaving of the branches. This was the first swarm I had encountered as a beekeeper. I panicked and rushed to try and recapture the bees. There was actually time, while the entire swarm gathered, to calmly assesse the situation and prepare a better way of getting the bees free of the tangle of branches. We lost those bees due, mainly, to frustration at the arduous and ineffective process of trying to cut every branch around which the swarm had clustered. We stopped when we realised we could not cut any more branches without seriously damaging the willow dome.

I have been told when a swarm of bees emerges from a hive it clusters soon and temporarily nearby before flying further afield to another clustering point. It will stay at the second place for several days while worker bees scout for the final destination which will become their nest.

The unusual frequency of swarms this spring/early summer may be due to the very warm early spring weather followed by the colder wetter spell. Colonies of bees thrived and increased in size substantially during the warm spell and are likely to have experienced distress at the very wet weather and hindrance to foraging for food. The National Bee Unit issued a warning recently that colonies were likely to starve if the cold wet weather persisted. The distress may also have been due to overcrowding in the hive/nest. Overcrowding is one of the triggers for colonies of bees to create new queen cells. The production of new queen bees leads to swarming.

You Tube has a large collection of films to view about 'catching swarms of bees' or 'hiving swarms of honey bees'. The collection forms a fascinating educational resource in which the diversity of approaches to 'hiving a swarm' is expressed. Honey bees are less aggressive and less likely to sting while swarming although I am surprised at the number of video clips I've watched in which the beekeepers wear no protective clothing i.e. a veil and/or gloves.

I started wearing rubber gloves for bee hive inspections following a workshop about bee health and hygiene last year. Rubber gloves are washable and easily changed between hives; the same gloves should not be worn for two or more hives so as to prevent cross infection. About 10 days ago a bee managed to sting me through a rubber glove; an accomplishment I was very surprised by. Along with the reports of swarming honey bees around north and east London there is also news of beekeepers having serious allergic reactions to stings. The allergic reactions may be a consequence of being stung repeatedly. Here is a selection of the You Tube 'hiving a swarm' videos which demonstrate a few of the approaches to this task. The use of a sledge hammer in one of the demonstrations made me laugh out loud.

What is common to the selected demonstrations is the luring of the swarms into empty bee boxes via slopes, most notably that by the natural beekeeper, Heidi Hermann.

I've wondered about this phenomenon in relation to Miroslaw Balka's, 'How It Is' installation at Tate Modern in 2009. The Telegraph art critic, Richard Dorment commented on the 'undeniably seductive' depths of Balka's pitch black interior 'once you’ve taken your first step up the long, steep ramp'. Bees may be similarly enticed. When I visited 'How It Is', the darkness I sought was briefly experienced due to the light polluting dim wits who persisted in using their phones and other devices to illuminate the space. That said, when, for a moment, the offending lights were extinguished I did walk unwittingly into the far wall at the darkest reach of the space. When I exited I wondered if I had walked into the physical limits of the space or just the mental limits I had created. The sensation of reaching the mental limits might have been similar to that of reaching the physical - if there were actually physical limits to be found - a sort of 'Schrodinger's Cat' situation and paradox.

'Carriage' - 26th May to 1st June.

Signage in preparation for 'Carriage'

This weekend I hope to install 'Carriage' at Waltham Forest Arts Club's Pop Up Gallery (PUG) in Wood St Indoor Market. 'Carriage' will be an attempt to create a pitch dark interior. Miroslaw Balka's gigantic freight container involved visitors/participants in the darkness of, The Holocaust. My much smaller and much less serious installation is intended to involve visitors in some reflections and projections on the regeneration of Wood Street. 'Carriage' will include a field recording of a beehive and other allusions to the social phenomenology of honey bees.

Visitors might like to consider other dark interior fields in relation to 'Carriage'. My field studies are currently very much focused on cultivating an allotment. Some of the most important processes involved in the cultivation and nurture of the site are composting and liquid feed making. Below are images of the compost bays and some of the comfrey and/or nettle feed bins.

The middle bay of the composting area contains a hot compost heap, a heap that is made up in one session rather than, as the other two have been, built up more gradually and intermittently. The hot heap consists of alternating layers of stinging nettles, soggy corrugated cardboard, well rotted grass cuttings, old comfrey sludge and slurry from feed making bins. The heap was created less than a month ago, the layers stacked up to a height well above those of the heaps at each side. Since then the heap has reduced in volume by nearly half and the materials have been micro biologically cooked, chewed and digested to form what will (hopefully) be a relatively weed seed free and nourishing addition to the allotment raised beds. The 'cooking' can be felt as warmth, at the surface, radiating from the dark interior of the heap where so many of the composting processes take place.

Top - compost bays
Bottom - feed bins

The feed bins are crude pumps. The bins are stuffed with nettles or comfrey leaves (or a combination) which are then weighed down by heavy weights placed on top. Towards the bottom of each bin is a seive or strainer through and against which the rotting and foul smelling mush is forced. The product of this pumping is a very potent dark vegetable crude which can be diluted and given to the plants as a fertiliser. Although the fertilising elixir is diluted the process as a whole maintains a sense of being a concentration or condensation of some of the cycles of soil fertlity.

Below are images of a corner of the allotment that flooded during the very wet spell. This is the site of a new orchard with a variety of small fruit trees and bushes. As the flood water receded a new flood of stinging nettles grew up prolifically to provide tender vegetation to harvest for feed. I have found rubber gloves a close fitting but not completely reliable form of protection against the irksome stings for, to my surprise, as with the bees, there are, or rather, were some nettles able to pierce my rubber skin.

Pulling a nettle patch

Out of last year's compost, used to condition this year's raised vegetable beds, has come a proliferation of mustard.The mustard is the pale, prominently mid ribbed and veined leaves with serrated edges featured in the image below. The strong spicy  herb is growing so plentifully there is a seasonal surplus which is available to buy at Organiclea's local produce stalls at Hornbeam (Hoe St) and Leytonstone  (outside Matalan). on Saturdays.

When I visit 'Carriage', as a completed installation, it may be these realtionships I strain to 'see' as I peer into  the darkened interior of Waltham Forest Arts Club's PUG. Once the show is finished the cardboard boxes will be surplus to my limited storage space, and will be added to the next hot compost heap and those dark transformative processes.

Mustard, Nasturtium, Dittander, Spinach, Fat Hen, Chick Weed and others

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