Oooooo We’re half way there, and a bit.

As the title and Bon Jovi so nicely put it I am now half way (and a bit) through my Collection Management Traineeship here at Gressenhall. You’ll be pleased to know at this point the Bon Jovi references stop as there doesn’t seem fitting lyrics to describe how much of a mad, but strangely pleasant trip it has been. It started with an opportunity and that’s kind of what this blog post is going to be about. Opportunities: mine and those of the people in the workhouse since way back when. How opportunities change lives.

Let’s start with mine. Before I joined the Gressenhall team I was unemployed and nearly house bound with mental health issues. My first opportunity came in the form of an email. The second was getting the job itself. This gave me a sense of belonging. I became a valued member of a team and a museum professional, something I never thought I’d be. The opportunity to go to countless conferences and meet inspiring, talented and challenging people. The chance to find out what I wanted to be in the museum world.

Opportunities for people in the workhouse came in much simpler forms. A new set of workhouse clothes that made them feel like they belonged somewhere. Lessons in sewing and domestic service that girls received. Training in trades like hat making and tailoring that boys received. Apprenticeships to enable them to earn a wage for the rest of their days. Or even the opportunity to knit scarves and socks for the armed forces at Christmas. This task was given to the old and infirm of the workhouse.

These simple, probably small things changed lives. Like that small email changed mine, all for the better. This doesn’t really have a point to it but I think what I’m trying to say is we should not dismiss or bat aside the small opportunities that come along in life, but like those inmates in the workhouse we should grab and hold onto each small chance with both hands.


The remarkable Honey Bee

Over the past four weeks I have been attending an evening class titled ‘An Introduction to Bee-keeping’, where I have been learning all about this amazing insect known as Apis Mellifera; that’s the Western Honeybee to you and me. I have not only got to grips with the biology of the creature, but also it’s home life, work life, and all of the threats that it faces… I feel like I know it quite intimately already; and I haven’t even handled any bees, nor have we set up our own Gressenhall hive yet!


In the first of four theoretical sessions I was introduced to the biology of the bee, as well as the three different types of bee present in the hive. These are Workers (female) who perform most of the work inside and outside the hive; Drones (male) whose task it is to mate with the Queen at the appropriate time of the year, and the Queen herself (naturally female of course)! I also learnt why hive structure is highly organised; with each caste of bee playing it’s part in the proper function and therefore success of the colony. Fascinating stuff!


Honey bees lead interesting (if short) lives; all begin life as eggs laid by the Queen and depending on whether they have been fertilized they will be a Drone or a Worker. The Queen is able to direct semen stored inside her by means of a valve which she opens and closes. Drones are only produced from unfertilized eggs, and should only appear in the hive during the summer. Regardless, the emergent larvae are fed by young worker bees who are known as nurse bees.

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One could easily assume from this information that the Queen runs the show. After all, it is she who lays the eggs and decides which will be fertile and which will not. Or does she? The Workers construct the cells that make up the ‘comb’ structure we all recognise. They make the individual cell openings to a precise size; this determines which kind of egg is laid in the cell or rather whether it is to be fertilised or not. So in fact the Queen is following instructions from the Workers- they manipulate her decisions by the number of each cell that they produce. A sort of ‘constitutional monarchy’ then, if you will!


Depending on what type of bee the larva is will determine what it is fed and for how long, and also how long it will remain in the larval state before pupation. The larva is sealed in its cell where it begins the process of becoming an adult bee. It strikes me that precision and timing play an enormous part in securing the success of the hive and it is remarkable how well organised and socially developed these tiny insects are. From the way in which the Queen is able to determine the size of the cell opening to decide on whether to lay fertilised or unfertilized eggs; to the Workers who are able to assess the weather, food abundance and colony numbers to decide on which type of cells to make.

Attending the Queen

I have learned that one cell type in particular is to be looked for very carefully indeed. So-called ‘swarm cells’ are in fact cells made to house the larvae that will produce Queen bees. If the workers are unhappy with the productivity of the Queen (she can produce too few or too many) then they can decide to usurp her! They do this by ‘feeding up’ young Workers who then pupate in the largest cells and this is an indicator that a hive will shortly swarm! The large cells are known simply as ‘swarm cells’ and can indicate a process known as supercedure is about to occur.


Swarming is a natural activity for Honey Bees. They will do it if there are too many individuals for the colony to sustain, or for any reason if they are unhappy in their surroundings. In the wild it is a natural means of reproduction, but for domestic or commercial bee-keepers it can be a problem. Once the colony has decided to swarm, they will do it and nothing will change their mind!! Swarms are not usually aggressive however; since they have no brood (young) with them they are primarily concerned with finding a new home; for the bee-keeper that can mean tempting them out of a treetop or other similarly tricky spot and back into a suitable place!


Scout bees fly away to locate a new home for the colony and when found they will indicate to the swarm by ‘dancing’ to alert the other bees to the location of the prospective new hive. This dance is actually the bees wafting pheromones from their Nasonov glands to alert the others to the potential hive location. The Nasonov gland is another neat little feature in the Honeybee’s impressive spec. The pheromones it secretes will provide other bees with an enormous amount of information relating to food sources, danger and aid in identification of bees from the same colony.

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It is critical for the Bee-keeper to understand the behaviour of bees, so that they can be properly looked after. A Bee-Keeper must therefore be able to spot the signs that a colony is about to swarm. Knowing about the different types of bee, what they do and why they do it is surely the key to success. I was surprised to learn that a new Queen can be raised in just 16 days, should the old Queen be lost, killed or simply unproductive. As with ‘swarm’, or supercedure cells, emergency cells are large ‘queen sized’ cells or cups that can appear within the comb and indicate that there is a problem with the Queen- most likely lost. Workers are take slightly longer to produce at 21 days and Drones the longest at 24 days. These bees are stingless, do not work or forage; indeed only leaving the hive to attempt mating with a Queen during July and August (typically).


I have been amazed by the organisation of the colony; the Workers are divided by age into various groups each fulfilling a vital role inside and outside the hive. When hatched, the new Worker busily begins clearing up the mess of their old pupal cell- Honeybees are clean-freaks! After three days of this, the new Worker spends up to 15 days as a Nurse bee- feeding the brood of larvae. Then they will move on to attending the queen, who cannot feed herself. Afterwards they might be involved in honey processing (storing honey as a food source for overwintering), wax production and comb-building, and finally hive ventilation whereby the worker positions herself at the entrance to the hive and beats her wings furiously to blow in fresh air and keep the hive oxygenated. By now, at a mere 20 or so days old, the seasoned worker is ready to perform Guard duty; protecting the hive against robber bees and predators. It is also at this time that workers may begin to leave the hive and forage. If this was not enough, the poor little worker bee will continue to forage for nectar, pollen, water and propolis (a sticky substance produced by plants and used by the bees to bind structures together within the hive) until they literally drop down dead! A life dedicated to one sole purpose: the survival of the colony.


I have always been interested in these amazing insects. Now, armed with a little more knowledge about how they live their lives, I hope to learn how to look after them; ensuring not only that I can enjoy delicious honey (if I’m lucky!) but also doing a little something to ensure that this industrious creature is around for many more centuries to come.


This is a cracking time of year, and no yoke!

Spring has to be most people’s favourite time of year. There is so much happening, new life and a blast of colour after the dull greys and browns of winter.

Over the winter I have started a placement at Sculthorpe Moor, which has been a fantastic opportunity to learn some skills in environmental conservation which backs up the farming knowledge I have been gaining at Gressenhall. It is an absolutely beautiful site, and very diverse in its wildlife however it is a wetland site so over the winter months I have been wading through calf-deep peat water. It has been brilliant to have a few dry weeks and to see the site come to life from under the flood water! 


As my traineeship began in May last year it has been fantastic to see the signs of Spring develop on the farm. I took part in catching some Marsh Daisy hens in order to incubate their eggs. These eggs hatched on Wednesday 2nd April and they are now cuddled together under a heat lamp in the back barn for the public to see. It tJpegakes 21 days to incubate chicken eggs and the average hatch rate is 50-75%. We put 13 eggs into the incubator and 12 hatched which was amazing! Once the chicks hatch they can stay in the incubator for 12 hours as they feed of the insides of the egg. This also allows the chicks to dry out, ensuring they do not become cold. 


All 12 chicks are doing well and are available for everyone to come and see they throughout the Easter holidays.


Another amazing event was my first experience of lambing. Prior to our ewes giving birth I attended a lambing course which was extremely useful and a little concerning. I didn’t know that so many things could go wrong with a birth! This course was a day based at Gressenhall; a farm vet came and talked to us about possible malpresentations and diseases. The day ended with a practical activity to back up our newly gained knowledge.


The first ewe to birth delivered a strong healthy boy lamb. Following this we have had just under half our ewes give birth. The most recent was a new ewe who had never birthed before. She delivered twins; however required assistance from Richard, the farm manager. Both survived and are doing well now.

JpegThe ewe lamb still requires bottle feeding occasionally, which was a brilliant chance for me to get hands on with the lambs. It was an amazing experience and something I’m sure I could do all day!


As you can see from the large use of excited adjectives, Spring is a great time of year on the farm, and out and about.

JpegI hope you all enjoy Spring on the farm as much as I do!

(And as much as Trojan does!) 

Danielle Chatten 

Heritage Farming Apprentice

Sensitive Timber Extraction from Pingos

Over the past few months I’ve been learning about the use of horses for the extraction of timber. Last week I had a chance to actually witness it first hand and learn about the type of situations when horse powered timber extraction may be the most appropriate.

In Norfolk we’re fortunate to have a relatively rare type of habitat known as a ‘Pingo’. Essentially, a pingo is a large pond or lake that is fed by an aquifer located below the pingo, a spring at the base of the pingo feeds it with water from the aquifer.

Unlike regular ponds and lakes that are fed by rainfall either directly into the pond or from the surrounding rainfall catchment, the water level of pingos can be high even during periods of low rainfall. However, pingos can also periodically dry up at times when the water level within the aquifer is low.

This ephemeral persistence of a pingo creates some very interesting species assemblages within the ponds. For example, the young larval stage of great crested newts are often predated by fish (such as sticklebacks). The drying up of a pingo will kill off any species that are unable to disperse into surrounding water bodies, such as fish. Therefore, predation of great crested newts is reduced.

One of the sites in Norfolk where a number of these pingos are present is the Forestry Commision owned Frost’s Common, near to Thetford Forest. A recent project was set up to clear a number of the trees surrounding the pingos present on Frosts Common, in the hope that this will allow more sunlight to reach the pingos which will in turn increase the pingos value for biodiversity.

A pingo that has become overgrown with vegetation. There is a danger that left in this state, the pingo will completely silt up with leaf litter and be lost.

Because of the inherant sensitivity of this site, it was decided by the forestry commission that horses should be used to extract the majority of timber from Frosts Common. This is where Mark Tasker of Wildwood comes in, as his horses have been trained to pull logs through the woods for timber extraction.

His horses are a cross between a Suffolk punch mare and a Cob stallion. The brown and white horse is just 2.5 years old and is still learning from the all brown, 5 year old horse. Because Mark is using the slightly less experienced, younger horse he explained that he is unable work the horses for as long in a day as he would like to. Though he also explained that his younger horse has to learn how to do the job at some point!

Interestingly the majority of the trees being felled are located to the southern side of the pingos being opened up to the light. This is because the Forestry Commision have a limit to the number of trees that they are able to fell in one season; felling to the south of an area will allow the most light into an area, therefore making the most efficient use of the felling quota.


Lee Bassett

Heritage Landscape Management Trainee