Reworking our Aerobins

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One of our two Aerobins, alongside our worm farm
One of our two Aerobins, alongside our worm farm

At present, we have three Aerobins and one worm farm. The thing that makes the Aerobins special is the  patented lung ® or aeration core inside. This is a series of connected pieces that provides greater levels of circulation, and therefore faster decomposition.

The pieces of the Aerobin "lung", mangled through use.
The pieces of the Aerobin “lung”, mangled through use.

 

At least, that’s the theory. In practice, the pieces often get mangled when turning over the contents of the Aerobin, and several of my hat-like structures have been damaged beyond use. I know I’m not the only one to experience this.

A replacement aeration method, made of out 90mm pipe
A replacement aeration method, made of out 90mm pipe

Taking a suggestion from my dad, I emptied out each of the Aerobins, and removed the aeration core pieces. To replace this, I drilled holes in a length of 90mm polypipe, adding a cap on the end. (These are standard plumbing items that can be obtained from the nearest hardware or plumbing store.)

The result is a more robust source of air circulation, that should be resilient against day-to-day use. Touch wood, it should still give me the faster aerobic breakdown of compost.

The Aerobin refilled, with its new home-made air spike
The Aerobin refilled, with its new home-made air spike

Wattleseed scones

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Homemade wattleseed scones, soft and delicious!
Homemade wattleseed scones, soft and delicious!

I recently ordered a bunch of “bush food” ingredients from Wild Hibiscus Flower Co, including ground wattleseed, ground mountain pepper, whole native pepperseeds, and whole bush tomatoes.

So with Australia Day last week, I had a hankering to use some of these wonderful native ingredients. Wattleseed scones were the first thing to come to mind.

These are a ‘classic’ bush tucker item, and I’ve heard them mentioned often. They’re also listed on the menus of many restaurants and catering companies.

But how hard was it to find a recipe! I looked through all my native food cookbooks, and spent 45mins searching on Google. I finally found a recipe buried in the middle of a Northern Rivers Landcare PDF.

I ended up varying it a bit, so here’s my version, to help others more easily find a recipe:

Wattleseed scones

1 egg
150ml cream
½ cup milk
2 tbsp plain yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla essence
2½ cups self-raising flour (add more if needed, if the mix is too wet and sticky)
3 tsp ground wattleseeds
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder

Mix together the wet ingredients. Add the dry ingredients, and mix, making sure you don’t overwork the batter.

Spread into a 2cm thick layer, and use cookie cutters to cut out circular scones. Place these side-by-side on a non-stick baking dish, and bake for 10-15mins in a 190°C oven, until brown.

(How were they? Delicious! The wattleseed has a distinctive flavour, almost like coffee, and we had the scones with homemade rosella jam and strawberry jam.)

 

Quilting: a mega-project

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Over the past 18 months I’ve been making a Queen-sized quilt. Although I have plenty of dressmaking experience I’d never made a quilt before, and inspired by the annual quilt fair in Sydney I thought I’d give it ago. Besides, I figured that sewing rectangles would be much easier than sewing clothing.

It was an easy project, but for me that means a little bit boring. It was hard to stay motivated to finish the quilt which is partly why it took so long to make!

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Queen sized Liberty quilt

I used a range of blue florals from my favourite fabric designer, Liberty of London (if you also like Liberty fabric I suggest buying it from Shaukat as it’s a little cheaper than buying direct from Liberty).

I’m really pleased with how it turned out. If I make another one sometime in the future I think I’ll try a more complex design and send the project away to be quilted on a long-arm machine.

Redo: oiling our kitchen benchtops

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After several years, the iron in the water built up on our unsealed benchtops
After several years, the iron in the water built up on our unsealed benchtops

One of the eco-minded decisions we made when we created our environmentally-friendly kitchen was to leave a raw, unsealed surface on our benchtops.

The benchtops are made of kauri pine, a softwood local to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Its very fine grain makes it highly resistant to water, and the early settlers even used to make their whole sinks out of the wood (with no metal at all!).

The benches are very resistant to staining, and even beetroot spills faded away within a matter of days. A scrub with a pumice soap periodically would then remove any left-over marks.

The only issue was around the sink area. Here, the iron and minerals in the water would deposit themselves into the grain. The result was a dark, almost black coating around the sink. While it was perfectly hygienic, it was unsightly.

So we finally decided to oil the benchtops, after giving them a thorough sand. Ian Thomson, who constructed our glorious kitchen, was more than happy to help.

We when used Organoil Hard Burnishing Oil to seal the wood, which is food-grade, and only slightly darkens the colour.

The result is lovely, and will now remain lovely, even in the face of heavy use.

Our benchtops, after being given a protective oiling
Our benchtops, after being given a protective oiling

Success: catching a swarm in a bait hive

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A few years back I reviewed the excellent ebook Swarm Traps and Bait Hives. This outlines the simplest way to get free bees: lure a local swarm into a ‘bait hive’ placed at a strategic location.

The idea is that the temporary hive is a more attractive option that a tree hollow, a chimney or the cavity in the walls of a house. Once the bees have settled into the bait hive, it can be moved to a new location, and established as a permanent hive.

This season I set up a number of bait hives. These consisted of two boxes with frames, a flat lid, and a specially-made base. Out of the five bait hives I established, I had a success with one. Pretty good, considering that the strange weather this year really limited the number of swarms that were about.

Watch the video above to see my bait hive strapped to the side of a tree.

Cross-linked comb and a big honey harvest

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Honey bees making their own patterns...
Honey bees making their own patterns…

One of the boxes of honey I harvested over the weekend shows what happens when bees “don’t follow the rules”. This is how they draw comb in the wild, in a space-filling organic pattern.

Extracting the honeycomb as one big cake...
Extracting the honeycomb as one big cake…

This is fine for the bees, but a bit of a hassle when harvesting. The only way to get it out is in one big ‘cake’ of comb, which is then cut away in pieces. Which actually proved to be fairly straightforward in practice, thankfully.

Not a bad harvest for one weekend!
Not a bad harvest for one weekend!

In total, I harvested a box of honey from two of my hives, generating a big honey harvest. 15 litres in total, divided up into 3 x 3kg tubs, 3 x 1kg tubs, 15 jars and 3 squeeze bottles.

Considering my 9 litre harvest from last weekend has already been sold out, I don’t expect this harvest will last long either!

Three busy beehives on our roof (a video)

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Three full-sized beehives on our roof
Three full-sized beehives on our roof

At the end of last season, I moved some of my hives around, and I’ve now got a full complement of three Warré hives on our roof.

All of them are at either four or five boxes high, which is generally considered (in Sydney) to be a full-sized hive. And while the on-and-off-again rain has been annoying for Sydneysiders, it’s been great for everyone’s gardens. The result has been plenty of flowering, and busy times for our hives.

I’ve made our first harvest of the season, a full-box of honey from my first hive, yielding 9 litres of honey. I don’t expect this to last more than a week, with a pile of back-orders from friends and the local cafes.

But pictures speak louder than words, and this brief video shows how busy our hives are: