We’ve had a week of warm weather in Sydney, and this has kicked off “swarm season”. This is where happy hives all across Sydney decide it’s time to divide into two: one group staying in the hive, and the second group off to find a new home.
I’ve already caught two swarms, one in Camperdown, the other in Rozelle. Both are fairly big, so they’re likely to be “prime swarms”, the first (and largest) swarm from each hive.
Both swarms are now happily in hives, temporarily sitting in our front garden. Later this week, they’ll be heading down to Kangaroo Valley, to some eco friends of ours who live in the middle of a jungle. Lucky bees!
In another of our series of choko recipes, this is a variation on the classic potato dauphinoise, only with pumpkin, choko and radishes.
The method is simple:
Slice the ingredients thinly, using a mandolin or knife.
Then layer the vegetables in a small, high-sided baking dish. Alternate the ingredients, adding small knobs of butter as you go. I also added some dried sage (home-made of course!), salt and pepper.
Then pour in cream, to come up the level of the vegetables.
Bake in a 180°C oven for 45mins. I then added a layer of grated cheese (why not!), and baked until golden brown.
The result was delicious with pork sausages and peas🙂
We first found out about street libraries after hearing about them on Bookish, comedian Jennifer Wong’s ABC iView series about books and reading. A street library is a painted box outside our house containing a selection of books. You can take a book, or leave a book; it’s up to you.
Given that many people stop outside our house to discuss the garden anyway, we figured having a street library would give people another reason to stop by. So we decided to create a street library and put it in our front garden.
We built our street library out of plywood, and added a couple of old slates on top of the roof to give it a cottage feel.
We also ordered a sticker from streetlibrary.com.au that tells the neighbourhood this is a registered street library. Every sticker is numbered so that each librarian can register their library on a map. There’s already several street libraries across the inner west.
We put a selection of books in the street library this morning, some come by when you’re in the area!
A few months ago, the environment team at Marrickville Council (now part of Inner West Council) came by to film an interview with me, about our eco renovation. This has now been published, along with insights from two other houses. Enjoy, and I hope it will be useful!
PS. the Inner West Council provides some great resources and support for households wanting to reduce their environmental footprint. Their team is passionate and effective, and I’d encourage you to get in touch.
The photos above and below show what were heads of broccoli, almost ready for harvest.
Until the possum decided to have a midnight snack. They were consumed in a single night, so there wasn’t much we could do. (Add to that the ongoing challenges from rats, which will give most things a nibble.)
So yes, even in the inner-city, we have wildlife challenges when growing vegetables…
While Warré beekeeping is more natural than conventional beekeeping, there are a few practical challenges.
In Warré hives, empty boxes are added to the bottom of the stack (nadiring), rather than being added to the top. This is great for the bees, as it allows them to naturally keep growing comb downwards. It also eliminates all the management needed of brood boxes in conventional beekeeping.
The downside is that the boxes above need to be lifted in order to insert the empty box. Now maybe this isn’t an issue in Europe, where hives are smaller, but it’s a challenge here in Australia. It’s sometimes necessary to lift four boxes, each of which weight 20-30kg. Heave ho!
Now the boxes can be ‘unstacked’, and then restacked with the empty box on the bottom. This is straightforward when the hive is friendly and relaxed, but I have two hives that are a bit ‘tetchy’. They’re wary when I’m working in the top box, and when I break apart the hive, they go wild, attacking in mass. Not good.
Now Warré outlined the design of a ‘hive lifter’ in his book, and this is shown in greater detail in later natural beekeeping books. So it seemed time to build myself a hive lifter!
Making a wooden hive lifter
The starting point was David Heaf’s excellent page on hive lifters. This outlined a range of designs, and I started with the first one, the guillotine-like design my Marc Gatineau.
I used lightweight Australian native hardwood for the main pieces, and then routed a slot in the verticals to allow the back-piece to run freely. I obtained a small winch from Aliexpress in China, which cost more in shipping than in the product itself.
However, it didn’t run freely. Under the weight of the hive boxes, the guillotine-like mechanism of the backboard running in slots jammed repeatedly. The problem being the tilting force from the lifting arms.
Back to the drawing board.
Version 1.1 took inspiration from Andy Collins‘ lift. To allow things to run freely, it uses drawer runners, which I ordered from I.R.S.
The hive design also uses support brackets for shelving in retail stores, which are amazingly lightweight and strong.
This one worked! At least for a bit, until the supporting plywood buckled under the weight of use.
Versions 1.2 and 1.3 reinforced various elements of the hive lifter design.
Version 1.4 replaced the big ratchet winch with a much smaller and lighter one. The small one is still more than strong enough.
Which I discovered when I over-cranked the lifter when raising a hive, and pulled apart some of the parts with the sheer force of even this tiny winch.
Version 1.5 was further reinforced and tweaked, and is the currently operating version. (Until I made one from metal, which I’ll outline in a future post).
All up, it’s not a complex thing to build, the the cost is no more than $100 of parts, plus a few weekend’s worth of time. (Compared to $1000 for the cheapest comparable commercial offering.)
And it makes an enormous difference when working with hives, particularly during the super-busy summer harvesting season…
As posted earlier, we have a lot of choko, kilos worth. Thankfully we’ve discovered that it’s actually delightful, not the horrible make-do vegetable of reputation.
To demonstrate this, I’ll share a few recipes that we’ve used to get the most of choko, starting with sauteed choko.
Sauteed choko with tarragon
Cut the choko into thin “chips”, discarding the outside skin if tough.
Heat up olive oil in a frying pan, with some butter.
When the oil and butter starts to foam, add the choko, along with a sprinkling of dried tarragon.
Toss in the oil, and cook until the choko is tender, when tested with the point of a knife.
Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve!
This works wonderfully alongside meat, such as a steak or sausages. Yum!