Month: August 2013

Finally, we have a proper compost heap

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A proper compost heap, out the back
A proper compost heap, out the back

For a long time now, we’ve had two compost bins (Aerobins) and a worm farm. Which have been great, particularly after I gave them more solid foundations to sit on.

That still left me with a hankering for a proper compost heap, to supply organic material for our guerilla-gardened food forest.

Some space has finally opened up at the back, giving the me opportunity to construct the first of several compost bays (at least, that’s the plan).

Creating a square metre of compostable material wasn’t hard, between the piles of fallen leaves, weeds galore, and other green materials. I’ve turned it once already, and it’s starting to build up some heat.

Onwards to compost!

Our winter harvest of broccoli and cauliflower

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Plenty of broccoli and cauliflower
Plenty of broccoli and cauliflower

Our main winter crop most years is broccoli and cauliflower, and it’s in full swing right now.

The main head has been cut off the broccoli plants, and we’re steadily harvesting the side-shoots. The cauliflower is also a sight to behold.

It’s great to eat seasonally 🙂

A bee hive in the trees

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My first 'bait hive', hung in a tree behind the old convent next door.
My first ‘bait hive’, hung in a tree behind the old convent next door.

As mentioned in my book review of Swarm Traps and Bait Hives, I tweaked the approach I was planning for my “bait hives“. The goal remains the same: to catch passing swarms, to build up my number of active hives (for free!).

Based on the insights in the book, this is what I did:

  • Used two hive boxes for the bait hive (this was also recommended by Tim Malfroy for my WarrĂ© hives).
  • Top and bottom boards were screwed on.
  • I drilled an entrance hole at the bottom of the bait hive, at a size recommended by the book. (I hammered in a nail across the entrance to stop birds from using the box as a nest.)
  • The hive is hung 2m off the ground, attached to a nail in a tree.
  • The hive is placed in the shade, facing north.
  • (When the book said the ideal location is a shady forest, I said, “hey, I actually have that, next door behind the old convent”, and the location was set.)
  • I included a few used frames in the bait hive, generously donated by Gavin Smith, my local bee guru.
  • I used lemongrass oil, putting 8 drops on some paper towel, and partially sealing it in a ziplock bag.

So that’s it! Hopefully my trusty bait hive will catch me some bees 🙂

Our house is in this month’s Sanctuary magazine

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The one-page writeup of our eco-renovation
The one-page writeup of our eco-renovation

We’re honoured to be included in this month’s Sanctuary magazine, which is featuring a number of houses that have been involved in Sustainable House Day.

(It’s a great magazine, with a lot of other wonderful case studies of green projects. Rush out and get a copy!)

A wheelbarrow full of coffee grounds

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A wheelbarrow full of coffee.
A wheelbarrow full of coffee.

It’s not every day that you end up with a wheelbarrow full of used coffee grounds, but I’m looking forward to making it a regular occurance at Lewisham House.

A little while back, a new cafe opened up just down the road, The Pig & Pastry. Other than their passion for great food, they also have a real interest in environmental issues. This includes some lovely raised garden beds set up in their backyard, for vegetables and herbs.

A week ago I approached them with a strange question: “what do you do with your used coffee grounds?”. Nothing as it turns out!

Coffee grounds are much loved in the permaculture community, as a source of free fertiliser for the garden. Apparently they deter (or hopefully kill?) slugs and snails, and the grounds are a particular favourite of citrus trees.

Online there are a number of long conversations about the relative merit of coffee grounds, including whether they’re too acid, and their effect on chickens. The general consensus is that when they break down, they become more neutral, and they don’t appear to be too toxic for chickens.

So I’ve left several plastic buckets down at the cafe, and I’ll drop down every week with a wheelbarrow to pick up the grounds. This saves them rubbish fees, and keeps my compost bins happy. A win all round!

Book review: Swarm Traps and Bait Hives

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SwarmTraps-CoverOne of the marks of a good book is that it has an immediate impact on what you think or do. Swarm Traps and Bait Hives by McCartney Taylor is one such book.

As a beginner beekeeper, I have a single hive, still in its very early stages. Having been established just before winter, it’s still a single box, yet to extend down into the second box. Honey is some way off!

My focus is therefore to grow the number of hives I’m managing, to perhaps two or three. This will increase my eventual honey output, as well as protecting me against hive failures.

I had heard about the idea of establishing bait hives, and had created two of my own. I couldn’t find much written about them, so I was planning to go with the idea of putting them each on a roof, and hoping for the best. I’d heard about “swarm lures”, and the potential use of lemongrass oil, but again, couldn’t find any real detail.

McCartney’s book came to the rescue, and just in time.

It’s not a long book, and it’s written in a very casual tone of voice. It does, however, provide exactly the information needed for beekeepers (new or old) to maximise their success at capturing bees.

As McCartney says, this is all about “getting bees for free”. Through a combination of good design, appropriate placement (and patience), beekeepers can grown their number of hives, while protecting local houses from bees creating rogue hives in walls, etc.

Step by step, the book walks through how to create a good bait hive, including plenty of real-world advice (he repeatedly says on various issues “don’t do it this way, I tried it, and trust me, it didn’t work”). More than just a how-to guide, McCartney aims to enthuse all beekeepers about catching bees in this way.

As he says throughout the book, “you will catch bees”, the only question is how many.

I’m going to revise my bait hives, and I’ll post the results. In the meantime, I’d strongly recommend this book for all beekeepers.

Two bait hives ready for spring

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Two home-made bait hives, ready for placement in spring.
Two home-made bait hives, ready for placement in spring.

One of the ways of increasing the number of active bee hives is to wait for a call that someone has a swarm clustered in a tree in their backyard, and to  capture that.

The other option is to place “bait” hives in inviting locations, and hope that a passing swarm takes a fancy to them.

In my first full beekeeping season, I’m going to try both. 🙂

The photo above shows two bait hives ready for spring. I made the boxes myself (as per my previous post), and painted them a very pale green. I also made the two bases, which are a bit rough, but sufficient for this task.

As these are temporary hives, there’s no reason for a full WarrĂ© roof, and I’ve constructed a simple flat roof out of plywood, treated with linseed oil.

Now I just have to wait until spring, and then find some friends who are willing to provide a temporary home for the hives, in return for some honey and/or wax. 🙂

Update: see my review of Swarm traps and bait hives, and how it changed our bait hive approach.

Our first (and only) glass of home-made orange juice

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Our first three oranges!
Our first three oranges!

If it’s one thing that fruit trees teach you, it’s patience. While our lime tree has been fruiting strongly for 18 months now, the two orange trees have been taking their time.

Still, we were finally blessed with our first oranges this winter. Unfortunately there were only five in total. Yes, five.

Three went into a glass of fresh-squeezed juice, which had a nice edge to it (not like the super-sweet and somewhat bland juice that you get in the supermarket).

The last two went into the steamed marmalade pudding that was part of our ploughman’s lunch last weekend.

Onwards to greater crops! 🙂

Our first (and only) glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Our first (and only) glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice.