While the winter and spring has been dry in Sydney, it’s still a great place for the bees.
Even early in the season, several of our hives have been “bearding”. This is where the hive is getting very full — and therefore hot — and a bunch of the bees head out of the hive.
Some of the bees fan cool air into the hive, while others climb up the side of the hive as a “beard”. A few days after this video was shot, we harvested our first box of honey. I think it’s going to be a busy season!
The big news for us at the farm is the completion of our new ‘American barn’ style shed … which will finally allow us to get a tractor!
The new driveway to the shed is designed to shed the rain off one edge, to prevent the shed from flooding. While this is a good design, the first heavy rain we had immediately started eroding the 45 degree earth slope beside the shed.
So I spent a weekend creating a “rubble drain” to ensure that water doesn’t cause any more damage.
The starting point was digging a trench that followed the line of erosion. This was lined with weed mat, and then filled will rocks that I lugged up the hill by hand. (A wheelbarrow’s no use on a 45deg slope!)
The first part of the trench also has a slotted ag pipe, to ensure good water flow, all of which is hidden by the layer of rocks.
It’s a great way to get fit (ha!), and the result is rather lovely I think. Tick that job off!
With our time now split between the city and our farm, it’s a bit harder to look after our flock of chicken. While our neighbours are happy to help out (in return for eggs!), the less that has to be done, the better.
Enter some tried-and-tested country technology: the automatic waterer.
This uses a ‘float valve’ to automatically cut the water when it reaches a specific height. When the animals drink from it and the levels drops, the water source cuts back in.
You won’t find this handy item at the local Bunnings; it is easy to find at a farm supply shop in the country. While it’s intended for horses, cattle, etc it works perfectly well for chickens.
This particular unit comes from the USA, and it has a 1/2″ connection for the water. With a bit of hunting in Bunnings I found a plastic adapter that went from 1/2″ to 3/4″, to which I could then add a standard hose fitting. Then it’s just click in the hose and you’re done.
One less thing to do in this busy life, plus happy chickens!
I’m a big fan of Warré hives, and I have five in total, with most in Sydney and a growing number at Lewisham Farm down the coast.
When I was first learning from Tim Malfroy, he showed what he called a “coffin hive”, but I’d prefer to call a “Horizontal Warré hive” (much less scary!).
With a little bit of spare time at the end of winter, I decided to make one of my own.
This is basically a Warré version of a Kenyan top bar hive (there’s also a “long Langstroth” that I’ve seen pictures of). It holds the equivalent of three boxes worth of frames, give or take.
It offers some of the advantages of a top-bar hive, such as easy access to the hive, with no heavy lifting. It has an entrance at both ends, which can be used to easily split a hive in summer to create two hives (the second entrance is normally kept closed).
It’s obviously also interoperable with a normal Warré hive, which makes it more versatile.
It’s important that the hive doesn’t warp, otherwise the frames won’t fit. So I constructed the hive from 30mm thick recycled hardwood (mostly Sugar Gum).
I was able to get the wood at half price from the odd-ends pile at my local lumber yard, but it still ran to $403 of materials. So not a cheap experiment, but something worthwhile nonetheless.
Now I just have to catch a swarm, and I’ll be off and running!
I’ll report on how the hive works as the season progresses, watch this space…
Following on from our first patch of dwarf citrus, a family work gang has helped us plant out our second patch. This is of full-sized citrus, with supporting guild.
A few notes:
- With full-sized rather than dwarf citrus, patch 2 is a little under twice the size of patch 1.
- The ‘spine’ of the planting are three Elaeagnus Ebbingei a nitrogen-fixing plant that increases the fertility of fruit trees, and is highly-recommended for permaculture gardens.
- There’s a mix of native citrus (eg finger lime), introduced citrus (eg navel orange) and a few that are hybrids of the two (eg sunrise lime).
- I’ve snuck a few berry bushes into the understory on the Eastern side (currants and gooseberry). I want to test how they perform in increasing shade, as well as seeing whether all the fruit is eaten by birds, etc. Consider it a living experiment 😉
- As before, everything is sheet mulched, with a bunch of ‘in-fill’ plants to go in shortly to shade out any weeds.
With Spring coming, lets see how this patch goes!
The transformation of our 22ha property overlooking Nowra will take several decades. A core part of this journey is creating an “edible forest garden”, as described by Dave Jacke in his books with Eric Toensmeier.
One of the starting points is to document a clear vision or goal statement. There’s a few reasons for doing this:
- it’s hard to get somewhere if you don’t know where you’re headed!
- an edible forest garden requires long-term planning
- there are many different ways of creating a garden
- there are often multiple people involved, with different goals, but with the need for a common vision
In our case, Priscilla is all about country gardens & flowers, and I’m all about big-scale transformations. So we sat down, did some brainstorming, then some wordsmithing.
I’m sure this vision will change hugely over the coming years as we learn a heap, but this is where we’re starting. (Note that Jacke recommends writing the vision as we’ve already achieved the outcome)
At the centre of the property, the country-styled house is surrounded by a delightful cottage garden. Laid out in neat shapes, it provides a relaxed environment and a year-round supply of cut flowers.
Surrounded by vibrant rainforest on all sides, the broader property is devoted to an Australian ‘edible forest garden’ that provides an abundance of fruits, nuts and native bushfoods. Arranged as interconnected fields and ‘garden rooms’, the local micro-climates have been exploited to allow a great diversity of spaces, each with a very different feel and mix of plants.
There is also a tranquil pond with ducks, productive bee hives, a vegetable patch and a greenhouse for propagating plants.
Our friends and family have also enjoyed the escape from the city, as well as helping with every stage of the transformation. The small eco-cottages set in the more distant fields are rented out to provide a modest income.
This has been a decade-long journey, with the learnings shared with the wider permaculture community. We’ve been able to show how much can be done by part-time farmers, and how Australian rainforest plants can be integrated into a food-growing system. (1 August 2017)
One of the things we liked about our farm when we bought it was that it was truly off-grid. That means managing our own power, water and sewage. Truly living the eco dream!
What we weren’t so excited about was the terrible state of the solar generation system. It hadn’t been serviced in the last decade, meaning the lead-acid batteries had been allowed to go dry, the generator was failing, and the lights dimmed every time the water pump when on.
So a brand new PV system was required. Our immediate challenge was finding someone who could sell and install a solar solution.
Our farm is located in a rural setting surrounded by rainforest and fields. But it’s also just 10 minutes away from the nearest town, making it semi-urban.
The net effect is that very few of the local PV systems are off-grid, and few of the local installers had experience with off-grid setups. We wanted someone nearby to do the work, so we could get good post-installation support.
It’s worth highlighting at this point that there are power lines that run across a corner of our property. Connecting to the grid, however, would cost $20-30k, and then we’d have to pay electricity bills.
We ended up getting one good quote for a new system, for a total cost of $30k. So the same up-front cost, but with a lifetime of free power. That was an easy decision.
The key components of the system are as follows:
- SMA 6Kw Sunny Island, which is a beautiful bit of kit that charges the battery and manages the local grid
- 5Kw of solar panels, on the north-facing roof of the house
- Sunny Boy inverter for the panels
- 17Kwh of battery storage, utilising lead-carbon gel batteries
- 7Kw Honda petrol generator, with auto-start
- web-based interface for monitoring the system
It took the team three days to strip out the old system and to install the new one. Right from the beginning it’s been working well, and getting enough sun even in mid-winter (where the sun hits the panels at 11am, until 3pm when the sun dips behind the mountain).
A few notes:
- The general rule of thumb for off-grid is to have 3 days of usage in the batteries, to cover off the occasional rainy week.
- The generator has been configured to kick in if the batteries reach 30% of capacity, and to then take them back up to 70%.
- We didn’t use lithium-ion batteries (like the Tesla Powerwall) because they’re not yet designed for off-grid, and the price is still too high.
- The system operates as a “local grid”, allowing me to re-install the old PV panels on the new shed, connect them to a small inverter, and then just to wire that into the grid. T’he Sunny Island then manages the load across the system as a whole, which is a very elegant solution.
It’s early days for our solar setup, and we’ll report back as the months unfold.