Summer has come early to Sydney!

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Christmas bush in flower, two months early!
Christmas bush in flower, two months early!

Summer has come early to Sydney this year, and it’s like nothing we’ve ever experienced before.

30+ degree temperatures for many days, even in early October, officially the start of spring.

The give-away that summer is here — ready or not — are the plants and trees in flower.

Such as the Christmas bush in next door’s garden (picture above), which started flowering in early October instead of … well .. at Christmas time! The gum trees are flowering, and everything is rushing to seed.

Great for the bees, but we’re somewhat fearful about what we’ll experience when we get to actual summer!

Climate change, it’s here.

Harvesting our first honey

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Getting ready to harvest honey from the hive.
Getting ready to harvest honey from the hive. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Bosett.)

With the very warm weather in Sydney, our bees have been very busy laying down comb, and filling it with honey. So when I added some empty boxes to the bottom of the hive, I was very surprised to find the top box very heavy indeed (and therefore filled with honey).

With the able help of Sarah, a fellow beginner natural beekeeper, we went up onto the roof last week to harvest our first honey.

I had put a “clearing board” on the frame the day before, which is a sort of one-way gate for the bees. In theory, this should clear the top box of most bees, although it didn’t work all that well in this instance.

There’s no particular magic to harvesting honey: lift out a frame, check it’s full of honey, brush off the bees, and put it in a container. (Repeat as required.)

In the end, there were three frames of entirely capped honey, and the remaining frames were a mix of capped and uncapped honey. While we probably could’ve harvested all of it, we decided to leave the uncapped frames in the hive.

Our first frame of honey. Photo courtesy of Sarah Bosett.
Our first frame of honey. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Bosett.)
One frame of honeycomb, fresh and full of honey.
One frame of honeycomb, fresh and full of honey.

In WarrĂ© hives, frames aren’t wired. So to harvest the honey, you simply cut it out of the frames. (I then put the empty frames back into the hive, to fill the gaps in the top box.)

Honeycomb, ready for the honey to be extracted.
Honeycomb, ready for the honey to be extracted.

At a small scale, extracting the honey is pretty simple. Put the comb in a sieve that fits on top of a 20L plastic bucket.

Breaking up the honeycomb, letting the honey drain out.
Breaking up the honeycomb, letting the honey drain out.

Break up the honeycomb, and let the honey to drain out. A fine plastic filter sheet keeps the bits out of the honey (shown above). It only took about 24 hours for the vast bulk of the honey to drain out, with a small amount of mixing up throughout.

Pouring the honey into jars :-)
Pouring the honey into jars 🙂

Hornsby Beekeeping  (where I obtained the sieves, etc) kindly put a pouring tap (called a “gate”) into the storage bucket, which made it super-easy to pour the honey into jars, without spilling a drop.

The final haul - 2.5L of lovely home-made honey.
The final haul – 2.5L of lovely home-made honey.

These are the jars of honey we ended up with, complete with “Lewisham honey” labels. That’s a lot of honey for a small and very early honey harvest.

The final stats:

  • 3 frames harvested (out of 8 in the top box)
  • 6kg of comb and honey
  • 2.5 litres of lovely honey

That’s not a bad start, I think! Particularly with more harvesting expected soon (of the whole top box and probably the second box.)

This is what 3 cubic metres of compost looks like

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Now that's a big pile of compost!
Now that’s a big pile of compost!

I recently ordered a large delivery of compost, to be mainly used in the guerrilla gardened space behind our house. Much of that soil is heavily depleted, and I wanted to give our fruit trees the fastest rate of growth this year.

Why order such a big pile? For the simple reason that it cost $51/m3 to buy in bulk (plus a delivery charge), compared to $9 (or more) per 40L bag if purchased at a garden centre (or Bunnings for that matter). And a it takes a lot of 40L bags to make up a cubic metre of compost. That’s a big saving!

This time around, I purchased the compost from Australian Native Landscapes, who have a nice range of recycled products.

We ordered “RE-CARB® ESSENSE”, which is described as:

Humus rich, 100% organic compost is specifically designed to build soild carbon levels and soil microbial activity.  Apply 75mm and dig into tired, nutrient poor soils. Suitable for all plants, this compost is particulary beneficial for phosphorous sensitive Australian natives.

That matched exactly what we needed! In general, I really like the idea of using recycled coffee grounds, Sydney sewage, wood chips, etc to make compost. Much better than going into a tip…

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.

Turning broccoli and weeds into compost

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The newly created compost heap, alongside the weed tea

With the winter growing season drawing to a close, it’s time to clear the garden beds to make space for spring planting. So out come the huge broccoli plants that have kept us so well feed over the last few months.

With our two compost bins and one worm farm already full to the rim, a new plan was required if all this green material wasn’t to go to waste.

So I decided to construct a hot compost heap, consisting of layers of green and brown material, at least one cubic metre in volume. In went the old plants from the garden beds, and all the weeds from out the back. The brown material is mulch donated by the local tree trimmers and a pile of old leaves.

Hopefully if I turn it a few times, I should have a big pile of rich compost in time to top up our raised garden beds.

And in the same vein, beside the new compost heap is the council green bin containing our weed tea. With an unlimited supply of weeds, they get drowned in water and anaerobically “brewed” for at least a month. The result is a liquid that smells really nasty, but when diluted keeps the fruit trees extremely happy.

Nothing goes to waste!

The art of cabbage

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It’s surprising how some of the simplest things can be some of the most beautiful … including the humble cabbage.

New potatoes

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Our first harvest of new potatoes

As per our post on this year’s potato strategies, we’ve tried a few different things. The potatoes were “bandicooted” out of the potato bags, and were delicious steamed. An encouraging first sign that maybe we’ll have better potato luck this year…

The benefits of umbrelliferous plants

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Parsley plants gone to seed

The garden used to be overrun with aphids, sometimes to the extent that it was hard to find some plants under the seething mass of bugs (eww!).

One thing I learnt at my permaculture course was that umbrelliferous plants (plants with umbrella-shaped collections of tiny flowers) attract beneficial wasps into the garden. The wasps then inject their eggs into aphids, which hatch and eat the aphids from the inside out.

This all sounded good in theory, but I was doubtful. Nonetheless, I tried a different tack this year, and let many more plants to go seed. This included parsley, dill and fennel (all umbrelliferous plants). Much to my surprise, it worked! Narry an aphid to be seen anywhere since.

(We’ve also had good success with companion planting, such as garlic chives next to our climbing rose.)

Good scores for natural pest control…

Our herb garden in Spring

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In early Spring 2009, we established our herb garden. A year on, some herbs have really thrived, while others have been less productive.

We’ve had most success with our marjoram, lemon thyme, chives and flat-leaf parsley. All have grown vigorously and remained disease-free. We’ve only had one plant that didn’t make it — the French lavender — I presume due to Sydney’s humidity.

The other plants in the garden have been reasonably healthy throughout most of the year. In particular, the borage has improved now that it has been getting more water from the drip-feeder (it’s a water-hungry plant).

For an interactive photo of the garden, click on the photo above which will take you to our Flickr page.

French breakfast radishes

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Pile of bright red french breakfast radishes

The french breakfast radishes have been a hit in the garden this year. Miss P really likes them, and they grow from seed to harvest in a month.

It did produce bit of a glut, however, so some pickling was in order…

One of three jars of pickled radishes

These are simple vinegar and sugar based pickles, with some mustard and celery seeds for flavouring. They’re bright, vivid red, and I hope they taste good in salads!