Anyone for champagne?

The elderflowers are flowering like crazy at the moment, so it is time to make elderflower champagne! It is really easy to make, and tastes delicious! Also there was plenty of rhubarb in the garden so made a batch of rhubarb champagne at the same time. It looks so lovely and pink, can’t wait to try it! Every day we have to release a little bit of air from the bottles until the fermentation slows down, then the lids get tightened and it is nearly ready-yum!

Elderflower champagne on the left, and rhubarb champagne on the right

Spring 2017 at McCarthy Park

We have had a very busy spring this year, though we think we say that every year!

Sometimes it is nice to just make the garden look nice! Yes, the mulch will help with water retention as the hot summer comes, but…… it just looks so good!

Here’s a couple of before and after shots:

Of course more than mulch spreading has been happening:

Looks like a good crop of olives this year!

We had a great harvest of perch to stock up the freezer!

And some yabbies too!

And of course now the weather is warming up, the trout are harvested, smoked and vacuum packed for the coming year!

Luffa or Loofah Soap

We love growing our own luffa/loofah, which we then use in a hand soap. It is great for cleaning off the dirt after a day in the garden!

Growing loofah is much like growing pumpkin, though they do have a longer growing season so don’t leave the planting too late. Here in Perth we plant in September/October. If it is cool in September (which it certainly is this year!), it is best to plant in trays under cover. Usually though I have no problem sowing seed directly into the soil. This year we had a good crop, though for some reason they were quite small.

When young, the loofah can be cooked and eaten, but we prefer to grow them to maturity to use the dried sponge inside. When they have matured, they dry out and you can hear the seeds rattling inside. After picking, we allow them to dry out some more, then peel them, and shake all the seeds out-saving for planting the next season of course.

After being peeled, cleaned and air dried they look like this:

Home grown loofah, cleaned and ready to use

The loofah need to be really dry, so we leave them another week or two to be sure, then make up a batch of melt and pour soap. This is a really quick way of making soap, though we have plans next time to make a cold press soap and see how that goes. Melt and pour soap comes in a block- we just got the plain glycerine soap from Aussie Soap Supplies and added some lemongrass essential oil and a hint of yellow colour. The loofah were cut to size and placed inside these handy, non stick cylinders (we also tried in the soap moulds to see how they would work).

Once set and cool, the soaps in the moulds were turned out-but a lot of the detail of the mould is lost with the loofah inside so next time we will try plain moulds. With the cylinders, we just carefully cut off the closed end and pushed out the soap, then cut into slices.

The final product, is a gentle, lightly antibacterial (from the lemongrass) loofah soap that works a treat after a day in the garden- you know?- when the dirt is ingrained in your fingers and you think they will never be the same again!

Barge, barge black sheep!

Life on the farm always has its ups and downs. One of our old favourite ewe, Floppy Ears, gave birth to twins and sadly all died. It is always so upsetting when this happens, though we know it is the cycle of life and things don’t always go perfectly.

On the same day however, a neighbours sheep jumped the fence and barged into our property for the third time, so instead of getting her back over we went to the neighbour to discuss. He apparently had no idea where she came from, and didn’t like her because she led his other sheep astray! So ‘Barge’, named because of her nature as well as her size (she was obviously about to give birth) joined our small flock.

Barge, barge, black sheep

She quickly settled in and came up with the others for the evening feed, and although she is obviously a ‘bits’ (a bits of this and bits of that) rather than the pure Wiltipolls we have, we quite enjoy her.

Well, as expected, she gave birth yesterday……. to triplets! No wonder she looked like a barge!

Also as expected the lambs are ‘bitzas’ too!

Winter in the Orchard…..

This winter we have been blessed with great gardening weather, which enabled us to spend a lot of time in the orchard. Of course it is fabulous to pick fresh, delicious fruit straight from the tree- the flavour is always amazing! But to continue with this the trees need a bit of TLC. So, they have been pruned, fed with blood and bone, potash, trace elements and chicken manure (the citrus trees). The area around the trunks has been weeded, and the stone fruit sprayed with copper spray to reduce the leaf curl we are prone to get.

Winter 2017

 

Topbar hive harvest

We had the best harvest from our Topbar hive yet! After some trial and error that always seemed to result in too many bees dying, yesterday we perfected (we think and hope) our technique.

In our previous harvest, when we tried to remove the bars of comb, the comb broke leaving a sticky mass at the bottom of the hive along with lots of bees, which then had to be removed by hand. It was quite upsetting to cause so much destruction and we knew there had to be a better way. We had tried using a knife to separate the comb from the side of the hive  as it is always stuck, but there just wasn’t room to manoeuvre. We realised we hadn’t left enough working room by having all the bars within the follower boards.

As it was April and getting cooler and our aim in that previous harvest was to reduce the hive size ready for winter, we removed all comb from four bars and placed them outside the follower board at one end of the Topbar hive. Between the follower boards we made sure there was still some comb being drawn, and a couple of empty bars so the bees had space to add more comb and honey. We also hoped this would give us the working room we needed next time to slide the knife in to separate the comb from the sides of the hive.

And so it did. Yesterday’s harvest was the most successful yet in terms of the least damage to the bees (which was our main aim) and the least mess. Instead of a knife we used angled stainless steel cake icing blades, and they were just perfect for loosening the comb from the sides of the hive.

Using the cake icing blade to loosen the comb from the side of the hive

These angled blades and having the extra space made all the difference. We had bought three different sizes, and they each were useful at different times.

Angled cake icing blades

Opening the hive and removing the empty bars and follower board, we could easily use the icing blades to separate the comb from the sides with minimal disruption to the bees. The hive tool was used to separate each bar from the one next to it, and then it was easy to lift out the beautifully built comb.

Beautiful, whole comb removed cleanly from the Topbar

The bees were gently brushed off and the comb cut from the bar with a knife into a tub. The bars to be replaced inside the follower boards were left with 3-4 cm of comb, those to go outside the follower boards were left completely clean. All with no apparent distress to the bees- thank goodness!

Cutting the comb into the tub

When completed, we made sure that there were two to four empty bars at each end, then the follower boards, then a partially filled or empty bar (each end). Then we closed up the hive and walked away feeling much better than after the previous harvest!

Home made

It is great when we have an abundance, whether it is honey, vegetables, fruit, beeswax………….. there is always something wonderful to make to preserve the excess! The shelves are looking full again currently, after giving away considerable amounts to family and friends as Christmas presents. It is great to just be able to head to the produce room and select a chutney, herbed oil, home remedy, jar of honey, or what ever is needed, and it is so rewarding to make it in the first place!

full shelves in the produce room

Black cockatoos

The black cockatoos visit McCarthy Park regularly, both the red tailed and white tailed, and they never cease to impress with their noise and size! Usually it is quite small flocks that come by, but occasionally we get a very big flock like this one. Check out our post on Instagram here! Or on Facebook here 

Black cockatoos

The Carnaby’s Black- cockatoo is endangered, so we are thrilled they feel at home here, even if it is only for short visits.

 

Native bees

The warmer summer weather brings a lot of native insect activity, particularly the many native bees we get here in Western Australia. We have seen quite a few different kinds over the years, blue banded bees, resin bees, leaf cutter bees and these masked bees. Today, I set the camera on a tripod n front of the latest bee hotel, pressed record and returned 15 minutes later to find the top hole completely sealed. The video is amazing, really showing the perseverance of this small insect (it is alas too big to post, so a snippet of the end is all that we can post).

masked bees

Video of masked bee sealing nest