About Peasants

We are 'professional peasants' living on a small farm just outside Perth, Western Australia, growing veggies, ducks, chooks, rabbits, sheep ( Wiltshire Horns), guinea fowl and even fish ('barra' in summer and trout in winter) in the swimming pool! We combine our day jobs with making the place work in as sustainable a fashion as possible.

Eagles and foxes!

Well, if it isn’t one predator it is another!

One morning at 7am after letting all the poultry out for the day, we saw a fox checking them out. It was daylight, though only just at this time of the year. Needless to say we were not happy.

Next day, there were two eagles perched in a tree overlooking the wandering poultry! Now they are a predator too, and we have certainly seen them take our poultry in the past….. but……. they are a native Australian bird, indigenous to this area…… and so majestic! So of course the camera comes out, and numerous photos taken.

A pair of eagles watching the poultry

 

Needless to say, in the last two weeks since seeing the fox and the eagles, we have lost two geese and two turkeys, and everyone now needs to stay locked up in their pens for their safety!

Passionfruit, limes and chillies!

The warm Perth autumn weather has been great for growing (not so good for filling the dams though!). We have had (and are still having) bumper crops, particularly passionfruit, limes, chillies and lemons.

yellow passionfruit, limes and lemons

Today has included some preserving- freezing loads of passionfruit pulp to use later, freezing lime and lemon wedges (great fro add to a refreshing drink, especially those with gin in them!), making lime and chilli pickle, and salted chilli (great for a quick add to a meal without having to cut up chillies each time.

Love these chillies, there is always an amazing amount!

We usually make a delicious sweet chilli sauce, but with over 20 bottles already in the produce room it is time for something different! This is a really easy recipe- just chop up 500 grams fresh red chillies (I use the Thermomix), then add 60 grams salt and mix thoroughly. Put into sterilised jars and add another 15 grams of salt on top, then store in a cool place for a couple of weeks, then the fridge to use. This fills two 300ml jars.

Chopped chillies and salt, ready to jar- it is quite pungent!

After searching for something different to make with our limes, I decided to make a lime pickle next weekend as it needs more preparation time. Today was this really simple lime pickle– just wedges of lime, julienned ginger and chopped green chillies, in layers with a teaspoon of salt on top of each layer (3 in total). Once all that is done, just add the juice of one lime, add the lid and give it a good shake. Shake three times a day for 3 or 4 days. It looks delicious and we can’t wait to try it!

Lime pickle

All in all a fruitful day!

 

Topbar update

The transfer of bees (in the previous post) was very successful! The queen is successfully laying and the hive seems quite strong. The bees have been making the repairs needed (due to us having to cut top bars and comb to fit into our newly refurbished top bar hive.

capped brood

In this picture the remains of an elastic band can be seen on the frame. We used these to help support cut comb to our top bars, but it doesn’t take long for the bees to secure it properly and try to remove the elastic bands!

New top bar hive

We had been hoping for a swarm to repopulate our now repaired top bar hive but it was getting too late in the season to find one that would be strong enough for the coming winter. So, we managed to buy a top bar hive that a fellow beekeeper had started as a nuc (short for nucleus) but it had grown far too big and strong.

Although her bars were slightly longer, the main issue was that the shape was different and it would involve cutting the comb to fit into our top bar hive. We planned and prepared in advance, knowing it would be messy and there would be some losses.

Suited up, table cleared of all but the tools, and ready to go

As expected, it was a messy job with lots of bee losses from the flowing honey, but overall we were happy with the result. We used the follower board from our top bar hive as the template to cut the comb on the bought top bars to the same size. This proved to be more complicated than we thought because long thin dowels had been inserted into the bars, and these needed to be cut off as well as the comb cut.

Dowels each side of the bar

Where we had originally thought we would hang the bar and cut vertically, the dowel proved too difficult and we lost a fair bit of comb this way, so they we used the follower board as a horizontal support as well as the template and had much more success. After brushing or smoking off as many bees as we could, the bar of comb was laid onto the follower board and trimmed to size.

Cutting the comb to the size of our follower board

The cut offs dropped into the basket and honey oozed down into the tub, which gave more bees the chance to get away rather than being trapped in the wax/honey mess.

After trimming the comb to size, we used a Ryobi multi tool to cut off the dowel, which proved to be the smoothes and quickest way. The bar of comb was then placed into our top bar hive.

Most of the bars in situ

An extra piece of wood was placed on the floor of the hive just in front of the entrance as there was so much honey (leaking from the cut comb) on the floor of the hive that bees couldn’t get in the entrance without getting stuck in honey.

There were bees everywhere- in our top bar, all over the cut off comb, and all inside the bought top bar.

Almost done

We were fortunate enough to see the queen, and made sure she was safely transferred to our top bar. When the job was complete, we packed away all the tools but decided to leave the tubs of comb cut offs which were completely covered in bees in the hope that most would make their way into the hive at dark.

The next morning, the tubs were removed, and there was some coming and going from the hive entrance, and lots of orienting bees. Fingers crossed it is a successful transfer!

It is great to have the top bar back again, to add to the Langstroth and Warre in the same area. Soon our horizontal hive will be completed and our other Langstroth will be transferred to it. this should be a much smoother transfer as the frames are interchangeable!

 

Bee success!

Our transfer of bees from the top bar hive that was damaged, to a Langstroth, was very successful! We had obviously managed to save the queen even though we couldn’t see her, and she has been laying well. The worker bees have made repairs and strengthened the comb that was attached to the frames, as well as built comb to fill in empty frames.

Top bar comb secured to Langstroth frame

We are certainly happy about the success! Even better, the top bar turned out to be salvageable, so that is now back together awaiting some bees which we hope to pick up in the next couple of weeks. Our plans for a ‘long Lang’ or horizontal hive are also in progress- our plan here is to move the frames from our original Langstroth into it to make it easier to manage (no lifting heavy boxes).

Native insects galore!

Over the last couple of years we have noticed a lot more native insects such as the leaf cutter bee. This summer has been unusual weather in Perth (currently it is cool and pouring with rain….. in January!), but we have seen (or maybe just noticed) so many insects.  Here are just a few:

The Blue Banded Bees are out in force at the moment, and love the purple morning glory flowers.

Blue Banded Bee -Amegilla (not sure which one)

These little sweat bees are tiny! The males congregate on the end of a dead twig to roost at night, and then leave in the morning to find females, coming back to the same spot to roost.

Lipotriches flavoviridis

Lipotriches flavoviridis

Quite a few different bees and wasps are using the bee hotels (and holes drilled in the veranda rails!).

Different types of bees use different material to seal their nests.

Masked bees- Hylaeus nesting in wood.

And then there are those who have made homes in the clay blocks. There are a couple of different types here, the Hylaeus that uses a cellophane type material to seal its nest, and the Hylaeus nubilosis that nests in clay (often the abandoned nests of potter wasps or mud daubers. This one used the clay from the area around the hole to seal its nest. This series of photos shows top left- 4/12/17; top right- 15/12/17; bottom right 27/12/17 and bottom left with the hole sealed)-28/12/17.

Masked bee- Hylaeus nubilosis

And of course there are some who will just find anywhere!

A Hylaeus has used and sealed the holes in the handle of a whipper snipper!

It isn’t all about bees! There are lots of other interesting insects around:

Hoverfly

Wasps nesting, possibly Flower Wasps of some sort

Close up of roosting wasps

Orange Potter Wasp

Braconid Wasp (White Flank Black Braconid)

Christmas spider

Leaf cutter -Megachile

Daddy Long Legs Spider nest

Small wasp using the bee hotel

Ant Lion Lacewing

 

Bee disaster!

After hearing a branch fall in the night last week, we were devastated to find it had crashed right through our topbar hive, smashing it and the bees.

From this…………..

To this…………….

assessing the damage

We tried to save as much as we could, using elastic bands to attach the brood comb and honey comb to some spare Langstroth frames we had.

attaching the comb and inserting in a spare super

We managed to salvage enough comb to fit most of the brood and some honey in the full depth Langstroth super, plus some honey in the WSP super.

bees everywhere

The transfer was relatively successful with the bees all around eventually moving into the hive. We have observed over the week since this happened, and the bees are foraging, but unfortunately there is no pollen coming in that we can see. This means probably the brood died (it would have been out of the hive most of the night), and the queen died (we couldn’t see her during the salvage but hoped she was there).

As soon as the weather permits (it is unseasonably stormy and wet in Perth!), we will take a frame of brood from our other Langstroth and place it in this one, hoping the bees will develop a queen.

Our next plan is to develop a ‘Long Lang’ or horizontal hive, and we will transfer the frames into that. We are also hoping to be able to rebuild the topbar!

 

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!