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.

Horizontal hive

Spring has arrived in Perth, and with it some (slightly) warmer weather, so the ideal time to transfer the Langstroth to the horizontal  hive. We decided to transfer from a different Langstroth, the one that used to be a Topbar but was smashed by a tree!

The move was very successful (but a bit too busy to take photos during the process). One of the benefits of the horizontal is that it is possible to open one lid at a time, and that was very beneficial for the transfer. We put some of the frames from the top super of the Langstroth straight in to either side. As they were WSP frames, each one was separated with a full depth (the horizontal is all full depth). When that was done each side was covered with the lid.

Then we opened the brood box and transferred the full depth frames straight into the centre of the horizontal (which has a queen excluder on either side). Most of the bees transferred in on the frames, and what was left in the boxes were shaken in. The centre lid was replaced, and all looked fine.

The bees were coming and going and using the new entrance very well! Once they have all settled, we will move the hive and stand slightly forward to be more central on the site.

Horizontal hive

Orange season again!

Last post was about how many lemons we had, and making Lemon and Mustard Seed Chutney- now it is oranges!

We gave our 30+ year old orange tree a good prune as it was getting very tall and overhanging the roof. Timing for pruning has always been difficult with this orange tree as it is always in fruit! As one lot of oranges are ready to harvest, so another lot are forming. We decided to just go for it as we had way too many oranges and the tree really needed a tidy.

After pruning we had so many oranges to give away and preserve.

plenty of oranges!

We gave away a couple of baskets, and made some more of our delicious Orange Brandy Liqueur, which always is well received at Christmas time!

orange brandy liqueur in progress

There will be more of that to come, plus maybe some Orange Chutney……….

orange tree AFTER pruning!

Last month was pruning time for our orchard, and now the plums and nectarines are starting to flower! Hopefully we get lots of delicious fruit again this year!

plum tree in flower

And just to update on the bee hive move- it is going really well! Thank goodness, because it has been very cold and windy in Perth since we did the move. Today was lovely and sunny and we saw plenty of coming and going and also plenty of pollen coming into the hive. Phew!

pollen coming into the hive- a good sign!

 

Winter time- orchard, bees and animals

It has been a fairly busy month or so tidying the orchard trees, preserving the bountiful lemons, and of course getting firewood for our wood fire!

We generally do a summer prune, and a fairly light prune in winter but there has been so much growth on most of the fruit trees that we have just done a fairly thorough winter prune on most trees. It was a bit late for the apricots so they have been left, but everything else was reduced in height to ensure they can be easily netted and harvested.

Pruned and tidied orchard

We have had some bumper crops this last season, so a good tidy up was certainly needed! Also most of the trees are now big enough to remove the metal surrounds we had surrounding them so the geese and turkeys didn’t damage them. This makes it so much easier to whipper snip, fertilise and generally tend each tree.

Couple of remaining surrounds protecting the growing trees

Our lemon tree has been thriving, as lemon trees so often do! We have cut many into wedges for the freezer (ideal for adding to a refreshing drink- whether it is just water or gin and tonic!), and made lots of Lemon and Mustard Seed Chutney to add to the couple of remaining jars from last year. This chutney is a real favourite of ours and used almost daily.

Lemon and Mustard Seed Chutney

We have also sowed our ‘clucker tucker’ areas, adjoining the chook run. This provides a good supply of green food for the poultry when we need to leave them locked up in their pens.

Clucker Tucker

We recently purchased some more guinea fowl which were added to one of the clucker tucker areas to get accustomed to our place. In another week we will let them out to join our others, who free range the property.

New additions

As if there aren’t enough mouths to feed, we have been including a pair of Pacific Black ducks who are regular visitors to the dam and now the food supply!

Wildlife joining in

And another major bee event- we moved our Langstroth from the front paddock because with all the tree growth it is now in pretty constant shade, and hadn’t really thrived over the warmer months. We used the same procedure as when we moved the Warre some time ago- the hive was closed up one evening when the bees were inside, strapped up and tied to a trolly, and moved to its new location nearby the other hives.

Moving the strapped up hive

The hive stayed closed for three days, and a bush placed at the entrance. When the entrance was opened, the bees are forced to reorient due to the bush in the entrance. So far so good, there is coming and going from the hive and even bees taking pollen in. The plan in the warmer weather is to transfer the frames from this Langstroth to the new horizontal hive which was placed behind it ready. The horizontal hive uses all Langstroth components so is easily interchangeable (unlike when we have transferred to or from Top Bar and Warre hives), and has the huge benefit, like the Top Bar, of not needing to lift a full super. Unlike the Top Bar though, it will be easier to manage, and harvest, as it uses the Langstroth frames.

Horizontal hive ready for the transfer

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!