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 Hives

This season has been one of the worst honey seasons for years apparently, all across Australia. We seem to have been quite fortunate that we haven’t had to feed our bees over summer, unlike some of the beekeepers in other areas.

It hasn’t been great for us either, with no honey harvest this season (apart from excess frames when we transferred from the Langstroth (in the billabong) to a Horizontal in December 2018. The bees have been able to build comb and fill cells with honey- hopefully providing enough for the hive to  manage over winter.

Fortunately the weather has been generally quite mild in our area, with plenty of warm sunny days (the garden really needs the rain, but the weather has been good for the bees), and even though it is late May they are still building supplies.

Both of the Horizontal hives have been reduced down to one side, making it easier for the bees to keep warm over winter. There are still a few WSP frames that were kept in the transfer from Langstroth to Horizontal, and several of these frames have comb built below the frame. We had hoped to be able to harvest these and replace them with full depths over summer, but it has been such a poor season we have had to leave them as supplies for the bees.

capped honey and comb built below the WSP frame

We also checked the Topbar for winter, removing three frames of drawn comb from one side that were looking quite old and had no activity/honey in them. We then brought the follower board closer in, reducing the overall size of the hive for winter.

Tobpar

The other side of the Topbar had freshly drawn comb, being filled with honey so we left this side as it was.

Fresh comb

We had a check for brood too, and several frames in saw plenty- capped and uncapped. The bees were becoming agitated so we didn’t continue to find the queen.

Brood in the topbar

Overall, while we certainly haven’t had a great season and haven’t harvested any honey, we are pleased that the bees seem to be doing ok. This is despite the poor season generally, and the fact that both Horizontals were transferred from Langstroths (and one of these was originally the Topbar that was demolished by a tree). Hopefully they will maintain over winter and be ready to move along in spring.

Aquaponics update

Our aquaponics system has become more and more acidic over time, and we need to add a small amount of potassium bicarbonate most days to maintain the pH close to 7. We know our bore water (which is all we have, not being on the mains water system) has a pH of 6.4, but also feel the amount of gum leaves that land in the system contribute.

The piles of gum leaves that build up on the ground over the course of the week (between blowing, raking and removing), also provided snake hiding spots (see January), something we were keen to reduce. So, we decided to cover the whole system and aquaculture system in the swimming  pool with a patio roof, built by Great Aussie Patios, who were great from start to finish. Although the area was basically just a very large rectangle, there were many different heights and roof lines to link to and they did a great job.

Neat and tidy aquaponics area

It has been the best thing! We designed the roof to allow plenty of light to the grow beds and pots, but also to provide tin ‘walkways’ for blowing the leaves off. The roof has so successfully reduced the amount of leaves! The pool, grow beds and fish tank have remained clean, as has the ground- reducing our work load enormously.

 

Snakes!

Living on a property we see snakes (dugites and tiger snakes) fairly often.If we see them in the bush we ignore them and leave them be, if they are around the house  or chooks or other animals we often try to move them on to the bush. We had animals (chooks, sheep etc) inexplicably die which we put down to a snake bite, and have had a few incidences of the dogs catching one and ‘playing ‘ with it, which has naturally been stressful for us and the snakes who often died.

Dugite

Tiger snake near the back door

We built a ‘snake lake’ to attract them away from the house a few years back, and recently decided we wanted to be more proactive, so enrolled in a snake handling course with well-known Bob Cooper and it was so, so worthwhile! We learnt so much about snakes,  their needs, habits and fears, but also a lot about the bush and of incidental life lessons along the  way, for Bob also delivers Outback Safety and Survival courses. We really recommend Bob’s training.

We bought the snake handling kit from him, and within a week had a dugite in front of the gate to the pool and aquaponics, in fact nearly stepping on it! We put the training and the handling kit to good use, successfully and confidently capturing the snake, placing it into a bin and relocating it into the bush at the very back of our bush (a long way from the house!).

One of the things we learnt from Bob is that snakes can climb a considerable height. We knew they could climb a bit as we had seen them escape over the side of the chicken run, but he said if there is a snake in the house always check above the door way before you walk into the room!! Well, we saw this dugite climb between a wall and a down pipe to above our head height before started heading down and we retrieved it with Bob’s specially designed deep-vee hook. It was truly amazing to see! Here is a video of a snake climbing in Gladstone, using its body in just the same way as our dugite.

Seeing a snake so close to the house (2 metres from the front door and in a totally paved area we often frequent) was a real reminder that no matter what we do and what care we take, snakes are a part of living where we do. We haven’t seen one that close to our house for a while, and it is easy to become complacent, but this was a big reminder that they could be anywhere and to always be vigilant.

STOP PRESS: The very next day we have also caught and released a tiger snake that moved across the front veranda!

 

McCarthy Park Bee ‘n’ Bee- Bee Hotel

It is generally suggested that providing homes for native solitary bees like this helps nature as so much of their natural environment is being removed. Bee hotels also provide the opportunity to observe our native bees more closely- some are so small we don’t even give them a glance and often think they are flies. Native bees and wasps are also valuable pollinators, and there are thoughts that the introduced honey bee may take over most of their food source so there are moves to increase community awareness about them.

There is also an argument against using ‘made’ bee hotels- mainly because they bring together various species that may not usually reside in such close vicinity, and with that there is the potential for disease to spread. It also provides easy access for parasitic wasps such as the gasteruptiid wasp which lays it eggs in the nests of solitary bees, with their larvae feasting on the host eggs and food supply provided by the native bee.

We have had various ‘bee hotels’ around the place for a few years, but they have tended to be hastily put together so not very neat (although they were certainly functional with many native bees and some small wasps taking up residence!). On our property there are also an abundance of natural homes such as holes in tree stumps, reeds, bamboo etc. We decided however to provide a more attractive (to us) bee hotel in a better location so we could observe more closely, so the McCarthy Park Bee ‘n’ Bee was created on the front veranda using an old cupboard.

McCarthy Park Bee ‘n’ Bee

So far it has proved a success, with resin bees (Megachile) and masked bees (Hylaeus), and some small solitary wasps taking up residence (even while the hotel was still being finished!).

Hylaeus nubilosis in its nest in a clay hole

Small wasp perhaps closing its nest in a block of wood

A Hylaeus and another bee close by

Hylaeus using bits of wood detritus to seal its nest

 

Tawny Frogmouth nest!

We are so, so lucky! We just happened to be sitting on the front veranda (something we like to do but often don’t get the time!), and saw this…………..

Tawny Frogmouth in the middle of a hot day

Finding this quite odd for the middle of the day, we watched it move into the tree then went and checked it out with the good camera, and saw this………

Who are YOU looking at?

We were sure we saw a baby move around, but it didn’t show up in the photo, though it certainly looked like a nest! Next day we saw the baby again…….

Dad and babe

You have to look carefully, but under the dad’s beak and to the left of the inconveniently placed leaf, is a small white head, eye and beak. Apparently the males sit during the day and both parents sit overnight, according to Birds in Backyards

Needless to say we are quite excited and keep a close eye on them!

Fire season preparation and……

We have had such a long, cool spring in Perth that everything grew, and grew so much that for most of November we have had to slash, burn, mow, rake and that isn’t just the firebreaks! Although we haven’t had to do much watering because of the cool, wet weather, it is certainly warming up now so all the sprinkler systems have also been put in order.

In between all of this, we have had goslings, ducklings, chicks…. and a late lamb! There has also been a pesky fox, brazen as anything, hanging around in the daytime as well as night time so it is a constant juggling act to keep the animals safe but let them get out of their pens to roam. There is never nothing to do at McCarthy Park.

 

Horizontal hive update

We had a good look through the horizontal hive today, as there was finally a nice day and the time! The bees were a bit agitated, which was of some concern, but we proceeded to see what was going on.

Each side of the brood section was going quite well, though virtually no capped honey. There was plenty of comb being built and a fair amount of uncapped honey, so not too bad given the setbacks this hive have had. Of more concern was the bees agitation, which increased the longer we went.

In the brood section we only had chance to check out three frames, all of which had capped brood and larvae of varying stages. We couldn’t see the queen, but that isn’t surprising as we did need to close up – partly because the bees were agitated but mainly because our grandchildren arrived for the day and we didn’t want to annoy the bees any further as the hive is quite close to the house.

So, we will need to check again and see if there is a queen or any eggs, or maybe a queen cell. We have never replaced the queen of this hive, and given the changes it has undergone (from a wooden box to a topbar, then when that was smashed by a tree to a Langstroth, then to the horizontal), perhaps it is time.

Plenty of bees inside, and coming and going!

In the photo above you can see the original topbar comb in the centre, and he comb the bees have built either side to fill the Langstroth frame. This frame was pretty much full of capped brood.

 

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!