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!

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

Giant Silver Perch!

We had a good harvest of silver perch from the swimming pool, using an adapted prawn net. We netted 8 fish, all of which were over a kilo, but the biggest of all was this one- an amazing 2.7 kg! We assume it was one of the original perch we put in 5 years ago, to get to such a size……… either that or it is a real greedy guts!

A whopper!

Leefcutter bee

Over the years we have seen the circular holes made by the leafcutter bee, but for the first time we had the camera on hand and photographed this amazing native bee in action making a nest inside a hole in the mortar between the bricks of our house. the location is a surprise, as it is right by the spade and tap that we use regularly in our front garden!

Heading for the hole with its neatly cut piece of leaf

Heading for the hole with its neatly cut piece of leaf

Entering its nest

Entering its nest

Twisting upside down to get into position

Twisting upside down to get into position

Leaving the nest ready to cut the next piece of leaf

Leaving the nest ready to cut the next piece of leaf

It was a fascinating process to watch! It took about 5-10 minutes to source and cut the leaf (not sure where from as it seemed to fly over the house). This is despite a rose bush being right next too it, which is often used and had some of the tell tale circular holes cut in it already. Once it entered the nest, it took about a minute or two before it flew back out.

Wonderful!

More bugs and beauties!

It is so important not to just work, work, work- even though there is never ‘nothing to do’! Sometimes, it is great to just wander around the garden, camera in hand or not, and see what there is to see. This Painted Jezebel kept hanging around the mistletoe on one of our wattles. After watching it for a while, it settled in laid eggs! It was fascinating to watch, and a really good reminder to just enjoy the moment.

Painted Jezebel

Painted Jezebel

There are a few different native bees around too, especially now the weather is warming up. They like the old nail holes in wooden beams!

Native bee peeping out of the hole

Native bee peeping out of the hole

We have seen a few different types of case moth- this is the latest:

case moth

case moth

And of course there are always those we see with no camera at hand- like the Blue Banded Bee. One day we will get a nice photo of it!

 

Oranges, oranges and more oranges!

We have the most amazing orange tree- it fruits prolifically and the oranges are delicious. Only problem is, there are SO MANY oranges we can’t possibly eat them all so we need to preserve them.

One days picking

One days picking

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Another day’s picking, after giving loads away!

 

One of our favourite ways is to make Orange Brandy Liqueur. It uses up lots of oranges (and brandy!) and tastes divine, however we still had plenty left from last year so really didn’t need to make more with this year’s harvest.

Last year we also froze a load of whole oranges so we could juice them when we wanted- except we didn’t and they were still in the freezer! So out they went, and after a search of the recipe books we settled on:

  • Litres and litres of orange juice- some to drink straight away and plenty for the freezer.
  • We also cut heaps of orange wedges for the freezer- these are great to add to a drink instead of an ice block and are great to suck on on a hot summers day.
  • Orange chutney (18 jars!) – this is delicious, and while it took ages to peel the oranges the result was worth it.
Orange Chutney

Orange Chutney

  • Orange, coconut and apple crisps-we happened to have some apple sauce left over, so whizzed up some with oranges and coconut in the Thermomix to make a paste. This was then dehydrated and broken into pieces for a delicious snack!
Orange crisps and orange, coconut and apple crisps

Orange crisps and orange, coconut and apple crisps

  • Orange crisps– we did this last year too, and is well worth maintaining a supply for quick snacks or to add flavour to cold drinks or tea. The oranges are sliced with a mandoline and then dehydrated.
  • Orange infused vinegar and oil- the dehydrated orange slices give a great flavour to white wine vinegar or a light olive oil. Great for cooking with or for salad dressings.
Orange infused vinegar and  orange infused oil

Orange infused vinegar and orange infused oil

  • Marmalade- it is hard to not make marmalade with a surplus of oranges, so 20 jars were made, which is more than enough for us and for gifts!
Orange marmalade

Orange marmalade

  • Orange paste– by now we were wondering what else to do with so many oranges still. We kept giving them away, the last basket was starting to linger, and we love the fruit pastes that go with cheese so decided to try Orange Jelly (paste). It is quite a simple recipe and really delicious! We made 16 jars, so plenty to last a long time!
Orange jelly- a fabulous paste to have with cheese

Orange jelly- a fabulous paste to have with cheese

And that, finally, saw the end of the baskets of oranges. Now we can enjoy  the wonderful flavour in so many different ways for many months to come, and we have added to the shelves in the produce room!

Full shelves

Full shelves!

Bee swarm!

Here in Perth, we have had an incredibly slow, cold, wet start to spring…….. but yesterday was a beautiful spring day, and the day one of our hives swarmed. The weather had been so awful, we hadn’t managed to check the hives for a couple of weeks, and we still don’t know which of our three hives may have swarmed (all look full and active).

Swarm in a tree

Swarm in a tree

After some discussion, we decided we would keep it, but locate it down near the orchard and ‘dam’ rather than near the house like the others. We had a spare super, lid and plenty of frames so we just bought a bottom board and we were ready to go!

We placed a white sheet under the swarm, climbed the ladder and trimmed the branches around it. It was good to have the white sheet down as quite a few bees dropped in the process. There were two main ‘clumps’ of bees which we carefully placed in the hive box, with four centre frames removed. When we felt we had as many as we could, we did a quick shake and placed the lid on, then wrapped up the bees on the white sheet, and took the hive (in a wheelbarrow) to the area we had chosen.

It all worked well, fingers crossed the bees like their new home and stay there!

so far so good....

so far so good….