Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Any Day Now

An update on Lavender's condition. This photo doesn't adequately show just how huge she is, as her due date looms,

 In the paddock this morning, with Gordon in the foreground. Ambrose, the other black steer, is just out of shot.
Her due date is tomorrow, seventh of December, so no prizes for guessing what my next blog post will be.
It will be lovely to have a new calf on the place, and best of all, there will be fresh, raw, organic milk. 
Fingers crossed all goes well, but as usual, there is a sense of apprehension mixed in with the excitement.
Cheers for now!

Monday, 5 December 2016

A Small Bit of Honey

All of our bee hives have been here on our home block for the past month, making good use of the Blue Jane (Salvation Jane, Patterson's Curse) on the neighboring properties.

Yesterday we extracted a small amount of honey, but we discovered that some of the honey that was  in the hives when we checked last week at the workshop, had been eaten by the bees.  This indicates that the Blue Jane flow has finished and they are starting to get hungry.
They were aggressive and didn't want us anywhere near them, protective of what honey they had.

 For the first time ever, I felt the need to wear a smock with face covering while extracting the honey. A lot of bees remained attached to the frames when Brian brought them up to the honey shed, and there were lots of bees flying around inside the shed, which is not a very comfortable feeling.
I still managed to get a sting on a finger though.  I touched a bee that was crawling on the frame as I lifted it to put it into the extractor. Ouch..!!!
Brian laughs at me, he has no idea how painful stings are for me. They don't affect him, just a slight pin prick, and he gets a few stings every time he takes frames out for extracting.
I'm just thankful that I don't suffer  serious effects from the few stings I get. It could be much worse.

 We took what we could, only two frames from each box, leaving them enough food stores just in case there is rain or there is little in the way of flowers in the coming weeks.
Just as well we did, because it's raining today and preventing the bees from foraging.

Rain on a Summer day.

The Salvation Jane flow has finished, so we need to move the bees back to the other stand on the other side of the town.

Last night, just on dark, and when the bees had all gone into their hives for the night, Brian closed up the hive doors and secured, with webbing straps, the hives that sit permanently on the trailers. They are mostly two boxes high (a brood box plus super) and great care is needed when driving them to their new positions.
Each trailer has space for four hives, so we can move them to a new location with ease, without needing to lift them up and down every time. They are really heavy! 

 I had intended to get up early to help him move them this morning, and he had insisted it wasn't necessary, the boxes were all tied on securely so all he had to do was hook each one onto the ute and drive it over to the other side of the town, return to collect the next trailer, and so on.
 I felt him get out of bed, it felt like I'd only just gone to sleep. It seemed so very early, so I rolled over and went back to sleep.

I heard him towing the first trailer load out the gate, and close it behind him, and I did feel a tad guilty, but I rolled over and went back to sleep again. It was still pitch dark!  I intended to get up so I could be out there in time to open the gates for the second trip. There are three trailers with bee boxes, and he didn't get any help from me at all as it turned out.

When he climbed back into bed it was still dark. "What's the time?"
So he'd got up at 3.30am!

 Last week another request came to ask us to remove a wine barrel in which a swarm of bees had made their home.  A reminder to readers to plug up the hole in the wine barrel if you have one as a decorative item around your home. Barrels are the perfect home for bees. 

 Brian brought it home during the week and when the rain cleared today, he cut the barrel in half so the owner can use the two halves as plant pots.

The bees were transferred into a Nuc box, queen included, and it's a nice strong colony.
Our hopes are high for a good flow when the Red Gums start to flower, because like all apiarists here in South Australia, our honey production is well down this year due to the wet and colder weather during these past three months.
So for now our main concern is to keep the bees happy and the colonies healthy and strong.
Our fingers are crossed for a better honey extraction in a few weeks time.

Cheers, and thanks for visiting. 

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Bee keeping Workshop 27th November

We are really enjoying these workshops and find real pleasure in teaching people about the possibilities of keeping a hive of bees in their yard in the town or on their acreage property. 
At the beginning of the day, as they register and fill in their name tags, chatting nervously among themselves, they are all feeling trepidation about what the day holds for them. Some are excited, some are distinctly nervous, some are ready to let the day flow around them.
Each person is here for a reason, but they are not all here for the same reason. Some folks are facing difficult issues within their lives, some are needing a hobby to take their mind off something else, and some are just curious to learn about bees. Some are taking up this hobby late in life, and some are keen and curious children.

The table set up on the side verandah for morning tea and lunch.

And one of the seating areas for enjoying a leisurely lunch and discussing lots of new bee knowledge between each other. Friendships are made and barriers are broken down.

The morning sessions move along at a fast pace with the theory segment; learning about the parts of the hive, equipment and tools and how to use them, making frames and placing wax foundations in the frames, and learning the skill of extracting honey from the hives, how to store and how to use or market their honey.

After lunch and a stroll around the farm and gardens, the bee suits are donned and it's time to get down to the hands on part of bee handling.
This is the part that causes most excitement as the new experience of bee-ing surrounded by thousands of bees can be daunting at first.

Just the feeling of bee-ing completely hemmed in by the face shield and bee suit causes some to feel slightly apprehensive, but thus far, everyone has accepted the sensation and settled well into the tasks at hand.

The day was a warm 27C degrees. Perfect for lifting lids and checking the state of each hive.
A new queen was introduced into a hive that was found to be without a queen.

She was a surplus queen that we had acquired after uniting two small hives together earlier.  She was first placed into the queen cage with four or five worker bees to care for her. The little cage was then placed into the queenless hive, where they will eat through the candy plug, and by then, are introduced to their new colony.

By the end of the day everyone has enough knowledge and is confident to begin their own apiary. 

Melanie ordered a new brood box and was here to collect it the next day. She will take it home to paint it with three coats of paint before bringing it back to us to fill with a nucleus colony of bees that we will have waiting for her.
The people that we have met, their stories, their personalities....
Many new life long friendships have been made. This is not something I ever imagined we might be doing, but we are so thankful that we are able to share this wonderful art of bee-keeping.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

A Quick Chat Over the Fence

The cumquat trees that grow in big containers on the side verandah are loaded with fruit. We're not in need of any more marmalade, chutney or sweet things so I put them in the farm gate shop.

For late Spring, we're doing well on beautiful weather that's not frying eggs on the side path. How about this? Perfect one day and beautiful the next.
Cool enough to have the kitchen wood stove alight and cooking up all sorts of useful delicious-ness.

Lamb shanks in red wine, tomatoes, fresh picked garlic, and herbs. With a few other flavorings thrown in for good measure, and into the wood oven to cook slowly for dinner.

I'm starting to prep the food for the Bee-keeping workshop this Sunday. The last for this year.
There's one dietary requirement request of non-dairy, so I made a batch of muesli biscuits. Coconut oil and honey are used instead of butter and sugar. Lots of healthy nuts and seeds in there too, perfect breakfast biscuits for when we leave the house in a hurry and need a snack mid morning.
I've made a list, and another list, ordered the bread rolls, and plan to do the other baking on Saturday.
  Sunday morning will be an early start, making up the lunch baguettes filled with various fillings, so I'm then free to participate in the workshop alongside Brian.

Well.... as the oven is hot, it would be silly not to use up some more of this delicious fresh garlic, with spuds, and cream that was past its use by date.

Why do I always feel so virtuous after I've made up a fresh batch of laundry detergent?
It took thirty minutes, three ingredients and an estimated cost of $2 in total to make. I use generous dollops in our washing so this will probably last a month.

I took a friend to an evening with William McInnes who was loosely (very loosely) talking about his latest book "Full Bore". Actually, I still don't know what the book is about, such is his way of story telling, goes off on tangents. (A bit like me) Oh well, I'm in good company then. ;)
What a hoot! He's a brilliantly funny story teller.
Yes, there we are, I'm on the other side of  lady wearing a green top.  ;)
My friend took a bottle of her home made tomato sauce to give him, as she announced in the car as we were driving there.
She was first in line when he sat down to sign books being purchased, she whipped out the sauce and presented it to him (with no intention of buying a  book that she couldn't afford). He was completely taken aback, grabbed a book from the top of the pile, signed it, and presented it to her.
What a lovely man, and what a thrilled friend.

 Outside activities are no fun with the pesky flies we get out here in the country. My best weapon, this old hat and veil.

The gaggle.

It must be exhausting doing the paddock rounds with me. 

The dinner is cooking, the cows are moved into a new fresh paddock, the eggs have been collected, weeds have been pulled and fed to the piggies...oh the pigs, you'll want to see a recent picture of them won't you??

 Laa la laaa!!

And for Sherri, from Making Haven here is our nettle that grows wild here in South Australia. The holy grail nettle, the nettle of many great things. See here for my post about nettles.

I do hope all is well within your world, as it is in mine. Thanks for visiting, see you again soon. :)

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Nettles and Comfrey- Fertilizer

A part of our philosophy is to re-use and make do with what we have here on the property.
Making our own fertilizers is one of the most important things that we do here and are fortunate to have all of the ingredients for the best plant foods that we could ever want.
You will never see bags of manure placed outside our gate for sale. Oh no, the only manure that  leaves this property would be inside a living animal.
But for the home gardener, without cows, horses or chooks, the bags of manure on the side of the road are a necessary purchase to boost your compost heap.

The manure that the cows drop out in the paddocks is quickly broken down by dung beetles which is another advantage of not using chemicals or wormers. The manure that I collect for composting is from around the hay rack.
Any animal manure (cow, chicken, horse, pigeon) can be put into a pile with chopped up garden cuttings, leaves, kitchen scraps, shredded newspaper, lawn clippings etc to make a better compost than money could buy.

 You don't need fancy compost bins; a few pieces of corrugated iron or old pallets, open at the front will do.
  Or a round of wire netting to hold all of the ingredients together is just as good. The pile needs to be at least a metre wide to allow the heat to develop, a bit of moisture to get the action started, a bit of a turn with a fork occasionally  helps it to break down evenly and faster, but is not absolutely essential.
It's always a good idea to add a bit of your compost from a previous batch to the new pile. You can either  spread in a handful as you build up your layers, or poke a few holes into your existing pile and throw some in. There are compost starter preps available to purchase from Bio-dynamics Association of Australia if you really want to get things going cosmically, but the inoculation -just like making yogurt ;-) - works for me.

 Regular additions from your wee bucket is another way of boosting the nutrition level of your compost.
You don't have a wee bucket??
Have you got a semi private area in your back yard? There you can place your wee bucket with a piece of old fabric for a "wee wipe".  Dilute the wee by filling the bucket with water every day before tipping onto the compost heap or pour onto the soil around your plants and fruit trees.
Don't do this if you are taking pharmaceutical medications or anti-biotics though.
Replace your wee wipe daily, popping the used one in the washing cycle, and hang on the line to dry with your washing.

 Liquid compost and weed tea ferments are another wonderful way to feed your garden. You will need a bucket with a loose fitting lid or a bigger barrel with something to cover it, depending on the size of your garden. It's a good idea to have two compost heaps and two liquid compost barrels, so that you can use one for your garden or pots while the other is in it's breaking down or fermenting stage.

 Comfrey leaves are an essential ingredient in both my compost heaps and in my liquid compost tea.

And nettles!! Spring time is when I harvest the nettles growing wild around the garden, for making my brews.
Into this brew I added some chicken manure from the hen's shed, to nettles and comfrey, filled the barrel with rain water and put the lid on. I give it a stir with a long stick every day or whenever I think of it, and it will be ready to use in a month or two.
When it's ready to use, first give it a quick stir, then bucket out a small amount into a watering can, approximately to the ratio of making a glass of cordial, or slightly less. It's quite strong, so always use less rather than too much.
*Brian also uses these brews in his soil activator, adding bio-dynamics (prep500 and 501) to the mix before the stirring phase in the Flow Form but for the small gardener, hand stirring in a barrel is just as effective. This is spread out over our paddocks using the quad bike with a spray system attached, but for our gardens we use a spray pump or a watering can.*
Use the fermented tea brews as a weak mixture in pot plants, around fruit trees, vegetables, flowering plants and vines.
This is also good as a foliage feed, but  I would suggest using a weaker dilution, and don't foliar feed on a day above 23C degrees as the leaves could burn.
If you don't have the biodynamic preps or the stirrers, I'm certain that you would still get very good results from using the brewed liquid compost teas.
I've been foliar feeding the fruit trees that had been attacked by earwigs as the new leaves were forming and I can't believe the difference. New leaves have formed to the point where no earwig damage is evident at all.
Shane Joyce's words are ringing in my ears, "Manage for what you want, not for what you don't want."  Well if ever there is an example of just how that approach does work, this is it.
By building up the strength of the plant, it enables it (the plant) to withstand the attacks of predators.  In previous years I've focused on getting rid of the earwigs and have used up a lot of my energy in doing so, but this is working for me now and I have energy to use in other areas.
Sometimes we need to think outside the square.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

To Market To Market

We run a tight ship here, managing our stock numbers according to the seasons and the acreage available.
Recently, another two blocks of grazing land amounting to roughly thirty acres, was offered to us for our use. This is an offer too good to pass up, so we had to go to market to buy more sheep.
The temperature was in the low thirties, the first warm day for us this season, and the flies were out in force. I looked like I was at a funeral with my fly net, but I didn't want to buy a pen of sheep unwittingly with any vigorous fly swatting gestures. :)
Prices are still high, so we picked out a few pens of possibilities, using the plan A, plan B, plan C method.
Plan A was a pen of twenty crossbreed lambs, mostly ewes, which we planned to bid up to $100 each. As the wool clip is not worth much for crossbreeds, we need to have ewes for the view of breeding some lambs to get a return on our investment. The few wethers (castrated males) in the lot, would be grown on and sold at a profit before they became classed as Hogget at one year old.
All of our other ewes at home are Merinos, for the high priced wool clip, plus the lamb they breed each year. We prefer to buy Merinos, but we knew we had to take what was on offer at this market. The grass in the new blocks is high and needs immediate grazing.
If plan A was successful, we didn't need to action plans B or C.

Brian started the bidding at $80 and we got them for $95 each plus GST. They need shearing, and that put many bidders off, as shearers are hard to find lately.  Brian shears our sheep very capably, as he went along to a TAFE course ten years ago, so here's another advantage to being self reliant.
So they will all be shorn this week, a few each evening after work, before being loaded onto the trailer and taken to the one of the new blocks.
As they are this year's lambs, they will grow on for another year before we put them with a ram, and will expect lambs from them in May-June 2018.

This is what our home block looks likes right now.  A little greener than is usual at this time of year due to a wet winter and spring, with occasional showers almost weekly.
The twenty nine large round hay bales have all been brought into the hay storage yard, each one sitting on a plastic pallet to keep the bottoms off the ground and dry.
The regrowth in the hay paddocks is still pushing, so the cows have been allowed access to the delicious new fresh shoots. Our block goes all the way up to the top of the hill.
In the middle of the picture are most of our bee hives on trailers, for ease of moving. As soon as the Salvation Jane in our neighbor's paddock finishes flowering, we will move them to another location to make use of the Red Gum flowers.
We're holding another bee-keeping workshop next weekend and the students will be checking and performing maintenance on the hives under Brian's guidance.
There's never a dull moment around here, the weekend has been full, just the way we like it.
Cheers, X

Friday, 18 November 2016

Tough Love and the Colour Crimson

There's an old Geranium that I've been growing in every garden I've owned in the past sixteen years since settling back here in the Barossa Valley. I took a few cuttings from a very old garden before the old lady's house was demolished, and the rest is history. They bring me joy every day.

What great value it is in our hot dry climate with freezing frosty winters. It survives the dry summers with very little water, and withstands the fierce frosts to regain its vibrancy come spring. It's crimson colour is guaranteed to cheer the weariest soul, and alongside the daisy and lavender bushes, creates a welcoming cottage garden.

 Still pumped with motivation and enthusiasm from our intensive Bio-dynamics days last week, and before the weather gets too hot, I'm getting a few little gardening jobs done.
This poor little Washington Navel orange tree has been poorly for all of its life of approximately six years. We've moved it twice and it appeared to be growing strongly in this final resting place, but recently it's lost some leaves and put on lots of flowers in an attempt to save its own life by producing lots of fruit.
Tough love was the order of the day. It was so difficult to do it, but it had to be done.

All of the flowers had to be pulled off. The tree needs to put its energy into growing itself, rather than putting energy into growing fruit.

The hens were allowed to scratch and eat the earwigs for only a few minutes because I didn't want them to disturb the citrus tree's shallow roots.
Then the soil and foliage got a good soaking with bio-dynamic soil activator diluted in water before mulching with a thick layer of rotting pea straw.
As the tree is in one of the yards that the hens can access, the mulch needs to be covered so they don't  immediately scratch it out again.

A few flat rocks does the job perfectly. Now let's wait and see if this little tree starts to put on some healthy growth.
I need to feed the foliage and the soil every week with nettle tea and liquid manure and in true bio-dyamic spirit, I also need to put my good intent into it.
One of the great affirmations spoken by Shane Joyce last week was this simple message that, I think, applies not only to gardening, farming and animal care, but for life in general.
"Manage for the outcome that you want...not for what you don't want."

Blessings to you dear reader.
X :) 

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