Thursday, 26 March 2015

In the garden .....

A few shots of the hard workers in the garden....

bee on perennial basil

bee visiting apricot flower

Getting stuck into a sage flower

Covered in pollen

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Landcare brings together beekeepers, landowners and agroforestry

The South Gippsland Landcare Network (SGLN) is a very active Landcare group with a keen interest in the important role bees play in terms of food security.  To highlight the role bees play in agriculture, SGLN recently organised an event called "Do you want bees in your bushland? Opportunities for landowners and beekeepers" at Berry CreekWith an interest in bees and land in the area, we were keen to attend. Although we arrived on time, we were lucky to get a seat - a crowd of over 100 turned up!

One of the guest speakers, Mark Leech, author of the book "Bee Friendly: A planting guide for European honeybees and Australian native pollinators" came from Tasmania to present at the event. We have a copy of his book and can highly recommend it if you are considering planting for bee forage. Mark set the scene for why we should care about what's happening to bees and the problems they're facing. He then talked about how we could all help bees be strong and vital by planting abundant, quality pollen sources.

Mark taking the audience through why bees are important. (Photo SGLN)
Plants planted for a variety of outcomes such as pasture, crops, food, decorative plants, farm forestry, revegetation and restoration, can all be useful sources of pollen for bees. By taking that into consideration farmers, landowners and home gardeners can make planting choices to benefit bees. Mark is a forester with a strong interest in agroforestry. He is very enthusiastic about growing high-value timber on farms for multiple beneficial outcomes including encouraging bees for honey and pollination.

Another of the speakers, Howard Stevens from South Gippsland Beekeepers, gave a talk on local beekeeping and honey production. This was a great opportunity for farmers and landholders to get an idea of what beekeeping involves, how farming practices affect bees and the potential for beekeeping to act as an additional income stream. Local beekeepers, some of them farmers, spoke about how they got into beekeeping. They all stressed the importance of being able to hook up with an experienced mentor - something helped by joining a local beekeeping club. The synergy between bees, honey production and Landcare was also highlighted.

Howard Stevens (left) with local beekeepers
(Photo SGLN)

At the risk of making you all groan, there was a real buzz in the air at the end of the night, with farmers, landholders and beekeepers chatting about future possibilities.  As a direct result of community interest SGLN will soon be launching an online match-making service linking beekeepers with farmers in Gippsland.  Wouldn't it be great if this level of interest was nationwide?

This was the first of SGLN's events to focus on bees - stay tuned as there will be more events to come. 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Learning to crochet

Years ago I bought a book full of crochet projects with the intention of teaching myself how to crochet.  Somehow I always got side-tracked with knitting and never seemed to find the time.

Over the Christmas break I dug out the book. Called Simple Crochet by Erika Knight, it really did have some nice things in it to make.

I thought I'd try and make the circular cushion on the cover:

Checking in the stash I found some 8 ply natural coloured cotton yarn and a crochet hook.  I started off by making a simple square in the 'double crochet' stitch - the same stitch used in the cushion pattern. The book has good instructions for each of the stitches:

 It took a me a few goes to get the hang of it. 

Once I was happy with the square I started on the cushion. It is made up of 2 circles that are 40 cm in diameter, joined at the edges by a row of crochet.  On those days where it was too hot to go outside I worked away on my circles.  Eventually I got them both done:

Now all I need is a round cushion insert so I can complete the project. That has proved pretty tricky to find so I think I'll end up having to make one.  Oh well, it'll get done...........eventually.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Coppicing silverbeet

We had some volunteer silverbeet pop up in our lawn area.  We figured it wanted to grow there so we left it. And grow it did - big and tall. We had silverbeet over 2m high in some spots this year. Plenty of silverbeet was produced. And it was good. Achieving silverbeet security is one of the less challenging tasks for the urban homesteader in Melbourne.

We let the lawn die off over summer (with some help from intensive guinea pig grazing) and so did the silverbeet. In an easy way to clean up productives past their prime we ran the mower over them. This left some stalks that we thought were dead.

But the plants have re-sprouted from the sides of the stubs just like a tree coppicing from the stool.

We are developing a nice little silverbeet crop again.

The perfect low maintenance crop :) Some evidence suggests there are coppiced forests in Europe have been managed in this fashion for thousands of years. Perhaps our coppiced silverbeet will be a cut and come again crop for many seasons to come!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

In the garden

A few shots taken in the garden today...

nectarines still ripening

a magnolia bloom

Peaches protected from the rosellas and other wildlife

strawberries, sage, horseradish and golden marjoram

Friday, 16 January 2015

A good year for honey

I've heard from both commercial beekeepers and hobbyists that this season has been a good one in terms of honey production.

Based on the output from our hive I'd have to agree.  Last night we bottled the honey that was extracted recently. Usually we only harvest once, doing a whole box at a time. This season we should be able to harvest a couple of times.  The honey below came from a single full-sized box:

The large jars on the left hold over 500ml.  All up it was nearly 17 litres of honey.

Our stash of recycled jars is now empty. Looks like we're going to have to enlist the help of friends to collect some more for the next harvest.


Thursday, 15 January 2015

Alpaca farm visit

Anyone who knows me, knows I adore alpacas. So it was such a treat when Mr PragSust organised our recent visit to an alpaca breeding farm.

Alternative View Alpacas is a 69 acre farm located in Mirboo North (South Gippsland) which is just under a 2 hour drive from Melbourne. Run by Brigitte and Keith Kat, it has a spectacular view of the surrounding hills and is home to around 150 alpacas.  

Brigitte kindly gave us a tour of the farm.  First it was off to the barn where expectant mothers, and mothers with young babies are housed each night.  Oh boy, were they cute.  Inquisitive and quite friendly - we were surrounded  by alpaca mothers and babies.  I'll spare you the 100 or so photos I took and just show you a couple..well perhaps a few more than a couple :)

I got to hold 1 day old alpacas and take a mother and her baby for a walk, as well as  do lots of alpaca patting.  Suffice to say I couldn't stop grinning.

Brigitte lets the mothers and youngsters out of the barn each morning and they spend the day grazing around the house and garden as well as in paddocks.  

The view from the deck of her house was of mothers grazing and babies playing. Pretty hard to get used to.....NOT! We went for a wander around the farm and saw more alpacas grazing in the paddocks.

Then Brigitte took us on a tour of the rest of the farm.  Brigitte and Keith are very keen to live sustainably. They recycle, reuse, grow their own fruit and vegetables, capture rainwater, keep chickens and bees and generate electricity from renewables. The house they built was made from timber milled on the property.  This was followed through with the fit out - ceiling, floors, kitchen, shelving - all made from trees on the property.

The house has rooftop PVs and captures water from the roof.

colourful chook shed in foreground, house in background showing the PVs

Just by the house there was an orchard which doubled as a chook run. We can vouch first hand that alpaca poo certainly agrees with fruit trees. 

 A prolific kiwi fruit vine also powered by alpaca poo provided ample shade for the chooks. The last harvest from the vine was over 600 kiwi fruit! 

Inside the orchard there were several beehives so naturally we got to chatting about our mutual interest in bees :)

A non-functional and unrepairable water tank on the property was recycled to create a large veggie garden consisting of multiple beds. This supplied much of the couple's food. We could see a good garlic harvest drying in the house. 

Brigitte and Keith swap excess produce from the garden with friends in return for things they don't grow.  They have a large composting bay for garden and kitchen waste.

Brigitte also took us into her workshop where she makes garments from silk and felted alpaca wool.  She had an amazing range of items - from jackets to scarves, some using naturally coloured alpaca wool, and others hand-dyed in a wide variety of colours.  Every item was unique.  She sells her pieces at markets and runs felting classes from her workshop. You can see some of her creations here

Oh yeah, and Brigitte's dog had recently given birth to some very cute puppies:

Last but not least, the entry gate to the farm was pretty good too!

All in all it was an inspiring trip - for those that like alpacas, as well as those interested in permaculture and sustainable living.  Brigitte and Keith are planning to run more farm tours, from the end of February onwards.  You can check out their website for contact details.