Monday, 2 May 2016

Flow frame harvest at Collingwood Children's Farm

In April the VAA Melbourne section volunteers who run the Collingwood Children's Farm (CCF) Apiary organised a Flow frame harvest day.  To cater for the interest in this free event and to make numbers manageable, registration was required. Needless to say, spots filled up fast. 

The day was organised as 2 sessions  - morning and afternoon. Each session included:
  • an information session on the history of the Flow frame hive at the CCF and experiences managing it
  • an explanation and demonstration of harvesting from the Flow frames
  • honey tasting and a final information and Q&A session

Here's Mike in the apiary describing to the group (all on the other side of the fence) how he modified an already constructed langstroth hive to hold the Flow frames:



And showing everyone what an empty Flow frame looks like:




Here's the hive containing the Flow frames (in the top box), with the harvesting equipment  in the foreground, ready to set up.



There weren't a lot of bees in the box but some honey was capped:





 After checking each frame, a frame to harvest was selected and the plug at the bottom of the frame was removed:



The hose was then attached to the frame. The other end of the hose went straight into a honey container with an opening sized to match the tube.




Next step was to insert the special Flow frame 'allen keys' into the top of the frame, ready to open it. Opening can be done with one key but from previous experience it had been found that two keys worked better.



 Then it was time turn the keys to open the frame



It took a few minutes before the honey started to flow, but flow it did.


 Straight into the honey container:






While the honey was being collected, the group headed back to the shed for the final information part of the session.  Other experiences using the Flow frames and harvesting were shared and lots of questions were answered.




People were keen to taste the honey that was harvested:



It was a very well run and informative day and a credit to the people who organised it.  The frames had gone in late in the season so they weren't full, but there was enough honey in them to demonstrate how to go about harvesting.  Those in the audience who had Flow Hives, and those still waiting to get their Flow Hive, now have a much better understanding of how to manage this sort of hive as well as how to harvest from it. 


Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Mini sewing project - Repurposing

In an effort to reduce plastic in our home, we're trying to prevent bringing home unwanted plastic bags and food-related packaging.  Shopping in bulk is a one way to do this and fortunately for us a bulk food store called The Source has opened up nearby. The shop provides paper bags for shoppers to use but I decided to go reusable and sew some calico bags we can use as produce bags. 

Trying to re-purpose something we already had, I remembered I had a bunch of calico bags that came as shoe bags for various shoes I'd bought over the years.  Never having used these bags, I'd stashed them away thinking they might come in handy. Bingo!  A perfect project for the next sewing day with my crafty friend.  I look forward to these sewing afternoons - apart from being a great excuse to catch up, they ensure that planned sewing jobs actually get done. Like ironing board covers and pillowcase repairs :)  Plus two minds are better than one (well mine at least!) when it comes to working out the best way to tackle a sewing project. 

My destined-to-be produce bags had a single handle and looked like this:






To make them more suitable for carrying produce without spillage I decided to add a drawstring opening.  I had a small collection of salvaged ribbon and cloth tape, and fortunately there were a few pieces of suitable length for the job. I simply folded the top edge of the bag over and sewed along the bottom to make a casing for the ribbon, leaving one side open so the ribbon could be threaded through.




 
In order to make the casing and keep the handles, the handles were folded back and sewn over when the casing was made.



By a crazy coincidence, my friend's plan for the day was to make cotton drawstring bags to use to store different varieties of potatoes in her pantry.  So it became a produce bag making day - talk about being on the same wavelength! 

We had a break for lunch - yummy black bean soup and homemade bread:



 Then it was back into it and before too long I had a set of produce bags - 4 large and 1 small.




The last step was to weigh each bag and write the weight on the bag itself with a waterproof texta. That way the weight of the bag can be deducted from the total weight at the checkout. Armed with these reusable bags and my Onya mesh bags we are now ready to shop more sustainably.


Friday, 22 April 2016

Little things matter

We honestly believe that when it comes to spending our hard earned money, the choices we make really do matter. When we buy something we are sending a message to the manufacturer that says make more of that item.  Which means thoughtful consideration of all purchases, be they big or small, has a flow on effect. 

Canny advertising promising to make our lives easier has resulted in many of us filling our homes full of stuff, most of which we don't really need.  Few of these items are sustainably made, many cannot be repaired and when their useful life is over they are often not reusable or recyclable. Decluttering has become very popular - even our local council is running sessions for residents on how to tackle decluttering their homes. 

One way to save help the world's finite resources is to put a stop to unnecessary stuff entering our homes in the first place. Before buying something, simply ask yourself "Do I really need it?" If we're being honest with ourselves then more often than not the answer will be no. If we question our purchases in this way we can end up reducing our consumption, reducing our environmental footprint and saving ourselves money at the same time. (The same question applies when we're faced with the prospect of free stuff - just because it's free doesn't mean we need it!)  

The next step when thinking about buying something is to consider the lifecycle of the product in question. Plastic is not kind to the environment or to our health.  Recyclable plastic items are generally down-cycled into other lower grade plastic products which eventually end up in landfill.  And those items keep on keeping on - lasting well past our lifetimes. Just because we've thrown something away, doesn't mean it has disappeared.

With just a little bit of thought it's easy to make the move away from plastic versions of many everyday items to ones made out of more sustainable materials.  Simply tossing everything out and buying all new stuff isn't the most sustainable approach so we're replacing things on an 'as needs' basis. When something wears out, if we plan to replace it we look for a more sustainable option. Fortunately there are a lot of great businesses out there who want to provide people like us with more sustainable alternatives.  Listed below are some of the ways we've reduced plastic in our home. The items mentioned below are examples of what's available - we're simply sharing what we're using around the house.


Wooden dish washing brush with replaceable headAn easy swap away from plastic was to switch to a wooden dish washing brush. We chose a version for which you can buy replacement heads. It's made from untreated beechwood with natural bristles. 



This was not an expensive change - the brush was $5.95 and replacement heads are $3-$4 each. I found ours at local supplier Scout House but the same product is also widely available online.


Redecker Dishwashing brush

Biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes.  There are a lot of alternatives to the ubiquitous plastic toothbrush.  We found a local supplier Got Wood, who sell toothbrushes made from sustainably grown bamboo with bamboo fibre bristles. At $5.60 including postage they won't break the bank.


Got Wood TB

When the toothbrush is no longer suitable for the job it is completely biodegradable and safe to burn in our wood heater.


Wooden nail brush. As we do a lot of gardening and outside work, a sturdy nailbrush is a must for us. We swapped from a plastic one to this wooden one, purchased locally for $22:

 
Gardener's nailbrush


Wooden brush and stainless steel dustpan.  Our dust pan and brush see a fair bit of active duty.  We have a brush made from beechwood and horse hair and a stainless steel dust pan - both purchased locally.

Redecker shovel and sweep

It's worth noting that wooden brushware does require a bit more care than plastic. Keeping the wooden part out of water when not in use and allowing the brush to dry in sunlight will extend the life of these items. Applying a mixture of beeswax and coconut oil to the wood will help preserve it too.

Stainless steel water bottles. Reusable water bottles are a no-brainer. These days plastic water bottles are generally BPA-free, however they still contain other chemicals that are worth avoiding.  We use stainless steel water bottles instead, and while the initial investment seemed a bit pricey (ours come with a lifetime warranty), we were happy to make the swap. We each have an insulated and a non-insulated bottle, which is enough to satisfy a thirsty day's work planting trees at our country block.  As well as keeping drinks cold, the insulated versions are great for soup and hot drinks. Being stainless means they don't absorb odours or flavours.



There's nothing mind-blowing in the list above but choosing these items over their plastic versions does the environment and our health a favour and supports those businesses trying to make a differenceIn our opinion these items are of higher quality and are far more attractive than their plastic counterparts. They also feel nicer to use.

If enough people swapped to using items like these when their current versions bit the dust then one day, who knows, plastic dish washing brushes may end up being the exception, rather than the norm.  Now wouldn't that be nice?

Any tips you have for sustainable options around the home?




Saturday, 2 April 2016

Foam broccoli boxes - useful beekeeping gear


Foam broccoli boxes are an excellent bit of beekeeping equipment that cost nothing.  Their usefulness may not be news to some, but hey, we think the tip is worth passing on.


Broccoli box by side of hive, ready to hold frames


  • They are perfect for hive inspections - after you've inspected frame #2, pop it in the broccoli box, lid on, and then you'll have more room in the hive to move the remaining frames in and out easily.
  • Need to re-queen but can't find her?  They are great for storing frames when you are searching for the queen. Divide and conquer - put the frames from your super into multiple broccoli boxes. Keep the lids on.  Then go through each box. It stops bees flying everywhere and makes the process more manageable.
  • Harvesting frames of honey? Gently brush the bees off the frame and put it in the broccoli box with the lid on. This will get most of the bees off and stop more flying back on.  You'll be able to get at least 5 frames in a box. Repeat the process with the frames in the broccoli box by brushing each again and transferring to another broccoli box and you should be able to get a bee-less box of honey frames. The boxes are light and easy to carry so they're good for transporting frames of honey to where they will be processed.
  • Solar wax purifying - we use a foam broccoli box as part of our solar wax purifying set up. See here for more details.




So where do you get these useful boxes?  Just ask your local green grocer. They usually have a steady supply and can spare a few.


Sunday, 13 March 2016

In the garden - they're back

It's that time of year again when large flocks of little corellas descend on our street to feast on the street trees. 

They're earlier this year - last year they visited us in May.









Saturday, 12 March 2016

Hot weather and overripe bananas

We're having unseasonally hot weather for March, with the temperature in Melbourne hitting 39 degrees the other day.  On those hot days when the house warms up any bananas sitting in the fruit bowl go from ripe to overripe before you know it. I'm not a fan of eating overripe bananas au naturel so in our household we turn them into banana bread.  

Budget friendly and very easy to make, the recipe below gets a bit of a workout at PragSust HQ. It comes from an old copy of a vegetarian recipe book - the 'Naturally Healthy Cookbook'.

Banana Bread

Ingredients:
  • 3 tblspn butter (we use a non-dairy version)
  • 1/2 cup castor sugar
  • 3 bananas, mashed (overripe is best)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups self-raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspn salt (I don't bother with this)
  • 1/4 cup orange juice

Method:
  1. Cream butter and sugar till smooth and light.
  2. Add the bananas and egg, incorporate well.
  3. Add the flour and salt,mix  well and add orange juice.
  4. Bake in 180 C (350 F) oven in a greased loaf pan for 1 hour or till done when tested.Turn out and cool.
Easy!. 






Sunday, 6 March 2016

Flow frames trial at Collingwood Children's Farm Apiary

It seems everyone has heard of the Flow Hive, regardless of whether they keep bees or not. As soon as someone finds out that we keep bees, they ask us about the Flow Hive and whether we have one.  To be honest, we haven't thought about getting oneWe use the 'cut and strain' method to harvest our honey (as described here), waiting until a box is full before harvesting. This means we generally only harvest once a year.  Not quite as easy as turning the tap, but still fairly straightforward.

If you don't keep bees you may not realise that honey harvesting is only a small part of beekeeping. Honest! The majority of the beekeeper's time is spent inspecting their bees, checking whether they have enough stores, and looking for any telltale signs of pests or disease. In spring - especially for urban beekeepers - the checklist expands to identify potential triggers for swarming. This is most important for maintaining good neighbourly relations :)

Okay, so although we aren't contemplating getting a Flow hive, we're still keen to see how they work in practice.  Fortunately for us, a set of 6 Flow frames was donated to the Collingwood Children's Farm Apiary to trial.  A lot of work was put by a VAA Melbourne section volunteer (go Mike!) into modifying a pre-built langstroth full-size box into one that was suitable for the flow frames. Mike's modified langstroth box is shown below.


Once the box was ready it was placed on a hive, below the pre-existing honey super which was nearly full. 

Flow Frames in middle box, solar panel for hive temperature sensor on top of hive

The bees were a bit slow to use the Flow frames, preferring to continue to use the top box.  Some honey was put in the Flow frames as you can see in the pictures below, which were taken in January.  It's worth noting that the frames are not really designed to be pulled out and inspected. They fit tightly in the box and are not easy to remove.







To encourage the bees to concentrate on the Flow frames, a few weeks later the top box was removed.  Once this was done, some capping of the honey was observed.  The frames still have a way to go before being full, but the bees are certainly using them. There are plans to harvest honey from the Flow frames in April so I'll be sure to post something about that