Sunday, 1 April 2012

Bee Happy

 A time of reflection.  I realise that it is almost a year since I started blogging (or logging, as I prefer) our lifestyle choices.  I remember when a lovely Scottish lass (Becky) encouraged me to write a blog about working and growing food in our "spare" time.  "But everyone is doing it.", "I'm not sure I have anything different or extra to add about sustainable living practices", "But I don't have much time to blog", were some of my excuses.  I thought about it and went online to see how difficult it would be.    Being technically unco, I thought that would be a fine excuse.  Further and further windows opened on my screen until I suddenly realised that I had signed in and created my very own "blog" page.  The internet is funny like that!  You never know what you are getting yourself into sometimes!  A year on now, I realise just how much I have enjoyed logging our commitment to sustainability.  It has become a diary to reflect upon, rather than endless activities where one cannot look back to even appreciate where you have been, come from or are even going.
Working garden schematic plan.  I have a simple map to plan
my rotational veggie beds and to assess any future developments.
A couple of weeks ago, Mike and I signed up for a series of Bee Keeping workshops.  The first one was about preparing hives for winter.  We left a little overwhelmed and despondent.  It seemed intervention-top-heavy and applications of various chemicals for control of varroa mite and American Foul Brood put us off.  Perhaps bee-keeping was not for us, we thought.  However, we met an Austrian guy there who spoke of Top Bar Beehives.  We were interested as we had read about them being a more "natural" option.  So we took him up on his offer of viewing his hive.  We arrived, with trepidation.  We had no protective gear and we were going to view a beehive!  "No problem," he said.  "Just stand still or move slowly."  Our topbar beekeeper lives in Urban Tauranga and has built his own ingenious beehive.  Another name to describe this particular type of hive is a Honey Cow, probably as it resembles a cow on legs!  The added height makes it easier to work with (kind of like kitchen benchtops!).  He showed us all the gear he had purchased but said it was rather necessary, though he did show us how it was used.  All he had in the way of beekeeping was a jacket and hood, gloves, a brush and a smoker.

Preparing the smoker
Our beekeeper explained to us that the smoke does not harm the bees, but rather creates a sense of danger for them, so they begin to feed on the honey stored, rather than becoming aggressive and attacking the "intruder".  Bees are truly fascinating, with a highly complex social system of co-operation and commitment.  Mike read a book about the demise of the honey bee and how humans and all life forms rely on bees for our entire food chain.  The book predicted if bees were to die out, how humans would follow suit within 4 years!!  Scarey thought, but it does highlight how important those little creatures are.  Spare a thought for the humble bee as you bite into your toast and honey! Our survival depends on them.  Worker bees last only 22-34 days after emerging from the cell, before they die and they pack a whole lot of work in to their short life span!
To get a better idea of how to build a Top Bar hive, check out: 

Puffing whiffs of smoke up through the bottom of the meshed

Raising one of the honey frames which mimics the shape of
the hive

The frame crossbar sits on a hand-made stand for inspection
or honey harvesting

The bees cling to the comb, while honey drips down

The frame is returned to the hive, with the bees still clinging to it.
They were gently brushed off to stop them from being harmed.

A few bees gather around some honey which dripped onto the
top bars, in a feeding thrill

The fantastic Honey Cow!  Totally hand-made with
inexpensive pallet wood
This visit to our Austrian Backyard Beekeeper restored our faith in the possibilities of keeping bees some day in the near future.  He intervenes rarely and uses natural intervention methods when necessary.  Our kinda beekeeping.  Watch this space.........

On the garden front, I have taken up one of our kitchen beds and converted it into a blueberry bed,  (Changing Rooms) harvested feijoas, a big bowl of strawberries, ripened bananas from the shed, zucchini rampicante, apples green and red, passionfruit, potatoes and leeks. We also laid down more cardboard and sawdust pathways to suppress the weeds.  Mike is convinced that we need to plant more ground covers under the trees as he spends much of his life weeding!  It is the sowing and planting lunar window, so seeds to sow.....Sunday arvo, all's dark with daylight saving ended this morning but sow I must.  So off to the shed, and I managed to sow several seed trays up with caulis, brocs, red cabbages, leeks, lettuces and chicory.  My last 3 trays of brassicas were overturned and destroyed in the last crazy wind we had!  But we've learned to say "!@#$%^&" and just carry on.  Mike also baked a beautiful batch of compost, which he distributed onto my new blueberry bed, and a newly vacated, chicken-aerated bed, ready for planting.  2 week holiday coming up means I can really sink my teeth into garden projects soon - Yeeha!

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