Thursday, 18 December 2014

Honey collection from Native Australian Bee Hive...

Over the years we have expanded from one Australian Native bee hive bought for a Birthday present to seven hives of various shapes and sizes! For the first few years we concentrated on building strong hives and getting the splitting right. Last year we started putting honey supers on the  hives in order to start collecting some tangy bush honey, sometimes known as sugar bag honey!

We had a hive that was made sub standardly and decided to split the good half and transfer the other half into a new hive entirely. This gave us the old honey box that the hive had come with to deal with and see what honey we could get out of it...

Here's what we did...

This is the empty hive after we had done the split and the transfer. The left is where the Tetragonula Hockingsii brood was; the right is the stored honey. 

First we simply tipped it on its side and let the honey drip out at its own pace. Its sitting on a board over a large plastic container with the back slightly raised with a small wedge at the back.
The big issue which we hadn't foreseen was that the bees wouldn't leave the storage area. We had assumed that opening the hive and moving it across the yard would have them all flying back off "home" to where the old hive was, but this didn't seem to be the case.
The honey area was chock full of bees and no amount of prodding and poking the hive would entice them to leave.
If you look carefully, You can see al the black dots and blobs in amongst the honey comb - they are the recalcitrant bees...
Our honey extracting technique ended up being that we poked the comb with skewers, forks and various other implements constantly over a few days to release the honey and let it drain into the container. We rescued as many bees as possible by lifting them out of the comb with the skewer but the were incredibly reluctant to leave. It was very frustrating.
As the hive we had moved the brood into was brand new, we thought they may be after the supply of honey and/or resin so ended up taking the top off it and placing a big blob of comb, honey and all in the top where they would normally be storing their honey and pollen in the hope that more of them would journey back there and stay there working on the new hive

This is the part of the storage area that we took out...

and the opened top - pristine and empty...

The first bit of comb goes in...

 Our theory was that they would sort it out. Apparently they can reuse all the components so we popped it in and sealed it all up very tightly and left them to do that.
This hive had the brood put in by the door and within hours they had built defences over the door and started protecting themselves. We helped out when ever we were around by using a paintbrush to brush away ants who are attracted to the scent of honey and anything else that looked like a threat to the hive. This hive was put just above the chooks nesting boxes and so we were visiting it at least twice a day to help them defend their hive.
A few months later, they seem to be happy and healthy and there is lots of zooming in and out. We have never reopened the hive to see what they did as we think that will just make them vulnerable again. We will see next spring how they are going and see if we think we can split them or even raid the honey. In the meantime, we will let them get on with uninterrupted by our curiosity. 
Back to the honey extraction. As I said earlier, we ended up poking the comb with a variety of implements and letting it drain over a few days. The biggest problem with the method is that it attracts every honey loving creature in the back yard - and there is quite a few of them! At the end of the weekend we had the hive on a few bricks in a moat of water and the honey container was in in a similar situation to protect it from the ants.
However every flying bug known (and unknown) to mankind was hovering around for their share. By then of the weekend we sat and made a conscious effort to remove as many bees as we could before pounding the comb into a pulp and squishing as much honey out as possible. We ended up with roughly a kilo (700mls) and strained it into a jar to get all the bugs and bees out of it using a tea strainer. It poured easily through the strainer as it is MUCH runnier than normal commercial Italian honey bees honey.
This is the only extraction we have done so far. We have looked at a few websites since and even found a few videos that show other trick and tips to collect native bee honey.
A video by Dr Tim Heard,  famous bee-oligist
Honey extraction from native bees seems to involve more loss of bee life than we had expected. We are looking to refine out technique for next year...
Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for harvesting honey from a sustainable source. 
Frugal-ness: Native bee keeping is not very frugal as hives are expensive to make or but at $65 a kg for the honey - maybe it will work out in the end!
Time cost: Depending on your temperament anywhere from an hour to two days...
Skill level: poking and prodding - great job for a young (or old) person fascinated with creating rivers and waterfalls of honey!
Fun -ness: great fun - if you can keep the kill rate as low as possible...

Friday, 21 November 2014

Tetragonula Hockingsii hive transfer - moving native bees from one hive to another!

Recently we spit our Native Hockingsii bee hive. The two halves didn't match and my husband was keen to try an experimental hive that he envisioned while reading all the bee books he bought me for Christmas! So the first half was a straight split were we joined the good half to another standard sized Felhaber hive half.

The other half was too small and made from substandard wood. So instead of continuing to make do, we decided that we would try the fairly traumatic task of transferring the bees out of the hive entirely and put them in a brand new hive type.

Here's what we did...

*Please note: Another long involved post for those hungry for backyard bee information but pretty pictures for those who are keen but not yet converted to the fun of native bee keeping! Only my Mother is obliged to read it all!

The first half of the split was standard - here is the link to that page.
So that leaves us with the second half in the front of the above picture with the board against the split in an attempt to keep as many bees as possible in there and off our faces! This old half of the hive was constructed in 2008 by a friend of a mate's neighbour and is not a standard size. Its made of wood that's too thin as well. This gave my husband the opportunity to try an idea he has had ever since he gave me a full set of bee books for Christmas and then proceeded to read every single one before me!

Before I go into the new hive design, lets deal with the hive transfer itself.

We needed access to the whole brood and so we needed to take off the roof and expose at least two sides of the brood. So we used a hammer and chisel to prise off a roof that wasn't designed to come off. Hence putting it against the house and giving it a decent bash. The roof closest to the split holds the brood, the other 2/3 is the honey box.

The lid came off quite cleanly. The small part in the middle is where the brood is in a Felhaber hive. The long part is where they store the honey and pollen. If you open the long bit you will find honey not brood! Hockingsii in a hive like this have the brood in the middle and keep their honey and pollen supplies near the entrances.

This is a great shot of the brood! Take photos as quickly as you can from many angles as the bees are going to swarm around you, getting into every nook and cranny you have and you won't be spending much time looking at the amazing structures when you are splitting or transferring them. Pop a tea towel over your head - it really helps! You can appreciate the bees work much later with a cuppa and a big screen computer monitor!

Back up on the table and my husband has already used the knife and sliced around the edges of the brood. sides, back and bottom. Just like getting a cake out of a tin but much more traumatic... for both humans and bees alike!

Using a fish slice (egg flipper thingummy) he simply lifted the whole thing out of the original hive. There are a few pictures that are almost the same so you can follow the procedure.

Very gently and slowly he lifted the whole brood out using his fingers to steady the brood. Remember these guys don't sting so its not a biggie when they get stroppy. I got two stuck in my eye lashes and they gave me a decent nip but other than the initial pain, and it's not much really, there is no swelling, itching, redness or any indication that they bit me at all.

From the back. My husband reckoned he could feel part of the brood falling in half probably where the join between new and old cells is... He managed to hold it all together and get it into the new hive.

Here it is going into the new hive. it goes in the same way that it did in the old hive. There is a school of thought that says they will sort it out no matter how you jam it in there but we are keen to give them every opportunity to survive our experimental hives...

So here is the other half of  Hockingsii brood from the original hive sitting in its new experimental hive. This is my husbands design which we have nick named the FROTH and I will explain more about it in a moment.

With the front of the hive put in and the supporting mesh in place. It is squashing the brood slightly... (Sorry guys.) The mesh is to support the brood during a split. In the picture below you can see that the hive is made to split top to bottom. So there is a front half and a back half. The idea is that hives wont be split into old and new as they grow sideways into the new half as the Felhaber hive currently works, but will be split with some old and some new brood for each hive.

The dividers for the hive and honey boxes going on... The dividers are to stop the bees from creating brood all the way to the top of the hive. They also have a split in them so you can run the knife straight down the middle.

 The standard OATH tropical lid and half size honey super goes on and now it looks more like a Carbonarii hive.  Its the same dimensions as a Carbonarii hive which are usually easier to place in a garden as they are more stable and take up less room.

Again, the joints are all sealed with masking tape to deter any predators until the bees sort it out. This type of hive is usually heavy and stable and doesn't need the aluminium bracing that the longer Felhaber hives do...

And then these guys are placed back where they were originally in the shelter of the chook coop where I will see them every time I collect eggs or remove broody chickens... So far so good. They seem to be zooming in and out and any bees that weren't locked inside the other hive that went to Anni's will make their way back here by the end of the day. Native bees have built in GPS's that enable them to find their way home from about 5km away. So the other half has to go much further than that otherwise they will all just head for home if you just take them next door!

Hive names:
Felhaber: Standard Hockingsii hive created by Mr Felhaber of Rockhampton
OATH: Original Aussie Trigona Hive for Carbonarii bees
KITH: Klummpy's Insulated Trigona Hive for either Carbonari or Hockingsii as far as I can tell...
FROTH: Froggy's 'Riginal Other Type Hive designed for Hockingsii

Some bee sites that are worth checking out!

As for the honey half of this hive - there's another post on honey harvesting to come! Stay posted!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for helping with the proliferation of native bees!
Frugal-ness: 3/5 Bee hives aren't cheap even if you make your own...
Time cost: About 15 minutes for this split!
Skill level: You'll want the confidence from doing a few splits before attempting a transfer like this I think!
Fun-ness: More traumatic than fun at the time!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Some more pillowcase aprons..!

I have had a lot of fun making these for Christmas presents this year! They are all made on the same pattern and techniques as I used before...

Waist Apron link
Full Pinny link

All bright and summery hanging on the line!

This one was made from two pillowcases. I cut the flower off one pillowcase and after I had made the pinny from another orange pillow case with the stripes on it, I sewed it onto the front. I suspect the pillow cases went together on the bed as the colours were so close... or maybe I just got lucky at the op shop that week!

For this one I did a few simple pleats which I found easier to sew than gathering. So If you aren't feeling like you can tackle gathering, a few folded pleats might be the way to go. They sit flatter and are easier to sew. I also cut a strip off the bottom and then sewed it back on upside down to add a bit of interest and detail. If I see a bit of ric-rac I'll run it along the join but so far the right piece has eluded me...

 This one is so bright and pretty it didn't need anything else done to it!
When I made these I had no idea that anyone else had thought of it! I just searched pillowcase apron for the sheer fun of it right now and found some really cool designs. Wish I'd seen some of these before I started!
And if you are interested, there is a book with heaps of ideas for repurposing pillowcases!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for repurposing!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for using one you have and decreasing depending on how much you pay for your pillowcase!
Time cost: About 1/2 an hour from go to whoa.
Skill level: Usually pretty basic straight line sewing.
Fun-ness: Mine are so bright and pretty, I'm in love with them all - hope I can bear to  part with them at Christmas!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Tetragonula Hockingsii native bee hive split..!

We have several native bee hives and this year needed to split our Hockingsii hive. It was a mismatched hive made from two halves that didn't actually fit together as each half was made by other people. We decided to do a normal split with the "good half" that was made to a standard size and to "destroy" the odd half and transfer the bees to another type of hive completely. If you are interested in a normal Hockingsii split, this is the post for you. If you are interested in a transfer, I'll post that next as they are two different techniques and if it's your first split, the two lots of instructions could get confusing...

I did the normal Hockingsii split all by myself with the husband photographing (and jumping in with the drill when he realised we hadn't taken off a brace or the feet - giving me a chance to shake off a few bees!)

I'd recommend you to have a spare set of hands available as its a lot harder than it looks to do when you have so many annoyed little bees telling you what they think of your renovations!

*Please note: Another super long post full of technical mumbo jumbo especially for those seeking lots of information! But lots of interesting pictures for those not in need of so much detail!

Here's what I did...

This are the three hives involved in this split. In the front is the Hockingsii hive that was split last year and has the mismatched halves. See how one side is smaller than the other? At the back is the right half that will attach to the left half of the hive giving us a traditional Felhaber hive (named after the inventor, Les Felhaber). The hive on the right is a design of my husband based on a Carbonari OATH  (Original Aussie Trigona Hive) with the features of the Felhaber. We call it the FROTH: Froggys 'Riginal 'Other Type Hive!

I'll go into more detail about it later in the post.

Having everything ready, take off any tape that is still on the hive helping to seal the hive after the last split. We locked the bees up to minimise flying bees before we were ready - that's the block of wood and the green bungy on the left half. Once you are ready, using the biggest sharpest knife, start cutting through the centre of the hive.

It's actually much harder than you might think. I had to put a huge amount of effort in. Once you have done a few splits, its will become easier as you know how much pressure you need. Imagine cutting through a cold Mars bar about 10cm thick and you'll have an idea. I had to take the knife out several times and cut it from both sides to get all the way through. The bees start swarming out as soon as the gap is big enough (that is, almost instantly).

Ta Dah! Made it through, finally! This half is going straight onto the new hive. I'm not an expert but I think the white cells are the new queens. The brood (baby bees) is layers rather than a spiral that the carbonaria make. The involucrum is the layer of structure around the brood - protection and air-conditioning if my understanding is correct. They tend to leave a "ring road" around the edges of the hive for getting around a lot quicker.

This is the original half - dated 2008 - and all of this is going to go into another hive entirely. Note the thicker deposits of resin. The bees don't build a solid structure all the way to the edge of the hive, although I think I have squashed it at the bottom, there should be a "ring road" all the way around the nest.

So here we have 10,000 bees objecting to the decision for a new development! As you can see, the two halves will just slot together. My husband thinks that these hives have a weakness at the middle join and so uses aluminium to hold it all together. He is not convinced that the bees are capable of cementing it in such a way that if we moved it or it fell in a storm that it would stay in one solid piece, so he gives them a helping hand.

Note the second hole in the new half - That's so that you can encourage them to use the new half sooner as to get in and out they have to use that door. We still have the original door blocked up to keep as many as possible in there as this hive is going to Aunty Anni's for a holiday! If you leave the two hives in the same area, the will migrate back to the old hive or the one closest to the old spot. These bees have a life cycle of about six weeks. So after a holiday of eight weeks, none of these bees will remember or be imprinted with the old hive and the new generation will be reluctant to move out of this hive, no matter where you move it.

Just before the final join and I'm trying to blow as many bees out of the way as possible. But Its almost impossible to do a split without any casualties... Some keepers don't split at all so that they don't kill any bees ever.

Some just get on with it and don't bother their conscience too much with final tallies of the dead. We try to go the middle ground and save as many as possible while accepting that if we split a hive, some bees aren't going to make it. We still don't feel good about it though. RIP little bees...

So as quickly as possible, we strengthen the hive with the aluminium bits and then we used masking tape to seal the cracks. The bees will seal it from the inside themselves by the time the masking tape falls off.

We like to give them every advantage that we can to get them back to doing bee things. Sealing the cracks stops ants and other honey robbers (except us!) taking advantage of the chaos and destruction to get in.

Don't forget to date your hive so you know when it came into service. We have started a system where we track each hive half. For Carbonaria hives the tops usually stay in place and the bottoms move. For Hockingsii we move the older half and leave the newer half in place. Our thinking is that the older half is probably the stronger half of the hive and will have more food stores and is more likely have the queen to make life easier in a strange place.

The newer half will probably have to raise a new queen and probably have less food on hand but at least they know where to find it and don't have to cope with a strange location, just a new addition and half the family disappearing!

Then we put this half in the car (seat belted of course) and took it to Aunty Anni's to be agisted there until they produce a generation of bees who have never known any other home! Anni was very intrigued with her new lodgers!

 If this was a normal split, we would repeat the process by joining an empty half with the other full half and one hive would stay in its usual spot and one would go to another site more than five kilometres away. So if you are doing a straight split - that's it. Just remember to join both full halves to two empty halves!


When we got this hive to Anni's we unlocked the usual door and let them sort out where the local flowers are. Then we put the permanent lock over the new half's entrance hole. At this stage we want them to be able to defend themselves easily and so gave them the entrance that is already set up. It might have been too much for them to get the other hole ready to defend before dark... If this half had been left at the house in their usual spot, then we might have opened the new half in a few days and encouraged them to use the new half sooner as they have more advantages.

 And sure enough - they figured it out. Moments after opening the door, they started popping out to see what was happening. We will pop around and have a look in a few weeks and if they seem strong enough, we may open the new entrance and close the old one to get them to build in the new half sooner.

So a basic split for native Hockinsii and Carbonari is two hives. One full and one empty. The full one is split in the middle and each full half  is joined to an empty half. One remains on the usual site. The other goes on holiday for at least two months before coming back or goes to another site permanently.

As a general rule of thumb, Carbonari are split across the middle cutting the top off the bottom. Hockingsii are split by cutting the left from the right. The hives are totally different (in most cases) so you should know what bees you have in the hive you have by the shape. When you do the split you will know for certain by looking the brood construction. Carbonari have a rising spiral. Hockingsii seem to be flat layers.

And a tip for new hive splitters - wearing a tea towel on your head keep the bees out of your ears and hair and more or less away from your face if it overhangs enough!

Some bee sites that are worth checking out!

Good luck with your split! Let me know how you go!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for encouraging the proliferation of native bees! 
Frugal-ness: 3/5 Native bee hives aren't very cheap - even if you make them yourself...
Time cost: about 10 minutes to complete the split but about 20 minutes to get every bee oout of my hair and clothes! 
Skill level: Confidence and the willingness to give it a go and get bitten a couple of times!
Fun -ness: Once its over its not so bad but a bit scary while its all happening!

Friday, 31 October 2014

When life hands you lemons, make lemon butter!

We still have lots of lemons on the tree even after I made a batch of preserved lemons and since we also have lots of eggs I thought I'd wip up a batch of lemon butter. Some places its called lemon curd and other lemon honey - but they all seem to be a very similar recipe; Eggs, butter, lemon juice and a bit of sugar.

Its really good on toast, can be used in a filling for lemon meringue tarts and is great over ice cream... or with a spoon straight out of the jar.... Yuuuuuuummmmmm!

I like the traditional New Zealand way of making Lemon butter so here is the recipe straight out of the book but doubled so I could make even more yummy lemon butter!

Here's what I did...

In a double boiler or a bowl over a simmering pot of water melt 120g of butter with 1/2 cup of sugar and 2 cups of lemon juice.

When the sugar has dissolved and the butter melted crack four eggs into a bowl... and whisk them before adding to the butter/sugar/juice mixture. Some people add the grated zest of the lemons at this point. My lemons weren't looking so fantastic so I didn't this time.

Stir continuously until the mixture thickens up like a custard. I tend to keep going until it coats the back of the spoon thickly. 

Take the bowl off the pot, add some more water and bring to a simmer. Sterilise your jars by washing them in hot soapy water and then rinsing them before immersing them in the hot simmering water for a good 5 minutes.

Pour the hot mixture into hot jars and seal, making sure there is no sticky residue on the tops of the jar that might break the airtight seal that you need.

I let my mixture get too hot and the egg started cooking before it had incorporated itself into the juice, sugar and butter mixture so keep a close eye on it when you put the egg in. You can see the bits of egg white and cooked yolk in the jars. It didn't alter the taste but doesn't add to the beauty end product either! I'm not sure if it will alter the storage time of the lemon butter either... Ill let you know (if it lasts that long!)

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for making your own preserves with your own produce and recycling some jars! 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for the above reasons as I only paid for the sugar!!
Time cost: About 1/2 an hour.
Skill level: Stirring... for a while...
Fun-ness: Good Yummy Fun!

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Preserved lemons - easy to make at home...!

We had quite a good crop of lemons on our tree at the moment despite the annual stink bug plague! I have been making a bit of lemon butter and the odd lemon drink but we still had plenty on the tree. I had heard of preserved lemon but had no idea how to make it and if I did, how I would use it. There was a recipe on the last bag of salt I bought and plenty of variations on line. I figured it was going to be more of an art than a science - and since I had plenty of lemons, I had enough to play with and see what results I got!

Here's what I did...

There is a few ways to cut your lemons for this recipe. I chose the straight quarters but you can just cut the lemon into quarters without cutting the lemon all the way through. I decided that I probably wouldn't use much at a time so I chose small quarters or sixths depending on the size of my lemons.

I tidied up my lemons so that my pieces only had flesh and skin. I cut all the pith and ends off. Then I covered each piece thoroughly in salt that I put in a measuring cup to give me an idea of how much salt I was using.

As I covered each piece in salt I stuffed them into a jar. I tried to make them sit skin side out and make it look pretty - but that turned out to be harder than it looked. Because I was experimenting, I popped in the odd lime, just to see what they would be like as well.

Fill the jar to the top with your salt encrusted lemons and limes.

Juice enough extra lemons to cover all the lemons in the jar with juice adding enough salt to make about 1 cup. I used an old Macona coffee jar so that would be about 500mls with one cup of salt in total then filled with the lemon juice.

I added a few peppercorns, a bay leaf, cloves and a chilli. I think lots of pickling spices would be nice to use but once I tasted the final product, I decided that the spices etc are for decorative purposes only! I could only taste lemon and salt! There seems to be a lot of salt in this image but over time it seems to have dissolved and there is only a little left undissolved on the bottom of the jar.

Depending on what recipe you are using to make preserved lemons, you can leave it on the bench to ferment for a few days before refrigerating or pop it straight in the fridge. I left mine on the bench figuring anything that high in salt and acid wasn't going to go off quickly and also because I forgot it was still there... You don't really need a recipe, just salt, lemons and a jar... maybe a few spices to pretty it all up.
However, the lemon needs to be fully submerged or it may grow mould on the parts exposed to the air. I found that they sank if you kept poking at them or left a fork in the jar holding the top ones down.
It was easy enough to prepare and letting it sit for a couple of weeks wasn't too onerous, but trying to figure out what on earth you use it for was a bit more difficult! I found recipes that used preserved lemon and they were all quite exotic to me. I was quite cautious with its use at first, restricting myself to dishes that required just the rind cut from the flesh - almost as if you were just using zest.
Then last night I made a lemon salmon spaghetti and used the whole preserved lemon quarter and it was fantastic!
Lemon Salmon Pasta
Serves 2

 200g thin spaghetti
¼ cup light cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon roughly chopped dill
1 tablespoon salted capers
180g smoked salmon fillet, flaked


Cook spaghetti in a large saucepan of salted boiling water for 10-12 minutes or until al dente. Drain and return to the pan.

Add cream, lemon juice and mustard to pasta, toss to coat.

Toss through dill, capers and salmon, and serve immediately.

I used the preserved lemon quarter, skin and flesh, chopped finely instead of the lemon juice and it was really, really good. Next time I would use two or three lemons as this taste really appeals to us.This has given me the idea that if it needs salt and lemon, then this is the product to use. Even though I put pepper corns and chillies into the mix - I can't taste them at all. Its overwhelmingly, just lemon and salt.

When I pull  a piece of lemon out of the jar it is no longer firm but quite jelly like. Its really easy to cut the skin from the flesh and pith if you want to. Some recipes just want the skin, other say use the whole thing. If the salt is too much, you can rinse or soak some of it out by running it under a tap or soaking it in a bowl of water for a few minutes. Depends on what you are cooking. I wouldn't add salt until you have added the preserved lemon in case it is too much.

Something that I thought was interesting was that the limes went yellow! Now I have a jar full of uniformly yellow slices! I'm not sure why. I know that limes go yellow as they age and ripen (but we like them green) so I don't know if it was the acid, salt or time that turned them yellow. So I am unable to tell you what preserved limes are like cause I don't know which ones were limes to start with anymore!

Choose your jar LID carefully. The salt and acid rust lids that have exposed metal on them very quickly. Ones that are lined with food safe plastic seem to handle the acid and salt much better. I moved mine to a "pretty" wide mouth sugar jar and now the lid is rusty and I'm worried that the rust could leak into the jar and do bad things to my lemons... So I moved it back into a more practical but not so attractive jar with a plastic lined lid!

Let me know how you went!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for using excess produce and free preserving jars!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for home grown lemons and reusing a jar. Salt has got to be one of the cheapest pantry items in existence as well!
Time cost: About 1/2 an hour for my first jar. Quicker once you know what you are doing. Two weeks waiting time before they are ready to use.
Skill level: Cutting and packing!
Fun-ness: Yum Fun!
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