The humble bee

I have written before about how much I love having chooks in my garden, but I haven’t written much about our bees. Keeping bees was something I had been wanting to do for some time, so I was really pleased when I was finally able to get into a course and get stuck into learning so much about these fascinating creatures. Late last year I went to the local adult education college and did a one-day beekeeping course.  As a result of that course, we invested in 3 hives,

Image

We now have 2 hives in a our suburban back yard which are doing very well and one hive on our bush block on the Fleurieu Peninsula.  We invested in Ligurian bees from Kangaroo Island as they are the most docile and easiest to handle for beginners – better to be safe than sorry.

Not only have we enjoyed magnificent pollination rates – especially with our pumpkins, I have enjoyed immensely watching them go about their daily foraging business, flying in and out of the hive, as they create their own unique flight path, returning to the hive laden with pollen and nectar visible to the naked eye, weighing them down as they come into land.

The bonus of all this entertainment is that I managed to spin off about 12 kgs of honey this year.

Image

While that’s not considered to be a huge amount, we only took honey from one hive as the other two were not quite as strong and we wanted to leave them plenty of honey for the winter months.  And the honey tastes nothing like anything I have ever purchased – not even honey I have bought in the past from farmers’markets!  It’s our own special blend, I guess, made from all the lovely flowers that we have in our garden and those within a couple of kilometres of our house.

Image

If you know anyone who keeps bees, then start talking to them about what you can exchange for a jar of their liquid gold, or consider keeping a hive or two yourself.  It is well worth the initial outlay and the effort to manage the hive or hives – where else can you get free pollination services, backyard entertainment, and food that never spoils?

Image

P.S. You might have noticed I’ve changed my header image in honour of the humble bee to remind me that these little creatures are so important in our cycle of life.  If you feel so inspired, plant a flowering plant – lavender, rosemary, daisies are all favourites of the bees and easy to grow!


Pumpkin Pollination

Until this summer I have never managed to get any pumpkins off my pumpkin vines.  Each spring I diligently plant several varieties of pumpkins with optimism and hope.  Each year I get a run of pumpkin vine spilling out over the edge of the veggie garden, headed north east in search of something – sunlight presumably.  Each year I pinch off the ends to encourage more side shoots and therefore more female flowers.  Each year I end up pulling out the damn pumpkin vine in late autumn as I once again give up hope of ever successfully growing pumpkins.

Each year that is until this year.  When we moved to our rental property we had two old rain tank rings which my beloved had cut down from a disused rain water tank.  And we needed to fill them with something, so we filled them from the bottom with old Styrofoam boxes (just to take up some space), covered the boxes with soil that we found out behind the shed at the new place and topped it with compost that we brought with us (yes we brought the compost we had been making in our old garden!).  Then I planted capsicums in one and tomatoes in the other.  The tomatoes have fruited well this year, although not as well as some other years, but I put that down to a different location and a dry spring.  The capsicums have struggled.

The capsicums have struggled because they have been competing against the most prolific pumpkin vines which popped up in the tank, presumably out of the compost that we used to fill the tank initially.  At first about half a dozen popped up, and we wondered what they were, then some more popped up, so I transplanted 5 into another garden bed, pulled out the excess ones and left about 6 in the tank.  And they grew, and grew, and grew.

Pumpkin Vine Pumpkin Vine 2

They grew so much the bees could barely get in and out of their hive – we have to keep cutting it back so the bees can find their way back after a foraging flight.

Vine and Hives

But I actually think it is because of the bees that we have had so much success with the vine fruiting. This is the first year we’ve had bee hives in our garden and this is the first year I’ve managed to grow pumpkins, so I’m giving the bees the credit.  And they are not giving up pollinating just yet.  The japs are at all stages of development, still putting out new fruit …

Pumpkin Flower Baby Jap Jap 1

And so are the butternuts …

Baby Butternut  Butternut 1

And this is the tub from which all this life and optimism has come…

Pumpkin Tub

Just an old galvanised tank ring, filled with compost … and in great company only a couple of metres from the bee hive.

While it’s a pity that we didn’t get more capsicums, I think this was a small price to pay for restoring my faith in the humble pumpkin vine that has so diligently grown in my garden for many summers without even a thought of producing fruit.  I think its going to be pumpkin soup, pumpkin scones, roast pumpkin, pumpkin and feta salad, and pumpkin cake this year. And of course I’ll be putting the seeds back in the compost again!

How sweet it is!


Picnic for the Bees

We have many beautiful trees on our farm.  I estimate we have around 2 hectares, or 5 acres, of natural bush land, untouched by human development.  Most of it is in one area at the back of our proposed house block, and we have a wide strip of native scrub down the side of our lane way which separates our farm from our neighbour’s bare paddocks.  We are also lucky enough to have a few amazing trees within the paddocks which provide shade, shelter and ambiance for our livestock and us.

My favourite tree must be over 100 years old – it is a huge eucalypt under which shade can found at any time of the day, because its branches are so wide and far reaching.  Before we had even taken possession of our land, we had decided that it would be a great place to have a picnic and so it came to be known as The Picnic Tree. In early December, a couple of months after we took possession of our land, we held a paddock warming picnic under the grand old tree just as we had envisioned. Every one who came to the paddock that day admired the tree and the children decreed that it was a great climbing tree. Every child who has been to the farm since we have owned it has ended up scaling its heights, walking its branches and announcing that it is, indeed, a good tree.

And I must agree with them, not because I have ever climbed the tree, but because its shape and form are aesthetically pleasing, its shade is cooling and its leaves provide shelter from the hot Australian sun.  It is lovely to sit in the shade of the tree, to picnic or catch up with friends, to watch the changing reflections on the surface of the dam or to be entertained by the passing parade of cows looking for a treat,sheep searching for fodder or wild ducks waddling up the hill from a swim in the dam.  The Picnic Tree is a place of rest and relaxation as well as being a social gathering spot.

The Picnic Tree

Last weekend I was walking down to the dam to check the cows and walk among them (part of my objective to keep them docile and getting used to us walking among them without them being afraid or running away so they are easy to handle) and I walked past the picnic tree.  As I walked, there was an audible buzzing coming from the tree.  While I had been focused on the dam and watching the cows, I had not noticed that the tree was in full blossom.

Blossom

And the tree was full of bees, gathering nectar, slurping pollen, weighing themselves down with nature’s goodness to take back to their hive.  There must have been hundreds or even thousands of bees in the tree at that time – the sound was amazing. I had been worrying about our hive of bees because they are in the scrub portion of the block and most things had finished flowering – I was concerned that they would not have enough food to get them through winter. And there was the Picnic Tree, providing nourishment to the social creatures who pollinate and buzz our food sources and our blossoms to assist with the continuity of life. I’m guessing the Picnic Tree has been providing shelter and nourishment to creatures great and small for many years and I hope it will go on doing just that for many years to come.  I plan to enjoy many social gatherings and picnics in the shelter of that tree, almost as a tribute to the beauty of the tree and I’m glad it can provide a picnic for our bees as well.