Archive for the ‘It’s a bee’s life’ Category

Learning to brew

When you “make” honey (after you extract the honey from the honeycomb), you are left with a sticky mess of wax and honey. I then wash this wax mixture so I can then refine the wax from the propolis and other bee related items. It feels so wasteful to then throw away this honey water (honey washings), that I tried several times to make mead. But each time, I made vinegar. I then went out and bought a bottle of mead to see the end product that I was aiming for: and I did not like it .

Oh dear.

Now what?

Then up popped an ad for a beer brewing workshop at the cornersmith picklery. Sold!

The beer brewing kit that is readily available in Australia is kind of like mixing cordial. Add substances A, B, C to water, let sit (brew) for 7 days then decant into your bottles, adding a carbonation ‘drop’ (dextrose sugar tablet) to each bottle.

The brewing method at this workshop was the next step along, where you might select the hoppiness of your brew by selecting the type of hops, and how long your brew your mixture for.

We were guided by Chris Sidwa of Batch Brewing in the method of extract brewing, which is a little more hands on than cordial brewing.

He ran through the importance of sterilisation, the difference that the type of hops makes to the flavour profile, as well as how long it is boiled and when it is added to the mixture.

Working in groups of 3, we got our 3 litres worth of water per person boiling, before adding the light malt extract, stirring to prevent the sugar burning on the bottom, or the foam exploding out of the top.

malt:

Malt

Cascade Hops:

Cascade Hops

These hops were developed by Oregon State University, and is one of the few freely available non-trademarked variety of hops. We added these at the -30 minute mark, and at the -5 minute mark. Everything is measured in terms of “time from ending the boil”.

You pack your hops into a double muslin bag, so that you can remove it from the brew when you put into the fermentation vessel.

Wrapped in muslin:

Hop bag

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble:

Brew

The process of boiling is to drive off unwanted flavours and remove bitterness. The reason the second lot of hops is added is to add the hoppy flavour back into the brew.

After adding the second lot of hops, we divided the mixture into our brew buckets, and enjoyed a small taster of Batch Brewing’s American Pale Ale, sourdough, cucumber pickles and capsicum (sweet pepper) relish.

We got to take our fermenting buckets home with us, and issued with a second set of instructions.

I didn’t think this one through:

Public transport

After carrying my brewing and decanting buckets home on the train (Luckily I didn’t have my pushbike, unlike one of the other attendees), we were instructed to add 3-4 litres of cooled boiling water and let brew for 7 days.

Recipe (makes approx 5 L):
3 litres boiling water
840 g malt after the ‘hot break’
1 x 30g hops @ -30 minutes
1 x 30g hops @ -5 minutes
Place mixture into your brew bucket.
Cool to approx 20 C
3g yeast (US-05)
3L chilled boiled water*.
Let brew for 7 days in a constant temperature environment, about 20 deg C, away from sunlight
35g dextrose into sterilised bottling bucket
Decant from brewing bucket into bottling bucket, leave yeast cake behind
Decant from bottling bucket into each bottle – gently – you don’t want the yeast to get all excited and foamy
Leave a little headroom (equivalent to your bottling wand)
Cap the bottles.

I had trouble capping the bottles with the supplied ‘hand capper’.

I left the lids on top of the bottles for a day to keep contaminants out, whilst I looked around to borrow someone else’s bench capper. I ended up buying one second hand.

Capped (L), Uncapped (R):

Capping

Considering the amount of force required to push the cap onto the bottle even with the benchtop capper, there is no way that I could have made the hand capper work. No wonder they are known as the deathstick in the industry!

Buy one bench capper, receive microbrew kit for free, BOGOF:


Bench capper


This was not my intention, to gain the equivalent of three home brew kegs in the space of 8 days! I’m going to have to try this recipe again, because instead of the second lot of chilled boiled water, I added honey washings which I had boiled (pastuerised). Note to self – if you do this, the beer may need to ferment for a longer period of time. This style of beer is called a braggot.


Braggot

A few months later, I did try my beer. I was left with 1/4 in the bottle, as the other 3/4 ended up all over the kitchen walls, floor and counter. Yep, it was still fermenting in the bottle. I was lucky it didn’t explode! The result was very tasty, but highly alcoholic.

The class was attended and paid for anonymously by A Sydney Foodie.

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Monday Harvest, Late November Edition

Not quite a harvest, but a garden update. Yes I know its December, but the photos were taken in November (and the post was started then too)… and so it’s kind of a late spring planting edition.

Native raspberry:

Native Raspberry

It looks like I’ve killed only one cane, but there’s a teeny tiny leaf poking out of the second one. Looking at the leaves, I think it is rubus moluccanus.

Dwarf avocado:
Dwarf Avocado

All the leaves fell off in a recent windstorm. This might be terminal.

Dwarf cherries:

Dwarf Cherry trees

They lost their leaves during autumn. Nothing yet has shooted for spring. Everywhere else in suburbia has done the spring flowering thing, and now has leaves. Also probably terminal. Dang it. I suspect over enthusiastic whipper snippering cut all the shallow surface roots.

So that’s all the bad news.

Harvested.

About 5 strawberries.
10kg honey.
5 Spears asparagus.
Herbs such as oregano, thyme, parsley.

Tumeric:

Tumeric Harvest

I also got about the same amount in ginger. I do like a ‘hot’ ginger, but apparently only old ginger is hot ginger. Does this mean I have to put it in the garden again for another season to make it hot?

Growing:

Banana

Bana-na-na-na-na-na-na-NA-NA-NAH, Bana-na-na-na-na-na-na-NA-NA-NAH.

This was planted in November 2013, and only now, 3 years later, do I get a hand of fruit forming. To quote Big Kev, I’m Excited.

I'm excited

Cropped and swapped.

I haven’t had much chance to talk about crop and swap. I went a few years ago to one hosted in Faulconbridge in the Blue Mountains. That has been put on hold for 2016, so I joined another crop and swap group which is Sydney wide. The aim is that if you have excess produce, you offer it up for swap and you decide what the ‘value’ of what you want in return, but no money changes hands.

About the only thing I have to swap is honey. So far, from one 500g jar of honey, I have collected a kobucha squash seedling, cucumber seedling and three dragon fruit cuttings:

Swapsies

Then three jars of honey gave me a fortnight’s worth of homemade granola, made using the honey:

Granola

So there you have it, my late November/late spring garden update!

Batbox conversion to Warre: the final frontier

The journey continues …

Once again I set up a warre hive box and baseboard (luckily I had a spare), hauled out the adapter board, and settled the batbox settled on top. I taped up cracks in the batbox, the joins between the batbox and adaptor board.

Now what? I got into this beekeeping game wanting only one beehive, which has already given me 30kgs of honey in their first season, and that far exceeded my (and anyone elses’) expectations. Now I’m at 2.5, shortly to become 3.

On one of the natural beekeeping online groups that I follow, I saw that someone had recently lost their hive. It was quite late in the season (autumn), and their chances of catching a swarm and it surviving the winter were very slim. In the 2015 winter, I knew of 5 late-caught swarms that had failed, generally due to the autumn storms. As an alternative I offered them the batbox 2.5 hive to re-home.

This beekeeper was less of a sook that I was, and after giving it a week with the escape board, had no compunction in pulling the batbox apart (in fact, it “fell apart” on her). Her description of the event:


There wasn’t any brood in the bat box just capped and uncapped honey and a few cells of bee bread. I harvested all the honey because that have almost 2 full boxes and starting on the third. Such a lot of work but fun. We lost about 50 bees who drowned in honey when the comb I was lifting feel breaking open into the box. I shook them onto a cloth, smoked and brushed a lot of them but finally around 7pm they had all gone in!

Batbox bees, rehomed

Phew. Glad that’s over. From this family of bees, I’ve had the original batbox colony (this lot), the inadvertant hive split from when I first tried to convert the batbox to warre, and <a href="http://” target=”_blank”>the swarm from when I was too lazy to actually do any thing about them. Aww, I’m getting the warm fuzzies.

Bat box conversion to Warre

I meant to write about this last week (a year ago). Then… the bees actually swarmed, putting my conversion plans off for a little bit. Then life happened, and this post is gathering dust.

In the warre beekeeping system, you “nadir” by adding extra space in the form of extra warre boxes below the currently occupied beehive box. This mimics what bees do in the wild: they find a tree hollow, and start building a home and the comb by connecting it to the top of the hollow of the tree, and building the comb downwards. This contrasts with the langstroth style in which the beekeeper “supers”, by adding the extra boxes on top of the existing occupied beehive box. So a langstroth style beekeeper makes the bees go upwards, and the warre style beekeeper lets the bees go downwards.

Here’s the bat box:

batbox

As you can see, the roof is hinged, and it slopes. The floor is flat, but the back of the bat box sticks out a bit, so it is not flush with the rest of the floor. This helps with mounting the batbox on a tree (or a post), but is not so good for me. The batbox itself is actually a smaller footprint than the warre box.

My original thought had been to nadir the batbox: that is, stick the smaller footprint batbox on top of a warre box, and let the bees move downwards. But the screws holding the floor up look like they had been painted in.

Then the second thought had been to super the batbox; supposedly this would be easier because there is already a removable lid. But then this would create more challenges, because I would need to work out some way to “hold up” the larger warre box. Would I then be creating yet another rod for my back by first asking the bees to move upwards, and then a month or two later asking them to move downwards? I also had a another problem with how to create a new “temporary” entrance, in between the batbox and the new warre box, once the bees had moved upstairs, but in such a way that I could use the one way bee escape.

So it’s back to the downward path we go.

We unscrewed and then levered off the base of the batbox. It was actually surprisingly easy. I made an adapter board by getting some marine grade plywood, painting one coat of white paint over it, and then drilling two access holes with a circle drill bit.

We then placed the the batbox atop this adaptor board, and then atop a warre beehive and a baseboard. I taped up the circular entrance to force the girls to use the entry downstairs.

Batbox to warre conversion

It took me a week to work out that they were so attached to upstairs, they were using this attachment screwhole as an entry. That got tapped up too, and finally they were using the proper downstairs entrance.

About six weeks later, I put in the excluder between the adaptor board and the warre box. By now, Queenie should be downstairs and laying in the new white honeycomb. The next day, I pulled off the batbox, put it to oneside, and put on a quilt box and gabled roof.

Hurray, we are now at 100% Warre!

100% Warre

Being the lazy something or other, I left the bat box hanging around in the backyard for the next week, rather than tossing it out like any other sensible person.

This was a sight that I didn’t want to see:

New tenants?

Oh dear. Either a swarm has moved into this nice, recently up for lease batbox home, or brood which was left behind has started to hatch.

I can’t just throw these girls into the bin to make the problem ‘go away’ (for me) and cause a headache for the garbageman. They’re my little fighters!

What would you have done?

Harvest Monday, 3 October 2016

I’ve been a little quiet on the Monday Harvest posts. Firstly because I’m such a lazy gardener, hardly anything gets planted, thus hardly anything gets harvested.

Right now, I have been “harvesting” bindi. You have to admire the tenacity of the weed. The seeds have a seven year life, and if you accidentally let them get to maturity, the 10+ seeds scatter if you try and dig them out, or they attach themselves to the bottom of your bike tyre/shoe/foot, resulting in the “bindi dance”, as you leap from one ouch to another.

So actual edibles harvest harvest. Mulberries:

Mulberries

Foraged/scrumped from a tree down the road. This brings back memories of turning up late to early morning uni (college) lectures, because I had detoured past the ripening mulberry tree. My hands, of course, were dyed purple as evidence of my dalliance with the fruit tree.

About 4 spears of asparagus.

Parsley and mint. I have a lot of parsley, from when it seeded a few years ago. I have been using a lot of fresh parsley and mint in salads. I have a parsley “lawn”, and every time he trims the lawn, we get tabouli.

Honey!!

Honeycomb

This is the first honey of the season. I only managed to harvest one frame from the batbox bee hive, and this yielded about 5 boxes of honey comb (approx 2.4kg) and one jar of honey with “bits” (approx 500g). This was taken in early September, and only today did I cut the honeycomb up and place it into boxes, mainly to get the plastic crate holding the one frame of honey out of the kitchen.

Planted.
Pepino Melon. Got this one from a cutting during the sustainable house day event at Moss House. Silly me didn’t plant this for about a week after I got it (refer lazy gardener above), and then I chucked it into the south facing bed and forgot to water it.

Sweet pea. It’s getting a bit late in the season for peas, but I had to try. These went into the sunny (relocated) garden bed, with the brussels sprouts and potatoes that I can’t get rid of. A young lady was selling plants at the Moss House open garden to help get herself to Vietnam for some volunteerism (volunteer tourism), and a punnet of pea seedlings was my contribution.

Kohlrabi. My neighbour gave me some seedlings at the beginning of winter. I waited until the end of winter to plant about half of them. I really need to make more time for this gardening business

Native Australian Raspberry.
Probably Rubus rosafolius or maybe Rubus moluccanus. I got this from a crop and swap group, where I swapped a jar of honey, and got some native raspberry canes. I again didn’t plant for a few days. And then didn’t read the instructions about planting with stinky manure in the bottom of the trench. Whoops. I planted it along a north facing metal fence, where the rosebush, oregano, asparagus and rhubarb live.

Battled:

Aphids, aphids, aphids. I got them in my brussels sprouts, kale (cavolo nero), rosebushes and spring onions (scallions). It’s horrendous. I’ve been trying to battle them by squashing them, but the ants keep putting them back. It’s also really hard with the brussels sprouts trying to develop, but I’m tearing the young nodules apart trying to get to the aphids which are hiding inside. I don’t think I’m going to be getting brussels sprouts this year.

The Three Blue Ducks, Bronte

The closest so far I have come to sampling the food at the Three Blue Ducks has been to grab a muffin and a takeaway coffee en-route to the annual Sculpture By The Sea exhibition.

That must have been a long time ago, because they have expanded the premises and added a little kitchen garden, chickens and beehives out the back. Oh and released a cookbook.

I was looking up what ‘arranchara’ meant from the menu description, and I found this picture on Instagram. Sold!

Beef Arranchara ($30):
Beef Arranchera

I still don’t know what the word means. Comes with pureed corn; a salsa of cherry tomatoes, pearl barley, pineapple; and a lavosh cracker. The meat was red inside, and nicely charred and tasty on the outside. I thought the combo of flavours worked quite well, although I am mystified how you can puree corn without any sticky in your teeth bits. I did not mind the pineapple, which I generally hate if it’s on a pizza.

Pork Sandwich ($18):

Pork Sandwich

Today this is served on sourdough instead of brioche. It’s kind of hard to eat with the size of the crust bring 3cm thick. The meat is nicely flavoured (not too sweet), melts in your mouth but also has nice mouth feel crunchy bits. Little shreds of beetroot and carrot mixed throughout but I couldn’t taste if they were especially pickled because of the yumminess of the pork!

Cawfee:
Cawfee

There is always a debate as to whether or not I should get a small or a large one. I usually go for the small, because I can always have another coffee. So I did both.

Soy milk is from bonsoy.

Urban Bees:
Bees in the herbs

If you head to the bathroom out the back, you can visit the bees (in a langstroth hive). Hello! They were in full sun, so would’ve been a little hot. There wasn’t much else going on in the gardening front (I believe the boys source their homegrown veg from elsewhere), but there was a chicken having a little dirt bath in one of the garden beds.

I had wanted to go to Iggy’s bread afterwards, but they are shut on Mondays!!;???!!! I’m going to have return on another weekday.

Three Blue Ducks
Street: 143 Macpherson St, Bronte NSW 2024
Web:
http://www.threeblueducks.com/
Phone: +61-2-9389-0010

No bookings

Also at Rosebery, and Byron Bay.

Life in a bee-ocracy

Bzzt. We’ve been in this bat box for over 8 months. I’m bored, and there’s not enough room.

batbox

Conditions look good out there – it’s warming up, there’s lots of flowers* in bloom.

flowering

Let’s move.

The escape

Hey, I can see Russia from this branch.

Russia

I think this place looks pretty good.

shook swarm

Aw bzzt. This place looks really familiar.

Three hive flock