mid mountains food garden

A visual diary of a rambling organic Blue Mountains garden

Owls of South East Australia by Amy Davis

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pen and pencil on ply by Amy Davis

Barking Owl. Pen and pencil on plywood  $350

Eastern Barn Owl

Eastern Barn owl. Pen and pencil on Plywood $350

Greater Sooty Owl

Greater Sooty Owl.Pen and Pencil on Plywood. SOLD. Prints and cards available through Etsy soon.

 Southern Boobook

Southern Boobook. SOLD.  Cards and Prints available soon through Etsy.

Prints soon to be available through Etsy

Powerful Owlets. SOLD.  Prints soon to be available through Etsy soon.

Pen and Pencil on plywood $350

Powerful Owl. Pen and Pencil on plywood $350

Beekeeping Update

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We caught two more swarms to add to our apiary in December!  The first one was just before Christmas and was hanging from a kids swing set only a foot or two off the ground making it very easy to catch.  Although a storm had quickly built up by the time we got home and we had to hive them between rain showers.

The second one was a week later and a bit more fiddly.  The swarm was clustered around a spiky young Cedar tree and the Queen was quite difficult to dislodge .  So after shaking/brushing as many bees into the box as we could we saw the queen hiding between the needles of the tree and had to catch her and put her into the box by hand to encourage the rest of the bees to follow.  Once inside it wasn’t long before most of them had come to join their Queen.

This brings our apiary up to three hives.  The first swarm we caught in mid November is thriving on the diverse mixture of flowering plants in the local bushland and private gardens.  We inspected the broodnest for the first time a few weeks ago, and it was full of healthy bees of all ages with no sign of pests or diseases.  Their population is booming and hopefully they will be well prepared to take advantage of the upcoming flowering of the local bloodwoods (Corymbia gummifera).  If all goes well they should store all the honey they need for winter and provide us with our first honey harvest!

All of our bees have turned out to be very gentle and calm, they’re perfectly happy to have us loitering near their hive entrances at all times of the day.  They didn’t even make a fuss when we opened the hive up to look at the combs.  Although there has been a single very avoidable sting.  Maybe lifting the hive and peering up into it from underneath without a veil over my face wasn’t the best idea.  A bee fell straight into my eye and stung me on the eyelid, making the next few days a bit shit. (see last photo)

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Early Summer

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After a hot, dry start to spring the temperatures mellowed a bit in late spring and the thunderstorms started.  It’s been a very unusual humid summer so far for this area, with consistently warm days without any scorchers, and plenty of storms.  We’re not used to consistent temperatures and regular rainfall, but it’s a welcome change to the erratic weather we often experience here.  These must be perfect growing conditions because we can hardly keep up with the thriving garden!  We’re flat out weeding, pruning and harvesting fruits and veggies, rather than constantly watering and trying to nurse plants through heat waves.  After a few failed attempts over the years, we finally have rock melons and watermelons setting fruit!

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We have a new garden resident by the look of this fresh 2.5m Diamond Python skin!

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Our first Rockmelons! Edens Gem variety from Diggers Club.

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The watermelon patch, Cream of Saskatchewan in the middle with Moon and Stars.

We have bees at last!

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All the waiting has finally paid off, with an email last week from a local beekeeper who had a swarm on her front verge in Katoomba.  Our hive was all set up to house a swarm so all we had to do was collect it and transfer them to their new home.  The swarm had been hanging in a Banksia tree for a few days already and the forecast for the afternoon was strong winds, so we rushed off as soon as we heard.  By all reports the swarm issued from a very healthy, locally adapted colony, so we were very keen to make them our first addition to the apiary!  They turned out to be very gentle bees and were easily corralled into a cardboard box and brought home.  We took the roof off the hive and shook them down onto the frames of the top box, waited for most of them to climb inside and sealed it up.  A quick check the next day revealed a good tight cluster of bees already working on drawing comb, and a few days later they started to bring pollen back to the hive.  We haven’t seen the queen yet but the fact that the foragers are bringing plenty of pollen and nectar back to the hive indicates that she is alive, and hard at work laying the first generation of workers for the new colony.  One week on and we did another very quick check on a nice warm day, revealing a top box nearly full of beautiful white comb!

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The swarm hanging about 3m up in a Banksia serrata. Luckily the bees were calm and cooperative, because the ladder was wobbly and it was getting windy already! Also being the first time I’d attempted to use a smoker it went out halfway through!

 

 

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We brushed/tapped most of the bees including the queen into the box, and left a big hole for the rest of them to join her. There were a whole lot of bees lined up around the rim fanning the queens scent out for the rest to follow.

 

 

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Shaking the bees into their new home.

 

 

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After shaking them onto the top bars of the hive, it took a little while for most of them to crawl down onto the frames. The ones left on top were shaken or brushed off near the hive entrance while we replace the roof to seal the top of the hive.

 

 

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One day after hiving and, they are all clumped together drawing comb. A good sign that the queen is safe in the hive.

 

 

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One week after hiving. we couldn’t resist having a look to see how they were going. We didn’t want to set back their progress too much, so we picked a warm, calm day and kept the top closed. By just lifting the top box for no more than 30 seconds, we should have been able to keep the nest scent and warmth inside the brood nest. The bees hardly seemed to notice that we had picked their hive up and were peaking inside!

 

 

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It was quite a relief to see them drawing nice straight combs, which should make future comb inspections easier. You can see the bees on the left ‘festooning’ to build new comb.

 

 

 

 

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Our feijoa tree looks like it’s already benefiting from the new bees hungry for pollen to raise their brood on.

Capturing our first swarm from Amy Davis on Vimeo.

 

Checking the newly hived swarm from Amy Davis on Vimeo.

Spring things

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New lawn

Building a new retaining wall with cheap offcuts and rubble from a local sandstone quarry, to create a reasonably level and open area in an otherwise chaotic garden. We laid down a type of soft buffalo turf that is supposed to be both shade and drought tolerant with minimal maintenance. Lawns don’t often feature in permaculture gardens, but they certainly have their benefits. This area doesn’t get enough sun to grow most edibles, and it’s right near the house, effectively creating an outdoor room for all seasons. The chooks get to graze on it occasionally and the grass clippings are great for adding heat to the compost heap. Reggie the greyhound can also sprint around on it between naps without doing much damage. We personally don’t want to step out the back door straight into a veggie patch full of chores to do, a bit of breathing space makes for a much more enjoyable garden to live with.

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Grapefruits, Cumquats and Babacos headed to the co-op. There’s not a huge variety of fruit to harvest during spring here, but we’re working on improving that with any new fruit trees we plant.

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A small sample of what we’ve been harvesting over late winter / early spring.

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Our first custard apples maturing on the tree.

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The chickens eying off our Kale and Lettuce bed. The Lettuce seems to love growing in the shade of brassicas and doesn’t cause any noticeable root competition. This bed has been constantly providing us with greens for months now.

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These girls are only allowed in the veggie patch under strict supervision. Turn your back for a moment and all the little seedlings will be dug up.

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Giving a black sapote a go in a protected frost free corner of the garden. It’s underplanted with lettuce, pak choy, potato and sweet potato while it grows. Hopefully it makes it through the first summer and winter. We’ve also recently planted a Bacon avocado, mulberry, red kiwi berries and 2 pomegranates.

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Brewing a batch of aerated compost tea. Good quality homemade compost is full of beneficial bacteria, fungi and protozoa. Worm castings work just as well, but might have less microbial diversity. By adding compost to water and aerating it with an aquarium aerator, the beneficial aerobic microbes will multiply and out compete any unwanted anaerobic bacteria. Adding a bit of molasses gives the bacteria something to feed on and adds trace minerals to the brew.

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Applying the finished compost tea to a Reed avocado we planted 2 or 3 years ago. The compost tea should inoculate the soil with a huge variety of beneficial microbes that will help to unlock nutrients and improve drought and disease resistance. Applied to the foliage it can help to occupy potential infection sites and out compete disease causing organisms.

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No swarms here last year, but conditions are looking good for this season. This bait hive will hopefully attract a new bee colony that I can transfer into the empty hive. The pawlonia tree behind is full of bees at the moment!

Amy bird art

Some of Amy’s recent bird drawings on plywood.

 

Bowerbirds

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Satin Bowerbirds – not exactly a food growers best friend, but it’s still a special treat to watch these intelligent, eccentric birds in their practice bower.

New Habitat Garden

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We finally got around to tackling a neglected area of the garden underneath a Japanese maple, Angophora and Black wattle.  We dug out many clumps of Agapanthus, a few other weeds and some old tree stumps. The trees in this area have always attracted a variety of small birds, so we are trying to create a protective understory to provide food and shelter and possible nesting sites.
This part of the garden gets plenty of winter sun (with dappled shade in summer) so we have planted mostly endemic species that flower in winter/spring.  A new pond made from an old bath, as well as plenty of rocks and hollow logs will hopefully attract frogs, insects and lizards.  Many small birds feel safer using elevated, shallow bird baths so we have provided one under the Maple.

Some of the new plants chosen for this area are listed below. Many of the flowering plants have also been selected for their ability to attract native bees and other beneficial insects.

Kangaroo grass
Tussock grass
Dianella
Leptospermum
Flannel flower
Prickly Grevilleas
Hakea
Acacia
Brachyscome
Waratah
Hardenbergia
Westringea
Correa
Lomandra
Blechnum fern
Damperia
Leucopogon
Native Clematis
Lambertia
Dietes
Club Rush
Tassel Rush

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