Category Archives: Courses

Checking out the bees

Its been a difficult summer for the bees here at Violet Town this year, and for a lot of inland Victoria. There has not been much nectar flow available for the bees to make honey with. The Murrnong bees have remained healthy, with plenty of pollen, and plenty of brood. It is lucky that we left plenty of honey in the hives, because the girls have kept consuming their stored honey even through summer, when we usually hope to see them bringing in fresh honey. 2015 saw only 280mm of rain here, way down from the 625mm yearly average, so it has been tough for the plants, and one plant survival strategy is not to flower in dry conditions.

Mary holding a frame for inspection

Mary from the February Backyard Bees course is holding up a frame of healthy brood. 

Some bee keepers have been moving their hives for better forage elsewhere, and some have been feeding sugar syrup. We were just at the point of feeling we needed to move our hives, when Grey Box, E. microcarpa, started flowering. Fortunately, with 125mm of rain here between Christmas and end of January, there seems to have been enough moisture available for the Grey Box to put nectar in their flowers. So.. phew, when we are around the hives, we can again smell the sweet scent of nectar and fresh honey.

The next Backyard Bees hands on workshop is on Sunday March 20th.

Produce no waste

The 2015 2016 Murrnong PDC is happening over seven weekends, one weekend a month, focusing on one of the 12 design principles each day.

Here we were looking at how the wood chip compost at Murrnong takes branches and prunings from forest and orchard, combined with goat bedding wastes and occasional other goodies, and lets the composty critters work on it for more than one year. This produces beautiful wood chip compost to go back to the food producing tree crops. No waste.

Shae checking out the compost

opening up wood chip compost

Getting started or getting better with honey bees

In this one day workshop we cover the basics of beekeeping, and consider some of the decisions that a small scale beekeeper makes.

You will also gain some perspective and insight into how small scale and back yard bee keeping fits into the ecology of our food production.

Together we will open some of the Murrnong hives, and learn to recognise what we see happening in there.

This is the second of these workshops this autumn, after the first one, on Feb 21st, sold out. Here is a picture of the group dressed up and ready to head down to the hives. The calm warm autumn weather, with the bees busy foraging, made it an ideal and peaceful time to look inside.

group photo Feb 21 2016

To book, email murrnong.com, or phone 03 5798 1679

Getting Started or Getting Better with Honey Bees

Backyard Bees 20th March 2016 A4

Keeping even just one hive of bees in your backyard can give a big surplus of honey, do wonderful things for the pollination and productivity of your garden, and can also help to make sure we have plenty of healthy bees for the future. A well placed and well managed bee hive, with the flight path out of people’s way, can be nothing but a positive. The first your neighbors might know about the hive you have had for the last six months could be when you give them a jar of honey. Felix and Grace bees in street

Felix and Grace Arnold excited and a little nervous about this bee swarm that their Dad was about to collect from a little bush in Violet Town in 2006

Bees are under stress around the world, bee numbers are down, the Varroa mite will probably get to Australia one day, and the neonicotinoid pesticides, so toxic to bees, continue to be used. Species diversity in large scale agricultural regions is now too low to feed bees through the year. In the apple and pear orchards of south west China, bees have been eradicated by pesticide use and habitat loss, and people have to do pollination (the free work of bees) by hand, with a feather and little bags of pollen. In Australia, beekeepers are paid to truck their bees in to pollinate horticultural crops.

There is species diversity in towns and home gardens, though. These are now an important bee forage resource. Backyard bees mostly feed from a different forage resource to commercially kept bees. The garden plants benefit, and we get the honey. Towns can provide a surplus of bees to support the surrounding agriculture or horticulture.

Backyard bee keepers often collect ‘wild’ bee swarms, and so are potentially working with a broader range of genetics in bees than is possible when all the bee queens are commercially bred. This is important to allow for continual evolution and adaptation among bees.

In Australia bees kept in backyards, or on rooftops in the city, generally have less exposure to insecticides than when bees are used for pollination in agriculture.

With their smaller scale, less commercial pressure, and hives kept mostly in one place, backyard bee keepers have opportunities to experiment and innovate with their bee keeping practices. All of this can contribute to a bee keeping culture of continuous improvement, and a healthy increase in bee numbers. 

Getting Started or Getting Better with Bees with David Arnold, Sun 20th March 2016, Violet Town, $60 murrnong.com  

murrnong@gmail.com,   ph. 5798 1679OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ready for hive inspections at the Murrnong March 2015 Backyard Bees workshop.

Eldorado open consultation

Kate Marsh and Ralph Nottingham of Creative Collectives are putting on an open consultation at their property near Eldorado, Sun Nov 29 2015.

David Arnold will lead the workshop through the process of reading the landscape, figuring out how that land works, sift through their wish list to plan for functional connections, consider house site options, and develop a concept plan.

And… what can they do about water?

Kate says “Take the next step in learning about Permaculture. Come along and contribute to the planning of Hidden Valley Permaculture farm, Eldorado VIC.

Our Permaculture Transformation is about to begin.

20 acres, North-East Victoria, surrounded by national park, relatively clear site, sandy granitic soils, lots of wild life, mixed pasture, some infrastructure…..

The Art of Free Travel book talk and forage walk

art of free travel book talk Nov 4 2015 extended

The Artist as Family (Zero, Meg, Patrick, Woody and Zephyr) came through Violet Town in 2013 on their family cycle tour from Daylesford to Cape York, and back. They ‘stealth’ camped by the creek, and had a good time here. They rested, met some people, foraged for some food, found a power outlet in the park to recharge their bikes, and in return for the 20c worth of power they used (0.6kWhr) they picked up some rubbish from around the park.

Now they are coming back, again on their bikes, to talk about their book of that journey, The Art of Free Travel.

Wednesday Nov 4th, here at Murrnong. 4pm to 8pm

At 4pm, Patrick will lead a forage walk to find some of the wild foods (some of them weeds) that sustained them on their journey. This part costs $10, if you can make it here at that time, for Murrnong.

At 6pm Patrick and Meg will give a book talk about their journey, the book, how they did it, why they did it, and are they complete nutters? This is free.

Bring a plate to share if you would like to stay for a meal together afterwards.

It helps us if you register here

The acorns are dropping, it’s time to pick them up

If there is a well established oak tree somewhere near you that you have admired, (and you live in the southern hemisphere) about now could be the time to collect some acorns and plant them. Don’t be put off by the moderate growth rate, the quality of the result in the longer term is well worth it, and you don’t have to hold your breath while they grow.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We collected these acorns yesterday from magnificent old street trees in Violet Town. I propagate from old trees well proven in this climate and landscape. Our seedlings from these trees are just this year bearing their first acorns, in fact some of those are the lighter acorns in the top picture. These particular acorns have been carefully selected for their freshness and firmness, for planting.  Mostly we just rake the acorns up, remove most of the dirt and leaves in a big sieve, and store for goat feed over the next few months.  The goats make their own firm decisions about which ones they will eat.  The goats’ milk becomes more mellow, richer and creamier 24hrs after their first feed of acorns in the autumn.

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March 2015   Dappled light coming through the heavy shade of oaks planted here in 2006. The canopies are still small, but growing well. Heavy shade, soil improving qualities, fire retardant, beauty, and acorns for concentrated autumn fodder are why we planted these. These are possibly Algerian oaks. These trees are only semi-deciduous, staying green until the end of July, going brown in Autumn, then dropping their old leaves just as the new growth comes. This makes them well adapted to this relatively hot and dry climate, as they are able to make use of the usually more moist conditions in winter.

We have been planting oaks here since 1996.  We were collecting acorns for autumn goat feed supplement anyway, so it was a no-brainer to try planting them. This is the oak establishment method that has worked best here, on this farm in this climate.

  1. Autumn, approx March yr1.      Collect or source acorns, keep in a damp cool place [eg in veg garden soil] or in a plastic bag in the fridge over the first winter.
  2. Late Winter, August yr1       Plant in veg garden if you haven’t already done so
  3. Summer, yr1   Grow in veg garden over the first summer.  A couple of times over summer drive a spade about 30cm under the tree seedlings, to cut the tap root and encourage more shallow root development.
  4. Late Winter, August yr2     dig up from veg garden, prune excessively long roots, and plant out into spots or rip lines cleared of grass, with whatever compost you can spare.
  5. Spring yr2    Keep about a 1m radius around the tree clear of strong competitive grass for the first summer in the field
  6. Spring yr3   Clear strong grass away from young trees again to give them a chance to grow with the Spring moisture and warmth.

prewatering to plant oaks, Nov 06

Nov 2006. The first year of planting, David follow up watering in acorns seeded direct into rip lines, in a drought year…….. I must have been keen!  That area looks a lot nicer now. The previous photo, of the foliage, was taken about 6m to the right from here.

We have not tried leaching the tannins from acorns so we can eat them ourselves, but some friends do, and there is lots of information available about this, for example here.

Calm autumn weather perfect for opening up hives

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March 22nd 2015 Backyard Bees workshop 

With two consecutive Sundays of perfect warm, calm conditions, bees preoccupied with good nearby forage on our Spotted Gums in full flower, and a range of improvised and purpose made protective clothing, we had two terrific Backyard Bees workshops this autumn. Everyone handled and closely inspected frames covered in bees, and only one thinly gloved hand felt a bite. Nga was fine.

Suzie said “I really enjoyed the bee keeping workshop on Sunday. We came away very inspired and will definitely be getting bees.”

Steve said  “Thank you for the day it was fantastic.  I just needed exactly what you provided to round off and understand what I have been doing.  I was particularly taken by the time that you had the hive open.  I tend to be a little freaked about leaving the hive open, but not anymore as the bees were quite happy with what you/we were doing.”

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March 29 2015 Backyard Bees workshop

Pears, for eating and drying

Many of the people who come and help here bring terrific skills with them. Hi Wong is here for a three month internship. He is a skilled chef who enjoys innovating with what is available. He has responsibility for picking and managing the fruit harvest ready for markets. He is also a keen photographer. I liked this photo of Beurre Bosc pears he took this morning, they are such a beautiful pear and it is a lovely view from inside the net. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We have Williams pears picked already, ripening off the tree. Beurre Bosc are being picked now, and Packham soon. Pears are so sweet and are totally delicious dried.

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We dry fruit in our old solar dryer.  This was made by John and Sharon Batt of Ruffy probably in the ’80’s as a mail order home business, I think when they were home schooling their children. It is a good design, and the time might be ripe for someone to start making them again. [The legs on bricks in water are to create moats to keep ants out of the sweet fruit.]

On the Farm

With good helpers, a lot is possible. As well as the busy summer fruit harvest and management, and with renewing the whitewash over the whole outside of the house, this week we replaced the rainwater header tank that sits 4.5m off the ground on the lower level of the water tower.  A minor engineering feat getting the old one safely down and the new one up these ramps, with ropes and many hands making everything safe.

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8m long Ramps set up, ready to bring the old leaky tank down.

The problem was having a zincalume roof feeding (eventually) into a plain galvanised header tank. The ions work against the galvanising, and the tank does not last. The new tank is aquaplate, so polymer coated steel on the dark inside of the tank, and galvanised steel on the outside to cope with the sun and rain.