Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bananas and Bee stings

The Blue mountains is a magical place, filled with mystery and intrigue. Legends of unusual sightings of black panthers lurking in the bushland, and even towering yowies have been reported by perhaps less credible sources. But I would like to announce the recent sighting of something equally unbelievable....but true.

We have bananas growing in our front yard! (Queue audible gasp of disbelief). But wait, this is where it gets all X files... we have apples too!!!!! (Nooooo, it can't be true... apples AND bananas!!!! I don't believe it!) Doubt no more dear reader, I speak the enviable truth, so please excuse us while we take a little moment to boast openly about our recent success in the patch.

Most of you will hopefully be adequately envious of our climactic situation. Our hometown of Springwood is said to be one of the most temperate climates in the world, allowing us to grow a very wide range of fruit trees, from cool climate to subtropical trees, and if we are lucky, (and our bunch of bananas survive the cold winter ahead, and aren't eaten by yowies) we may be treating ourselves to a home grown banana or two next summer. As for the apples, they were delicious!

This season has been one of several firsts with our fruit trees. Our first harvest of tamarillo's has been very popular with the kids, and they are amazingly tasty. I don't know why they aren't sold regularly at the shops on account of their great flavour and ease to grow. We have also planted two feijoa trees that promise some more fabulous flavours in the seasons to come. Our first pomegranates also arrived in the community orchard this year, and of course, our apples...and bananas.

Our Tamarillo tree grown from seed only a year ago...super prolific - just add horse poo

Beekeeping - to bee or not to bee

Last month Jo and I went on a beekeeping course near Wisemans ferry. the course was run by the Sydney Permaculture Institute, and was well worth its while. the drive alone was spectacular, winding through the rolling green pastures that hug the serpentine bends of the Wiseman's ferry river, but best of all, Gramps was back at home looking after the four kids.

ready for action... oh the drama!
  The course included an induction to bee keeping, the history of bees in Australia, tools and equipment, and so on. Later, it was time to don the white bee suits and venture out to rob a hive. We pried open the hive, and with novice skill, removed four frames of honey comb. The smell was intoxicating and dreamy and sweet... and then I got stung on the ankle...

Once the lid was back on, we stole away with the frames and learned how to extract the honey. As I watched the incredible golden syrup ooze out, I was sold!

"Bees! Bees! Bees! What a brilliant idea!" On the drive home I sung their praises endlessly, but slowly I realised that Jo wasn't as convinced.

"hmm, where would we put them? what about the kids? the neighbours?"

Why was she asking such annoyingly sensible questions! What could I do to make her see that the one thing missing in our lives...was bees. This would take some convincing. I would have to play my cards carefully.

We decided to visit a friend who had bees in their backyard. The kids were very excited.

"See honey! you wouldn't even know they were there" I said to Jo, upon arriving a few feet from the hive. The bee's spun lazy droning swirls around the hive. N was fascinated. "Look dad, that ones going inside the hive, and that one must be a drone...and that one's a worker bee" he continued. I looked at Jo reassuringly, as if to say, "see how much he is learning... bees are good for our children... bees are goooooooood"

That's when we should have left... on a high note, so Jo could have hopped in the car and looked at me lovingly, and said, "you know what darling, you were right all along. Lets get that beehive!"

but no, just as we were saying our goodbyes, a bee, seemingly out of nowhere flew straight toward N and stung him...on the eyelid!

Noooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I watched as N's eye inflated like a hot, itchy balloon, and inside, my dreams of bee glory deflated. How could N bee so selfish!

The Insect Hotel

N's eye slowly returned to its normal condition, and everyone politely avoided the topic of bees at home for a week of so. My beehive building ventures would have to lie dormant until winter. In the meanwhile, I thought I would try my hand at making an insect hotel. I was inspired after learning a little about the benefits of encouraging native bees in the garden, most of which are solitary insects, and don't live in colonies.

Insect hotels are easy enough to construct and make a great addition to the veggie patch. the aim is to provide a habitat for beneficial insects such as lady beetles, wasps, native bees and green lacewing to lay their eggs and build in numbers. There are many insects that help out in the garden, preying on pests, pollinating fruit flowers, and so on.

To build one, simply create a timber frame that is 15cm of so deep. The frame is then stacked with small logs and sticks until it is tightly packed. Small holes are then drilled at various diameters of up to about 8mm. this is where the insects will set up residence. I'm looking forward to seeing who will move in!

If anything, they look great, and could be used as a feature in the patch, as well as help increase the biodiversity and fauna in your garden. Best of all, it costs nothing, if you can make it from left over timber. It also makes for a good pass time for anyone who wished they were really building a beehive, but couldn' least, not just yet.