Friday, 2 December 2016

Making your own tea bags from coffee filters at home!

I have ben making flavoured black teas for a while and for Christmas I wanted to give some away as gifts. While I like the ritual of boiling the kettle, getting out all the tea paraphernalia and concocting by brew to suit my mood, I realise that not all my friends and family like go to that much trouble.

They prefer the speed and conveyance of the tea bag - so taking the path of least resistance I decided to have a go at making my own tea bags - especially for them - as I very rarely use them!

Its a bit complicated, fiddly and hard to explain but read through the whole post so you can see how each step leads to the end product... Once you get it though, you've got it!

Here's what I did...

I bought these at the local supermarket for about $2.50 Each filter made one bag so if you know how many bags you want to make you'll know how many filter packs to buy! I only had a choice of this packet or nothing so I thought I'd bring it home and experiment.

I wanted to get as much bag for my buck as possible but I couldn't get more than two reasonable bag out of each coffee filter. You can get three or four - but by Gum, they are small... (and very fiddley)

Start by cutting the coffee filters end off, leaving you a strip of about 8cm.

Open up the filter and fold in half the other way, leaving you with a cross fold in the middle of the filter.

 Cut the filter in half making two teabag bases.

Fold the two unjoined edges over once (or twice if you can manage it) This is to stop the tea falling out at a later stage.

Fold the bags in half. I folded then in exact half even though they have a rounded top and also, as below, to even out the bags and give them a straight edge. Once I got the hang of it I stopped cutting off the end and used the rounded edge on the inside of the fold later.

I discovered it didn't matter to me if I cut the ends off straight or not. I had a bit more fiddle room if I didn't but the end product isn't as neat. Experiment. See what you think!

It was quicker to go into mass production (80 or so bags) and get into a rhythm than to make each bag individually.
Once you have cut all your tea bags and folded them, make the tags. Its a pain to have made a beautiful teabag but be unable to seal it because you have no string tag. Its much quicker and easier to make the string tags first than to add the tag to the string later!
I measured a string on a commercial teabag (about 12cm) and added "a bit" for the part that's tucked inside the tag and inside the bag. I cut rectangles of coloured paper that corresponded to my flavours (Green for Irish cream, orange for almond, cream for cookies and cream!) using the "that's looks about right" method of measuring.

Once you have all your tea bags cut and folded and all your strings tagged you can start your tea bag production line!
Place a teaspoon of your home flavoured tea in the center of the pre-folded bag.

Spread it out into two piles so that when you fold the bag in half the tea doesn't bunch at the bottom to much making it much harder to do.

Fold the bag in half lengthways and pull over the side bit you pre-folded before

And then fold over again to seal the tea inside. Some tea bag makers moved the join fold to the center of the bag. I found this a fiddley extra step but it did make for a neater more professional looking bag (I like the "rustic handmade look" - its easier to palm my laziness off as the "charm" of the handmade product than to admit making 80 tea bags was a mammoth task!)

Now fold the bag in half. Either to the beginning of the curve or right to the top. You can now see the teabag starting to really take shape! It should fold quite easily if the tea is separated about where you want to fold it.

As I said before, I stopped doing this step and took the edge further as once you fold the top over you cant see the curved bit as its on the inside. I gave me just a little bit more wiggle room.

Cut the end off if you have the time and patience and dexterous fingers!

Fold one corner down and place the string tag into the fold.

Fold the other half over to make a triangle top. If you haven't cut the curved piece off, make sure that you are folding it to the inside and that the two long folds you made back at the beginning are on the inside of the bag to stop the tea falling out. If you get to this stage and go "Darn, I've got it back to front," Just unfold it all, tip out the tea, turn your bag over and start again. Once you've made a few you'll understand how each step works and why.

Flip the bag over and use a staple to keep the bag closed and the string in. I put the staple on the "nice" side just for neatness sake - It will make no difference to the cup of tea once its made. I'm ok with a stainless steel staple as I figure I'm using a stainless steel spoon in my tea anyway. If the staple has rust or is made from something else, I wouldn't be so keen...

Pull your string around the bag and tuck the tag in and Voila! A rustic, unbleached, home made tea bag with your very own hand flavoured tea inside!

Score card:
Green-ness: ?/5 Again not sure about how green this is - what do you think? Its always greener to use less things so a pot of tea is probably a lot greener...? 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 Much much cheaper than buying flavoured tea bags from the shops! The parts are all cheap or free if you have them in the pantry or in the craft cupboard already
Time cost: Hmmm... More than you think... To make a single bag (with already flavoured tea on hand) would be about 3 minutes. To make 80 took a few hours one afternoon to cut and fold, another few hours one morning to make all the strings and few hours another morning to fill and staple closed. It took about three minutes to pop them in the containers I had made!
Skill level: Not so much skill as patience and dedication. And time... Lots of it!
Fun-ness: Really, really good to sit back and survey the finished products - and to try your own home made tea bag!

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Make your own flavoured black tea at home!

I love a cup of tea! I've never been a coffee drinker and as I've got older (and have a bit more pay in my pocket) I've moved on from the 500 teabags for $2 type cuppa to more sophisticated brews with added flavourings.

I prefer the Earl Grey over the English Breakfast and I'm very, very fond of the Lady Grey. For a while there was a Russian Earl Grey in the local Woolworths that we really loved and it disappeared from the shelves never to be seen again before we could stock up on it.

When we go into the city, we stop at the local T2 or Tea Centre and stock up on exotic smelling teas that are just divine (albeit not very frugal). I have bought flavoured teas online, from market stalls and from small shops that come and go around the area.

I've dabbled in making your own Chai tea from scratch which works well if you have the time and aren't expecting the type of chai tea you will get in a tea bag.

One day, when reading the ingredients list on the back of a tea box I realised that they were using flavourings. You would have thought that the label that said flavoured tea on the front may have given that away, wouldn't you, but I guess I had never made the connection between, lets say flavouring that you might use in an icing and flavouring that you might use in a tea. I had in my mind that teas were "natural" and therefore, so where the flavours - as in there were pieces of bergamot in my Earl Grey and pieces of lavender in my French Earl Grey. I hadn't made the connection that those pieces might be more "decoration" rather than what's actually flavouring the tea...

I rummaged through my baking shelf in the pantry and found a bottle of Almond essence and wondered - could I make a home made  version of "Armaretto", one of my husband favourite teas...? Or even something more exotic?

Here's what I did...

First gather all your essences and flavourings and decide what flavours you like. You can mix and match or combine flavours to make teas like Butterscotch Rum or Chocolate Rose. I tend to stick to traditional flavour pairings as they have stood the test of time and will have a higher success rate than say Coconut Almond...

Then I put a loose leaf tea into a shallow container. I have done this in a deep container but it makes it harder to mix the flavourings in. This tea is Nerada. I've also used the Daintree loose leaf brand with great success. If you want to make a special blend with a high quality loose leaf tea, try your Orange Pekoe (This is a leaf quality level not a flavour) or mix a full leaf tea into your cut leaf blend. Ultimately it comes down to preference, price and availability when Im deciding which tea to use as the base.

Add the flouring a drop at a time to the tea. I'm using about 15- 20 drops per 100gms. Add each drop in a different place to spread it through the tea.

If my essence doesn't have a dropper stopper on the top, I use an eye dropper otherwise I end up pouring waaaaayyy to much in. This needs a lighter touch than a heavier one. If you think you added too much, you can always "dilute" the flavour with more tea leaf.

You'll find that the tea will absorb the flavouring and "clump" a bit around the drops. It reminds me of when you add butter to flour to make scones. Using the same principle, use your fingers or a spoon to break up the clumps and distribute the flavour into the tea leaf.

I use the smell of the tea to determine if I have enough flavouring in there. A small amount will go a surprisingly long way. The tea leaf needs to be dryer rather than damp. Storing damp tea could lead to mould so if I think its too "wet" I add a bit more dry tea leaves to the mix. Its more of an art than a science. If you like cooking and baking then you'll be able to make some pretty accurate judgments just by looking and feeling the tea. I also like to leave the damp tea on the bench for a little while and turn it every time I walk past to mix it through and give it time to absorb through the leaf.

Once you are happy with the smell and texture, you can pretty it up by adding small bits of slivered almond to the almond flavoured one, bits of rose petal and/or chocolate drops to the chocolate rose, bits of butterscotch lolly chopped into tiny pieces into the butterscotch rum tea - you get the idea! :)

An advantage of adding "bits" to the tea is that you will be able to identify the tea by sight if not smell. Its more attractive, especially if you are giving it away in a jar or tin and looks more like we have come to expect from a flavoured loose leaf tea.

If you are going to make tea bags from the tea you just flavoured then I wouldn't worry about the "bits" unless your tea bag is see through. You can use the tag on the tea bag to identify the tea by writing on the tag or by using different coloured tags to represent each flavour.

I've been using repurposed olive jars to store my tea in. I covered them in pretty wrapping paper and put ribbons around them and make pretty labels (that soon gave way to handwritten, rubber banded versions as I got too lazy to make new label's each time! Maybe I should use blackboard paint and chalk to label the jars?) Tea should be stored away from heat and light. These jars are usually on a shelf in the kitchen and in reality, they get used up pretty quickly so I've never seen what happens to home flavoured tea that's stored for a long time!

I've also never tried using things like maple syrup or chai syrup to flavour leaf tea with. The sugar content will probably preserve the actual syrup but I don't know if it will attract ants, make the tea clump or... quite what...? If you've tried it - please let us know what happened in the comments section!

Flavouring combination ideas and their suggested "bits" to add
  • Chocolate Rose (Turkish Delight) - Rose petals
  • Coconut Rum (Tropical Island) - Shredded Coconut
  • Butterscotch Rum - Chopped up butterscotch lollies
  • Cookies and Cream - Tiny chocolate buttons
  • Rum and Raisin - dried currants (I thought raisins were too big)
  • Chocolate Orange (Jaffa) - bits of dried orange peel
  • Ginger and Vanilla - Chopped dried ginger
  • Cherry Chocolate - tiny chocolate buttons and/or dried cherries bits
  • Chocolate Coffee - coffee beans
  • Chocolate Hazelnut (Nutella) - chopped hazelnuts
  • Vanilla - chopped vanilla pod
  • Caramel - Pieces of caramel lolly
  • Coconut Lemon - shredded coconut
  • Maple syrup - ??
  • Chocolate coffee (Mocha) - tiny choc buttons and/or coffee beans
  • Orange and cinnamon - Crushed cinnamon stick and/or dried orange pieces
Check out your local supermarket for flavours and essences and also check out speciality cake baking shops. I noticed Spotlight had a bunch of flavourings in their baking department the other day too! You can get all sorts of flavours online as well. I know that there are water based and oil based flavourings. I have used both and so far haven't been able to see a difference when it comes to tea making. I'm guessing though that the water based ones will be better - but I can't tell you for sure!

Have you tried this before? How did you go? What other hints and tips do you have for making your own home flavoured black teas? Let us know in the comments section below!

Score card:
Green-ness: ?/5 Is it green to drink flavoured tea? Greener to drink natural essence flavoured teas? I'm not sure on this one! 
Frugal-ness: Much, much cheaper than buying flavoured tea from the big brands! You can choose the plain tea leaf quality you are prepared to pay for and a bottle of flavouring goes into more batches than you might think!
Time cost: About 10 minutes a batch - if that!
Skill level: Pretty basic - it would be hard to get this one wrong!
Fun-ness: Great fun to drink your own concoction of Coconut Rum tea and to surprise people with the fact you made it your self!

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Splitting and settling an educted native bee hive.

We had a spare hive last year and decided to give eduction a go after a visit from Nick Powell who came to have a look at our experimental Hockingsii hive - the FROTH.

The eduction method of creating a new hive takes a little while, in our case about nine months before we were confidant that it was full enough to split, had a few queen cells and could survive on its own. A normal split take about 10 minutes but, depending on your personal views, can be a bit hard on the bees. As an experiment, we were happy with eduction and will probably do a combination of eduction and physical splits next year. We like our bees and have trouble with wholesale destruction when we do a physical split, so our thinking at the moment is that depending on the site of the hive, we will educt those that can have another hive easily attached and split those in an "un-eductable" place!

When you split the parent hive from the educted hive, the main issue is what to do with the split hive and how to reintroduce it to your garden without all the bees promptly moving back to the parent hive or starting a fight with their new neighbours.

We have a shelf on the side of the house that we want to put a series of bee hives on. We have seen backyards with twenty or more bee hives in and they are only a metre or two apart. When we built our shelf we installed a hive and then a few weeks later another hive came back after its six week holiday and we put it up and we ended up with a fighting swarm and dead bees everywhere.

It was very traumatic for us and the bees and within a few hours we had decided to move the new hive as all our efforts to bring about peace were failing and we didn't want either hive to sustain losses that would impact on the viability of the hives future.

So we moved this one into another spot in the garden and spoke with Nick Powell at great length to figure out what we did (or didn't do) to end up with the fighting swarm instead of the peace and serenity that we had seen in other back yards.

The solution?

Here's what we did...

First we split the hive by simply taking the front hive (the educted hive) from the back hive (the parent hive). We had ours screwed on to a bracket hanging from the front of the hive and supported by a post. (The towels and Styrofoam cover are the winter coats for the hive.)

So we simply removed the screws and pulled out the connecting pipe between the back and the front of the hives. We blocked up the back hole and entrance holes with a  piece of mesh to and popped the whole hive in a cool dark place for 6 days. This is to teach the bees that this hive is home. While they are "locked up" they will sort themselves out and will have enough supplies to live on, as you would only split a hive from it parent if it were strong enough and it was in the normal October to December splitting time - the optimum time as they will have enough time and resources to get ready for winter.

If you are worried about the locked up bees - put your ear to the entrance hole and you can hear them buzzing around inside doing their bee things quite happily. I was worried. I listen to them a few times a day and assured them this was only temporary. :)

Then when you are ready to introduce them to the shelf/place that you want them to live on, block the hive entrance of the established hive/s on the shelf/close by the night before.

Our Tetragonula Carbonaria hive blocked for a day or two.

And the traditional Tetragonula Hockingsii hive also on the shelf block up - see the ones who didn't come back the day before huddling at the entrance trying to get back in?

Introduce the educted hive that has been in the cool dark garage locked up for six days onto the shelf and give them a day or two of getting used to where their hive is before you open the others.

The Carbonari on the left and the Hockingsii in the middle have both been blocked while the new Carbonarii on the right are flying about sussing out their new environment.

Nicks theory for our fighting swarm was that our introduced hive was exploring and upset the established hives and started a defensive reaction. If the introduced hive has a couple of days to sort out their flight paths and see their surroundings without harassment he reckons they will all be able to coexist quite happily on the shelf so close together.

 When we took the covers of the established hive entrances a few days later, there was a mass exodus of pent up bees as you would expect, but since all the hives had established their flight paths in and out of the hives, there was no problems at all!

The three hive are sitting quite happily on their shelf in the chook pen facing north and sheltered from the worst of the weather and the heat of the midday sun - a perfect place for bees - and all three hives seem to be happy and thriving. And the chooks don't mind finding the odd dead bee for breakfast under the hives either!

This was a far less painful way of splitting bees than the physical split with a knife but requires more dedication in the amount of time that it take. The physical split is quick and you move on after a few minutes - although you still have to take one of the hives off site and bring it back - there is no "must do it on this day" type time table as there was with a year eduction and six day garage time out split.

If you want to split your hives and have each hive full and totally operational each time, then eduction is the method for you. You need more infrastructure to do an eduction, in that you need a hive placed so that it can have another hive placed directly in front of it for an extended time. But if you planned this when you place the strong hive that you want to educt from, then you will make life easier for yourself.

We have a hive at an Aunty's place that is sitting on an unused picnic table in the backyard. Popping a milk crate or the seat in front of the hive and placing a new hive in front will be relatively easy - compared to trying to educt the one that sits in the hollow of our friend mango tree that is!

Splitting the educted hive is easy enough - you just pull the hives apart and remove the pipe. Leave the parent hive alone and either do the six day garage things as we tried this time - or do the normal take them off site for six weeks and then reintroduce them to your backyard thing for the educted hive.

My theory for the six week holiday is for physically split hives, is that they need time to repair as well as establish new flight paths and foraging areas. I think if you did the six day garage holiday with a physically split hive you will put the hive at a disadvantage as they will need to forage for repair material and food as they have sustained major damage and wont appreciate being locked up for six days. But I'm open to opinions from people who have tried it!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for having native bees in the first place
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for using less petrol and overall energy to split the hive!
Time cost: Eduction can take up to a year.
Skill level: faith in your bees!
Fun-ness: Bees are the best fun!!!! :)

Monday, 4 April 2016

Photo Friday - Blossom

Water Primrose growing on the edge of the dam.

 Contribution to Photo Friday. Click on the link and see what others have posted!

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Native bush turkeys and domestic chickens - our experience!

Last year in early summer, I thought one of my baby chooks had escaped and was hiding in the bushes in the backyard. I chased after her for a while before I realised that it wasn't one of my chooks but a bush turkey chick! It was the same size as one of my Aracana babies just a lot darker. It was kinda cute and we felt a bit special that the chick was in our backyard.

By December it had grown a lot and we decided that it was probably a boy and christened him Christmas Turkey - or Chris for short! Once we became convinced it was a boy we started looking on the internet to see if it was indeed still cool and fun to have a giant male bush turkey in your backyard along with chickens...

All the articles that I found said that they were trouble. Big gangs of bush turkey boys visit backyards with procreation on their minds and look to the domestic hen to satisfy those needs. For most people the mating part isn't an issue as the eggs even if they are fertile aren't being incubated to hatch but eaten; the issue was more around the damage the males did to the females during the mating sessions not the production of  potential Churkeys or Tuckens.

We had a chat to Chris and told him to be careful and all would be well if he left the girls alone. Otherwise we would have to call in the professionals.

As Chris got bigger, he got bolder and we would often find him in the pens and hanging around the edges of the flock. He would come when I called the girls for a treat and hang around hoping for a handout - this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. One afternoon when I needed to worm the girls, Chris gobbled up a piece of worming solution laden bread along with the chooks. He didn't seem to suffer any ill effects from it and hopefully wont be passing on worms to the girls on his travels around the yard and in their pens.

Because he was a chick when he appeared, we found the older girls had no problems telling him where to go and he seemed to accept that he was on or near the bottom of the pecking order - at least that's what it looked like to us. The girls would chase him away from food and when he was in a "hoping to get lucky" mood and approached one of the girls, making his special gurking noise, they saw him off in no uncertain terms.

There's been a few toe to toes with one of the baby chickens that we think may be a rooster which have been amusing and have ended with nothing more than both boys(?) backing down and shaking a few feathers as they retire to different parts of the yard.

Chris seems to escape up into the big trees in the yard and I suspect he sleeps up there too. He is now bigger looking than even our Brahmas and Sussex chooks, both which can get quite big. I suspect he weighs more too. Its only March but he must be about 6 months old and is definitely looking for a wife. He has taken to harassing the black Aracana as she looks the most like a Bush Turkey. Midnight (the chook in favour) has taken to putting herself into the coop and, as confident as Chris is, he wont go into the sleeping part of the pen. He stands outside gurking sexily at Midnight who just ignores him and settles in for a long preening session until I chase him away.

Rain (our grey Aracana) is as flighty as her breed comes and every time Chris looks at her, she flibbertigibbits and carries on like a pork chop! These days I call her and she runs to the house with Chris in hot pursuit and hides under the picnic table on the patio. Chris isn't game to come too close and hangs around gurking at her hopefully. Although we have trained the dog not to chase him, Chris is still wary about getting close to the dog. The chooks will jump over the dog when she is sleeping and try and steal her bone so she is approachable from a chook point of view but not from a turkeys one!

Just as we were wondering if Chris' interest in Rain and Midnight was getting too much, I saw a flash of  unidentified bird in the bushes again....

I don't know where it came from but it looks like we have another bush turkey chick in residence! So far this one has been called "Chick" until we work out weather its a girl or a boy....

Chick is as shy as Chris was in the beginning, which is reasonable if you happen to be small and tasty, but as time goes on we see more and more of her. She doesn't seem to have the bright colouring that Chris had at the same age and so we are hoping for a Christine to go with our Christopher so that he finds true love and lives happily ever after - and leaves poor Rain the Aracana alone!

Our experience of native bush turkeys in the backyard with our domestic chooks has been ok despite seeing nothing positive on line elsewhere. I think that has to do with Chris being a chick when he arrived rather than a fully grown wild male on his way through looking for a mate. The chooks put him in his place while he was young enough to take on the social conditioning and so far he is only getting fresh with the smaller two in the flock. And while that causes a ruckus, he hasn't done any damage to them as I read about happening to other peoples domestic chickens.

He is getting enough food from our yard and the neighbours yards and we haven't seen another turkey for years - so there doesn't seem to be any territorial issues (so far). There must be a breeding pair somewhere as we have had two chicks appear in the last 6 months but I have never seen them. We do live over the road from a very big nature reserve and even though I walk there regularly, I have never seen a bush turkey over there... So I'm at a loss to know where they are coming from.

So far so good but we do monitor the turkeys to make sure they are healthy (and not infecting our chooks), are wormed (for obvious reasons) and that Chris is not hurting the chooks when he is overwhelmed by passion for them.

I throw a small handful of grain for the turkeys in the mornings when I feed our girls to make sure they don't need to go into the pens to find the food. The less the turkeys are in the pens the better. I always chase Chris out if I find him in there but don't chase him if he eats from "his" spot. The reality is that they don't eat much grain anyway! They enjoy lettuce and other greens along with the main flock and will go for a  piece of bread but wont get into the melee when a piece is thrown into the middle of the yard!

Overall it has been an interesting experience and so far a positive one. Its been fun to watch Chris grow up and change and it will be interesting to see if we are right and that Chick is a girl. It might not be so fun when they have built some whopping great mound nest under the trees, but at this point, we will just wait and see what happens.

What's your experience with bush turkeys in the back yard?

Photo Friday - Pink

Pink flowers by the dam at dusk.

 Contribution to Photo Friday. Click on the link and see what others have posted!

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Painting wooden spoons for presents!

I like wooden spoons! I have a few favourites that I use over and I love them. My favourite is one I got from the markets from a guy that hand carved them. They weren't cheap, but they were beautiful. I bought one and had a plan to get one a week until I had "the set" but he never came back...

So like everyone else, I have an odd collection of wooden spoons that I got from different places at different times that I use in the kitchen for stirring everything from large pots of jam to sautéing in a non stick pan. I decided to share my love of wooden spoons and give them to loved ones for Christmas gifts. I found spoons varied in quality and price and in the end went for middle of the road spoons - but I made them into fun, quirky and better quality ones at home!

Here's what I did...

I bought all my spoons from various places and sanded them a little to make sure they were smooth and free from splinters.

I wrapped a piece of electrical tape tightly around the handle at about the 7cm mark on each handle no matter what the length.

This is to create a professional looking mask so that when I paint the handles, there is a distinct line when I take the tape off.

I chose to paint them into sets of three with each size being a different colour. The small ones became red, the medium, yellow and the large, purple handled. I used the acrylic paints that you can get in the cheapy shops but if you have house paint in a colour that you like, I can't see why you cant use that also.

I popped them in the sun to dry (that doesn't take long in the height of summer here in Brisbane!)

Then with a can of clear enamel paint, I sprayed the painted end a few times, drying between coats, to further protect the paint from wear and tear

Once the paint was well and truly dry, I took the tape of carefully and liberally applied home made "Spoon Butter" to the other end of the spoon. I didn't put any over the painted end.

Spoon butter is a mix of beeswax and coconut oil that soaks into the wood and helps it to stop drying out quickly. I treat my wooden kitchen equipment wit it pretty regularly. Leave the spoon butter to soak in for a few hours or overnight and then gently rub off the excess.

In the end, I had sets of home improved commercial spoons that were fun and quirky as well as unique and partly hand made. I was quite pleased with them and happy to give them at Christmas to the cooks in my family!

I made a set with bees waxed cloth and fridge magnet pegs and made my own packaging on the computer. It was a fun project for home made Christmas gifts!

Do you have an "improvement" that you make to a household item to make it better? Let us know in the comments section and share it with us all!

Score card:
Green-ness: ?/5 not sure about the greenness of commercial paints... 
Frugal-ness: 4/5 for creating a unique home improved gift from an inexpensive item!
Time cost: An afternoon of painting, spraying and spoon buttering!
Skill level: Painting, in bright colours!
Fun-ness: Good fun to make a really cool, useful and fun present for people you know will use them!
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