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!

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Simple self watering or wicking bed made from a plastic barrel.

In our latest attempts at growing more than just a few herbs we decided to build a wicking bed. We had been looking at a few videos on You-tube like this one and this one on Rob Bobs channel and thought that even if we weren't prepared to experiment on that scale right now, we did however have a blue plastic barrel hanging around that we thought might do the trick, albeit on a smaller scale.

The idea of a wicking bed is that it has a storage area or reservoir of water at the bottom of the bed and the roots and soil "wick" the water up to the roots. Sort of in the way that, even though only a corner of the towel is hanging in the pool, the water climbs up the towel making half the towel damp, not just the corner that landed in the pool.

So one afternoon we gathered together the bits we thought we would need, and here's what we did...

First of all we cut our barrel in half and added some handles so that we can move them if we have to when they are filled with dirt and water.

Its a very basic rope handle with knots on the inside and a piece of pipe to help protect your hands on the outside. It made all the difference when we went to move it to the place we wanted it - which was not where we built it! If you aren't putting handles on your barrel - pop it into place before you start filling it. They get heavy quick and have nothing to grip onto move them!

The next step involved rolling a piece of ag pipe (pipe with lots of holes in it. Usually used to help water drain away) around in a spiral in the bottom of the barrel. One end starts in the centre of the base and coils up until the edge of the barrel is reached. Then the pipe comes up the side and becomes you watering inlet. (Sorry no pictures of this bit. The Husband had got to this point while I was getting the sand and wasn't pulling it all apart for me to photograph!)

We found it really hard to keep the coil in the bottom of the barrel and ended up using bricks to hold the coils down. Once you have your coiled ag pip in the bottom of the barrel lift up the bricks one at a time and put a piece of weed mat over the top and put the brick back down (or the pipe will spring out and wrap itself in the weed mat.) Tuck your weed mat around the ag pipe. The idea is that you are trying to stop as much sand as possible from entering the pipe. The water can travel through the weed mat but the sand/dirt cant.

Put your sand in the bottom of the barrel on top of the weed mat and take your bricks out as the sand gets heavy enough to weigh it all down and keep it in place. Just cover the weed mat at this point; Ultimately you will be filling the barrel with a quarter sand and the rest dirt and plants. Once you have the pipe in place - cut it to the height of the barrel or just and inch or two higher.Once you have the pipe in place - cut it to the height of the barrel or just an inch or two higher.

Once you get to this stage, cable tie the water inlet pipe to the side of the barrel to stop it from falling over. Then drill a hole to put a grommet in to make an overflow pipe.

If you don't put in an overflow pipe your wicking bed will turn into a pond when it rains heavily and will kill the plants and be hard to empty.

 Once you have the grommet in, push a short length of pipe into the grommet. You want it to extend a few inches into the sand eventually. The next step is to put a piece of weed mat over the end of the pipe and secure it with a  cable tie. Internet research showed that a plain hole simply blocked up with sand after a bit of time and turned the barrel into a pond. If you put the weed mat over the hole on the outside or have the pipe sticking out of the barrel (not on the inside like we have done) and put weed mat over it - it grows algae, and again, blocks up.

Once you have your overflow pipe sorted, fill the barrel a quarter full with sand covering the outlet pipe. Did you notice we have moved the barrel to its permanent place before we started to fill it!?

Before we went any further, we cut the top off a water bottle and slid it over the top of the inlet pipe so that we didn't spill any dirt in it and fill up our reservoir with dirt.

Then a layer of cane mulch went in. Our cane mulch is about 3 inches deep. The idea here is that if you are digging around in here you will find the mulch layer (if you go deep enough) and will know that you are really close to your reservoir. It also keeps the dirt and sand separate if you need to empty it at any point.

Then fill your barrel to the top with your dirt/compost/growing medium. See how that bottle is protecting the inlet pipe from filling up with dirt?

Now fill your reservoir with water.

You'll know when its full when your overflow pipe overflows!
It runs clear after a few days.

 While you are waiting for your reservoir to fill, pop some mulch on the top to protect the soil and seedlings from the hot sun.

Once the reservoir was full, I watered it from the top as well just to make sure that all the dirt was damp before I put in my seedlings. We put our mesh cages over everything to keep out the chooks. (Between the possums, sun and chooks - you wonder why you bother some days...)

This barrel has some rocket seedlings in it and so far so good. The seedlings seem to be able to survive a day in the sun although this spot doesn't get the late afternoon sun which will help while they are little but not be so good once they are established. I have trouble with the harsh summer sun decimating seedlings before they can get established. Even though I water my plants morning and night, when I'm at work all day the sun wins and after a couple of days the seedlings give in and die.

So far with this system, the seedlings are still being watered (with a watering can and through the inlet pipe) once a day and have survived about 10 days so far - so I'm hoping for some salad contributions from this barrel down the track!

We want to try this on a bigger scale and have been scouring the world for a free food grade IBC cube tank to cut in half and do this with. Both of the video links are to IBC wicking beds - but we thought we would trial the technique with what we had lying around the yard.

I put these barrels in a place that doesn't get direct sun all day due to the trees. I think in summer this would work well but I can see that in winter I may be able to grow things in full sun with a wicking bed. I can usually grow a small amount of tough veges in winter but nothing in summer here in Brisbane... I either have full sun or deep shade...

Have you tried wicking beds? What did you think? Any advice to add?

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for repurposing things you already had. 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for only having to buy sand.
Time cost: About an hour from go to whoa.
Skill level: Confidence with power tools...
Fun-ness: great fun to see your seedlings still alive each afternoon!!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Photo Friday - Structural

 A ridged fence marches down to the lake in tandem with its shadow.

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

Safe waterers for baby chicks (and big chooks too!)

We hatched some chick from eggs put under a broody hen - which was soooooo much fun a while back and I have a friend who is about to do the same thing. We were discussing how to make sure thee chicks have access to water that lasts all day while she is at work but isn't deep enough for them to drown in.

The biggest problem is that chicks need water, but for some reason they think they are ducks and leap right on in. Their feathers aren't waterproof and they get waterlogged and cant get out. If its deep enough, bad things can happen. Shallow dishes are fine unless the water evaporates too quickly or the chicks stand on the edge and tip them up... (who would have thought that giving water to chicks was so hard!?)

We found a couple of solutions that worked well for us. Once you have seen a couple of these ideas, you'll have a light bulb moment and be able to rush out and make you own at no cost!

Here's what we did...

The first idea that we came up with was to put some clean rocks in a takeaway container and fill it with water for the chicks to drink out of the gaps.

This works well as if the babies decide to run across the rocks they get wet feet and a few wet feathers but its not deep enough for them to drown in. There is plenty of space for them all to drink at the same time and they cant tip it up. Its cheap, easy and replicable. Obviously any shallow-ish container and any kind of larger rocks and stones will work for this.

The big downside was that once the mama chook got outside she started to scratch around to eat and inevitably filled the container with dirt that turned into mud. If you are home when your chicks are very little then you can just empty and clean out the container two (three or four) times a day.

Another alternative is to put the chicks water in a sheltered place where mum wont be digging or to put a cover, like an ice cream container with on side cut out like a door over the top to protect it from the worst of the dirt flinging.

You might be able to put the waterer inside the coop - where they are sleeping. As long as the chicks have 24 hour access to it they will find it when they need to drink.

This paver and ice cream container version came together randomly one afternoon and works well. It has the same benefits and issues as the one above and really, its the same thing; a shallow container with a rock in it!

The ice cream container was cut down to the same height as the paver giving a solid base that wont tip and plenty of deep pockets to scoop the water up from. Chickens don't have a swallowing action like you and I. Have you watched them drink and noticed that they scoop up the water and then lift their head right up and nod their head so gravity does the rest?

That means that it can be easy to make a chicken "vomit" too. If you have a chook with a full crop and you press against it and hold the chicken upside down, their stomach contents will just fall out. I don't think they have one way valves like we do.

When your babies are a bit bigger like my Brahmas (about 3 months in this photo) then any container that they cant tip up is ok for water. This is the dogs bowl being repurposed as a chook water bowl while these girls were in quarantine when they first arrived. Its good because its wider than it is high are harder to tip over . Don't use something like this for chicks. They will fall in and not be able to get out...

This is a two litre bucket is fine for big chooks but again - don't do this for your babies. They cant get out if they fall in. This one isn't so good for this size chook either. They will hop onto the side if the water level is low and tip the water out. If its a hot day and you aren't home or don't notice, they can dehydrate and get quite sick quite quickly or even die depending on the temperature.

This red waterer is the one we have the best results from. It self fills from the pipe that is connected to a larger container that hold 5 litres. They can't fling dirt into it and they can't tip it out. The dirt and food from their beaks drops into the cup and each morning I use my finger to scoop out any debris that I can see. When I'm refilling the reservoir I use the watering can to "water blast" any hard to get debris out. I also use a toothbrush to give the cup a bit of a scrub out now and again when it needs it.
These cup waters are available online for around $12. They are good for chicks but need to be close to the ground for the chicks to get to. The log is there for the bantams who cant quite reach it as it was set for full size chooks at about their chest height. (That's a teenage Barnevelder in the photo)

The curved tube holds grain and again stops them from tipping it out and I can put a cap on it at night to stop any rodents from getting a free feed!

When I have sick chooks and they are inside in a box or in the hospital pen, I use a jar jammed into a corner for them to drink out of. Its high and close enough to a sitting chook so they can reach over for a drink without having to move. If I have them in a cardboard box I often tie (or cable tie) the jar in the corner so it stays there. The advantage of the jar is that it doesn't take up much room and I can see exactly how much they are drinking by measuring the remains when I change the water each day. Its easy to clean and sterilise if I need to. Its small enough to medicate the water accurately without too much waste, free and easily available too! If the chook does manage to tip it over you can always pop some rocks in the bottom to stabilise it. But I find sick chooks aren't romping around and the jar is usually fine jammed against the corner with the blanket and hot water bottle against the other side to stabilise it.

This small enamelled container is great for keeping clean but no good for water. Its too light (easy to tip) and too low for a sick chook to scoop water out of. I like tall skinny jars for sick chooks. This one is good for medicated food for all chooks. Small enough to medicate accurately and to see how much they are eating. It will fit on my kitchen scales and is easy to clean and sterilise if I need to. Its no good for baby chicks, they will flip it in about .00056 of a second as they explore their world!

Water is one of the necessities of owning chooks and they must have access to it at all times. From 24 hours old to the end of their lives, chooks will drink about half to a litre EACH a day depending on your daily temperatures. They drink a sip here and there but all that sipping adds up. It is imperative that they have 24/7 access to cool fresh water.

I have pots of water in various places around the garden so that no matter what time of the day it is there is a pot of water in the shade for the chooks (cat, dog) to drink out of.

Do you have chicken waterers that you want to share? Post a link in the comment section so we can all see!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for raising chooks and knowing where your eggs/meat comes from 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for not spending a fortune on the latest gadget every time you read a the latest chook magazine!
Time cost: a few minutes to set up any kind of chicken water at the most!
Skill level: Pretty basic really! :)
Fun-ness: Great fun to set something up that works for you and your chooks!
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