Thursday, April 28, 2011

Honey Harvest

Melina made it to the front cover of the local paper, eating some honeycomb. She's not so sure about being famous.
So I wrote an article for the local paper about beekeeping, extolling the wonders of bees, and then my bees decided that I wasn't actually that good at the whole business, and up and left their hive. The hive was under attack by both wax moths and wasps so I can't say I blamed them. They didn't actually go very far, and set up a new home in the loquat tree. I've been watching them for a while, but it was a small swarm, and the numbers have been dwindling every day, till today there was no sign of them at all. So I'm not sure I can technically call myself a beekeeper now that although I have a hive in the garden, there are no bees. In fact I am still currently encouraging the wasp population as they are helping themselves without threat to the remainding honey which I had left for winter feed for the bees. As soon as the children go back to school I am going to don my suit and clean out the hive. 

But I do have reminder of them - and the rewards that being a good beekeeper can bring. We harvested about 30kg  of honey this year, which is a nice amount that provides for our needs and some for giving away. Honey is also great currency for bartering.

A very kind person let me use proper extracting equipment this year which was fun, and oh so much faster than pressing honey out by hand. Above is the unfiltered honey - has lots of bits of beeswax in it.

Here's Alex doing the favourite harvesting job of the year. The kids adore filling jars with honey by opening up the valve. There's a fair bit of finger licking that goes on too. I like that I get to store my honey in (reused) glass jars. Why is honey always sold in plastic containers?

Honey is also great because you don't have to process it further before storing. And it never goes off (as far as I know).

So this spring I'll be starting two new hives again. And I will be a better beekeeper.

Monday, April 25, 2011

It's nearly planting season....

self-sown corn salad
It's been raining all day, although warm.  I've only ventured out to feed the ducks and chooks. But the ground is so perfect for planting right now that I've been dreaming about future planting plans. I do have more than enough to look after as it is but there's still more space to fill.... I've already ordered two apricot trees from Kaiwaka Organics. The two that we inherited have never fruited, and are stunted, one in particular, so they have had their opportunity, and will be replaced this winter. Apricots are not normally grown in our climate (too warm), but these apricots come from Northland, and are in fact named 'Pahi' where they were sourced from. Pahi is a tiny seaside town on the Kaipara Harbour where I lived as an 11 year old for a few months, so have even more appeal. I've also ordered a couple of fig trees 'batley' and 'black'. I have one fig tree here but the fruit isn't particularly tasty, so am curious to see if buying some named varieties makes a difference. I do eventually want to put in a whole lot of fig trees in an area where I can divert some greywater to water them in summer, so it makes sense to grow some, and then later I'm hoping to take some cuttings off ones that do well, so I can plant 20-30 at once for minimal cost.

Someone gave me the 'Edible Garden' catalogue recently, which I have been studiously avoiding. But now that I have a copy to browse while I drink my cup of coffee... I'm sorely tempted by the  'mangamuka greengage' plum. I looked up mangamuka on google maps, and it's another wee place right up north, so should do well here too. Greengage plums have always been something I've loved - we must have had them when we were little Mum? Edible Gardens also have worcestorberries, which I need to research more, but are descibed as a shrub. If they don't need support, then I might try a couple on the edge of my food forest.

In the meantime, we're excited about some plantings from 18months ago which are starting to bear fruit (literally!). This banana is an amazing thing to behold, especially given that all previously consumed banana's have come from south america. We can't wait to try them!

Another fruit from the food forest - I think this is a babaco. At least I hope it is, otherwise it is a mountain pawpaw which I read a while ago wasn't actually worth growing, as the fruit is rather tasteless. 

As soon as the rain stops I'm off to dig some holes. And figure out where I can put in a greengage.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Grape Harvest

The poor blog has been a bit neglected lately, but I have been anticipating getting back into regular posting. From mid  next week accommodation demands slow down somewhat, then Mike is away sailing on a friends boat for 5 weeks from May 10. Melina starts school on May 23, and I'm looking forward to some pleasurable hours whiled away in the garden. And when the weather is inclement I'll catch up on the paperwork. At the end of the solo parenting stint we're flying up to meet Mike in Vanuatu for a three week family holiday. Am excited about that!

But first to catch up on the backlog of garden happenings. The grape harvest was a particularly stressful one this year as we had a very wet summer, which meant a high incidence of fungal diseases, and slow ripening. There were many conversations back and forth, grape sampling, and a nervous couple of weeks as we decided to leave the syrah out for just that little but longer to increase ripeness - a risk as when it rains and the grapes swell up with water you can actually go backwards. I went through the day before picking and removed botrytis infected grapes - probably about 80kg. Picking day itself for the syrah was busy busy busy as I dealt with children (we let them stay home from school for harvest), numerous wasp stings (they were particularly bad this year as they fed on the grape juice while still on the vine), and put together a harvest lunch for some hospo industry volunteers who had come across from the big smoke for some hands on vineyard experience. I think I picked about three bunches total and I only managed to take the following two photos the entire day:

 This was shortly before her wasp sting.... I thoroughly recommend fast application of a lavendar oil soaked plaster for stings by the way.

 And that's Alex still dressed in his early morning warm clothes - he was up before dawn with Mike, laying out the picking bins down the rows while Mike drove the tractor.

I took a few more picture a couple of weeks earlier for the flora and pinot gris harvest when we weren't nearly so tired or stressed. The flora always ripens early, and was not affected by disease.

 Pickers down the rows. We have a contract team of about 20 or so, so we can pick the entire harvest  in about 3- 4 hours. They are always an interesting mix of locals and backpackers. Most of them are positive and work hard - the ones that moan don't get much sympathy from me! And usually don't last the season either....


 In bins ready for the truck to transport to winery. Each of these bins weighs about 400kg. We had a total harvest of about 2.5 tonnes for each of our grape varieties.

Mike on tractor driving duties - and he's smiling despite our tractor getting stuck and getting a flat tyre - luckily we live in a small friendly community and could borrow the neighbours tractor from just up the road to finish the job.

Nets were taken off a couple of days ago, and now it is the quietest time of the year in the vineyard as we wait for the leaves to fall. Pruning starts in July.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Harvest Fayre

My daughter's kindergarten annual fundraising fair was today. As she goes to a steiner/waldorf kindergaten it always has a lovely feel with lots of natural goodies around. It was  little manic for me as Mike was fully occupied with guests so couldn't help with small ones. And I decided I wanted to do my bit to attract more people by organising some appropriately themed workshops. Oh and running the plant stall.

I raced around near the end with my camera, but I was thinking about taking photos for paper rather than this blog, so there isn't, funnily enough, many 'harvest' themed pictures here. Plus all the ones of people that might not be too happy about having their pictures on the world wide web. Hopefully the ones I've snuck in here don't mind...

It was a delight having Hooshang from Avopro, and Jessicah from Spinning a Yarn, and Marcia Meehan beekeeper extraordinaire participate all from the Big Smoke across the Water (and further away). Hooshang has some fascinating techniques for growing mini-avacado trees that produce fruit within 18 months. He deserves a separate post so will do sometime, especially as he gifted us 3 trees which I'm determined to find the perfect spot for.  Jessicah dyes and spins beautiful yarn. Our craft group bought some beautiful hand-dyed merino for felting which I don't think will last long. She also kindly gifted me some gorgeous yarn which I had to prise from the four year olds hands tonight before it got irretrievably tangled. Marcia Meehan is a passionate exponent of top bar beehives, so hopefully there will be a plethora of top bars springing up on the island come spring. Thank you to all of you who made that extra effort to come across to the Island.