Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz …

It’s winter, and it’s around now that I start to stress a little …

The nights are cold, we’ve had long periods of rain, and the daytime temperature often doesn’t reach 18 degrees.  And 18°C is the magic number when it comes to my native bees (Tetragonula carbonaria).  Below 18°C they stay in the hive and won’t come out to forage, which means they use their stores of nectar and pollen to stay alive.

Is it 18 degrees yet Mum?

Native bees don’t hibernate so the inside temperature of the hive is also really important. Extended periods of cold can kill a hive. I have a mental picture of them all huddled together trying to keep warm, sipping honey and telling tall (or small?) stories to while away the hours.

With all this in mind, I was understandably nervous about splitting my hive, but finally last spring, with the help of a friendly local native bee enthusiast, I felt brave enough to take the risk.  So very early one Sunday morning, we cracked it open and were rewarded with the sight of a healthy, honey and pollen filled hive.

We put a new top on the base of the old hive and vice versa and sealed the joins with tape to keep out predators until the bees could seal it themselves.  The new hive is now sitting under the Pecan tree where it will get some winter sun.

New hive under the Pecan tree

Still feeling a bit cowardly, I decided to take the minimum amount of honey, and give the bees the best chance to rebuild the hive and to set aside stores for winter.

Native bee honey is quite runny, and it has a strong complex flavour. Drizzled over vanilla bean ice-cream, I can tell you that it was absolutely delicious!

 

The good news is, that so far after each spell of cold rainy weather, as soon as the daytime temperature reaches 18°C – out they come .  Fingers crossed for the rest of winter.

PS: If you are looking to keep native bees in Australia,
this is the bible , by entomologist Dr. Tim Heard.
Or even better, if you live in NSW or QLD you might be able to get to one of his fascinating seminars or workshops.

This is how I got hooked!

Tim Heard – Sugarbag Bee Events

Hairy Figs …

I’d love to be able to say that eating “home grown” Sandpaper figs was a delicious bush tucker foodie experience … but sadly, it wasn’t.  Not that they weren’t interesting – slightly sweet and fibrous with a definite hairy mouthfeel (maybe I should have peeled them?).  And I’d certainly eat them if I was lost in the bush and waiting for a chopper to respond to my distress call …  But I’m happy to leave them for the birds to enjoy.

Not the biggest figs in the world!

They are also quite photogenic, both in their natural state in the bush and on the top of an Instagram-like breakfast bowl.  OK – so I couldn’t help myself.  But without the tweezers or the patience, my effort is definitely “Not Quite Instagram”.

Not quite Instagram

 

Initially, I thought I had two types of Sandpaper figs in the garden.  One, a slightly scruffy looking shrub with small figs which turned a dark purply black when ripe,

and the other a medium sized tree with attractive bark and fruit which grows on the trunk. The fruit stays green and never seems to ripen.

 

Both appear to be Ficus coronata, so it’s possible that the tree is male and the shrub is female.  As they are separated by about forty metres, you might think that this would pose a problem … but no, they are pollinated by a fig wasp.  Clever.

Traditionally, aboriginals use the fig leaves to polish their wooden implements, and I can well imagine this working, as a handful of leaves rubbed on your skin would probably remove more than just the dead cells.  A case of extreme exfoliation.

This plant is definitely NOT a weed in my book, you can eat the fruit, polish your skin or your boomerang, make rope out of the inner bark, use the latex to heal wounds, and sit in its shade and enjoy the parade of visiting native birds.  It can pop up anywhere it likes in my garden …

Hopelessly addicted to cabbage …

Our local fruit and veg barn couldn’t believe how much cabbage I was buying.
“Wow – you really love your cabbage don’t you!” they said.  So, I tried to explain.
Which probably made the situation worse.  I’m sure they now think I’m some sort of obsessed fibre munching, cauldron boiling witch 😊

I will admit that over the last few weeks, things got just a little bit out of control.  I became rather hooked on the purple cabbage eco-print process. Almost every morning I ventured out into the garden to gather plant matter to be layered between papers of various weight and texture – tracing paper, swing tags, serviettes … anything I could lay my hands on really.

Into the pot with purple cabbage and mordant to simmer for forty minutes, and then the impatient wait overnight for the dawn (well, almost dawn) unbundling.

I experimented with alum and copper mordants. Copper seems to result in a clear pale blue background with some shades of pink …

Whereas Alum gives a darker, smoky greyish blue …

I’ve amassed quite a pile of dyed papers, and thrown more than a few on the compost heap.


I’ve framed several of the better papers …

And I’ve made this year’s Christmas cards …


I’m putting together an artist’s notebook which I’ll bind, when I’ve refreshed my memory on the Coptic binding method.

If you’d like to read my relatively foolproof method, Purple Cabbage eco-print recipe

Purple Cabbage, an eco-print recipe

 

I am in no way an expert on the eco-print process, but over the last few weeks I have worked out a relatively fail-safe method of printing plant images on to paper using purple (red) cabbage. Keep in mind that you will never get the same result twice – it’s just the way with nature – so expect the unexpected …

If you’d like to see some of the results I’ve achieved using this method, Hopelessly addicted to cabbage.

Preparation …

Gather up a bucket of foliage, leaves and flowers of different textures, shapes and colours.  Avoid large soft leaves as they can turn to mush when they are simmered – geranium leaves are an exception.  Gather more than you think you need.

Some of the leaves and flowers that I used were – lilly pilly, geranium, tree fern fronds, red camellia, tulipwood, lemon myrtle, salvia, grevillea, bamboo and eucalyptus.

Make up a spray bottle of vinegar spritz – I used approximately 70% water/30% cheap white vinegar.

Gather up your paper – try 80/110/180 gsm paper or swing tags or whatever.

The Process …

Start layering your paper and plant matter.  Spritz the paper, then lay down the plant matter and spritz again.  Use plenty of plant matter because some will leave colour, some will interact with each other, some will just leave an outline and others will do absolutely nothing.  Keep layering until you have a thick but manageable bundle.

I use a piece of ordinary 80gsm computer paper for the first and last layers of the bundle – this protects the paper from excess colour.

Use bulldog clips or string to secure your bundle so that the paper and plant layers are pressed firmly together.

Put the bundle in your container of water and bring slowly to a simmer – NOT a boil.  Then simmer for 20 minutes.

Then for a small container, add approximately half a small purple cabbage, chopped into smallish chunks, and ½ a tsp of either alum or copper.

Simmer DO NOT BOIL for 20 minutes and then TURN OFF THE HEAT.  This is really important because if you continue to simmer the cabbage it can “de-nature” which will turn the dye brown and give your paper a muddy look.

Now the Hard Bit …

Step away from the pot and don’t open the bundles until the following day.

The Next Day … (or longer)

Remove your bundles from the pot and stand them in the sink for about half an hour to drain.  Then untie your bundle and carefully peel away the layers, watching out for plants that give a particularly nice outline or colour.  Then leave them to dry on a towel – I don’t wash my papers.

The Day After that …

Do it all again😊