Thursday, 29 May 2014


What's been happening at PragSust HQ lately? 

Well, amongst other things.........some socks have been finished 

And a new knitting project started

The hive has been packed down for winter 

There was honey to harvest

Soap has been made

And we helped harvest potatoes that were part of a biochar trial (more on that topic in another post)

Friday, 23 May 2014

Insulating the hive over winter

To help keep our bees warm over winter and reduce condensation in the hive, this year we thought we'd trial a method of insulating the hive recommended by Eric Smith at the Victorian Apiarists' Association (VAA). Eric is a very knowledgeable commercial beekeeper who runs the 'Beginners Corner' session at the VAA Melbourne section meetings.  His sessions are a great way to learn about beekeeping and get your beekeeping questions answered. You can see Eric on YouTube here

To prepare our hive for winter we packed it down to 2 full-size boxes. 

As part of the pack-down process we added some insulation as recommended by Eric. To do this we bought some wall insulation sheeting, called SilverWrap. The product details are shown below.

It's silver on one side and blue on the other. You can get it at hardware shops like Bunnings.

A piece was cut to match the footprint of the hive box.  This was placed silver-side down directly on top of the frames in the top box. The hive mat was placed on top and the lid put back on.

Eric uses this method on all his hives during winter. He checks his hives by peeling back part of the insulation and seeing how active his bees are. Without the insulation they huddled in a cluster. Now that he uses the insulation he says the hives are much warmer and the bees are quite active.

Our hive doesn't catch much sun during winter so this insulation should help to keep things warmer and drier. It'll be interesting to see how active the hive is over winter....

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Current reading list

We love our books here at PragSust and always have a few on the go.  Here are a few from our current reading list we thought we'd share:

Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutsen.  Kelly and Erik are the LA couple behind the terrific Root Simple blog.  If you haven't come across it you should definitely check it out. They have an engaging, no-nonsense approach to urban sustainable living that we find incredibly appealing. They just get on with it and show others how they can too.

The book is a collection of sustainable do-it-yourself projects, ranging from very simple ones to more complex.  To give you an idea of the scope of the book, the table of contents is shown below.

Written in a clear and engaging way, the projects are inexpensive and very do-able. They will also give you new skills while saving you lots of money. What's not to like about that? We're already doing some of the things covered  - such as growing food, bread baking, brewing, preserving, soap-making, making some of our own cleaning products and keeping bees, but the book is full of heaps and heaps of other projects that we'd love to have a go at. 

Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley. This is a fascinating book. Thomas D. Seeley, a world renowned animal behaviourist, has spent decades studying bees. Bees reproduce by swarming. The swarm of bees leaves the original colony and finds a temporary spot to alight, such as a tree branch, while it searches for a permanent home. The survival of the swarm depends upon being able to find a suitable new home within a limited time frame.  In this book Seeley brings together all the research to describe the collective and democratic process in which bees choose and travel to a new home. He describes the fact-finding process, the debate and the consensus process that the bees undergo to find a new home, as well as the navigation process that takes them there. Seeley also considers the similarities between bee swarms and how primate brains work and how this pertains to effective decision making.

The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower's handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming by Jean-Martin Fortier. Jean and his wife run a productive and profitable micro-farm consisting of 1.5 acres in Quebec. Using a low-tech strategy and a focus on growing better, not bigger, their market garden now produces enough vegetables to feed over 200 families (that's not a typo!) and generates enough income to support them. In this book he outlines how they have achieved this.

While we're not planning to start our own CSA, this book is a great insight on how to get high productivity on a small piece of land in a way that minimises costs. We're reading with a view to increasing the productivity of our suburban plot.

Any good books you've read lately that you'd like to share?

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

In the garden .....

In the mid to late afternoons when the sun is out our hive often becomes quite active, with young worker bees taking their orientation flights around the hive.

The life of an adult worker bee consists of 3 main stages. She starts off as a nurse bee looking after the brood - cleaning cells from which new bees have emerged and feeding larvae. At about 13 days of age she becomes a house bee, and has various jobs inside the hive such as cleaning the hive, packing away of pollen and nectar in cells for storage, building comb and guarding the hive. At around 21 days she enters the final stage, becoming a field bee whose job is to provide for the colony by bringing in nectar and pollen. 

According to Backyard Beekeeping by Courtenay Smithers, it's towards the end of the first stage that the workers begin taking their first orientation flights. These flights occur each day when the hive is producing young. Young bees, often in large numbers, hover in front of the hive and then gradually fly further and further away from it. They do this to familiarise themselves with hive entrance and their surroundings, getting ready for the time when they will become field bees and will need to be able to find their way home.

Young bees taking orientation flights

I like watching them take these flights. It's nice to know that the hive is producing young and that they are learning to find their way home.