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Racheal Cameron

Working Bee

By NutritionNo Comments

After a week and a half of having bees, I can see where the phrase “working bee” comes from! These little guys are prolific! The photos are a little difficult to interpret, as the windows on our Warre hive are highly reflective. But hopefully you can see enough to get the idea. A Warre hive uses ‘top bars’ instead of frames like a Langstroth hive. So what this means, is that instead of a rectangular frame complete with ‘foundation wax’ (a thin layer of wax which the bees build upon), the Warre has just timber bars across the top of the boxes, which have a a light layer of melted bees wax on them to get the bees started.

Anyway, the bees started just over a week ago with these top bars. Now, already, they’ve drawn the comb almost to the bottom of the first box! And something I wasn’t expecting, was the pure white comb they’re building. You know how bees wax is usually a yellow colour? This is pure white so far.

There’s a close up…maybe you can see some comb?

We’re yet to put in the Wintergreen soaked coaster to repel the hive beetles. Yesterday while peeping into the hive we saw one of the beetles being attacked by an angry bee!

And while the bees are going full steam with their comb, this is what we’ve been up to…Pictured above is the propagation house, which Rick has nearly finished. It’s been a much bigger job than he anticipated…but that happens frequently around here! You never know what will happen to draw out the process of finishing a job.

And this is the potting table in the propagation house. Rick designed and built this one too. He’s aiming for maximum efficiency, so designs everything so that whatever he needs will be within reach and easy to use.

Rick has also set up the watering system in the propagation house…after many set backs. He went and bought all our irrigation supplies from a local irrigation specialist, you know, to support the little guy and get better advice. But wow, they made more mistakes with the order than I thought possible. It was several thousand dollars worth of gear, and they really messed up the order, and one of the parts we were given was even second hand and dirty inside!

And then there’s the sewing. Rick’s been wanting me to get an industrial sewing machine for years. But I think it’s not worth it. So here I am, in the dark (because that’s when I had some spare time), and outside (because the 10 meter lengths of shade cloth don’t really fit comfortably inside to sew) sewing two lengths of shade cloth together with upholstery thread. This is for a cover for Mount Compost, up the paddock. Rick wants it to stay moist….moisture is life 🙂

After a bit more research, it turns out I should be using UV stabilised thread. So now that’s on order and looks like I’ll be back to the exterior sewing table next week!

So lots is happening here at Birdsong. I’ll try and write more next week.

Sowing and Reaping

By NutritionOne Comment

I’m shocked that this massive structure is in our yard! Shocked in a pleasant way, that is.

Back when Rick quit his engineering to become a market gardener, I really felt God was encouraging me to be generous. Not to think that because we’d just lost our secure income that we needed to be more stingy, but rather the opposite. Be generous. So we kept on giving, and just as the bible says, we’re reaping what we’ve sown. It’s amazing.

That picture above, is the new solar bore pump setup. Rick’s mate Randall, an electrician from Charleville, came up for the week especially to install this for us. Rick had done some engineering work for him, and in return he spent a whole week here working on the trenches and everything else associated with getting this irrigation setup established. I think we were more blessed by his help than he was by ours!

Normally we don’t really have much space for guests, as any of Rick’s siblings who have stayed here (and experienced a mattress on the lounge room floor!) could tell you. But now, thanks to my cousin Steve and his wife Lizzy, we have their caravan parked here indefinitely as a spare room. So Randall had a real bed while staying here for the week. The caravan- another blessing.

Randall has brought his trencher here, but it was still a bit slow with the amount of work they had to achieve, so our neighbours, Paul and Julie (who own Toowoomba Trenching) loaned us their excavator! They have been so generous to us, also loaning us their grader a while back to prepare our paddock for the market garden.

We’ve been really blessed by all this rain too. Drought is such an everyday part of Australian farm life it seems, but the year we start this garden, we have regular and beautiful rain!

We’ve also had help. Starting a business, especially a business in which there’s not income for quite some some, means we can’t hire help…we can’t even pay ourselves yet! But sometimes Rick needs help getting structures built etc. So it was amazing when his friend Dave offered to help now and then and all he wants in exchange is some produce from the garden!

Rick’s mum has helped us out taking trailer loads of debris away to the dump for us.

And then we’ve also had help getting the equipment we need from Rick’s dad. All these things people have done for us have made it possible for Birdsong to become a reality. So thank you to those who have helped, and I hope this post is an encouragement to everyone that God really means it when He says you’ll reap what you sow. If you give into people’s lives, you will be given to yourself 🙂

Birdsong Bees

By NutritionNo Comments

The moment we’d long been waiting for- the arrival of the bees! Even if we weren’t starting a market garden, and even if we didn’t want lots of bees to pollinate our crops…we use a LOT of honey, and had been considering beekeeping for a long time.

Late last year we met Stan and his wife Liz, who showed us their hives in their back yard in town. From there I started going to Southern Beekeeper’s meetings with our older daughters (I don’t advise taking children…they get too sleepy there!).

Now finally, months later, we have a nucleus of bees in the Warre hive that Rick built himself. If you’re wondering why our hive looks different to your regular hives, that’s why. It’s a Warre hive. Warre was a bee-obsessed Frenchman who experimented with 350 different hive designs/variations apparently. The hive we built is the final design he settled on. Using his hives is a form of natural beekeeping, a less invasive approach than using standard techniques with a Langstroth hive.

Nev Hunt from Southern Beekeepers kindly supplied us with a nucleus of bees. It all happened rather suddenly in the end! We got the call Friday night to see if we could come and get the bees that weekend. We’d previously tried to catch a swarm by setting out the hives with a lemongrass essential oil blend in them (attracts bees) but we hadn’t caught anything. So it was a blessing to get this nuc from Nev. The drive home was exciting- we had a box of bees in the back of the Prado and they started escaping. The children sang out regular reports “One got out Dad!” and then “Now there’s two!” or “I found a third one out!” When you’ve got a 25 minute drive with 8 people in the car and bees on the loose….well, you can imagine the adrenaline!

So, pictured above is Rick preparing the top box of the Warre hive. We lined it with fine mesh and 100% linen fabric. This is to keep bees out of the lid, and keep the insulation (sawdust) in. Insulation is there for the same purpose as it is in the roof of your home-temperature regulation. Bees don’t like temperatire extremes, just like the rest of us.

And here’s the top box, lined and filled with dry sawdust, ready to go on the brood boxes.

And here’s Rick decked out in his new bee suit…beekeeping suit I should say (just so you know he’s not trying to dress up as a bee!). It will be interesting to see if he ends up needing to use it much. The Warre hive is said to create calmer bees, and therefore they may not cause a need to wear a suit to often. We’ll see.

Now what do those oils have to do with bees, you say?

Well, there’s this little pest called the Small Hive Beetle. I didn’t know if it would be much of an issue here, because at the Beekeeping meetings I noticed it’s AFB (American Foul Brood) that the members complain loudest about, not the hive beetle. But sure enough, after less than 24 hours of having bees in the box, along came some rogue hive beetles to crash the party. The reason they are a pest is that they lay their maggots in the honeycomb. I’ve never met anyone that enjoys the odd maggot in their honey. So most beekeepers seem to use traps etc to deal with the beetles. But Being an essential oil junkie, and having seen an article detailing the use of Wintergreen essential oil to repel the beetles…well, I couldn’t let the chance to test the theory pass me by. So what we have pictured is coconut oil, Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade Wintergreen essential oil and a cardboard diffuser pad (a coaster will work just the same). You mix one part Wintergreen with 16 parts carrier oil (coconut oil in my case) and then soak your coaster or diffuser pad in it. This then is placed above the frames in the hive to repel the unwanted beetles. Apparently it also repels varroa mites.

By the way, the bees transferred nicely into the new hive. Some died from the stress of the drive home (inevitable, I think) and another died after stinging Archie (in defense of the colony, of course). I’ll post more pics when I get them! Today, being almost non stop rain, was not such a great outdoor photography day!

And the Reality Is…

By Market GardenNo Comments

Most people enjoy honesty. Maybe they’re even relieved by it. So many blogs especially, will highlight the high points of someones life, achievements or whatever. But what’s going on behind the scenes?

Well, sit back, relax and have a glimpse at what this week at Birdsong Market Garden was like…

School holidays are here, we homeschool and so the children are with me all the time anyway. But it’s sweet to have a break from lessons. Contrary to what so many people seem to think about there being a lack of socialising for homeschoolers, we’re inundated with people at times. School holidays especially. Sleepovers, visits and the like…it’s all happening. So on top of our 6 little farmlings, we had my niece 2-3 days a week while my sister works in town. Then there were friends having sleepovers and friends visiting from out of town and friends coming for dinner. Friends are a blessing, don’t get me wrong, but it’s busy! About 2 days ago I just crashed. All I’d wanted these school holidays was a day off, but instead it’s been lots of extra work, and I’d broken out in a very itchy rash, had to avoid dairy…blah blah blah. Anyway, that morning I just dropped on the couch and let the family fend for themselves for a while. I was pooped!

We also had neighbours dropping in to give us surplus mulberries, and another more distant neighbour coming in search of fertile light sussex chicken eggs. Animals bring people together, I can tell you that! I was able to give her some fertile eggs, though couldn’t guarantee their light sussex purity as we have 4 very effective roosters on the farm, and only one of them is a light sussex. She noticed our lone duck (his mate was eaten by a fox ages ago) and so came back several days later to say she knew a guy who wanted to pass on his 4 ducks, who were making too much of a mess of his yard. He wanted chooks instead. So I contacted him and we did a trade. His 4 ducks (one of whom is sitting on eggs) for 4 of our hens. We’ve got loads of hens, and two of them are sitting on eggs, so there’ll be even more soon!

Rick has been building the propagation house…our seedling nursery. This will be a huge help in freeing up ground space during the seasons. Instead of a plant needing say, 12 weeks in the ground, it can spend the first 6-8 weeks of it’s life protected in the propagation house, and then move into the paddock. While it’s in the nursery, something else can be occupying that space in the paddock…maximising crop varieties and yields. Building this poly-tunnel has been a big job. Primarily because it’s huge and often needs an extra set of hands. We’ve been so blessed to have a friend of Rick’s offer to help now and then in exchange for some produce. Big help. But he has his own life and own children, so most of the time when Rick needs help, he calls on me. And having 6 children, loads of animals and homeschooling etc, I’m not often just sitting around looking for something to do. So there I’ll be, cooking lunch or something, and Rick will call me to come and give him a hand with the propagation house, or hold some steel while he cuts it. It’s incredible how much Rick has been able to do alone, but sometimes he needs help.

Technology, ah, technology. We live in just the right location to miss out on luxuries like NBN and even ADSL. And mobile networks other than Telstra. So for the three years we’ve lived here, we put up with little reception and VERY slow internet speeds. Then came the business and Rick wisely said we need some reliable service. So a good portion of the holidays was spent sorting that out. It should have been simple, but porting a mobile number turns out to be very messy when you’ve forgotten that the old account was in your husbands name and not your own. I spent days on and  off the phone between our old and new providers trying to get it sorted. But now I can actually receive calls and hear the person on the other end properly. And use internet that loads pages at a reasonable speed. One day I got a photo of our 6 year old asleep at the computer. She’d literally dropped off while waiting for her Reading Eggs page to load! That’s how bad our internet used to be.

Every day more equipment for the market garden arrives. It’s all coming together slowly. We’d been all geared up to get a shade net over the whole plot to filter the hot summer sun and make working in summer that little bit more bearable. Then we got the quote back. Gulp. It was about $20k more than we expected! So Rick the DIY king, now plans to order the materials and do it himself. He’ll try just about anything!

That’s a bit of recent life at Birdsong for you. Today is Rick’s birthday, and he’s spent it working on the farm, with the exception of a quick trip to the Meringandan Pub with me for lunch.


Minerals, you say?

By NutritionNo Comments

IMG_0020So what’s all this talk about minerals? And produce being ‘mineral-rich?’ Isn’t it anyway? Well over the course of our lives we hadn’t thought a great deal about the quality of our food. But then a relative of ours loaned us a CD to listen to. It was a talk by Dr Joel Wallach called ‘The Best of ‘Dead Doctor’s Don’t Lie'” We listened attentively, as we drove out to Greenmount one sunny afternoon. It was shocking. Here was this man who’d grown up on a farm where cattle were supplemented to make sure they were getting all they needed, but the humans sure weren’t…and this man started to question human nutrition. He went on to become a vet, which is significant, because vets are trained differently, more thoroughly you could say, than GP’s. Vets need to know about multiple species, whereas a regular doctor focuses on one-humans.  Anyway, after something like 14,000 autopsies on a vast array of animals, Dr Wallach was noticing certain mineral deficiencies were linked to certain degenerative diseases. Actually, he became convinced that EVERY degenerative disease was a direct result of a mineral deficiency. What really got me was his rundown on copper deficiency.  First you’ll get premature greying of the hair…then varicose veins, then hemorrhoids, and if it gets depleted from your system enough…an aneurysm. Why it struck me, was because in the course of having 6 children, I’d developed those symptoms (minus the aneurysm) in just that order! But I had such a ‘healthy’ diet, so where was this copper deficiency coming from?

Before long a friend was excitedly informing me that a John Kohler was coming to town. He had been given 3 months to live back in the 70’s…yet there we were in 2015 and he was still very much alive. Why? He’d met a man, who later became his father-in-law, who taught him about the serious lack of minerals in the human diet, due to poor soil nutrition from our modern farming practices. This man also got John on a personalised mineral program  to get his system back in order. I was intrigued, and went to listen to John tell his story. I tried a personalised mineral program too, but something didn’t seem right about having to take all these supplements when the food we eat should be supplying them. Why couldn’t farmers just look after their soil, quit the toxic chemicals and allow us to eat nutritious produce? John said his father-in-law had tried, in vain, to convince the USDA (whom he used to work for) that our farming practices were destroying the health of the populous. But they wouldn’t listen. Why?

Money. It’s just so profitable to get a farmer buying GMO seeds, that need replacing each year, and then to have them need a list of chemicals to keep these crops ‘healthy’ and ‘disease free’ so they’re salable.

But did you know that pests and disease don’t attack healthy plants? Just like a truly healthy human won’t attract sickness and disease, neither will a healthy plant. For example, one day when I was a little exasperated with the cabbage moth attacking our crop, I asked an experienced gardener friend what could be wrong. ‘Boron deficiency’ he replied. Ah, another mineral issue. But it’s not just a case of sprinkling the crop with boron. Minerals exist cooperatively. They work together and not alone. And they also need the help of microbes, which are like the digestive enzymes of the soil.

To get back to the story though, Rick and I decided we should try getting our minerals via our food. And farmers that sell crops grown both organically AND from remineralised, nurtured soil, are few and far between. So we (well, Rick actually did most the work!) started a vege plot on our property to grow these veg ourselves. We had the soil tested, according to the standards of William Albrecht, an authority on soil and it’s relation to human health. With those results, we set to work balancing our soil and preparing it for planting. About 250kg of minerals went into the soil, plus a lot of mulch, and we reaped a LOT of food that summer! I’ve always been a bit of a human guinea pig with things like this, and decided I’d quit my vitamin and mineral supplements (I was dealing with thyroid autoimmune disease and taking lots of natural supplements to help) and see what difference I saw in my health. For 3 months we ate loads of produce, picked fresh from the balanced garden. And yes, my health improved. One of my symptoms had been fatigue. I was drained fairly constantly, and often would go to bed soon after 7:30pm when the children did the same. But this produce was giving me energy. I was starting to feel alive again and managed to start staying up later!

As the months passed by, the desire to start a market garden and produce enough food to help many others as a living, became stronger and stronger in Rick. He felt like his electrical engineering job was a waste of time, when this wholesome gardening opportunity was before him. He spent hours and hours each week reading up on how to create a garden that would grow the food people really need. Healing food. Whole food. Food that’s just brimming with life.

And eventually, he took the plunge. He quit his engineering job and started creating Birdsong Market Garden. So, when we rave on about ‘mineral-rich’ food, I hope you will now have a slightly better idea why.

What’s in a Name?

By NutritionNo Comments

Birdsong Logo“What should we call our farm?” The question had been circling us for months. Ideas had come, and often quickly been dismissed. Nothing to that point had sounded as though it really encompassed what we were doing. I had been impressed with ‘Singing Frogs Farm,’ the name of a similar farm in the USA. Though the name didn’t directly say what they were selling or what they were about, the name did create a mental image of a place where there is balance, health and biodiversity. All qualities that we’re all about here on our farm.

Rick is an avid reader, and also a tireless learner. His latest book at that point, Secrets of the Soil, had a chapter on ‘sonic bloom.’ I’d never heard of it, but the concept of the birds song and involvement in an ecosystem actively benefiting the plants made perfect sense to me. Because everything is connected, so of course that beautiful morning chorus the birds deliver could be doing more than just making a pretty sound to wake up to. And of course even the beating wings causing certain air currents over the plants could be a beneficial part of the plants health.

“Plants, says Steiner, can only be understood when considered in connection with all that is circling, weaving and living around them.” Secrets of the Soil, p. 129

“Birdsong Market Garden!” I enthusiastically suggested to Rick. When I hear that name, I see a place that’s alive, that’s thriving and peaceful and vibrant with colour. A place filled with nutrient dense vegetables. We quickly asked some friends and family their honest opinion on the name, and every single response was affirmative. Birdsong it was.

With the knowledge of the birds importance in our lives, we’ve been planting extra trees, especially of the leptospermum species, to encourage more of our feathered friends to abide here. We’re already blessed to hear a lovely array of birds in song each morning as we wake…accompanied by the odd rooster crowing! But now we look forward to even greater variety…coming soon.