Saturday, August 5

Houseboat trip - again

We loved the last Murray River houseboat trip taken in winter so much we tried it again this year. Also as an incentive, we purchased a voucher reducing the cost to half-price - being an incentive to get people to hire during winter. This time we left Renmark and headed down stream, although the first night was spent just below  Whirlpool Corner, upstream, as the weather was too atrocious and the lock-master would not allow us passage through Lock 5. We took a leisurely trip to Lock 4 and back over  5 five nights - with rain on the last night and day. The weather was every type! High wind and dust, frosty mornings, fog and rain.


One evening

Saturday, December 10

My First Flow Hive™

With some prompting from she who must be obeyed I finally purchased a flow hive, from Flow™ made famous by the enormously successful crowdfunding and the subsequent media, in particular “Australia Story” from the ABC and its sequel see: and - accessed 10 December 2016. The story shows how Cedar Anderson and his father Stuart invented a new way to rob hives of honey, by essentially splitting the honey cell vertically – tearing each apart, allowing the honey to flow out into a trough and thus out of the hive to be collected.

Anyway – back to the story – sometime in October 2016 I purchased a flow hive, or rather a 7 Flow™ frames, and a super made of pine. I didn’t go for the cedar as I prefer to paint the hives and anyway I did not get it to show it off. The order was apparently delayed, but in any event it was as fast as most other on-line orders and within a week I had two boxes; a box of 7 frames (enough for a 10 frame Langstroth super) and a flat pack super. The on-line videos are very useful, and I would encourage anyone starting up a Flow Hive™ to look at these. The manual was good, except it failed to point out the sides have a back and front!

Under coat!
The first thing I did was undercoat and paint all pieces of wood – yes I do paint the inside of hives and I still have Pinus radiata supers that are >20 years old. If one looks after them, they last for a long time. The problem with painting the Flow Hive super was it was cut out with a laser cutter – which gives superior tolerance – the pieces were exact! The problem was there was not enough room for three coats of paint (1 primer, and 2 top coats), so I had to resize the dovetailed joints and sand the window covers a little. This was not much trouble – but better to have been done before painting.

The assembly was easy, except I did not notice the sides have a front and back. Because there is a window on the back of the super, to allow access to the flow frames, the left and right side at the bottom of the sides are tied together with a thin aluminium slat that sits in a recess – I put the back on the wrong end, so the recess was in the wrong place. But I noticed straightway and managed to pull the super apart (I had glued it) and reassemble it correctly. The company provides screws, which are adequate for the job – I add glue to stop water getting into the joints.

Side window to allow observation of the frames
I then placed the super on top of one of my hives – however it is perhaps not the strongest so think I will move it to another, as the bees have not really moved into the box (over 4 weeks). Plus this has been a very wet year in Adelaide and bee hives are perhaps not as strong as they could be. Using a queen excluder may also be a problem, something I usually don’t do – but recommended for the flow hive. For hobbyists, having a few brood in the centre frames is not really been a problem – just avoid these frames. So next week I will spin out the upper super of another triple and replace the super with the flow hive super – this hive is much stronger and much busier.

Nearly ready to go
Before putting it together I took a Flow Frame™ to work for a ‘show and tell’ which was interesting. I’m a pharmacologist/environ. toxicologist in a large health agency so it was surprising to find a couple of men who kept bees for a hobby along with someone else whose father had 40 hives plus one of my own staff also keeps bees. Everyone I talked to was genuinely interested and most had seen one of the media broadcasts – Australian Story mostly.

Is it all worthwhile? The hive is expensive – the transport was also rather expensive with the lot costing $700 delivered. I could have made the super – the company has plans on the Web, and I could have used a flat-pack super from a local supplier which costs about $30 – but putting in the windows would not have been as neat. Seven frames delivered cost $613 (December 2016 prices), so for the extra expense, unless you have the wood already, just buy the super as well.

For a beginner – it would save the cost of knives, boiler (if using a steam knife) and extractor – some of which can be found on-line but overall would cost more than the $700 I paid (note if starting from scratch you need to have a bottom box for the brood, bottom board and lid as well). Overall the Flow™ hive may be a very good place to start. You don’t need to learn how to remove frames, uncap and spin out the honey. So for a backyard beginner this hive is worth considering. Don’t forget that apiarists need to be registered in their respective state or territory.

Does it work? ... Watch this space!

Frames in box with a few bees

Back - final hive

Saturday, June 18

Houseboat trip on the Murray River

Have you ever taken a house boat on the Murray River? My family and I have a number of times, the most recent, a couple of weeks ago (June 2016). It is a very relaxing and enjoyable way to be in the ‘bush’ but have the comforts of home. (No, I am not a travel agent nor affiliated with any house boat owners). I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Relaxed! Campfire and boat.

We went with three other couples – meeting at the Renmark Big Macs (not a food outlet I would normally publically announce I frequent – but it’s very easy to find in Renmark and convenient for groups to meet.) After a coffee, drafting a matrix of meals and shopping list, we headed for the local shopping mall and purchased food and drinks for five days, including ice. Individual couples either brought extra’s or purchased these themselves such as wine or nibbles. In regard meals each couple provided their own breakfast and lunch. However, in reality often we have communal breakfasts, if say, we all decide to have eggs and bacon, and lunch turns into a communal event. In our case one couple cooked egg pies for lunch on one of the days. On other days my wife and I made sandwiches while others made salads etc. Each couple cooked an even meal and on the last day we ate left-overs, which, because my brother was with us, who is an excellent cook, were turned into a lovely meal.

Cliffs along the Murray River

We headed north (yes the Murray goes north from Renmark, not east) and camped at various spots on the River. Being winter we could build camp fires at each night-stop and spend the evenings sitting around the fire (it did rain on one evening), which is very beautiful – with no traffic, flies, mosquitoes or any other noise, other than that of the bush. We could read, talk, play board games and in some cases browse the internet (Optus does not work, but Telstra and Videophone did – but who wants to ‘go bush’ and be connected?)

Some say it is expensive – it can be, but a few tips;
  1. Choose off-peak season to travel. This is always cheaper – indeed more than half the peak season price,.
  2. Discount promotions are often offered for low season – we purchased our trip nearly 18 months ago. The rules were that we could not hire the boat during peak season. Not having children at school this was not an issue, and June was convenient for everyone.
  3. Bigger boats cost more, but you can take more people. We usually have a total of 4 – 6 couples which shares the expense. Our June trip cost about approximately $2400 including boat hire, diesel (for power), petrol and food shared amongst four couples, meaning we paid $300 each for five days. Other expenses included wine, extra nibbles and other alcoholic drinks that couples brought along to share, and of course the fuel cost from home to Renmark. 
  4. Buy your ice and food at the local supermarket and bring to the boat. Some boat hirers will offer to ice and meat (and more) but these can have a large premium attached.
  5. Don’t travel fast: most boats have a maximum throttle control to prevent overzealous high powered engine use, however, like the car, fuel use increases exponentially with speed. Ask the hire company what the most economic speed is. For our boat it was about 2100 RPM. And in any case why are you in a hurry?
  6. Diesel is used usually to make electricity, which means if you are running a spa (yes, some house boats have spas) or an air conditioner (needed in summer) you will burn more fuel. This was our first winter trip, so we neither used the air conditioner (heating was by gas) nor did we have or want a spa.
Currently the Murray is flowing very slowly, and there are various obstacles in travelling too far – we went as far up stream as we could – a sand bar prevented any further travel. However, it was far enough for a five night trip and in any case, there were very few people on the river – so escaping into solitude was easy.

We always had pelicans visit.

Driving a house boat requires an unrestricted car driver’s licence, although in our case four of us had a boat licence. The boats are not too hard to drive, but takes a bit of getting use to making decisions sometime before they occur, because it takes a while for the boat to respond. Wind is probably the main hazard especially when mooring alongside the bank with trees. Some people have managed to severely damage their boat by running into trees while mooring – forgetting how tall the boat is and the fact over hanging trees can overhang the boat. (Being drunk is probably the most dangerous thing you can do – this is, for obvious reasons, illegal, and for this reason boat operators are regularly breathalysed by police). It is also tricky in high flows – knowing when to apply reverse, left or right power takes a bit of practice in order to moor square on, at the chosen spot, rather than some sand bar of up against a tree! In our case due to low flow, watching the depth gauge was paramount while moving.

All-in-all the trip was very relaxing and enjoyable. The boat was full of mod-cons and the beds were very comfortable: ours had a large fridge & freezer, gas range, oven (electric rather than gas, for some unknown reason), dish washer, two bathrooms/toilets, and two large out door table/chair sets – which we used around the camp fire, and a large living space. In the past we have taken kayaks, a boat (towed along beside), and children (who camped out on the banks in swags). What more could you want?

Sunday, October 18

Catching a swarm of bees

Bees are an incredible part of nature, important for pollination and the subsequent reproduction of many plant species, for food, and of benefit to humans directly through their honey production. The slump in world numbers has highlighted a potential for a disaster to occur – in Australia, at least, one estimate is that two thirds of all agriculture is dependent upon bees. I have not seen the data that was used to make this estimate, so cannot verify it, but certain the industry I grew up in – stone and pome fruit, bees are crucial – there would be zero apples, pears, peaches etc without bees.

So when a young person takes an interest in bees I jump at the chance. I began keeping bees when I was about 15 years of age, and have had bees ever since. The photos below are of a nucleus my great uncle Carl gave me many years ago when I showed an interest in bee keeping. The other week Sam said he wanted to learn about bee keeping, so being October I knew that either one of my hives might swarm or one of the wild hives (wild in that they are European bees that have set up their hives in the hollow of trees in the area). So I set up a small nucleus hive with four frames, which had some fully formed comb and I filled the missing pieces with honey-comb foundation – wax that has hexagons imprinted in the surface. Below is a photo of the nucleus hive and frame with wax foundation I had impregnated into the wires that runs across the frame. In Australia all apiarists need to be registered, so you can see my registration letters on the front of the hive. I then placed the hive out amongst my other two.

Nucleus hive and a frame with new foundation wax

Last Thursday I came home from work to find a swarm hanging off box of supers, lids and bottoms, sitting outside my shed. The supers contained a heterogeneous collection of frames so I did not want the bees to occupy these boxes as one box had no frames and most of the frames were un-waxed and many had broken wires. So they had to be moved into my nucleus I had set up.

Swam on group of empty supers.

Handling a swarm is easy – my son was concerned for my lack of gloves, but the bees are too busy protecting the queen and making a new home to bother me. They are also full of honey, having consumed their full before leaving their originating hive and are very docile. I wear a veil, although I have handled swarms without them, because if they get tangled with eyelashes they sting – and a sting on the eye lid is very painful! I merely knocked the majority of the bees into the nucleus and low-and-behold the rest of the bees merely marched in – a wonderful sight. I did not find the queen – dusk was falling rapidly at the time, and I did not find the queen outside the box, so I presumed it was inside. After about an hour only a small handful of bees remained, and a bit later, none – so I move the box into the garden.

Most of the bees I had knocked into the box, but those that were outside, quickly orientated themselves and marched into the nucleus

In a couple of days I will open the box to see if there is a queen, but at this stage, in the warm sunny weather, the bees are very busy, just as they aught. In a couple of weeks, if things go well, I will migrate the four frames (and bees!) to a 10 frame super and take it to my friend’s home; their first hive!

Nucleus ready for bees!

Thursday, July 2

Trip to Turkey

My wife and I have just returned from a fascinating trip to Turkey. Australians know Turkey because of Gallipoli, and many thousands have visited Turkey, but have they gone past Istanbul and the Gallipoli Peninsular? We did and found it fulfilling and fascinating.

We chose Turkey rather randomly – having booked a study tour of Israel, we wanted to do something else while in the northern hemisphere, and since it is the 100 anniversary of that dreadful Gallipoli campaign (2015), Turkey was brought to our attention. So with guidance from our lovely travel agent, booked a 13 day bus trip. We had some trepidation as we had no idea of what our travelling companions would be like, nor the tour guide, or anything at all about Turkey! All this was dispelled and I would encourage anyone with time to visit.

Turkey is large, prosperous and productive. Yes it is Muslim, and this is more pronounced in the east, but the Turks proudly claim that are not Arab; “don’t mistake us for Arabs”. Islam was not in our face, although it was the culture, and yes we did wake to morning pray to call, but this is all part of the experience of being in a different culture.

Our tour started at Istanbul airport; large and crowded, but with little delay, made it through passport control and customs, with no fuss, to be met by a large and very friendly man who organised our transport to the hotel. This was a point of excitement for my wife who always wanted to be met on arrival at an airport with a sign carrying our names. This man, in no time, had organised us in finding an ATM and toilet while looking after our baggage. He also pointed out we were getting the best tour guide in Turkey. This proved perhaps true – an academic with a PhD in history, with degrees in Christian biblical history, Turkish history and archaeology. He spoke multiple languages - his English was excellent, given it was not his first or second language and he had an incredible knowledge of 3-4000 years of history including modern politics.

The trip consisted of exploring Istanbul for a few days then travelling in a clockwise direction to transverse the Gallipoli Peninsula, the east coast, the south coast, then up the centre via Cappadocia, and back to Istanbul. The coast is very beautiful, as are the mountains and the vast agricultural lands. Cappadocia has incredible unique landforms which one can take a hot air balloon to view (which we did not do, but many in the group did). For those who love Biblical history, the trip included Ephesus, Pergamum, Heliopolis, Pamphylia, the region of Cappadocia, and the region of Galatia and much more. For history buffs, Troy is fascinating as is the very sad story of the Greek Village of Kayakoy. We did not spend the entire time looking at ancient ruins; we tried swimming in the Mediterranean – a bit cold, being the end of spring (It was warmer in Tel Aviv a month later), and visiting Turkey’s capital, Ankara and other modern sites.

Aspendos amphitheater (Pamphylia)

Ephesus library

Hand made carpets with silk - even this small size takes many many months, hence real Turkish carpets are always expensive

Tulips were well known in Turkey before the Europeans fell in love with them - Topkapi Palace, Istanbul
Ruins of Pergamum (Asclepion)

Of our concerns?

Our travelling companions did not turn out to be loud offish Australians or boorish Americans, but a group of lovely English speaking people; mostly Australians but included two Canadians and two South Africans (who lived in Australia), and a beautiful Singaporean, who looked after us well when we travelled home via Singapore; a total of 22-25 (depending on the section of the tour). We were all different but in some ways like-minded – and all enjoyed the immense richness of the history and culture of Turkey. Most were retired and we had a diverse set of interests, but this made having meals and busing together interesting and very enjoyable.

Toilets did not turn out to be fifthly holes in dilapidated out-buildings! Indeed many Australian public toilets would be put to shame by the cleanliness of those in Turkey. Expect to pay one (₺1) Turkish Lira (about 50c Australian) for use of public toilets – and don’t be put off paying - we found the pay toilets were always spotless; had paper, soap and a means to dry your hands, and usually had been recently cleaned.

Food was wonderful, varied and healthy. I was sick on the first day, but most likely from food eaten en-route, as the illness started before I had eaten in Turkey! The tour guide ensured we had different food each day; some days he chose for us, on other days we found our own restaurants, negotiated with the locals and ate local food – all very beautiful. Alcohol can be found and I had some very nice white wine, but it is expensive due to tax applied by the government as a price point to reduce alcoholism (and raise revenue).

Water on tap that is potable (i.e. drinkable) is rare, and something Australians take for granted. As with most of the world, the water from the taps in Turkey could not be guaranteed to be safe to drink, so Turks drink bottled water. The cheapest method is to by six packs of 1.5L or larger bottles from supermarkets or service stations. I found I could purchase 9L for about $4.50 - cheaper than home!

Hotels were all well-appointed and clean with the only complaint, which is not limited to Turkish hotels, being the pillows were not always comfortable. Even in Canberra where I travel regularly, the hotel appears not to be able to provide a pillow that supports the head in the correct position. There is clearly a difference between a European five star hotel in Ankara and a five star Turkish hotel in a rural region (as there is between Sydney and Mildura); and so is the price! Only one hotel appeared to price excessively, including for internet access, water and use of the pool and gym. 

Internet was available in every hotel with various levels of connectivity; however, I would take the tablet or phone and wander about the hotel until I found a hot-spot when things were slow. The download speeds were all good, but the upload speeds were usually poor, but no worse than most Australian hotel internet services (which I find overpriced and slow – I cannot see why Australian city hotels cannot provide free internet, when many of the country motels can!)

ATM’s were in abundance; indeed it appeared that Turks were in love with ATM’s. In Marmaris (south coast) we found eight together in an ‘ATM kiosk’ – one for each of the banks in the area! However, it appeared that cash rather than card was the way Turk’s did business, so we rarely used cards to pay for goods, except for extra’s on checking out of hotels, and more upmarket restaurants. The ATM’s were in English and easy to operate.

We would not recommend taking cash but use a travel card (which for us was cheaper than credit or debit card). In Australia, at least, cash is expensive, especially for more exotic currencies like the Turkish Lira. Cash exchange bureaus, including banks, have very poor exchange rates and exorbitant fees. There are ATM’s at the airport and the bank provided good exchange rates on a travel-card (we used Commonwealth Bank) which has $3.50 surcharge on withdrawal (so we did fairly large withdrawal each time) and no charge when purchasing items, and no fees to load the card – which we could do via internet.

Shopping is not a high priority for either my wife or me. Like many countries in this area, shopping means bargaining, which takes practice – so be prepared. Apparently Australians suck at bargaining and are good for business in Turkey! One thing we did find was the prices in the rural regions and smaller cities are better than in the Grand Bazaar or large cities – so if travelling, don’t leave it until you return to Istanbul to fly home, to buy your souvenirs. We also had to watch out for what currency was being displayed or being bargained. Their trick was to bargain in Euros (which sounds cheap at 3 Lira to each Euro), which on acceptance is converted to Turkish Lira at inflated exchange rates. We would demand to bargain in Lira, because the exchange rate offered by our bank was always better than the street sellers!

Safety was never a concern other than at a level one has when in large cities – be alert not alarmed. Unlike Paris where I was pick-pocketed, nothing untoward happened, nor did it ever look like something bad was going to happen. We did lots of walking, both day and night, and always felt safe. The most dangerous thing was crossing roads in Istanbul which has 18 million people and a huge number of cars! The only serious trepidation was getting lost in the narrow streets of Istanbul while jet lagged and without a proper map! It didn’t happen. A trick I learnt was to photograph street signs on the phone camera – so it was easy to look back to find the right street (street names in Turkey are in Latin lettering, but of course the language is Turkish, which is complete different from English or any European language).

Would we go back? 

Yes we would, but we have a vast number of other places we have not visited, so it would not be high on our agenda. That said, we have lots more to explore in Turkey including Istanbul, so perhaps on trips to and from Europe we might drop off again in Turkey and explore more – next time the eastern & norther sides. Turkish Airlines fly Singapore – Istanbul which is very convenient for Australians, and we found Turkish Airlines clean and efficient, unlike Istanbul Airport were we had to change gates four times before the right gate was announced – but this is all part of the experience of the trip.