For the LOVE of BEES

If you plan to join the growing number of hobby beekeepers the very first step should be to define your goals.  I learned that the hard way.

It’s a wonderful thing to see the popularity of beekeeping keeps increasing.  I love beekeeping for many reasons, but when I was first starting out the learning curve was very intimidating.  And that’s coming from someone who usually adores learning.  

Not only was there loads to learn about the bees themselves, but also about how to manage their colonies, which changes depending on your hive type, which is dependent on what your goals are as a beekeeper.

The first question to answer for yourself as a newbie is if you are interested in beekeeping as livestock or as habitat provider, or maybe both.

I had several mishaps in my first years because I hadn’t asked myself this most fundamental question.  I hadn’t asked myself this because in all the books, forums, courses and club meetings I’d attended, no one asked this question.  The general assumption is always that the beekeeper is interested in bees as livestock, because that’s what most want.

In this case, follow the commercial standards, using their Langstroth hives and peripheral equipment, their treatment schedules for pests and diseases, and their feeding programs and supplies, and you should be good to go.  You can buy nucs (nucleus colonies) in the spring, and if all goes well you’ll have some honey before winter.  This is by far the most popular route to take in beekeeping.

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Our only Langstroth hive on the homestead, bedazzled with old jewelry.

But it’s not for everyone, including me, which took me a few years to figure out.  Honey, pollen, wax, propolis, royal jelly, queen rearing, and other processes and products from beekeeping are the main goals of this style of beekeeping and there’s lots to learn from the commercial operators who have mastered many of these skills for maximum efficiency and profit.

However, if you are interested more in providing habitat and learning from the bees, and creating truly sustainable, long-term, self-sufficient colonies in your space, following commercial practices is really not the way to go, and can lead to a lot of expense, confusion and frustration.

In the hopes of encouraging more beekeepers to become honeybee habitat providers rather than livestock managers only, here are a few tips and resources.

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The bee yard of Dennis Kenney of Jackson-area Beekeepers Club, with his preferred horizontal hive style.  Horizontal hives differ from Top-bar hives in that they have full frames with foundation.  Benefits of full frames is ease of management and stability of comb.  Drawbacks would be the added expense and the artificial, manufactured foundation and its potential contaminants.

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  • The conventional practice is to keep all your hives in a ‘bee yard’ for reasons of convenience and space.  This is antithetical to bee colonies’ natural proclivity to nest far from one another.  It creates problems of diseases and pests that spread rapidly in conditions of overpopulation, which is why so many treatments are needed, and then feeding when nectar/pollen flow is scarce, as well as being hyper-vigilant in your regular hive inspections to find issues immediately before they spread.  Now that I have spaced my 6 hives out around a very large area I’m having far more success.  But, only time will tell!

What else I’ve learned:

  • The typical Langstroth hive is made for easy transport and standardization purposes for the industry mainly, but they are not ideal for the honeybee habitat provider, because they are made with thin walls in order to be lightweight. This means they are poorly insulated and so not suitable for the long-term stability of the hive—getting too hot in summer in southern climates and too cold in winter in northern climates.  Our top-bar hives and nucs have thick walls and insulated roofs. 

  • If you want your bees adapted to your area and climate you don’t want to do the conventional practice of buying new queens every couple of years.  Ideally, you’ll want your colonies to produce their own queens.  Queen-rearing will remain an essential skill for a more advanced beekeeper, because occassionally you may still want to make splits to increase your numbers or to replace weak colonies, or to re-queen another hive displaying poor genetic traits. 
  • When the colonies are weak, depending on the issue, they may need to be culled. This is rarely suggested by professional beekeepers who promote regular treatments on which the weak colonies then become dependent, while still spreading their weak genes on to subsequent generations and their diseases and pests to other colonies.

Just like the faulty logic of ‘herd immunityin the vaccine debate among human populations, many commercial beekeepers use the same complaint about those of us who want go au naturel, that is, treatment-free, with our bees.

Many scientists and researchers are trying to raise public awareness that this is not how herd-immunity works, not in livestock or in humans, and I applaud their efforts.  I personally find referring to populations of people as a herd to be insulting.  I think it actually trains individuals through neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) to think of themselves and each other not as unique and separate individuals, but rather as cattle to be managed.

  • You’ll also want to mostly forgo the conventional practice of swarm prevention.  The goal is for the bees to become self-sufficient, as in the wild, where colonies can live for decades with no hand from man to aid or to disturb.  Some of these colonies are enormous, like one we found in an old oil barrel, there for over 15 years and thriving with multiple queens in the same colony, which most likely swarmed annually.

Swarming is a natural, bio-dynamic process performing many different functions for the colony, hygiene being an essential one. Everything the beekeeper takes away from their natural processes is a stress on them which must then be alleviated by other, most likely artificial, means.

  • Plant perennial and annual crops the bees like for your area and climate.  Here in the south there are plenty of plants that bloom at different times most of the year, giving free bee buffets from early spring to late fall, like: bluebonnet, white clover, hairy vetch, wild mustard, vitek, morning glory, trumpet vine, yaupon, and lots of garden herbs and crops, too.  It is my greatest pleasure to harvest cucumbers, peas, beans and arugula surrounded by forging bees—they love them as much as we do!

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Experimenting and observing is the most fabulous feature of the honeybee habitat provider! 

I know a homeschooling homesteader with an observation hive in their house that the children treasure.  Not only do they learn from these fascinating creatures about how they operate in the hive, but how they are connected to the seasons and to their environment.  They’re learning constantly from the colonies’ successes as much as from their failures.

I practice slightly different techniques with each hive to discover which methods work best here on the wee homestead: one hive has a screened bottom board, one I keep with a reduced entrance all year, one’s in full-sun and another partial shade, and so on.  Not that this will necessarily solve the mystery of colony failure, but every bit of data helps!

Some unconventional resources:

Books

The Shamanic Way of the Bee: Ancient Wisdom and Healing Practices of the Bee Masters by Simon Buxton (2004)

The Dancing Bees: An Account of the Life and Senses of the Honey Bee by Karl von Frisch (1953)

Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health by Les Crowder & Heather Harrell (2012)

Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture by Ross Conrad (2013)

Sites

Treatment-free Beekeeping YouTube Channel

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCC_Yb2d_9M09hcaWlghVZDg

The Bee-Master of Warrilow by Tigkner Edwardes (1921)

https://archive.org/stream/cu31924003203175/cu31924003203175_djvu.txt

Biobees

http://biobees.com/library/general_beekeeping/beekeeping_books_articles/BroAdam_Search_for_Best_strains2.htm

Dr. Leo Sharashkin

horizontalhive.com

IA & the G-Mafia

Deconstructing the law of large numbers and the wisdom of the crowd, our new and forever hero.  I am he.  You are me.  We’re all one big happy family.

At the mercy of a God, as we have always been.  Only it’s a new God.

Similar to the old one, don’t worry.  Same, same, but different.

You see, because AI can do it better than me, better than you, and that’s good.  Feel comforted.  AI will take care of you, of your pets, of your globe or plane or island, wherever you want to live, all One in the  G-machine.

Queen calling, another ancient skill to soon go hi-tech?
Beekeeping Today Podcast

“Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk and Dr. David Firth from the Univerisity of Montana are working together on a new application for beekeepers called Bee Health Guru.  The application uses artificial intelligence (AI) to listen to the sound and based upon complex algorithms and learned history, can provide a diagnosis of the colony’s health. Simply amazing.
Jerry and David join Jeff & Kim on this episode to talk about the history of the technology and the ongoing research of the technology under-pinnings of the cell phone app. At the beginning of the podcast, you can hear Jeff listening to a audio clip of a 2-deep colony of bees at rest. Then suddenly, no… instantly, their tone changes. Could you tell what happened? The audio file was provided by Dr. Bromenshenk. In the recording, a colony of honey bees ‘at rest’ are given one (1) drop of toluene.  The communication through the hive was instantaneous. Bees communicate more than we knew and the Bee Health Guruapp hopes to help us translate just what they’re saying!”

It’s better this way.  Trust them.  They’re on our side, as always.

Just sit there nice and cozy. Oops, lift your feet, the robo-vacuum coming through!

Can we get you more kool-aid, dear?

Or, might you consider taking an interest in an actual life, with living creatures, which AI is not and . . . ?

It’s not, right?  We still know the difference, right?!

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The Value of Venom

Honeybees know the value of their venom, they give their lives for it.  We know how precious is the value of the honeybees’ venom, understanding it as both cure and poison.

In natural healing bee venom is used for all sorts of cures, a number of them painful.  Honeybees can be merciless, even to each other, for the ‘greater good’.

What did I find today outside one of our hives but droves of drones, those are the males, kicked out by those bossy female workers who clearly decided they could no longer be supported. They will also kill and replace an unproductive queen without hesitation.

And me, being the opportunistic and cunning human that I am, collected these evicted dead bodies in order to make Podmore, considered an exceptional traditional medicine used to cure all sorts of ailments.

Quite unknown to American beekeepers, I wonder why, considering its value? Could it be they don’t like the thought or action of collecting dead bees?
Podmore

This reminds me of another big related beef I have with our current cultural climate: Weakness is not a virtue.  And neither is positivity.

I like the way Micheal Tsarion just put it in his last podcast, because I think it’s spot on. Our Prozac smile culture is in a “regressed state of animated autism.”

The Reign of the Terrible Mother

Optimistic bias undermines preparedness and invites disaster, according to sociologist Karen Cerulo.

In Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2009 book, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, she underscores how hard Americans have been working to adapt to the popular and largely unchallenged principles of the positivity movement, our reflexive capacity for dismissing disturbing news, whitewashing tragedy as a ‘failure of imagination’ and relentlessly spinning suffering as little more than a growth opportunity.

While in fact I am writing now out of a spirit of sourness and personal disappointment, unlike Ehrenreich according to her intro, I nonetheless find much value in her final paragraph: “Once our basic material needs are met—in my utopia, anyway—life becomes a perpetual celebration in which everyone has a talent to contribute.  But we cannot levitate ourselves into that blessed condition by wishing it.  We need to brace ourselves for a struggle against terrifying obstacles, both of our own making and imposed by the natural world.  And the first step is to recover from the mass delusion that is positive thinking.”

The bees know.

One of the very many things that fascinate me about the bees is that the Freemasons so covet it as a symbol.  I can imagine there are many reasons for this, most of which will probably remain a lifelong mystery to me.

At some point the bees simply refuse to adjust any more and they swarm, this is a natural, healthy, cyclical process, which most American beekeepers try to avoid at all costs.

We seem as a culture to abhor natural processes.

As cruel as this is sure to sound, could it be that maybe swarms and cullings are natural processes for humans as well as bees?

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Moving colony from nuc to permanent hive.  How you like my fancy paint job? 🙂
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Setting up a swarm trap. Open invitation to immigrants, move-in ready!

My new honeybee hero and virtual mentor: Dr. Leo Sharashkin!

 

Wins & Losses 2018

A short break from the heavy subject of addiction to share some homestead updates lately as well as highlights and misfortunes from the last year.

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Naughty, naughty!

Starting with the good news, we have two new happy thriving lambs!

They are the first of the year with two more mamas looking full and ready to follow with some of their own any day now.  Or more likely, since today it is beautiful and sunny, it will be the next time it’s pouring rain and freezing cold.

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Their first day roaming the land with the herd.
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Last winter’s model looking great

 

 

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Almost there, so close, but not close enough

That was the weather once again for this rough start.  Unfortunately, our permanent corral space is not yet finished.

I had to cancel a holiday trip at the very last minute and I spent a lot of time stressed and worrying.  I couldn’t handle a repeat of last year, which is such a tragic story for me I haven’t yet been able to tell it publicly.

It was nearly a repeat. Hubby was at work again, and to keep it short and simple, I found one of our not-so-well-trained LGD (Livestock Guard Dog) had jumped the fence, grabbed one just after birth, jumped the fence back and was ‘guarding’ it until I found it barely breathing and injured.

Luckily there was a completely unplanned, last minute visit that cheered me up after my canceled trip.

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Pappa Chop getting friendly!
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It’s hard to think of anything sweeter than kids and animals!

And it’s hard to think of anything worse in the garden than poison ivy and wasps!

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Poison ivy in the same spot 3 times, many weeks of torture.
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And wasp stings 3 different times, miserable.

And my bee colonies didn’t even last the summer.  This is an enormous disappointment.  But I don’t give up easily and have next spring’s bees on order, locally sourced this time.

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Last spring’s packages brought home from Arkansas

Additional misfortunes include the duck that was mysteriously fried by our electric pole in the front yard.  And another incident that shot an electric impulse through my hand, up my arm, and landed in now nearly 2 months of stabbing shoulder pain.  Then there’s the ram that’s butted me 3 times and therefore will meet his demise prematurely ASAP.

I don’t think Hubby shares this sentiment, but in my case, I’ve definitely had better years.

Here’s to better fortune in the coming year, for me, and for all y’all!

cheeseYT
I still love making cheese 🙂

 

 

 

Renegade, Stupid, or Stubborn?

“I’m selling you bees on Friday so you can kill them in your top bar hives.” so smirks JC of Frost Apiary in the Ouachita Mountains, Arkansas.  I drive 2 hours across the small mountain range from my dad’s place in Mena, which is a 6-hour drive from our East Texas homestead, mostly because gentle, treatment-free bees are not too easy to come by here.

We’ve got some bad genetics in these parts, as my nearby beekeeping friend and I can both attest to, only she got proof of her Africanized bees on video.  Had someone been filming me as I tried to work with mine, it would’ve been cartoonish and probably hysterical as I ran circles around trees trying, in vain, to get the vicious little buggers off me.

I’ve yet to meet a commercial beekeeper who doesn’t scoff at the Kenyan-style hives known as ‘top bar’ or sometimes called ‘horizontal’ hives that are now trendy with hobbyists.  I chose them as a completely novice beekeeper for 3 reasons only: weight, esthetics, and the personal preference of the teacher of the beekeeping workshops I took.

Clearly none of those reasons would impress JC even remotely, so I kept them to myself.

In all his decades of beekeeping JC has yet to meet a beekeeper successful with top bar hives.  It’s good for business, he says, because they come back every spring for more bees, until they switch to Langstroth hives.  He recites a string of reasons why this is, which begins with “they starve in the winter” and ends with “they starve in the spring.”

For those of you who might be curious about this less-traveled region of the fly-over states, but without the time or inclination to actually visit, here’s some of what I saw, and smelled in that 2 hours.

There were approximately 20 Jesus billboards, 10 churches, 2 banks and 1 gas station, thanks be to Jesus perhaps, because I was running on fumes by that time.

As for the smell, unless you’ve had the misfortune to experience the poorer areas of Bangkok in rainy season, you will not have approached this particular olfactory ballpark.  It is directly related as to why you see houses on the left directly juxtaposed to houses on the right.

You might have guessed, get-rich-quick by factory farming.  If the entire region then smells like you live in a baboon cage at the zoo, well, at least you have the means for air conditioning and Febreeze spray.

JC and his wife busy themselves moving around the shop and yard, bees buzzing all around, as he offers me advice.  After 5 minutes of this he says, “I want you to go now,” which he repeats again after 10 minutes, and then again after 20.

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“My health’s no good,” he also repeats several times, taking his ball cap off to reveal a fresh scar the length of the top of his scalp where a tumor was recently removed.  He says he has a similar scar down his chest, a barrel of a chest still I notice, at nearing 80 years old.

“You might take it a bit easier,” I suggest, because I know how heavy those Langstroths get and I’ve just watched him effortlessly move several around the yard.

“He doesn’t believe in that!” his wife answers for him.  Despite his stooped posture and some less than urban-refined social graces, his eyes are still bright and his mind and tongue sharp, which greatly softens any coarseness, in my opinion anyway.

They then carefully load up my impressively-packaged bee packages in the back seat of the car and I set the feeders on them overnight until my 6-hour drive home the following morning.

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Calm, happy, well-fed, well-contained bees ready for a wee road trip.
Or, so I thought!

I’m not sure at what point I fully took to heart that the bees were not at all well-contained.  At first, I just thought I had a few roaming co-pilots, not a problem.

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Welcome, fellow traveler!

Then about high noon, still 2 hours from home, I made a pit-stop for gas and a sandwich and return to the car buzzing with hundreds of loose bees, inside and out.  I have a moment of panic before realizing I at least need to move the car away from the main traffic area of the convenience store while I devise a plan.

Once at the corner of the parking lot I realize there is no plan to be made. There was no quick fix to this problem; I had no equipment to get the boxes apart and even if I could I could not figure out where the leak was coming from.  I had a single choice and no other, leave 4 packages of bees in the parking lot right now, be out the time and the money and the bees, or get back in the car and finish the trip with them.  It was all, or nothing.

It was worth the bees crawling over my arms, my face, my sunglasses to see the passersby at traffic lights gawk in stupor!  Handy Hubby, being the wise guy he is prone to being, suggested with a chuckle that I visit the McDonald’s drive-thru.  🙂

Because as an American I can’t resist a happy ending, I waited a week to write this post until I had one:  We now have four queen-right colonies happily nesting and growing in top bar hives.

The first of my determined objectives, as I stated plainly to JC before I finally left his apiary, “I will be your first successful top bar customer, I betcha.”

 

 

 

Collective Utopia vs. Private Idaho

I lost my last hive just a few weeks ago, mysteriously.  They dutifully pollinated the pears before their departure, sweet little creatures they are.  Unfortunately, they didn’t leave a note, or much clue.  I hope they swarmed and found a suitable new happy home, but I believe from what little evidence remained, that this was not the case.

The drama of the bees has been droning on now for decades.  But of course, have no fear, technology comes to the rescue!  First create the problem, then try to fix it while creating 3 new problems–that’s the modern, strategic, scientifically-advanced model at work.

Problem with disappearing bees?  Solution, robot bees!

http://www.businessinsider.com/walmart-robot-bees-farming-patent-2018-3

The next big thing according to TV’s famed Dr. Oz, is the RFID chip.  Keep losing your Alzheimer parent? Get ’em the chip!

Steve Hoffman gushes over the new tech which will allow our minds to merge with one another.  He calls it ‘almost like heaven’—a state of all-inclusiveness with others where our individuality is traded and usurped by the collective, to the extreme degree we can actually feel another’s pain as our own.

But, only if we choose it, of course.  Right.  That’s good, because mark my words, I don’t want to be in his mind, and I certainly don’t want him, or anyone, invading mine at will either.

 

Will we get to choose?  I’m pretty doubtful on that point.  Right now, do I get to choose whether my region is cloud-seeded, or not?  Nope. https://weathermodificationhistory.com/

Do I get to choose whether Walmart creates robot bees? Nope.

Do I get to choose whether scientists experiment with technology meant to replace nature, meant to manipulate the environment beyond measure, meant to research consciousness with the intention of controlling it, even replacing it? Nope, nope and nope.

Dr. Andreagiovanni Reina, Research Associate in Collective Robotics in the University of Sheffield’s Department of Computer Science, said: “This study is exciting because it suggests that honey bee colonies adhere to the same laws as the brain when making collective decisions.

“The study also supports the view of bee colonies as being similar to complete organisms or better still, superorganisms, composed of a large number of fully developed and autonomous individuals that interact with each other to bring forth a collective response.

“With this view in mind, parallels between bees in a colony and neurons in a brain can be traced, helping us to understand and identify the general mechanisms underlying psychophysics laws, which may ultimately lead to a better understanding of the human brain. Finding similarities between the behavior of honey bee colonies and brain neurons is useful because the behavior of bees selecting a nest is simpler than studying neurons in a brain that makes decisions.”

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-22616-y

Is it for a love of nature and mankind that science and technology seek to study it so thoroughly and in this particular direction?  Or, is it with the intention of replacing nature and mankind for the benefit of god knows whom?

Do they ever ask themselves if we all have the same vision of a collective utopia?

As they preach for the essential Oneness of humanity, the love and light of unity, the exalted state of community, the Kumbaya collusion of the hive, the higher consciousness of the collective, do they consider as well the famed quote by a character in one of Jean Paul Sartre’s most read plays, “L’enfer, c’est les autres.” (“Hell, it’s other people.”)

As they profess their profound compassion and concern, do they care that some of us don’t care to live with robotized nature?  Have they considered putting their intellectual efforts toward saving nature, co-creating with nature, relating equally to it, rather than commanding it, deconstructing it, subjugating it, destroying and replacing it?

Do they tread so shallowly in their own individuality that they cannot conceive of the notion that one’s relationship to oneself and to nature is by far greater, more fundamental and essential, than one’s relationship to any other?

Keep your robots, your synthetics, your hive mind, your Internet of Things, your technological collective Utopia, I don’t want it.

Many of us don’t want it, but we seem to have no choice in the matter.

If I weren’t an optimist, I’d feel we are doomed here on the wee homestead; doomed to watch as we are driven from the heaven of creating our own private Idaho into the hell of another’s version of ‘progress.’

My idea of progress:

Companion planting 3.0 (gardening by aesthetics) — cultivars co-existing with native volunteers (yes, I mean weeds); edibles among poisons; annuals with perennials with crops, seasonal ‘layering’.  More on all that coming soon!

Handy Hubby’s idea of progress:
Spending his entire vacation building!  Color me impressed. 🙂

 

 

 

Homestead Updates & Resources

After several grave posts it seems an upbeat update, some good news and great resources are in order. So, I will for a moment ignore that it’s still sweltering here and in the 90s with no decent rain for far too many weeks.

Normally we’d have flourishing fall crops by now, but many are struggling with the daytime heat. Two decorative/medicinal favorites that keep my spirits up with their beauty and endurance when so much is brown or perished are Datura and Castor Bean.

 

 

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Datura Inoxia at dusk emits a sensual lemony fragrance

These old timers are highly under-rated in the garden, in my opinion. They are useful, rugged and gorgeous and so misunderstood in our modern culture as science labels them “poisonous” and horticulturists scare folks away from them simply because if your pets or children eat a handful of their seeds they’ll most likely vomit.  Should they choke down entire sections of these plants, they could die.

Interestingly, there are very few documented cases of such stupidity.  Our chickens scratch and peck all around under these plants and don’t get sick. And our Great Dane-Mastiff loves to sniff the just opened flowers at dusk, as do I, and our bees!

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The bees also enjoy the arugula blossoms, which is another favorite heat-loving plant and my favorite lettuce. I have a great many books on plants, but two favs are: The Herbal Lore of Wise Women and Wortcunners by Wolf D. Storl and Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants by Claudia Muller-Eberling, Christian Ratsch, and Wolf-Dieter Storl.

Speaking of our bees, the feral hive that was relocated from an old steel drum in the spring is still hanging in there.  After some concern for their slow growth I was able to locate the queen. My first queen-spotting–it was a proud moment–it’s pretty tricky for us newbees!

queen
Feral hive relocated to our top bar hives

I’ve been experimenting with companion planting and it’s true, carrots really do love tomatoes and roses do love garlic. Not all of the companions or incompatibles from these books have proven correct for me, but those two definitely do. Roses Love Garlic and Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte.

tomcarrot

New favorite dish: duck confit–duck legs and thighs slow-cooked while submerged in duck fat, then fried in the fat before serving. For all those who might be thinking this sounds like a cholesterol nightmare, I say, don’t knock it until you read the research of The Weston A. Price Foundation.

duckconfit
Duck confit in the works–so delish!

Best resource this year: The Art of Natural Cheesemaking: Using Traditonal, Non-Industrial Methods and Raw Ingredients to Make the World’s Best Cheeses by David Asher. A shout out to the fantastic website Little Green Cheese for introducing me to it, it has absolutely been an eye-opener. I’ve been making cheese for a couple years now, and this is the book I should’ve read from day one.

This, in my humble opinion, is the way cheese was meant to be made. Most of the recipes use kefir, who knew, kefir as a cheese culture! Clabber cheese has become a new standby, which is really ironic, because it was a staple for so many of our ancestors. It’s basically raw milk spoiling on the counter-top.

Handy Hubby had to taste it to alleviate his automatic doubt and skeptical disgust. I learned a new expression from the famed Michael Pollan in his fascinating new series Cooked! He calls the miracle of cultures and molds and so forth,The erotics of disgust.”

Unfortunately, for most folks’ health, their disgust-threshold is disastrously low.

By the way, the Clabber cheese got the thumbs up from Handy Hubby! 🙂

Another by the way, the above rose is La Duchesse de Brabant, another fav who fares well in the heat.