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

Gates Solves Pooh (again)

I just love the high tech solutions and big global money that pours into problems once solved long ago before the oligarchs in control of the tape worm economy started sucking the world dry.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spends $200 million on toilet technology!

No, the problem is surely not that mass overpopulation in highly condensed areas is an obvious crisis for millennia, collapsing cultures repeatedly, because technology always has the next great solution.  Really!

As this fascinating documentary on the history of the toilet demonstrates, the rural folk of Wales have had the best toilet all along.  The composting toilet, no smell, no flies, then used to fertilize the garden.  But Gates call their chemical plans for the perfect toilet ‘sustainable’ and ‘green’, of course.  Because ‘green’ actually means $$$, for them!

Though you’ve got to leave it to the Japanese to take delicate matters to a whole new level.

This is well worth a watch, for those interested in crap that really matters.

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Cob house, waterless composting toilet

Celebrating Small Steps

Late summer here is my personal version of hell and I bitch about it every year.

What better time to take a break from my current reality where I feel like an indoor prisoner and wake up daily wanting to lash out at all the idiotic Geoengineering causing drought here and weather chaos all around the globe.

I even want to take a break from my last post pondering passivity and violence and just notice for a day, or so, all the little things and little ways we have improved upon since I last felt this level of droughtrage.

I know I am just a bit more blessed this year than last, mostly by my own sheer will and resilience, and that of Hubby as well, no doubt, and that of some inspiring neighbors and cyber-friends, and perhaps if I dwell on that fact just a bit, next year will be just a bit more blessed in turn.

Last year’s late summer garden vs this year’s, not great, but still better!

A new young friend who loves plants as much as I do helps me identify the hardy, native heat-lovers of our area, and diligently and graciously watched our wee homestead so I could join my extended family at a reunion in July.  I look forward to returning the favor when her family vacations in October.  This is the sort of small steps a resilient community is made of, not the top-down control of Rockefeller’s ‘Resilient Cities’, because it’s the neighborly reliance that brings real hope and treasures and peace of mind.

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Collective Border Control, naturally 😉

I still don’t like okra, but I’m harvesting it anyway for the pigs and neighbors!  Every once in a while I throw a few into a meal, along with other traditional Southern favorites we didn’t grow up with, but are learning to appreciate, like collards and Southern peas, eggplant and jalapenos, all which have survived the heat, but would not be here now without regular irrigation.

It’s very hard to keep up with the constant weeding and mulching requirements in such circumstances, but these plants, along with the sweet potatoes, are actually successfully competing with the grasses in some cases.  Amazing!

I won’t mention the melons, because I’m hell-bent on keeping this post positive. So let’s mention instead the ‘mouse melons’, aka sanditas, or, Mexican Sour Gherkins.  🙂

Instead, let’s mention the fact that the young sweet potato vines and okra leaves are edible and quite tasty!

And the fantastic find this summer which I’m most excited to expand next year considerably, the Mexican Sour Gherkin.

Crop of the year, in my humble opinion!

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Even in the dead of summer, of brutal heat and no rain, we enjoy meals raised primarily on this land.  As an added bonus now my raw milk source is 5 minutes away, whereas last year at this time it was 5 hours round-trip!

The aging fridge is full of cheeses we will enjoy all winter: Cheddars, Goudas, a Parmesan and an Alpine, several Brie almost ripe, a Muenster even!  YUM!  Last week I taught a couple of neighbor ladies to make 30-minute mozzarella and we had such a nice time.

Next they will teach me skills they’ve acquired—spinning, dying, soap-making–a few more small steps in our agorism adventures.  Skill-sharing has been such a crucial aspect of our most successful ancestors and I would be challenged to express how rewarding it is for me still, at 50 next month, to be learning so much that is new for me.  It is indeed a sort of middle-age renaissance!

I also foraged for elderberries, mustang grapes and peppervine berries, dried some and made some syrups and preserves.

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And, Another 400 pounds of pears, or so!

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I do believe still that’s thanks to our bees.  For several years we thought it was a weather issue, late frosts, whatever, but I am beginning to suspect it was a pollinator issue all along.

We will see, that’s just a hypothesis so far.  And in any case we continue for another year to benefit from the cider, the preserves, the cobblers, and the pigs are getting their fill, too!

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The Datura remains an absolute favorite of mine, blooming in crazy heat and exhaling the most exquisite fragrance into the evening air.  The thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano are gracefully resilient as well, I appreciate all y’all!

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And our dear Tori, who just as I was typing this post chased an enormous coyote off our chickens!

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Tori, 2 weeks old
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Tori today!  Rewarded Homestead Guard of the Year 2018

The blessings are very close at hand, the frustrations a million miles away.  I vow to maintain that truthful balance deep in my heart as I brave the coming days.

Peace and love to y’all, dear friends.

 

Part 15: Rascals of Science

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According to modern science pigs should not eat table scraps and farm species should not intermingle due to cross-contaminating disease potential.  Someone should really be informing the critters of these hazards.

There is a science underworld that borders with pseudoscience where mavericks and rascals believe the world, indeed the entire universe, is holistic, not mechanistic. I’m fascinated by these courageous thinkers who have ventured into unconventional territory.  I recognize the strength of character and conviction such a journey requires. Whether or not they are correct is, to me ,secondary, though I believe they are on the right path.

What I admire is that they strayed from the consensus, they escaped the group-think and the brainwashing of scientism, all while holding fast to a theory of a collective unconscious. At what point, I keep wondering, did they choose to deviate from the accepted experts in their fields and trust their own knowing? I’m so curious, because I seem to have arrived at that crossroad myself.

I’ve read many books by seasoned gardeners and farmers with great interest; I was a Master Gardner for a couple of years until politics got in the way; I’ve taken many classes, watched loads of videos and have now about six solid years of practical successes and failures under my belt. I can say with relative assurance that close to half of what I learned was wrong, or useless for me, or this particular region. In hindsight some of it was just a waste of time. Of course, there was much essential learning happening too, but I’m making my own rules in the garden now, based on little other than intuition.

I might be completely wrong, I’m sure I’ll be called totally crazy, but we will see how it goes. Considering the weather whiplash of this year, we are off to a pretty good start so far.

What’s calling me has many names that seem vaguely similar: companion planting, permaculture, biodynamic agriculture—it’s basically like organic farming on (natural) steroids. 🙂

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Snap peas with a backdrop of Texas squaw-weed, thriving even in the weather whiplash.

There is a growing amount of literature on the subject and I will continue to peruse through it, for ideas and inspiration of what to experiment with myself. I get the very strong sense that what this field needs is more explorers, more rascals and mavericks, more little devils tinkering with the science-status-quo. I begin with one overarching position—the answer is not to be bought. The answer exists in the nature right around us. I need only slow down, focus, and really listen.

I had a lesson just today on how I am certainly lacking in that level of detail and attention.  I was marveling for a moment on a butterfly that landed in the grass as I was walking back from feeding the pigs.  How marvelous, I thought, and I squatted down slowly and got closer.

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An Anise swallowtail. I did not know it at the time, but looked very closely so I could remember just what it looked like to later find its name in an internet search.

http://www.gardenswithwings.com/identify-butterflies.html

I thought how lucky and clever I was in that moment– Lucky that I had such time and appreciation of beauty to take extended notice and so clever that I thought to consciously memorize its details so I could later look it up.

I was so intent on it, I nearly missed the smaller, paler, but on closer examination equally exquisite butterfly laying still in the grass not even a foot away from his showy cousin.  A very tiny creature, brownish and so more camouflaged on the just greening grass, but with perfect miniscule polka-dots  in varied shades of blue along the base of its wings–but I could not find his likeness on any search.

Most certainly they were enjoying a tour of our garden.  Did they also think it too wild and untamed?  Weeds and crops growing side-by-side, on purpose?!  Were they as incredulous as most modern avid gardeners would be of my methods in madness?

I’m sensing the butterflies saw it more like this.

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But the weeds!  They are choking and starving your crops!  Are they?  All of them?  How do you know this, I now question.  You see, the jumping jacks are delicious and gorgeous in a salad and they want to grow next to the onions.  And the lady slippers and carrots growing side-by-side not only looked lovely, but produced the best crop yet.

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The most unexpected, and it would seem magical, transformation I’ve experienced since beginning our rural life is my sense of smell has gotten very keen.  So much so it’s become a disadvantage when trying to engage in the outside world.  What I consider a heightened sense, a new level of sensitivity that serves me very well in my immediate environment, is called by modern scientists as a symptom of a brain disorder.  It’s in the ballpark with phantosmia– I ‘hallucinate’ smells and over-register the strength of them, it seems.  I bet they’ve manufactured the ideal medication to rid me of my new superpower. 🙂

This week’s bread crumbs:

Yogic Science ‘one consciousness’  = high consciousness? Not sure about that, but found this one interesting enough to include it.  He made me wonder, when did the goal of spirituality become happiness?  Somehow, I missed that memo.

Dada Gunamuktananda https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lo0X2ZdElQ4

Rupert Sheldrake—morphic resonance, 6th sense–says, on modern science: “Give us one free miracle and we’ll explain the rest.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jiJM4ybiho

You may call them simpletons, I call them inspiring.

“The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical.  It is at the root of all true science.  That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, is my idea of God.”  Einstein

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Our Muscove flock–fertile and ferocious mothers that keep us in delicious meals all year.  Yesterday one ventured into the chicken coop and was attacked by the rooster and his harem and the ducks came across the yard to her rescue.  So loyal, and it would appear, terribly racist . . . or I guess species-ist?
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“Is somebody messin’ with my bitches?” Nature is so very un-egalitarian, yet still manages to not slaughter one another–such a magical mystery our own social engineers might learn from!