Not bound to exploit. Not obsessed with production. No concern for profit extraction. Not driven by expansion. Treatment-free. Liaisez-faire. Non-industrial, anti-commercial beekeeping practices.
Beauty. Synergy. Cooperation. Respect. Reverence.
If you guessed these unconventional methods are far from popular around here, you’d be correct.
I don’t even have a bee yard. I do have 5 strong, sustained colonies (aiming for 7) scattered around several acres, which is the best beekeeping decision I’ve made in about 5 years.
It is the intense crowding of many colonies into one space that is so unnatural that it then commands chemical treatments for bee health. Artificial solutions are never the best solutions. I rarely even feed my bees, I consider that a treatment. On those rare occasions I do, because my observations have led me to suspect they are without reserves, sometimes I’ve been wrong, and the bees aren’t remotely interested in my offerings. They prefer to forage over taking my junk food.
By observing intently over time and looking to mimic nature in every way possible, I’ve come to realize how hopeless is commercial-style beekeeping for the small holder, just like all our industrial ‘solutions’ are a never-ending Ferris wheel of problems and solutions, all the way around. Industry comes to drive the entire tradition-turned-enterprise right into the ground.
Well, no thank you! And I haven’t had to buy bees for several years now, thanks to my new-old methods, which is certainly another motivator for commercial beekeeper’s scorn, considering they often make a good chuck of their profits from returning customers—that is beekeepers who follow commercial methods even for their handful of hives—buying nucs and packages and queens from the ‘Big Guys’ who sell themselves as the experts on all things bees.
In other words, the beekeeping industry strongly resembles the pharmaceutical industry, and pretty much every other global commercial industry. One model for all endeavors. One noose for all necks.
All but one of my hives is top-bar, another source for mocking by conventional beekeepers of all ages. But it does seem like alternative types are squeezing their way in through the cracks. And plenty of cracks there are. Not just top-bar fans.
I’m not on any of the popular social media sites, but I know there are treatment-free groups, full of curious kindred spirits, some with bee-loving pseudonyms instead of their real names, like poor, paranoid anti-vaxxers. Oh, lovely lurkers, come out of the shadows to stake your claim! You dare to brave the bees’ stings, surely some stings of misplaced criticism can’t scare you away?!
The bees are just one of many bustling with spring’s promises.
In other news, happy chicks are here, with no snakes in sight. (In the new, ultra-high security coop within coop, 100% snake-proof. Right?)
We are still waiting on the piglets, the rest of the lambs, and the kids, while trying not to let our anticipation get the best of us!
Sanity still reigns on the wee homestead and I thought maybe a few of y’all might need a decent dose of it during these crazy dog days of summer amidst continued global chicanery.
The garden looks more like a jungle, but there is a method to the madness. Mostly it’s called ‘too hot to bother’. Still, it looks better than it ever has this time of year (which is saying very little) so I’m proud of a few things worth sharing.
The pigs are eating well off the luffa, which does so well here it actually out-competes the grasses. I wish we liked to eat it too, but I do use the sponges. It’s widely consumed in some cultures, so I might keep trying recipes to see if anything can improve its very bland taste. Plus, the bees love it, so it’s definitely a keeper.
We’re pretty limited on the veggie harvest this time of year, which means eating okra almost daily. I’m really not a big fan and it’s not even a fun one to harvest. It’s prickly and the fire ants scout every inch of it waiting to fall into your gloves or onto your thighs as you cut the spears. Its only redeeming qualities, if you ask me, are that it thrives in the heat and the flowers are pretty.
It’s our first harvest of scuppernong grapes and I’ll soon be making some wine and jelly. I’m kind of sick of canning, after all the pickles and having tried several new canning recipes this year, but I must find the grit somewhere and get back to it. For my latest experiments we’ll soon be tasting pickled watermelon rind, melon butter, and some exotically flavored cucumbers. That’s in addition to all our usual staples of pickles and salsas and sauces.
I’ve also made poke wine! It tastes pretty weird, but is supposed to be an excellent medicinal, so I thought it would be good to have on hand this winter. Despite popular hype, poke berries are not poisonous. Well, not exactly anyway. The seeds inside the berry are poisonous if chewed. You must extract the juice or swallow the berries whole.
Our pear harvest was quite small this year, but those will be processed soon too, into cider and preserves. My favorite, figs, have been doing better after a couple years of total failure. Too bad we eat them too fast to preserve them!
I’ve settled into a nice routine with milking our goat Summer and am extremely pleased with the cheeses I’ve been making. It took some getting used to, fitting it all into a workable new plan, after making mostly large-batch cheeses for several years. I’m using only traditional methods now too, so no more expensive cheese cultures to purchase.
Organizing seeds and preparing the fall plantings are also in high gear. It’s a real challenge in 90+ degree temps to be considering the cool season crops. I’ve got some started indoors under lights and my direct sow method amounts to throwing a variety of seeds in the ground every week, waterIng liberally, and keeping fingers crossed. Usually, eventually, some seedlings get brave and make an appearance and if we’re lucky, will produce something before the first frost.
Handy Hubby’s still rockin’ the new utility room and it’s already looking fabulous! It’s been a 100% DIY project for him and he never fails to impress. Once done I’ll give him a proper staging and big kudos post.
This is one of the tree varieties on our property I’m going to start propagating. Apparently there is a technique used by the early settlers when creating a living hedge with it that is fairly quick and easy, if I can steer clear of the vicious thorns.
Osage orange (Maclura pomifera), also known as Bois d’ arc, Hedge Apple or Horse Apple, is a member of the Moraceae family, to which figs, mulberries, breadfruit and jackfruit also belong, and is native to the south-central United States. This thorny, fast-growing, medium-sized tree or shrub which grows up to 20m (60′), tall, but is […]
I just wanted to share this fantastic site, here’s just one of their high-quality articles, but there are many more of great value for beginners and old green thumbs alike! I’m learning so much from them, yippie!! 🙂
Raspberries (Rubus idaeus) belong to the genus Rubus, along with other cane berries such as blackberries, boysenberries, lawtonberries, loganberries, marionberries, silvanberries and tayberries. What’s quite interesting is that the whole Rubus genus is part of the Rosaceae (Rose) family, to which almonds, apples, apricots, cherries, hawthorns, loquats, peaches, pears, plums, quinces, raspberries and strawberries also […]
Happy Holidays, y’all! The passing of this year is quite welcomed for us. It’s been our toughest year on the wee homestead by far. There were even a few times we discussed giving in and packing up.
We moved here in 2009, after Hurricane Ike, having purchased raw land in 2006, after Hurricane Katrina. It’s the new normal, I guess, that our memory is set by weather disasters. Now 2019 will be marked as the year of the manufactured storm bombs: crazy tornado and giant hail.
Judging from the amped-up geoengineering agendas, who knows what next spring will bring—floods, fires, more ‘tornados’, unprecedented lightening storms, maybe a land cyclone or two—certainly continued weather whiplash will remain on the menu.
I don’t imagine it’s possible to prepare for every potential catastrophe, but still, we’re staying put. It’s not that we’re gluttons for punishment, or like to live dangerously, or are too stubborn to see the writing on the wall. It’s not even that we’ve come too far to turn back now, having learned so many of the essential homesteading skills, having devoted so much blood, sweat and tears, not to mention $$, into this lifetime project.
Some mice traps, a coat of paint, and voila!
More paint, new appliances . . .
It’s for love. Love of the land, the nature, the work, the critters, the learning, the lifestyle, and of course, love for each other. Where else would two such misfits fit except in the woods, I wonder?
When there’s no turning back, and as we’re too young yet to sit still, but too old to start over, the best option left is to up-skill. So, that’s what we’re doing.
Handy Hubby has transformed his butchering talents from mediocre to practically professional with the help of the Scott Rea Project. It is truly impressive, especially considering what big jobs he makes work in our very small space.
I’m following his lead by upgrading my own culinary crafts to include more traditional fare, like offal, which really isn’t so awful at all! This’ll be my last bad pun in this post, I promise, even though I find them offally hilarious.
I don’t really follow recipes, but I’ve been finding guidance and inspiration from Of Goats and Greens and Weston A. Price. I recently made a rather delicious Lamb Liver Loaf and an offal salad of heart and tongue. (FYI, it does not taste like chicken.)
I’ll also be doing more foraging with the help of The Forager Chef and a bookshelf full of expertise on mushroom hunting, wild plants and herbs, traditional cooking and healing. I’m more committed than ever in holding space for, and gaining knowledge of, the ancestral arts and crafts that were missing from my childhood, and indeed for most of us for many generations in this country.
I’m not going to share any lame platitudes about silver linings and growth opportunities, because that’s slave-speak socially engineered by the faux-authorities to assure the rabble don’t complain about their lot in life. I intend to continue my fair share of complaining, and then some.
But, I will offer this cliché instead—It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings! And this lady’s got no plans to plump up any further, or join the choir.
“May all your storms be weathered, and all that’s good get better. Here’s to life, here’s to love, here’s to you . . .”
I couldn’t agree more with Max Igan when he repeats that losing our life skills is assuredly one of the most serious vulnerabilities of modern civilization.
Of course, I can’t agree with his ‘no private property’ stance, but that’s another post.
Igan’s outlook reminds me when I was first introduced to the theory of Spiral Dynamics, when my fellow students (mostly middle-aged women of a relatively superior income class) immediately ‘recognized’ themselves in the ‘highly evolved’ stage of ‘Turquoise’. Big surprise.
I was far too polite when I refrained from pointing out what was obvious to me even as a novice, having already been ploughing away on the wee homestead by then for several years.
“Your Turquoise is built on a house of cards, Madame,” is what was obvious to me immediately, and which I longed to express. If it were built on a house of sand you’d be far safer, I’d then add.
Even my favorite synopsis of this social theory fails to highlight the significance of ‘Beige’ — the foundations of civilization.This stage is considered to be subsistence living, hand-to-mouth, barely advanced to basic tribal existence.
The theorist here, Don Beck, demonstrates respect, even some reverence to their ancient wisdom, but with the assumption, it seems obvious to me, that an evolved civilization has technological immunity to such bio-psycho-social devolution that would accompany this exceptional vulnerability of modern life.
You think butchering and gardening, farming and foraging are skills beneath you, Family Silicon Valley?
Or, in the tolerant, nostalgic age they are, at best, quaint lost skills to pine about and imitate in your Petri dishes? Ya’ll can’t possible recognize your feeble attempts bound to fail as you attempt to fit all of creation into your teensy-BIG Smart World?
Think again, former friends. Here are the real skills armies and resilient cultures are built on.
Me, a cheese-maker? Didn’t see that comin’!
Here’s your reality, Family Turquoise, if the grid goes down, you can’t survive, not even for a fortnight. Psychic breakdown would occur almost immediately, due to lack of any authentic earthly connections or spiritual foundations in your personal or family or community unit.
Then the true reality of your vulnerability would hit home for real. You have NO LIFE SKILLS, at all! Not spiritually, not physically, not emotionally.
Most Americans these days can’t even cook from scratch.This skill was lost in barely two generations.And what’s worse, they can’t even fathom what happens to the individual mind, let alone the family and in turn the collective consciousness, when faced head-on with annihilation.
The more ‘superior’ one calls themselves in the modern world is directly related to how vulnerable they really are.Perhaps that’s what the well-quoted Bible translation meant in claiming, “The meek shall inherit the earth.”
As a wise woman in an era of uncertainty, who are you going to put your confidence in—the wealthy CEO of Fiction, USA with a San Francisco loft worth a few million on paper—or the ‘poor’ man who can trap, shoot, butcher and even cook the meat for your table?
That the ‘A Class’ woman chooses poorly in this situation doesn’t surprise me at all considering our current state of affairs and the fact that of the many supporters as well as volumes discussing this social theory of Spiral Dynamics, I’ve yet to find one who gets the full nuance of Beige.
Modern folk just don’t want to go there.It’s like the old lyrics, “How ya gonna keep them down on the farm once they’ve seen gay Paris?” It’s hard work after all.
It’s not just whistling Dixie in your Tu-Tu, thanks anyway, Grandma.
So we get Soy-Boys who are good at sales, rather than competent men who can bring home the real bacon.The ‘elite-class’ calls this ‘evolution’.This is ‘spiritual’ advancement.
Why might they promote this among the plebs and their entertainers? Heaven knows!
If one isn’t capable of hurting a fly, then we’ve evolved to societal sainthood, according to these shysters. This is their Utopia.
As for the adult-children bolstering these Pied Pipers?How long shall the competent among a functional colony support them, I wonder?
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.
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.
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 immunity’ in 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!
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:
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 Beeby 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)