Friday, January 25, 2013

Symbiosis, baby!

I just ordered my first package of bees. 
Yeah, I know, that's confusing as hell. How - or why - would you order a "package"  of bees? Bees come in, like, a package? Don't bees sting, aren't they dangerous, why would you want them?

Yeah, well, I'm not allergic to bees. The stings are painful and piss me off, but that's all. Besides, I have access to an epi pen if I need it.

First and foremost, there's the whole honey thing. I love honey. I cook and bake with it. I use honey instead of sugar, honey instead of corn syrup in my pecan pies... honey in everything. I use about 60 lbs of honey a year... that's a whole 5-gallon bucket.  Considering that you use less than half of the sugar measurement when you use honey in any recipe, that's a LOT of honey.

Second, there's the whole beeswax thing. I make my own soap and am starting to make my own lotions, and the honey and the beeswax are important parts of that. Candles? You bet. Beeswax is smokeless and pure, and most people with candle allergies are actually allergic to the petroleum in 'regular' candles. I'm not - no allergies here - but if I am going to make candles (and I am) why not use the beeswax?

Not to mention the royal jelly and the propolis ('bee glue') that are also good for you; heals wounds, kills bacteria, etc.

A bee "package" is a producing mating queen and 4000 or so worker bees. By the end of the summer, there will be 20,000 bees - workers and drones, along with the queen - in a single hive, from a single package.

But there are a lot of beekeepers out there nowadays who just don't seem to understand symbiosis. They brag about having hives that they ship all over the country to pollinate fruits and vegetables, and even alfalfa for cattle feed. They lament about the multiple drugs and pesticides they have to use on their bees every season, just to 'keep them healthy'. They don't understand the dichotomy there. If you are shipping your bees all over God's Little Acre, and mixing them with other bees (who may or may not be infested with mites or infected with all sorts of diseases), you are literally putting your bees in a swamp of potential disasters... and then wondering what happened to your carefully-bred Carnolian or Italian darlings, who can't even clean themselves or take care of themselves without your human intervention. More - the more you 'treat' your bees with insecticides and pesticides and all sorts of tainted products, the weaker and more dependent your bees  become - and the more likely your honey and even your wax will be tainted with the same things. Anything you therefore eat or inhale from your hive is likely to poison you, too...

So I found this guy in Nebraska who breeds a special type of bee. He doesn't ship them to hell and back, he raises and breeds them in Nebraska. They are specially suited for the cold winters here, and they are self-sufficient. He doesn't use miticides, pesticides, or any treatments - at all. He doesn't rob the hives; he takes less than half of what they produce, and leaves the rest, for them to overwinter on their own stores. This treatment produces - so he says - gentler, smarter, and more self-sufficient bees. Unlike the hybrid bees of other species, they clean each other, themselves, and their hive - constantly. They are tough and yet - not aggressive to humans. They are productive and make honey out of any and everything - because they aren't being shipped to this alfalfa field or that almond farm, particular about the types of pollen and nectar that they gather, and the honey that they produce. These seem to be the bees I've been looking for, to complete the plan.

It's about symbiosis. I have cows that eat grass (any type of grass) and poop fertilizer. I have chickens who eat scraps and poop fertilizer. In the process they feed us meat, milk, and eggs, all as casual byproducts. I have fruit trees and vegetables, fertilized with cow and chicken poop, soon to be pollinated by the bees that will produce the honey. Everything works together, everything provides something for the farm, and incidentally will feed us too.

Next week we'll pick up Ashley, our second hand-raised and home-bred steer, from the butcher. 480 pounds of burger, steaks, ribs, and roasts for a total of $250. That will last us all year long. The meat provides us with food, and the strength to go out and plow and plant, feed up and water, and build and harvest. Symbiosis. Everything working together, everything dependent on each other, everything working in harmony, breeding and producing endlessly and repetitively. A closed farm, a closed herd, a closed apiary, a closed orchard, a closed garden; all enclosed and working together without shipping anyone out - or in - to contaminate the perfection of it all.

The 10-year self-sufficiency plan is right on schedule, even a little ahead of schedule. But everything is working, and working out. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

"I'm Coming Out There!"

Um, no, you're not.

First off, you weren't invited.

Second, there's no place out here for you to stay. No fancy motels, no motels at all within 40 miles, and our home isn't some free  bed-and-breakfast where you can be catered to just because I know you, or am distantly (or dismally) related to you.

Third, you're the type of people I moved to get away from. Drama queens and kings, manipulative, lazy, foul-mouthed, and useless, you wander through life like it was your own personal stage play, all props provided.

This is a working farm - why should I spend money to feed, warm, and house your nasty azz, while you sit on it and play grande dame or grande master of all you survey - when you've never had a pot nor a window that you've earned on your own?

Yes, my nephew is here, with his 4-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. He was invited. He pitches in, shovels hay and cowshit, and feeds the chickens. When a neighbor needed help with her heater, he was on the roof clearing away the collapsed masonry around her vent pipe - in 20 degree weather, with a snowfall - to make sure that her heater would work and she would not be cold as the freezing temps moved in. His kids - unable to comprehend even the basics of living, working, and surviving without drama - are slowly getting to the point where they can function without thinking that a childish smile, giggle, and coquette will get them anything they want. They are doing things that they never did or could have done back east - too many lowlifes lurking around every corner, too many loudmouthed entitlement mommies shoving their children under everyones' noses, too many people and too few decent choices. They go to Wednesday Kids' Club to learn about Jesus in a non-invasive way. His daughter is on a small-fry basketball team. His son wears cowboy boots and walks around the chickens and cattle like a tiny cowboy.

Every other weekend, for $5, they go to the town theater for 'movie night' and eat pizza with their new friends. His son helped his dad and his uncle take the steer to the butcher. His daughter and I are planning her first vegetable garden. When they first came here, they wouldn't eat vegetables, didn't know what they were, wanted candy and potato chips and junk. Now they are learning from where food comes, and are amazed every day by what they can do. Last week after a particularly heavy snowstorm, the kids went sledding - down a hill about 1/4 of a mile high. Something that 3 months ago they would have been terrified to even look at, much less do; now they are enthusiastic and will do it for hours in 0 degree temps.

A couple of times a month we go down to the local bar/restaurant, where kids are always welcome. We sit with friends and talk about grownup things like weather and cattle, and the kids listen intently, or find their friends and sit and talk. We might drink, or we might not. But there are no staggering drunks, everyone is friendly, everyone stops by for a chat.

No, this is nothing like you are used to and nothing like you think. Types like you would be easily bored, looking for action, looking to start trouble and stir shit, demanding to be the center of attention, trying to find a drug dealer or a cadre of drunks with whom to get loud and play mindless, purposeless games. And that simply isn't happening here. Out here is real life, real emotions, real work, and real rewards. And, quite honestly, you couldn't handle any of it.