Sunday, July 26, 2009

More Bee News

Aren't bees interesting?

Here are some more words about bees that didn't fit into the day at the farm bee experience blog. . .

Beekeeping Options
Allen Larson, the beekeeper from, who delivered the bees to Tara Firma Farms, maintains beehives all over Northern California. He's from Redding and travels far and wide to maintain hives (although not to Idaho). If you would like one, he'll come and set it up and then he'll come back and maintain it. And, you get the honey when it's ready. What a deal! The cost is $570 for the first year and $470 for the next years. This is a great option for those who would love to have increased garden yield or who would just like to assist with the re-population of bees but aren't really interested in beekeeping on a daily basis. And, Allen is just a really nice guy. He's happy to have you invite your friends over for a bee party when he's there. He'll loan out as many suits as he has and talk about bees and show them off while he works. He'll also do a honey tasting!

Another option is to take a beekeeping class, buy the stuff and keep your own bees. Beekeeping classes are offered by Her Majesty's Secret Beekeeper, the shop in the Mission at 3520 20th Street. They just finished a round and will be starting up again in August. I'm pretty sure that Mr. Green and I will be in one of those classes. The classes are $20 each (a steal) and getting started with bees is about another $300 total. Cameo Wood, the owner, is an extremely knowledgeable beekeeper and has all the gear you will need. It's always nice to buy local. I like the idea of stimulating business in the Mission.

Bee Mites
One of the things that is killing bees that you will have to deal with if you decide to become a beekeeper is Bee Mites. These little white insects live on the backs of bees and breed by laying eggs in drone cells right before they are sealed. They cause a decrease in the bees' immune systems and make them more susceptible to disease. These will wipe out your hive if you don't do something about them. There are three ways that I've heard of so far to get rid of mites.

One is you put sticky paper in the bottom of your beehive, then sprinkle your bees with powdered sugar, which is a food source. They will groom the mites off of each other as they eat the sugar and the mites will fall to the bottom of the hive, and stick to the paper and die. Seems fairly logical, but sticky in a multitude of ways. . . especially out here in the foggy Sunset District!

Another is you can insert a special drone cell frame into your beehive. The bees will build drone cells, the queen lays eggs in them, the mites lay eggs in them, they get sealed and then you take the frame out of the beehive and freeze it for three or four days, which kills the mites. After it's been frozen you can give it back to the bees for food or scrape it and feed it to your chickens (assuming you have a few around). This seems like a lot of wasted bee effort to me. Both the creating and the clean up. . .

You can also use aromatic essential oils that are a scent the mites don't like. . . such as wintergreen or patchouli. I guess you won't find bee mites on gum chewers or old hippies.

Or, you can do the conventional (and not recommended by me) thing and hang a pesticide strip in your beehive.

As a potential backyard (or roof, as the case may be) beekeeper, I won't use the pesticide strips or the aromatics. They would affect the honey. Probably would do the drone frame or the sugar. NO PESTICIDES.

Why Bees Aren't Flourishing or Colony Collapse Disorder
There are lots of theories about why bee populations are dying. . . the most obvious cause is insecticides. There is a place in China called Sichuan where, for the last ten years people have been pollinating the fruit trees! They have killed off their entire bee population with insecticides. Now, each spring, they crawl through the trees with bottles of pollen and little brushes made with chicken feathers and "pollinate" every blossom. This is outrageous! It occurs to me as something from a post apocalyptic novel or movie! And they've been doing it for ten years!

There are also BT crops. These crops contain, bacillus thuringiensis in their DNA (it's inserted at the seed level) which means they are "bug resistant" or in regular words, it means they have insecticide bred into them. Seems logical to me that these plants would contribute to the death of bees. They certainly have contributed to the decimation of butterflies. Which, by the way, was intentional. Here is an interesting article that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle a while back about BT crops and bees.

There is also the monoculture planting with no ditch banks that big farms do now. Remember the days of collecting bugs (and asparagus) on ditch banks? Now there are no ditch banks. Water is piped underground as a water and space saving technique and every inch of usable space has been converted to field. Bees, like the rest of us, need variety in their diet in order to be healthy. Corn, corn, corn does not a rounded meal make. Maybe there's a link between Colony Collapse Disease in bees and Obesity in humans. It's not too far fetched if you think about it. It is possible that bees shouldn't eat massive amounts of corn and soy products either. . .

Why Raise Bees?
I spend time in my garden. Even though there are over 200 beekeepers in the Sunset District, I could count the bees I've seen in my garden this year on two hands. Not more than six or eight. How sad. Helping to re-establish the bee population in any area is a contribution to society. We need bees. Bees and insects should do the necessary pollinating in our neighborhoods. I (and you, I'm pretty sure) am not interested in doing it myself. If the neighbors' gardens have an increased vegetable and fruit yield because of the bees on my roof, how cool is that?!

Bees are pets with a purpose. Just think of all that honey! And the sound is calming, stress-relieving, meditative. A low hum is a good thing. I can tell you I'll be sitting by my bee box on a regular basis if I get one.

Becoming a beekeeper would bring me closer to nature. I've always been in touch with the earth through plants and gardening. Being responsible for something that is not rooted in the ground and that is producing something from my neighborhood for me is an exciting idea!

There are few things more beautiful than witnessing a bee doing her work as she flies from flower to flower, crawling inside to gather nectar, bobbing through the air from one to the next and then moving on with purpose to another plant. This experience brings me into the present and leaves me smiling.

Beekeeping is just another way to be a steward of the earth. . . I want to know what my neighborhood tastes like. Aren't you curious about yours?

AUTHOR NOTE: The information above was gleaned from articles I've read and information from beekeepers and is just my opinion. I didn't do any scientific research for this article. lol. I encourage you to find out about bees in your area and in the world by doing your own research in the manner you enjoy most. Happy bee watching!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Beautiful Bees

This morning I had the privilege of learning about bees first-hand.

When we arrived at Tara Firma Farms, Allen Larson, owner of, aka rawhoneyguy on twitter, was already there. I could see the bee boxes, belted in and wrapped with a bright orange tie-down, on the passenger seat of his vehicle.

The weather was perfect. Cloudy and cool compared to last Sunday's mid-90's. Tara greeted us and we met Allen. Then we walked out past the barns to the old milking shed to get started. Allen handed around bee suits and Tara, Elijah and I suited up in full costume. Mr. Green just wore a jacket with hood so he could take pictures. . . I have no idea what the bee-keeping vocabulary is for these get-ups, but they are interesting. The hood with hat that protects the face zips to the collar of the jumpsuit so there's no chance of upset bees getting in underneath. Which is a good thing. Then there are the elbow-length industrial strength gloves. Once dressed, I felt safe. . . and wondered briefly about my tennis shoes, figuring if I was going to get stung, the netting over the toe box would provide good access to the tops of my feet. Ouch.

I didn't need to worry. The bees were well-behaved the whole time we played with them. You can hear when they are agitated. The volume and intensity of the buzzing sound increases quickly and dramatically. When this happened, Allen would just give them a few puffs from the little smoker which was filled with dry grass and they would calm right down. The smoke blocks their sense of smell so they can't smell the pheromone that is released when they are feeling threatened.

Allen carried the two bee boxes, still strapped together, to their new home at the edge of the vegetable garden. He removed the tie-down and then he peeled the duct tape off the bottom of the hive. As he peeled it off, giving the bees access to the outside world, he pumped smoke along the opening. I was expecting bees to come boiling out, but they didn't. A few came out and crawled around on the edge of the box. They he opened the lid. There were a lot of bees crawling around on the lid, going about their bee business. He set it aside.

Then he removed a new frame from the box and showed us that the bees were just starting to build it up with wax. The frames come with the cells already established on them. That way the bees build cells the size that will produce worker bees. Sometimes the bees make bigger cells. These cells produce drones. The queen decides to lay either a fertilized egg (which produces a worker) or an unfertilized egg (which produces a drone) by sticking her head into the cell to see what size it is.

The queen is a very busy woman. She lays between 1,500 and 2,000 eggs per day. When she flies out to mate, all the drones are waiting 100 feet up in the air. This is all the drones do. Once they leave the hive, they are not allowed back in. They fly around at 100 feet waiting for a female. Once they mate, they die. If they don't mate, they die. That's it. A drone's life is short and to the point.

The queen mates about 20 times a day for up to three days and then goes back to the hive to lay eggs. That's what she does. She can't feed herself, so the other bees feed her as long as she is laying well. If her egg laying slows, the bees will create another queen from a larvae by feeding it royal jelly and then will kill the current queen as soon as the new queen is ready.

The workers? Well, they work, work, work. Worker bee life is driven and four months long.

One gets to enjoy twenty to thirty pounds of honey from a hive in a year. It takes 2 million flowers to make a pound of honey. Bees fly over 55,000 miles to make that pound of honey. Each bee visits 50 to 100 flowers on a trip from the hive and makes 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in their lifetime.

There are 50,000 to 80,000 bees in a hive. Once it starts to get over-populated the bees will make a new queen and stop feeding the old queen so she slims down. When she is ready, she will fly out, taking about half the bees with her. They will swarm to a new location.

We spent some time looking at the frames full of bees. I was sharing one with Elijah and I asked if he thought there were three hundred bees on the frame. He said, "No, at least five hundred." It was about 2/3 covered on one side. The bees are beautiful. We saw one do the bee dance, letting the other workers know what was needed in the area where she was working.

We held a frame that was already full of honey. It was heavy. It weighed at least 5 pounds probably more like seven.

I only had one bee hit the front of my hood. They were calm the whole time we played with them. Allen told us that if we ever ended up in a swarm of angry bees to run and swat, don't stand and swat. Bees are territorial and if you run you will get to the edge of their territory and they will leave you alone. Same with wasps or yellow jackets. If you do get stung by a bee, scrape the stinger out with your fingernail as quickly as possible. Don't bother looking for a credit card.

Allen tried to find the queen, but she was illusive. She is pretty easy to spot if she is on a frame. She's twice as big as a worker bee and has a shiny upper back. No fuzz. We didn't see her.

The sun came out and things started to heat up. Allen put the frames back in the hive and we left the bees to get used to their new home. Back at the old milking barn, Allen got out four jars of honey and let us taste them. Each one was completely different. He had raspberry honey, which was light in color and did taste slightly of raspberry. Spring flower had a little citrus to it. Wildflower was darker and richer tasting with just a hint of molasses. And alfalfa, which is the most common type, reminded me of home. When I was in grade school we used to get alfalfa honey every once in a while from a bee grower in Rupert. I liked the wildflower the best. Yum.

Being with the bees was peaceful. Their hum is calming and pleasant. It was an amazing experience to see them working, learn about them and enjoy the morning with new friends. There is a lot of thistle blooming on the farm right now. And vegetables and blackberries. It will be interesting to see, next summer,what Tara Firma Farms tastes like. I'm looking forward to it.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Allen will be maintaining the hive over the course of the year. There will be bee parties each time he comes to the farm. If you are interested in knowing when these bee parties are happening, send Tara Firma Farms an email. Tara and Craig would love for you to come out and experience the bees.

If you'd like to see the rest of my Bee pictures there they are.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Finger Lickin' Good!

This post is by Mr. Green. . .

The most amazing thing . . . do you think you know what a chicken tastes like? People talk about tomatoes as having no flavor when raised on industrial farms - sometime carrots too. And I do have to say the carrots coming from our garden are sweet, wet and full of flavors I had almost forgotten.

This last weekend we went to an organic farm. We brought home a chicken that wasn't raised with tens of thousands of others in the dark. It wasn't pumped full of hormones or antibiotics. It wasn't fed only one thing. It hadn't had it's flesh bleached 3 times with chlorine to kill pathogens.

I roasted it last night and was shocked at the flavor. It actually had a rich and satisfying flavor. It reminded me of the security of a home cooked meal like my grandmother would make. We should all eat like this!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Promote Global Worming!

We got some new friends this weekend. Hundreds of them. They are little red wigglers. We spent at least an hour on Saturday separating them out from the compost they came with and now they are all settled in.

Mr. Green has come up with an ingenious little gizmo that serves as their home and creates a space for the worms to eat your food waste! The best part is, after they eat, they leave worm tea that comes out the spigot on the bottom of the 1st bucket. You can use it on the plants in your garden or on your house plants. It's amazing stuff and your plants will thank you by being happy, healthy and hearty! There are also the worm castings that you can mix into the soil in your garden. Better than cow poop from what I hear! And they don't smell nearly as bad. . .

Here's what he has to say about it:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Riding my Bike

Nope. That's not me.

I bike to work. Not because I am saving the planet, refusing to drive a car, keeping the air clean, conserving oil or most of the other reasons you might think of, although they are all nice side-effects. I ride my bike to work because I like to ride my bike. I also ride my bike to work because it's an easy way to get the exercise I need and the bus, to put it mildly, is torturously boring. Biking is faster than the bus. Depending on traffic, 30 to 40 minutes faster.

I used to have a car. It was a nice car. A Subaru Outback. I bought it off of Ebay. Before I left Boise last fall, as I was anticipating living in San Francisco and starting to put things in boxes, I thought to myself (no kidding), "I'm not really going to need a car there." "It's just going to be a big hassle." Low and behold, four days after I arrived, a wonderful woman who is now my good friend ran a red light and smashed the #*)@&$* out of my car. No one was injured and her insurance company was happy to buy it from me for more than I paid for it.

Sort of like a magic trick only less predictable. I already knew that one must be careful about what one says to the universe. I had no idea how much I didn't want to have a car. I don't miss it and it saves me a significant amount of cash each month for it to be in car heaven. No insurance payment, no parking tickets, no fuel to buy and no parking lot fee. By not having a car I save approximately $250 per month without parking tickets. Not bad.

I admit, it's a bit of a hassle to ride to work. I pack my work clothes and shoes in my backpack along with a travel blow-dryer, hair brush and washcloth. I bike in biking clothes and change in the bathroom. It works out OK and no one has complained so far about my appearance. I get that it's probably easier for me than for most women because I don't wear makeup and my "uniform of choice" is trousers and a long sleeved t-shirt.

Riding to work has many rewards. It's a chance to experience the commute in a different way. I get to really see the beautiful flower beds at the corner of Pacheco and 35th. I say hi to pedestrians and other cyclists. I ride through Golden Gate Park and smell the eucalyptus and pine. I get to see the city rise up in front of me in all different weather as I crest the top of Uclid each morning. It's beautiful.

After I cross through the park, I ride part of the way home on Irving. It's always busy with cars double parked and pedestrians who cross in the middle of the street. The best thing about Irving at 5:30 p.m. is the smells. It smells like dinner. All kinds of dinner. French fries, curry, garlic, asian food, indian food, american food and it all smells good. Some nights it makes my mouth water.

Tonight there was a car waiting for a parking place. There were five other cars honking like crazy. This situation always makes me smile. My story about honking is that people are "honking for joy". I don't really know why each driver is honking, so why not for joy? Tonight I told myself that they were so happy that the guy might actually be able to park that they were all honking in support of waiting for the car to leave so he could back in. . . I know this seems silly, but it really takes the negativity out of it for me. Try it. Just once. I guarantee you'll smile, if not laugh out loud.

The distance to work is 6.2 miles, so if I ride 5 days a week, that's 62 miles. I have yet to ride all 5 days. There always seems to be something, like the event I have to go to on Thursday night, or a board meeting, or rain, that keeps me from getting in all 5 days. Maybe next week.

It's easier to ride to work than it is to ride home. And, thanks to my friend, Marsha Franklin, who lives in Boise, Idaho and is an award-winning reporter for the Public TV Station there, I may have figured out why. She sent an article out on Facebook that talks about nutrition and exercise Eating to Fuel Exercise. What I learned from the article is I should pack half a peanut butter sandwich to work and eat it at 4 p.m.. Sounds oddly yummy, actually.

I do have a new concern around spending a lot of time on my bike. I thought it was really heathy for me to ride a lot. Marsha posted another cycling article on Facebook a couple weeks ago that gave me pause. It's called Is Bicycling Bad for your Bones? Yikes! The article says that "recreational cyclists" don't have anything to worry about. What is the definition of "recreational"? The article also says "If you do race or train hard and often on a bike, consider a bone scan."

I don't race but I do ride quite a bit. This is a real concern for me. My father has osteoporosis and had my mother not died an untimely death, she would have it, also. I had a bone scan a couple of years ago and I was at 110% for my age range. I'd like to keep it that way. Of course the answer here, as suggested in the article, is lifting weights. And making sure my nutrition is good.

I'm also considering participating in the Aids/Lifecycle Ride next summer. It's only 545 miles over 7 days. The longest day is just over 100 miles. The rest are shorter. It's fully supported with great food and fun every evening. I hear it's the Creme de la Creme of Charity Rides. I also hear that it's an amazing and fulfilling experience. Probably in the top ten of a lifetime.

Sounds fun, doesn't it? . . . How about you join me? If I can get three other people to commit to the ride, I'll do it. Do check out the website before you say yes.

Let's Ride!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Food, Health, Life & Michael Pollan

I have, for the last I-don't-know-how-long (would have to ask my BFF Yvonne) been interested in farmers' markets, local food and fostering community where I am. The benefits for me have been huge. I've had the privilege of weeding raspberries, trimming fruit trees, helping prepare farm dinners, click here eating local eggs that came in all different colors and sizes, pulling potatoes and onions from just outside my back door for breakfast, managing a farmers' market, eating amazing local food at a local restaurant click here and knowing all the people who who were a part of all of it, and feeling like I was a part of it, too. That is community.

I have lived in San Francisco for ten months now. And guess what?! I'm back shopping at the farmers' market, wondering how I can get one started at the beach in the Outer Sunset, growing my own food in the backyard (well, actually, Mr. Green grows it, truth be told) and enjoying the bounty of a CSA that I will visit soon. I'm starting to meet farmers, hoping for a yard-share, and enjoying all the food/farming banter and amazing information on Twitter.

Obviously, there is something more to this than just food. Part of "healthy" for me is this connection to the dirt and the people who work it. I'm not sure I really want to be a farmer, but I can sure as heck organize an awesome farm dinner with a live band and more guests than you can feed if your a farmer who wants to have one! And, I don't mind spending the day pulling weeds or pressing apples into cider, either.

This is not what this post was supposed to be about. . . I'm going on vacation tomorrow, back to Idaho to visit, and I'm reminiscing. Smiling face goes here.

Here's what I really wanted to say. . . If you want to be healthy, there are some pretty easy and basic food rules to follow. I didn't make them up. Michael Pollan did. He's a pretty smart guy and he lives near me over in Berkeley. Who knew?!

The Food Rules Are:

1. Would your grandmother recognize it as food? If not, don't eat it.

2. Don’t eat any foods that have more than 5 ingredients or that your 2nd grader can’t pronounce or have high fructose corn syrup.

3. Shop the perimeter of the store only – stay out of the middle.

4. Stop eating before you are full.

5. Cook your own food.

And finally, and probably most importantly:

6. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

These words are quoted from a radio interview with Michael - the program was called It's Your World - that was rebroadcast on KQED here in SF last week. click here

I'm pretty sure they are from his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I have read, but don't recall word for word. It a good book. I recommend it. click here Actually, I recommend anything by Michael Pollan.

Do I follow all these rules? Heck no! I seldom stop eating before I'm full. The food would have to be mediocre and why eat that?

As for the rest - Sans a 2nd grader, I am becoming an avid label reader. Now I read labels in the store instead of when I get home. It's a bit to late to return that chutney laced with high fructose corn syrup and three things I can't pronounce if I've already eaten two bites and just happen to turn the jar around out of curiosity while I eat a third. I do put things back on the shelf. A lot.

My grandmother wouldn't recognize half the stuff I eat as food. Although I truly believe that if I explained it to her, she would say, "Oh! Well that's interesting. Can I taste it?"

They keep the garlic salsa that I like in the middle of the store and even if I had the bushel of tomatoes, I'd be too lazy to make it myself.

We do cook our own food more often than not. When I "landed" last fall I ate in a lot of restaurants. Who wouldn't? This town is full of great food! I'm kind of over that now - ten pounds up and down later. Although I'll still travel across town to eat at a food cart. Especially the Sexy Soup Cart or the Magic Curry Cart!

I know you've heard this all before. I'm going to say it again, anyway. It's fun to cook together. Last night we made 4 kinds of homemade pizza, crust and all. It's delicious! Way better than any crap we could have had delivered. We chopped, we grated, we assembled. And let me tell you what, I didn't stop eating until I was Full.

There is an opportunity, tomorrow, to be a part of an interview with Michael Pollan. . . here's the tweet:

erinelyRT @TakePart Got questions 4 Michael Pollan? Join us on FB for a live chat with him Thursday July 2nd, 3pm PST#foodinc

It will be a fun opportunity to hear what he has to say about farming, local food, the movie, Food, Inc. and whatever is on the minds of the twitterverse.

Join in. You don't have to be on twitter to participate. I won't be there typing questions. . . I'll be in the car on my way to Idaho.

I'm hoping to meet Michael in person soon, anyway. . .