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Miss Broodypants

This is Miss Broodypants. She adopted a clutch of eggs and would not budge. If anyone approached she would puff herself up to twice her size and make a ghastly cawing sound. Trouble is, she’s a bantam hen, and her butt is barely big enough to cover three eggs. In the end we had to discourage her from sitting on the eggs, since she was taking up valuable real estate. Sorry Miss Broodypants!

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In my earlier post, I thought that my bees were starving.

Turns out they are being robbed!

This morning I replaced the syrup, and a few hours later I checked on them to find the hive swarming with activity. I looked closer, and realized my bees were fighting – colliding in midair, rolling around on the ground, pushing each other out of the hive! The bees they were fighting with are darker, with almost black abdomens – definitely not my bees. They are being attacked and robbed by an outside hive!

I ran inside to do some quick research – I had read someone’s blog article about their hive being robbed, so I had an idea of what to look for. Here’s what I did:

  • Removed the entrance feeder. Apparently having syrup out in the open can attract attackers.
  • Closed down the entrance to the hive to the width of a single bee. That makes it easier for the bees inside to defend themselves.
  • Covered the entire hive with a sheet soaked in water. This prevents outside bees from getting in, while supposedly allowing the home bees to find their way in and out. Mainly we want to keep the outside bees out, and allow the home bees to defend themselves inside the hive.

My guess is that the local feral bees are starving from the dearth of nectar, since there are no flowers left, and they’ve probably gone through their honey reserves just like my bees have. They’re out looking for anything, and they found the syrup that I’ve so prominently displayed.

If the colony survives this, I’ll certainly never use the entrance feeder again. I’ll need to find another way to feed them through the winter – maybe a candy board feeder inside the hive.

Poor bees. Saint Abigail and Saint Ambrose, please pray for my bees!

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Why Eat Local?

Yesterday Bethany and I attended the Farm and Food Leadership Conference in Bastrop, put on by the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. It was really energizing, and we’re excited about getting more involved in the local food movement, and even farming ourselves!

Eating Local - Peaches from a friend's farm

One of my big takeaways is WHY local food is better, and how to tell people about it.

Most folks would agree that local food is better, but why? And is it worth paying more for? Here are a few reasons why local food is better than supermarket food:

  • It tastes better. Don’t believe me? Do a taste comparison. Eggs are great – compare a store-bought egg with a local free-range egg for an eye-opening comparison.
  • It’s more nutritious. Conventional food is grown and harvested in a way that makes it LOOK good, but it’s often pumped full of stuff that you might not want to put in your body. Compare that with local organic food, which usually doesn’t look as nice, but is grown to be good food, not decoration.
  • It is probably not soaked in pesticides. Most local farms eschew the use of chemical pesticides.
  • It’s better for the environment. Large-scale commercial farming is most often what we refer to as a “monoculture” – that means that they’ll grow 1,000 acres or 10,000 acres of a single crop, like corn, or soybeens, or almonds. The problem with that is that nature does not like monocultures. Mother nature sees a problem with this, and she will send her weedy minions to invade the offending acrage. Commercial farmers deal with this by spraying herbacides – weed killers – on their fields. Weeds unfortunately learn to adapt to the herbicides, leading to resistant strains, causing the need for more potent poisons, and so on. Did I mention this goes on your food?
  • It’s better for the environment. Yes, I know I said this already. Large commercial monoculture farms also deplete the nutrients in the soil. Farmers then must add fertilizer. Because the quality of the soil has become so poor, the next rain will wash much of the fertilizer off the field, into rivers, lakes, and oceans. This fertilizer runoff causes rampant algae growth which then depletes the oxygen in the water, causing what’s known as a “dead zone”.
  • Food in the supermarket travels, on average, several thousands of miles to get to your plate. Think about it – where did those strawberries come from – Central California? That’s 1500 miles from Austin. How about those apples – Washington? Seattle is 2000 miles away, as the crow flies. You burn fossil fuel just by buying food at the supermarket. Shopping local and in season is one way you can reduce our dependence on energy and fossil fuel.
  • Big corporations and the government are in cahoots to control the food you eat. Did you know that there are only four meat processors in the entire United States? Did you know that most of the brands of food that you bought at the grocery store are owned by just a handful of companies? Did you know that the Deputy Commissioner of the Food and Drug administration, Michael Taylor, is also a former executive for Monsanto, the company who claims to “own” the DNA of genetically modified foods (with the Supreme Court’s blessing), who is suing small farmers to drive them out of business, and who wants to put genetically modified foods on your dining table? Do I sound like I have an axe to grind here?
  • Know your farmer. How do they grow the food that you eat? What kind of chemicals do they use? How is it processed? Being able to visit your local farm gives local food growers a level of transparency that is impossible with supermarket food.

So there you have the why – it’s better for you, it’s better for the environment, and it’s better for society.

The 2 x 2 Pledge

How can we change the way we eat? It’s so easy just to buy the food in the supermarket.

  1. Pledge to spend $2 per day on local food. That’s the first part of the 2 x 2 challenge. You could visit your local farmer’s market, sign up for a CSA, or visit a local farm. Also, check out Localharvest, which is a great resource for finding local food.
  2. The second part of the 2 x 2 pledge is to pledge to convince two others to do the same. How? Invite them over for a taste test! Have a local food party. Show them this blog post!

Thanks to Michael Olson, who was the keynote speaker at the conference for the 2×2 pledge.

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Oh no! Dead Bees!

The Bees are Dead!

Yesterday I discovered that our first beehive is also suffering our first beehive crisis. I noticed that the bees had been unusually quiet that afternoon, so I went out to have a look at the hive. To my horror, I discovered that the ground in front of the hive was literally carpeted with thousands of bodies of dead bees. They were actually dropping out of the hive dead, right before my eyes. I had just inspected last Wednesday, how could such a drastic change happen so quickly? What could it be – starvation? Poisoning? Robbing? 

It didn’t seem like robbing – I had read other accounts of beehive robbing (when another hive invades your hive and basically destroys it), and it didn’t seem like it could be that. Could it be pesticide poisoning? That didn’t seem likely – I haven’t seen anyone spraying nearby, and it’s not the right season for that.

It must be starvation. I’ve been feeding the bees with sugar syrup in an entrance feeder, but not consistently. During my last inspection I saw that the bees had almost no honey at all – not a good sign for the end of summer. I’ll be feeding more consistently from now on. Also, I’m looking into building a candy board, which I found great instructions for here:

I’ve heard of people losing whole hives before, and it’s devastating. I can only hope that I’ve intervened in the right way before it’s too late to save the hive.