Tuesday, July 6, 2010

To Bee or Not to Bee

Want to Help Save the World? Get Yourself a Hive or Two

By Paul K. Haeder

If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.
– erroneously attributed to Albert Einsten

We think of ourselves as a species that’s as busy as bees, 7 billion of us seemingly clamoring to keep active doing good things to do good for the whole. Some of us hold onto postage-stamp sized spits of land in our urban mega cities of 10 million or more (18 total thus far in the world).

While we look like bees in Tokyo (35 million) or Mubai, our carbon footprints are huge as we require more and more land for food and resources to feed our oil addiction.

We build and destroy cities. We create culture and live for the moment, consuming vast quantities of junk. We spray land with chemicals to get more from it and kill more biodiversity to control what we need. We love genetically altering organisms, damming river systems, and plowing under rainforest for a mono-crop, for instance, palm oil, so chocolate and crackers taste creamy and snappy.

A thing left out of this process is that we are just ONE part of nature, a link that has so much viral power to alter all other niches, ecosystems and individual species like polar bears or woodpeckers.

Busy as bees we are not, since these amazing creatures – especially the Mediterranean and Russian varieties – are built to move mountains. According to its Greek origins, Apis mellifera is the “honey-carrying” bee, although in reality it carries nectar and pollen. Linnaeus wanted to rename it Apis mellifica, “honey-making” bee, but taxonomical protocol trumped that idea.

For one Cheney couple, bee keeping and leaving the madhouse of Southern California may have saved them.

“We were seeing everything collapse,” Martin Davis said while looking out at his property, Bee-Chicken Farm, in the Hog Creek basin, abutting DNR wetlands. “The oceans were dying before my eyes. Each year I went spear fishing, I could see more pollution from all those people … and less fish.”

Martin surfed and scuba dived those ecosystems, and while jostling in his neighborhood for parking when 30 cars at a time were cruising for curb space, it was nothing compared to seeing 18 million people’s voracious appetites help destroy his recreational world.

Finding 20 acres here in 2005 was an act of self-preservation for themselves and their 24-year-old daughter, Martina.

Little did the Davises know their project to escape traffic, polluted surf, long store queues (“lines everywhere, even at 1 in the morning”) and the ‘reckless self-organizing of humanity’ (land use planning) in a place like LA or Ventura would include a complete transformation into bee keepers.

Each of their hives supports 30,000-40,000 animals, though 60,000 to 90,000 bees in one hive is not uncommon.

The bees’ self-organizing campaign and wondrous efficiency looking for nectar and pollen are beyond anything humans, even with a bank of hard drives and a million robotic gizmos, could muster.

The Davises now have their sustainable farm up and running — they’ve decided to eliminate any chemical inputs for bees and the egg- laying, meat-providing chickens. Marcia even makes dog food for their three mutts.

“I really have no faith in corporations knowing what they put into anything… dog food or human, it doesn’t matter, I don’t trust them to do the right thing,” Marcia said, emphasizing the recent cases of pet deaths because of melamine-enhanced wheat gluten from China.

She’s got engineering under her belt all the way back to the University of Texas-Arlington and her current position is with the City of Spokane as a civil engineer in the capital facilities department.

Bee-Chicken produces several types of honey, including snowberry, a buckwheat variety and mixed varieties sourced from indigenous flowering plants and trees, to orchards in the area. One honey from Zambia is amazingly complex and evocative of those variable terroirs used in the wine grower’s parlance. Each elixir has complex layers of flavors and various potency tones and hues that play magic on the tongue.

They plan to make the land pay off with more chickens, bees, and sustainable living. They talked about how their daughter struggled in California with mood disorders and behavior issues, caused in part by what Martin connects to the synergistic effects of bad stuff in the water, food, air and the spiritual deficit of Southern California.

The Davises believe we as a species are causing our own demise. Looking at the incredible death rates of hives all over the U.S., called Colony Collapse Disorder, they make the connection to our own species being overly revved up on stimulants like consumerism, hydrocarbon burning and junk entertainment. We’re too fat on bad food, and we are so chewed up genetically and endocrine-wise because of our plasticized and chemically-induced stupor that we too experience a sort of civilization
collapse disorder.

Marcia admitted that our wet and cold weather plays havoc on hives, and she agonizes over each bee, hitting near rock bottom emotionally when an entire hive was wiped out last winter. Martin is a doting parent checking his hives daily, and is confounded by the region’s extreme weather.

The couple forgives coyotes, owls and red-tailed hawks that snatch up a few of their egg-laying and meat-producing chickens. They’ve enlisted the services of a rooster to guard the hens.

While they understand the issues behind books like “The End of Food” and “Fast Food Nation,” or films like “Food, Inc., and “Big Corn,” Marcia feels that a transition into a sustainable food system will take time.

“We have to have a plan for transition. We can’t close all the CAFOs [concentrated animal feeding operations] and stop the main industrial producers of food overnight. We’d see a lot of social disorder… hunger, I believe,” she said.

The couple has been moved by recent films like “The Last Bee Keeper” and “Vanishing of the Bees,” but don’t give up hope as they are active in the West Plains Beekeeper Association, learning all the ins and outs of good beekeeping.

Martin is pursuing a degree in entomology after spending 30 years as a union man in the area of interior finish carpentry. He’s supervised construction projects, like interiors for Star Trek theme parks and all sorts of projects in Las Vegas and Burbank. Marcia went through an intensive 14-week training course on forestland management and worked with a logger to thin out ponderosa pines.

Theories as to why bees are dying are tied to six or seven major vectors, and they’re studying each, applying essential oils from thyme, peppermint and eucalyptus to treat hives for some of the top culprits.

The varroa (vampire) mite is one pest which takes advantage of the human connection to altering the bees’ home — the honey frames man designed 100 years ago. Honeycomb cells are larger than what bees make in a wild hive, allowing for more mites to live and lay eggs.

Then there’s foulbrood, a contagious disease, and Nosema ceranae, a digestive problem which bees contract over long, cold winters when confined to their hives for extended periods. Beekeepers also face wax moths. Conventional remedies in our modern age have involved antibiotics, mitacides, fungicides even moth balls. Their local association has nothing to do with these modern chemical cocktails.

They recently threw a party for their bees – pounds and pounds of seeds for flowering plants sowed all over their new forest floor.

For Martin and Marcia Davis, education, experience and a group of beekeepers are the only way to manage bees correctly.

Yet, there are limits, as Marcia says: “We don’t control the bee, really.”

For more information on Bee-Chicken Farm please contact (509) 239-4592 or email beechickenfarm@yahoo.com.

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