The EU Strikes Again: Bees

Sam sent a link to this article and video about Romanian nomadic-bee-keepers. The short articles describes how UK bee-keepers have experienced a difficult year (meaning drastically reduced yields) and they are angry that the EU is supporting bee-keepers in Romania and Hungary instead of coming to their rescue. It also includes a nicely shot video of the Romanian bee-keepers:

I didn’t enjoy watching the video. I saw in it another aggressive move by the EU to inject western industrialization into the Romanian ecosystem. I’ll try to outline what I believe is really happening.

Bee Abuse

Bees are not nomadic creatures – they settle in one place, build a hive and occupy it for a long time. In late spring or early summer some the bees may swarm – which is a survival instinct in which a large part of the family leaves the hive to establish a new family. They will naturally prefer to settle in fertile areas (plenty of flowers) and may leave if a location ceases to support them. But other then that they are not nomadic.

The opposite is true. They are very sensitive to location – they have GPS-like capabilities that enable them to fly back and find the hive entry to within inches. If you move the hive just a little bit they will get confused and will have to reorient themselves to find it. That is why “Romanian nomadic bee keepers” travel only at night and have to travel large enough distances (at least a few km) so that the bees are “confused enough” so as not to try to fly back to where they remember their hives were.

Moving the bees around is an abusive behavior that goes against their nature. This of-course complements the widely used and commonly known box hives which are designed to make it easy for humans to penetrate into the hive and disturb the bees to make sure they are “working properly” and to get at their honey stores. Those smoke makers you commonly see bee-keepers use are meant to discourage the bees from attacking, which they tend to do when their homes are brutally disturbed (wouldn’t you?).

Another frequently abusive practice in standard bee-keeping is that the hive food-stores are almost completely depleted by their operators. This includes winter honey stores which the bees need to get through winter – especially the cold Romanian winters. Instead the bees are fed sugar-based syrups which are much cheaper then the actual honey. This artificial food is a poor replacement for honey and is often supplemented with medications.

The entire commercial bee-keeping paradigm is about industrialization of the natural behaviors of the bees. Moving them around is merely another abusive step towards increased efficiency at the expense of the well-being of the bees. Bee population around the world is in dire straits because of standard commercialized bee-keeping. If Romania continues its excessive bee-keeping habits it is just a matter of time until the Romanian natural bee population will be badly disrupted.

Nature Abuse

When natural systems are left alone they gravitate around a natural balance. It is true that bees play a critical role by pollinating flowers – simply put we would not have food without bees. But there can be too much of a good thing. Bee populations partake in a dynamic and natural balance in the environment – they need plenty of food and very little competition. When too many bee hives are placed in a limited area there can be too many bees resulting in hive-robbing and violence.

The increase in honey-bee population is not being met with increased natural reserves. Pastures are widely over-grazed and abused. Industrial agriculture takes over huge fields with poisoned mono-cultures. Deforestation is a huge problem in Romania. It is any wonder that industrial bee-keepers have to move around to find remote untouched still flowering locations?

Sidenote: honey-bees are not the only kind of bee and not the only pollinator. Mason bees are much better pollinators – some say 100 times better than honey-bees. So the whole “we need honey bees to pollinate our fields” pitch by the HONEY-bee industry is inaccurate, incomplete and misleading.

More worrying is that bees transport not only pollen but other chemicals. If bees have access to a field that uses pesticides and to a natural forest they will be transferring those pesticides into the otherwise untouched eco-system. When bees are moved around between locations then they carry things (natural and chemical) over from one eco-system to another. Doing so disturbs the natural order of things.

Sidenote: just in case you missed it – the pesticide issue means that there is practically no such thing as organic honey. The only way to produce truly chemical free honey is to have the bees in a location in which in a 3-5km radius (typical honey-bee range) there is absolutely no use of pesticides or insecticides. Good luck with that … anywhere in the world.

All this is being done not for the bees and not for nature, it is being done to increase productivity. A much healthier bee-keeping paradigm is smaller local apiaries – it has been present and working in Romania (and probably many other countries) for a long time without any EU support.

People Abuse

I don’t have enough direct knowledge about the financial workings of the honey-economy in Romania (like I do about the abusive milk-economy). What I do know is that most honey-producers sell their massive honey yields to large-scale marketers. If that honey reaches Romanian consumers it does so at a much higher (at least double) price. Though I wouldn’t be surprised to find that much of that honey is exported while other honey is imported into Romania (the “efficiencies” of free-market merchants can be mind-boggling).

Honey producers (I don’t believe they deserve to be called bee-keepers) enjoy a steady income since all of their yields are purchased by the aggregate marketers. This is supplemented by EU subsidies (according to the one of the interviewees in the video above a sum of 4500 euros once every three years). The producers get used to and become dependent on this system yet they have no say in it. Market prices are set (non-negotiable) by the larger marketers as are the EU subsidies.

The producers are enslaved not only by the economic realities of this system but also by its mentality. Namely abuse bees, nature and yourselves to maximize yield.

… and don’t forget these fortunate honey producers get to live in a truck filled with bee-hives … the perks just keep piling up don’t they?

Natural Bee Keeping

top-bar hive - natural bee keeping
This year we started natural bee-keeping with two horizontal top-bar hives. A hive in which: :

  1. We leave the bees an ample (most of the) honey supply to use as winter feed. We harvest whatever is left in spring. We may harvest some honey in summer to prevent the hive from exploding with honey.
  2. We rarely open the hives so as not to disturb the bees. We do not use a smoker. Instead we have a water sprayer at hand to simulate rain … though we rarely need to use it.
  3. We place the hives in partial shade – the bees are very productive without us needing to “encourage” them by placing the hives in full sun.
  4. The bees build their own combs out of natural wax in whatever sizes they need (instead if using pre-fabricated wax foundations).
  5. The hives are simple to build and home-made. They are built with thick wood walls to offer much better winter insulation … and the hive designs allows us to add more insulation for winter.

There is no such thing as “Nomadic bee keepers” … sheesh!

Government Corruption and Romania

Jeffrey Sachs appeared yesterday on my consciousness radar and I’ve started consuming him. I just watched this engaging talk about his most recent book “The Price of Civilization”. I loved to see the word “virtue” (a personal context which will become more clear when I complete and release my Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance project) in the book and video title and I loved to hear an academic, especially of economics recognize and highlight it.

One core theme that came up was the legalization of corruption in American politics. As I was listening to this talk I thought about the corrupt state of Romanian politics and I actually found comfort. Romanian politics and its corruption are immature compared to their American counterparts. They are more visible, more simple, more direct … and therefore (should be) easier to identify and deal with. They are not hidden behind an enormous body of government, libraries of legislation and vast economic empires. Romania is, still, a beginner in these domains and the corruption should be easier deal with.

If nothing else then this elaborate lecture indicats that Romanian corruption is not as unique or severe a problem as it is often made out to be. I suspect that it is actually a lesser problem. I suppose a ruler of some kind gives measuring context.

 

Who is Romanian?

I am not sure I agree completely with the thesis in Sam’s recent post (I would need to invest more time then I care to right now to reflect on it). I also don’t know who is currently the minority and who the majority but I know who I want the majority to be:

Because believe me, there are lots of good people here, from all nationalities and ethnicities and speaking all languages because I know them and I meet more every single week. We’re only in the minority because someone played a cruel trick on Romania long ago and convinced most of the population to include useless fools as being part of what makes up “we” when in reality they are the minority and so they are not us, they do not speak for us, they do not represent us and in no way have they ever demonstrated that they deserve to be included in our group.

Sorin Apostu and his ilk might speak Romanian, might have been born in Romania, might carry a Romanian passport but he isn’t one of us. And that’s why I don’t just say it but know that I am more Romanian than he is, because we, the positive, good, honest, moral people, we are Romania and he and all the corrupt, evil assholes can go fuck off. We are the ones who make this country a good place to live and so it is ours, not his. I don’t care what his papers say – he hasn’t earned the right to call himself a Romanian.

Honestly, I think this is true of many places in the world … I just happen to be more sensitive and affilated with Romania now then with other places 🙂

Saturday - October 13, 2012

Today started grey and wet … a nice fall rain … light and long 🙂 I did not feel like going out at all … and so I didn’t … unti I felt like going out and so I went out … and the weather cleared and the sun came out and even some blue skies later in the day 🙂

I started in the workshop … I buit a platform on wheels … which is actually a part of the second rocket stove project. Before I can buid the new rocket stove I first have to move out the old metal stove which is very heavy (takes an effort for three strong guys to lift). So my idea is to leg by leg lift it onto the platform and then roll out it out … so that is done.

I then went on to chop some more firewood … filled and stored another wheel-barrow … and then went out to clean up and mulch another of the raised beds. I was happy to find yet another small batch of small tomatoes … perfect for the solar dehydrator … shoud we get a decent day of sun 🙂

And another day gone by:)

Friday - October 12, 2012

I am sitting happily warm after firing up the rocket stove for the first time this season. The past few nights have been cold here and I’ve had to do an imitation of Andreea (layers of clothes and a blanket) … well no more. I modified the rocket a bit and we have not applied finishing yet. I was worried that without the finishing some unwelcome gasses would be released into the room. So I fired it up today in the middle of the day when the house was still open and there was natural ventillation … and all is good … and I am warm … which is VERY good 🙂

Over the past few days I’ve watched as neighbors coppiced some very old willows. I have to admit I was a bit jealous because (a) of the amount of easy to cut down wood they took away and (b) because we hope that in the next few years to acquire that land and we kind of already view it as ours … and so … you get it 🙂

Anyways they left lots of willow cuttings … some quite large … and with their permission I took some of those cuttings and today planted a few on our property … a small boulevard 🙂 I gave it priority because the weather forecast includes rain in the coming days … and I wanted them to benefit from the rain. I still hope to go back and collect all of the cuttings left on the ground. That wood is negligent if you have a regular wood stove, but if you have a rocket stove (as we do) it’s great burning material.

I’ve also started work on the second rocket stove … the one that will hopefully heat our living room this winter (last year we spent most of the winter in one room). Yesterday I cut open the barrel and burned off the paint and the remains of whatever was in the barrel. Today I sanded it clean and it is ready to go. This rocket is going to a bit more complicated as it will include said radiating barrel and an additional “firebrick barrel” as a heat-battery that will also have a baking stove in it. I am also considering installing a water heating coil inside the rocket (though we will hook it up the water boiler only next year … long story).

I cut  to cut more firewood everyday and we have quite a good winter-store ready to go.

Now dinner and a movie in a warm bedroom 🙂

Tuesday - October 9, 2012

I am finding space again to do some short daily updates … that signifies a good thing for me 🙂

Andreea is still away attending to another home-birth in Bucharest. There are signs that birth is nearing … so hopefully she’ll be home again in a few days (before heading out to another birth … and then another).

Today I finished assembly and finishing of our new winter door. It’s an outer door in addition to the existing door. Currently in its place we have a light summer-door – which is a framed net to keep flying things out during the summer. The new winter door is essentially a wooden box (though with a few neat, for me, tricks) which houses a 5cm thick layer of insulation. Maybe this year out kitchen won’t kitchen/hall won’t freeze like it did last year.

I’ve almost finished insulating the water pipes inside the house. It has turned to be a mean project. I had to take apart quite a bit (almost everything) to get the insulation on properly. This seemed to lead to a leak from the main water supply into the house (the whole thing was already fragile from freezing last winter) from both the main connection and from the flow-splitter attached to it. I’ve assembled a replacement assembly for this … now waiting for someone to be here with me so that I can disconnect the old assembly and put in the new one without pushing the water supply hose outside.

A couple weeks ago I finished insulation the grey-water line existing the house. Today I built an ad-hoc cover (from scrap wood) to our “hole-in-the-ground” grey water treatment facility. Next it will be covered by straw-bales and plastic to keep the rain off … so hopefully that doesn’t freeze either.

There is still some insulation work to do on the concrete man-hole boxes (one with the pump next to the well, the other where there the supply is splite to numerous destinations).  A guy was supposed to come here today to help me do that (in exchange for some work I let him do in my workshop) …. he didn’t show up 🙁 Except for a few small touches that should keep us with running water through the freezing winter … I hope!

In the coming days I hope to resume the last big project for this year … the second rocket stove for our day-room (last year we spent almost the entire winter in the bedroom). I have almost all the materials … but I need to get back into the “rocket zone” to do this properly.

And all the time cutting more wood … some of it for this winter, some of it for future winters (unlike typical Romanians we prefer to feed our rocket stoves with dry wood).

Also collected another batch of dried apples from our solar driers … great stuff … if the sun comes out tomorrow I hope to get another batch in 🙂

Flock is fed and watered, dog are fed … I am hungry … so off to whip something up for dinner and take a load off.

How Not to Change Romania

This morning I came across this video via BucharestLife – it’s in Romanian so you may want to turn on captions (a “cc” button appears after play begins):

I happened to come across this because I live in Romania and a bit more attentive to it then other places in the world … but I imagine this is a scene that repeats itself many times all over the world … which just makes it all the more powerful. The behavior of the police was most disquieting.

It’s already quite obvious to most people that economic patterns we have taken for granted all of our lives don’t quite work for us. But I believe the problem goes much deeper then economics. Here we can see that the legal patterns we think protect and uphold society us are also collapsing.

I feel privileged to be witnessing intense evolutionary changes happening on so many fronts. And with that in mind I return again to Robert Pirsig’s insight on this subject:

If you don’t like our present social system or intellectual system the best thing you can do … is stay out of their way.

Permaculture Reality Check

I am undecided about Paul Wheaton’s podcasts. Many (most?) times I feel like I need to patiently wait through annoying chitter-chatter … however I do occasionally come across ones that are interesting and valuable. I just finished listening to one of my all time favorites The Realities of Practical Permaculture – Dell Artemis Farm.

Very few things in real life are as they seem to be in the books (this is true for Permaculture and almost anything else I can think of). Theoretical knowledge is one thing and practical application a whole other thing. I think a warning about this gap should be placed in large bold type-face on every permaculture publication … kind of like the warnings they have on cigarette boxes. But this isn’t the case and as a result learning about permaculture and sustainability creates illusions … and those illusions come crashing down when you hit the ground … and that pain can be avoided or the fall softened. This podcast does just that. If you are thinking of embarking on a permactulrue-esque life … listen to this podcast.

Nothing is ever as easy as it seems to be in the books or articles or even classes. Circumstances (soil, climate, culture, finances, skills, resources …) trump theories every time. If you are not prepared to experiment and fail and experiment and fail … again and again … a lot … then don’t head out on this road.

I completely agree with the notion that self-sustainability is a bullshit notion which is more likely to lead to misdirection and frustration than to inspiration. There is practically no such thing as self-sustainability. You can move towards a more self-sustainable life but true sustainability can only be achieved within circles of community. Community is one of the most complex and mysterious concepts I have come across … don’t take it for granted.

For example: we built our hugelkultur beds in the spring. It was too late for them to absorb water and get us through the summer drought. Yet we did a few experiments and lost most of our produce … we learned a lot but produced very little food. We were able to do this by purchasing the food we needed from neighbors. Those neighbors are growing food in traditional farming with a lot of work and risks and depletion of natural resources. They are supporting our research efforts. Those research efforts will hopefully come up with alternatives methods of growing food which they will be able to learn from and adapt to their needs. That is community.

Infrastructures first. Every time. Andreea is dying to bring a couple of goats on the farm and I am constantly the bad guy (and also the one who shoulders most of the regular tasks that need to be done around here) by refusing to even consider it before we have the necessary infrastructures in place (pasture and paddocks, yearly food cycle and supply, water, winter sheltering …). Those infrastructures will take years to build (once we have the money to get some of them started). Infrastructures make the difference between a life of pleasant work and a life of slavery. I did not come here to become a slave.

 

Crafts

This is one direction I’d love to see develop in Romania and become a key local and national resource:

Via Grant Blakeman

Joy & Jam

Joy

Twice a week we purchase fresh milk from a family in a neighboring village. It can be a pleasant walk if weather is nice, but I usually drive there. This brings with it an odd joy. I say odd because (1) I don’t experience much happiness (not because it isn’t there but rather something about me) and (2) for the ife of me I cannot understand why this, of all things, does, actually make me happy. I usually forget to bring my camera with me, but this morning, as I was stepping out, I remembered to take it.

The dogs usually come running after the car. Indy is always there and goes the longest distance. Rex will usually come along for the run but won’t go as far as Indy. Ricky will sometimes come out and if she goes far enough I stop and take her into the car so that she doesn’t get into trouble with other dogs on the way (she is a small dog). This morning all three joined me.

This is Ricky running alongside the car on the way there (just before I stopped and took her into the car):

This is Rex heading in the same direction:

This is Indy on the way back. This is my precious moment of joy. I just love watching her run trying to lead the way and then diving into the corn field. The images don’t quite work … she was ahead of me and I was trying to catchup with her to shoot her through the window … so I was driving faster then I should on an downhill dirt path through a field looking in the wrong direction 🙂

I never grow bored of watching Indy race me home through a field of corn. It keeps making me … inexplicably happy 🙂

Jam

This morning came with an extra bonus. The older generation of the family we get our milk from were busy making prune jam and I got to witness some cool village-tech – and thanks to the dogs I had my camera with me. They have this super contraption setup where an electric engine is used to drive a mixing paddle in a giant metal pot sitting on a fire in which they are cooking their prune jam (from prunes harvested from the yard directly behind them).

Last week Levente came by and I helped him fix a similar wooden mixing paddle that broke off at the end. The paddle itself is + shaped and is contoured to fit snugly to the bottom of the pot. Levente’s version was a manually operated one with a lever that swings from side to side. We are still amateurs and use a big wooden spoon 🙂