A few Euros from the EU

Yesterdays post on bees and the EU has turned into a much appreciated debate with Sam. He has responded generously. My reply/comment was long … almost a post, so I am reposting it here for the sake of archival continuity. My main point is that the EU subsidies are not really supporting Romanian farmers but enslaving them financially and mentally (the latter being the more potent price).  I believe that is true for farming subsidies in general. However subsidies within a community/country shift energies within it … the EU subsidies are, I believe by design, stealing energy away from Romania.

So great to have a quality debate 🙂

As for the “science of bees” I believe it would come with more authority if I cited my source rather then regurgitated what I’ve learned from it: http://biobees.com/articles.php.

I would specifically refer you to two articles:

The future of natural beekeeping: http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Future-of-Natural-Beekeeping&id=7287954

Sustaining the honeybee: http://ezinearticles.com/?Sustaining-the-Honeybee&id=1450967

The people you are buying honey from in the market are most probably small local producers – they are the typical industrial producer. These are too busy running their operations to sell in the market. They sell their produce in bulk to large aggregators.

As for what Romanian industrial beekeepers actually do in regard to the bees – they only do what lines their pockets with most honey/money (not what any association defines as proper … you of all people should know what a wild-west this country is when it comes to regulations). With the risk of generalizing … traditional beekeeping (like traditional agriculture) is ignorant and destructive. It is easy to confuse love of honey-money with love of bees. Given what I know about bees I have witnessed very little love … though I have heard it spoken. I don’t buy it. I’ve witnessed honey-frames with brood (just born bees) emerging (literally) being inserted into those honey extraction spinners (you can also see brood being disturbed/injured in the beautifully produced movie – as a frame is cut open in preparation for extraction) … is that what they mean by love of the bees?

An issue unique to Romania I would like to address further is those “few Euros from the EU”. I will use milk to make my point. Most Romanian small-medium producers sell most of their milk to a milk truck that makes rounds every morning – they get ~80 bani per liter + if they meet agreed quotas they are supposed to get bonuses (though from what we’ve heard the bonuses are being delayed big time). We buy our milk directly from them – fresh and warm – for 2 lei per liter. The milk truck container is preloaded with chlorine as a preservative … so already the milk is compromised … the first step in a long process of deterioration until the poor substitute for milk arrives in the supermarkets for 4 or 5 lei.

This system has become standard. Producers don’t need to worry about sales and marketing (especially tricky with milk that can spoil) and everything they produce gets “purchased”. As a result they no longer produce any other higher-value products. We have not yet been able to find (in our and in neighboring villages) a local producer that makes butter or cream (smantana). They don’t bother anymore. Their world has been marginalized by those few EU Euros … which provides them a bare minimum. They cannot better their lives with it … they can at best be sustained where they are. Ironically their only chance at progress is by quantitative growth = more cows. The results is over-crowded and dying pastures (over grazed, over compacted…) and terribly diminished soil fertility.

Those few Euros are how a fantastic and diverse ecosystem of small producers have been reigned in. If they were a few large producers organized as corporations then they could have been taken over by standard market dynamics. However in this marvelous Romanian ecology that was not the situation. So they came up with a creative solution which appears in the form of “a few Euros from the EU” – a majestic system of control.

With Cutia Taranului we are trying to show milk-producers that they can produce and sell (reliably and consistently) added value products like cheese, cream and butter and make much more money and have much more control over their lives. I cannot begin to describe to you the huge mental barriers that are locked in place thanks to those “few Euros from the EU”.

And I am convinced that similar patterns, destructive to both nature and people, are in play with the bees and the honey. Money is being used to put in place misdirected motivations.

With natural bee-keeping we (=Andreea and I) don’t need a honey-extractor of any kind, we use inexpensive home-made top-bar hives (instead of the expensive, complicated system of standard beekeeping), we don’t injure any bees (after we’ve made the difficult transition from standard hives to top-bar hives), we only take honey that is left after the bees have made it through winter, our bees have an opportunity to fight-off potential varroa infestations on their own without us getting in the way and we will expand our apiary as we continue to develop our land providing us and the bees with more sustenance.

But, I may be crazy and wrong about this 🙂

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