Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Salad Update

Spinach (Photo Taken on Sunday)
Arugula (Sunday Photo)
Lettuce-mix (Sunday Photo)
I planted a couple rows of spinach on January 13th along with arugula and a lettuce-mix on the 21st. It is amazing how little they have grown in that amount of time. The chickens ate some of the arugula but now it seems to be thriving. The reason the arugula is doing so well is because I like it the least.The spinach seeds were very old and only 10 of them came up, but I planted several more on February 2nd. The lettuce-mix is doing great, and I'm looking forward to having a salad in a couple of weeks. I planted radishes on February 6th, and when I placed them on a shelf in the greenhouse they all dumped out. I scooped up as much soil as I could and replanted 30 seeds which all sprouted. On February 1st, I planted 20 swiss chard seeds in 10 pots, and so far 8 of the pots have sprouted.

It is incredible any of the plants are still alive because the large greenhouse blew over on February 21st. Most of the planters were on shelf not connected to the frame of the greenhouse so those were fine. The broccoli I planted a couple days early spilled. Six of the 24 broccoli seeds sprouted today.

Moral of the story: Plants are tough.

Beekeeper Steve

A little over a month ago, I contacted a local beekeeper named Steve. He is the father of one of my niece’s friends. I was astonished when he offered to give me bees from a hive split he is doing this spring. For several years, I have dreamed of having my own hive and soon it will become a reality. Steve really motivated me to join the local beekeeping club and attend the Bee School. The motivation to buy the equipment came because I know he will give me the bees and I need a home for them.
I went over the Beekeeper Steve’s house today, and we moved the bottom brood box over the top brood box. We looked at the some of the frames and noted that the queen is laying in a good pattern. We didn’t find the queen, but we also didn’t pull out every single frame. The workers looked very healthy without damaged wings and I didn’t see any mites. I was amazed at how docile the bees were, and he even fed one of them a pollen-honey mixture from his finger. He enjoys beekeeping and is proud of his bees.   

Saturday, February 25, 2012

John Muir and Bees

I like reading John Muir’s essays because he was so observant. The following excerpt is from “My Boyhood and Youth” where he describes the honeybee. This was written in the mid 1800s about his family’s farm in Wisconsin. 

The honey-bee arrived in America long before we boys did, but several years passed ere we noticed any on our farm. The introduction of the honey-bee into flowery America formed a grand epoch in bee history. This sweet humming creature, companion and friend of the flowers, is now distributed over the greater part of the continent, filling countless hollows in rocks and trees with honey as well as the millions of hives prepared for them by honey-farmers, who keep and tend their flocks of sweet winged cattle, as shepherds keep sheep, -- a charming employment, “like directing sunbeams,” as Thoreau says. The Indians call the honey-bee the white man’s fly; and though they had long been acquainted with several species of bumblebees that yielded more or less honey, how gladly surprised they must have been when they discovered that, in the hollow trees where before they had found only coons or squirrels, they found swarms of brown flies with fifty or even a hundred pounds of honey sealed up in beautiful cells. With their keen hunting senses they of course were not slow to learn the habits of the little brown immigrants and the best methods of tracing them to their sweet homes, however well hidden.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Invasive Species?

This week I asked a couple more biology professors if they considered the honeybee an invasive species. My ecology professor said she considers them an invasive because they displace the work of native pollinators such as bumblebees. I’m also taking a class about local botany and asked that professor what she thought, and she doesn’t believe they displace pollinators. It is true that bumblebees seem to prefer different flowers than honeybees. For example, I’ve only ever seen bumblebees on rhododendrons. My botany professor said that the honeybees and bumblebees forage at different times. In Bee School, one of the beekeepers mentioned how she planted two varieties of clover, and she noticed bumblebees preferred one variety and honeybees preferred the other. 

The reason why I’m pestering my professors with invasive honeybee questions is because I want a clear conscience when keeping bees. I like for native species to thrive and do not want harm the local ecosystem. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that my beekeeping hobby will help the native plants. More pollination means the flowering plants have more opportunities to spread their genes. It means that my blueberries, beans, squash, black raspberries and other native flowering plants will produce healthier more genetically diverse fruits. Most of the fruits and vegetables we eat are non-native species to North America. If you look at a list of the native edible plants, prior to the colonization of North America, it is pretty short.   

Virtually every species could be considered an invasive. Chickens are a non-native to North America. Our domesticated chicken most likely came from a species called Gallus gallus, Red Junglefowl, from the tropics of Asia. My chickens have a varied diet of insects, small plants, corn, chicken feed and the occasional vole. I guess they could be displacing an animal which might have eaten those insects, small plants and a few voles. The ancestor of domestic cattle were called aurochs which became extinct sometime in the early 1600s. The range for the aurochs was in Europe, Asia and North Africa. Technically, cows are also an invasive species because they are herbivores and displace other plant-eaters in North America. Pigs were domesticated very early by our ancestors. The ancestors of pigs were wild boars native to Europe, Asia and Africa. I do consider boars to be an invasive because, unlike chickens and cattle, pigs can revert back to wild boars and thrive easily without human care. In the wild, they completely wreak havoc on native populations of plants and animals. Most of the Homo sapiens, humans, living in this country are non-native and originate from Europe, Africa and Asia. Are we an invasive species, too?

I hope you see my point that most organisms can be considered an invasive species if looked at through an improper lens. Our domesticated cattle cannot survive without us feeding them and helping birth their calves. I don’t think my chickens could forage for enough food to survive very long, and all of them would fall prey to a fox if they were not locked in their coop every night. Cattle, sheep, chickens and dogs are domesticated animals bred to be taken care of by people. Bees are wild animals and will never be domesticated. The beekeeper provides a place for the bees to live and keeps them safe from predators and parasites. One-third of the food we consume was pollinated by a bee. It is extremely important that we protect and take care of honeybees because honeybees take care of us.   

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


I dug up a cluster of garlic this weekend. It is a variety of wild garlic which has been growing in the backyard for almost 30 years. Given the several decades it has been in the ground, I was somewhat unimpressed with the size and progeny that the single garlic plant produced. The taste is sweet and isn’t as strong as other varieties. One bulb is sufficient for several pieces of garlic bread.

Garlic and onions are in the allium family. I have heard that some people give garlic to dogs to keep the fleas off, but the thiosulfates in alliums can cause hemolytic anemia which causes red blood cells to burst. According to an abstract I read about onions, five water buffalo in Brazil died of renal failure from eating large quantities of onions that had been left in their pasture. Most animals avoid eating alliums probably because they can sense the toxicity. This is the reason why a garlic plant could be buried for almost 30 years without some critter digging it up and carrying it away. The chickens won’t even eat garlic and they eat absolutely everything. I watched one of them pick up a metal washer and eat it. I accidentally left a few young whole garlic plants in the yard but they didn’t touch them. If a chicken does eat an onion, the onion taste winds up in the egg. I guess it similar to when people eat a large amount of garlic and the smell comes out through the pores. 

It is a little disturbing that humans regularly consume a plant which kills many other animals, but garlic supposedly has numerous health benefits. The most touted benefit is that it helps prevent heart disease and lowers cholesterol. It was used by Native Americans as a cough suppressant. Alliums do have high vitamin C content which would have been very useful to people in the winter when other fresh fruits and vegetables were not available.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bee School

Bumblebee and Raspberry Flower
I attended Bee School this Saturday. I live in a rural area of western NC, so beekeeping is a fairly normal hobby. I think one of the teachers said there are 150 registered beekeepers in the county. If everyone who attended the class becomes a beekeeper, then the number will jump to around 200. Haywood County has around 50,000 residents, so the number of beekeepers will amount to 0.4% of the population. Well, that number isn’t as large as I had originally thought, but maybe my blog will influence more people to have their own apiaries.

I think it is amazing that there were no honeybees in North America prior to the colonists. Bumblebees are a native species but they don’t produce much honey because the colony doesn’t overwinter. I wonder what changes were brought about in the environment with the introduction of a non-native species. I had a conversation with my Invertebrate Zoology professor last semester, and he said honeybees are not invasive because they do not take over the niche of any native species. Another teacher said that since they cannot survive in the wild, honeybees are not considered to be an invasive species. I’m not sure which teacher was correct. Only 30 years ago, there were widespread feral populations of honeybees in North and South America, but with the unintentional introduction of tracheal mites and other pathogens, feral populations are now rare.

I found the Bee School to be well organized and well worth $25. The class continues again next Saturday from 9-4pm. Beekeepers seem to want more people to become involved with beekeeping. It is nice there is no competition or hurt feelings between beekeepers. A group of beekeepers is like a colony of bees with each working together for the benefit of the group… I’m growing too philosophical with this post.  

Here are some interesting facts about honeybees from a paper given by the Bee School:

-          The average worker makes 1-1/2 teaspoons of honey in her lifetime.
-          A hive of bees logs over 55,000 air miles to collect one pound of honey.
-          The honeybee is so efficient that it would use only an ounce of honey for fuel to fly around the world.
-          A honeybee visits about 50-100 flowers during one collection trip.
-          A queen can lay her weight in eggs during a 24hr period.
-          A drone has no father, but it does have a grandfather on his mother’s side.
-          A flying worker can carry a load of nectar and pollen which is equal to 80% of her own weight.  

Friday, February 17, 2012

Scary Hairy Bread

It amazes me how store-bought bread can last for months because the bread that I make is only edible for a few days. Food manufacturers have to add chemicals to keep bread fresh, and I'm sure only the cheapest flour is used. Today, I read an article about some of the ingredients in packaged foods. It made me glad to know my bread doesn't contain hair or duck feathers. Well, it might contain some of my hair but that's ok :)   

Here is the excerpt: 

"Many packaged breads and baked goods contain L-cysteine—a non-essential amino acid made from dissolved human hair (often from China) or duck feathers (mmmm). Food manufacturers use the ingredient as a commercial dough conditioner, meant to improve the texture of breads and baked goods."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Birds and Bees

I went to my first bee club meeting this week. Bees are so fascinating, and soon I will have my own hive. Bee school starts this Saturday and I'm looking forward to it sooooooo much :) 

Chickens will eat bees if given the opportunity. Earlier this week I was talking to my lab partner in Soils and Hydrology class, and he said that his chickens like to eat yellow jackets. Every year I am stung by the wasps, which seem to live underground, and attack me when I mow the lawn. It will be nice to not have yellow jackets in the yard, but I don't want the chickens eating my honeybees. Tonight I spoke to the man who will give me bees, so I asked him if I could set-up the hive near the chicken coop. He told me not to place the hive anywhere around the chickens because they will eat them. Bee-eating chickens must be a fact because I heard the same information twice in one week.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Lake Junaluska Crocus

Crocus are so pretty. I find it to be such a hopeful flower usually popping up through the snow in February. The temperatures this winter have been extremely mild, so the little flowers came up a earlier than usual. I tried to find a myth associated with crocus but I couldn't find one easily. There should be a lot of symbols attached to such a flower that tolerates such cold temperatures.

Spritz Cookies

Part of my food challenge is trying different cookies and cakes. There are so many recipes which call for baking soda, but it is not on my 10 food items so I have to find foods to bake which don’t require it. I made some Spritz cookies this weekend and again on Monday. It is such a fast and easy recipe which doesn’t require a lot of sugar or eggs like the pound cake.

2cups flour
1cup butter (2 sticks)
1/2cup sugar
1/2tsp salt
1tsp vanilla
1 egg

Bake at 400degrees for about 8min. Preparation time only takes about 15minutes to make a huge batch of Spritz cookies.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

January Food List

Complete food list for the month of January:
Red - Fruits and Vegetables
Blue- Protein Source
Purple - Honey
Black - Store Bought Items

Eggs- scrambled (Scr), fried (Fr), boiled (B), French Toast (FrTst)

1st- 2 limes, 1c greasy beans, 3 eggsScr, 1/3c rice, 1/2tbs butter, 1tbs honey, 1tbs sugar
2nd- 1c blueberries, 1c greasy beans, 1c broccoli, 3 eggsB, 1/3c rice,1/3lbs bread, 1/2tbs butter, 1tbs honey
3rd1c blackberries, 1c applesauce, 1c broccoli, 3 eggsB, 1/3lbs bread, 1tbs honey, 1tbs sugar
4th1/2 grapefruit, 2c bush beans, catnip tea, 2 eggsB, 1 eggFr, 1/2c rice, 5 raspberry cookies, 2tsp honey, 1tbs sugar
5th1/2 grapefruit, 1c applesauce, 2sm spinach leaves, 3 eggsB, 1/2lbs bread, 5 raspberry cookies, 1tbs butter, 1tsp honey, 1tbs sugar
6th 2 limes, 1/2c peas, catnip tea, 3 eggsB, 1/4c rice, 1/4lbs bread, 2tsp honey, 2tbs sugar
7th1 orange, 1c applesauce, 1/8c blueberry syrup, 1/2c peas, 2 wild onions, 2 eggsFrTst, 1/4c rice, 1/4lbs bread, 1tsp honey, 1tbs sugar
8th1 lime, 1c applesauce, 1c peanut beans, 1c broccoli, 2 eggsB, 1/10piece (terrible) pound cake, 1tbs sugar
9th- 1/2 grapefruit, 1c broccoli, 3 eggsB, 1/2lbs bread, 1/2tbs butter, 1tbs honey, 1tbs sugar
10th1/2 grapefruit, 1/2c blueberries, 1/2c blackberries, 1/8c blueberry syrup, 1c peanut beans, catnip tea, 1 eggB, 2 eggsFrTst, 1/3c rice, 1/4lbs bread, 1/2tbs butter, 2tbs sugar
11th2c applesauce, 1/4c blueberry syrup, 3 eggsFrTst, 1/4lbs bread, 1/2tbs butter, 1tbs sugar
12th1 orange, 2 limes, 1c bush beans, 3 eggsB, 1/6c rice, 1/2lbs bread, 1/2tbs butter, 1tbs sugar
13th2 limes, 1/4c blueberry syrup, 1c bush beans, catnip tea, 3 eggsFr, 1 eggB, 1/6c rice, 1/3lbs bread, 1tbs butter, 1tbs honey, 1tbs sugar
14th2c applesauce, 1c broccoli, 1/8c green peppers, 4 wild onions, 3 eggsB, 1/2tbs butter
15th1c broccoli, 1/8c green peppers, 4 wild onions, 2 eggsScr, 1/3c rice, 1/4 pound cake, 1/2tbs butter
16th1/2c peas, 2 eggsFr, 1/4 pound cake, 1/2tbs butter, 2tbs sugar, 2pots coffee
17th1 lime, 1/2c peas, 2 eggsScr, 1/3c rice, 1/10lbs bread, 1/4 pound cake
18th- 1 lime, 1/8c blueberry syrup, 3 eggsFrTst, 1/4lbs bread, 1/2tbs butter, 1tbs sugar, 1pot coffee
19th1/2 grapefruit, 1c bush beans, 4 eggsScr, 1/3c rice, 1/4lbs bread, 1tbs butter, 1tbs sugar
20th2sm spinach leaves, 1c bush beans, 4 eggsScr, 1/3c rice, 1/5 pound cake, 1/2tbs butter, 1tbs sugar, 1pot coffee
21st1c greasy beans, 1c broccoli, 4 eggsScr, 1/3c rice, 1/4 pound cake, 1tbs butter, 2tbs sugar, 2pots coffee
22nd1 orange, 1 lime, 1c greasy beans, 4 eggsScr, 1/3c rice, 1/4 pound cake, 1/2tbs butter, 1tbs sugar
23rd3 eggsFr, 1/4 pound cake, 1tbs honey, 1tbs sugar, 1pot coffee
24th1/2c applesauce, 3 eggsB, 1/4lbs bread, 1/4 pound cake
25th1-1/2c applesauce, 1/8c blueberry syrup, 3 eggsFrTst, 1/4lbs bread, 1tbs butter
26th1c broccoli, 3 eggsScr, 1/4lbs bread, 1/2tbs butter, 1tbs sugar, 1pot coffee
27th1 grapefruit cube, 2c bush beans, 3 eggsScr, 1/3c rice, 1/4lbs bread, 1/2tbs butter, 2tbs sugar, 1pot coffee
28th1/2c blackberries, 1/2c raspberries, 2 eggsScr, 1/3c rice, 1/4 pound cake, 1/2tbs butter, 1tbs sugar
29th1c blackberries, 1c blueberries, 1/2c raspberries, 3 eggsScr, 1/4lbs bread, 1/4 pound cake, 1/2tbs butter, 2tbs sugar, 1pot coffee
30th1 limecube, 1/8c blueberry syrup, 1c greasy beans, catnip tea, 1 eggScr, 3 eggsFrTst, 1/4c rice, 1/4lbs bread, 1tbs butter, 1tbs sugar
31st1c greasy beans, 3 eggsScr, 1/4c rice, 1/8 pound cake, 1/2tbs butter

I will have to wait until spring to be able to have mainly red and blue foods on my list. I was amazed to find that I only use only 1tbs of sugar per pot of coffee. I still feel like my sugar consumption is too high, but yesterday I read an article that said the average American eats 40tsp of sugar per day which is like 0.83c. Even on days I eat pound cake, I eat less than 40tsp per day.