The Results Are In…

Oregon Department of Agriculture has released their reports of the bee die-offs that occured this past year in West Linn, Wilsonville, Portland, and Hillsboro Oregon…

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Photo credit – Statesman Journal

http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20140123/GREEN/301230022/Report-shows-details-bee-death

The article confirms what many suspected at the get go – for those of you “TL;DR” folks out there… here’s the sum-up.

For the most part, in all of these circumstances, the insecticide in question – imidacloprid – was applied incorrectly. Dosages were wrong, application times not in accordance with packaged instructions, people applying in circumstances that they don’t have a license to apply for that circumstance… so it seems according to ODA’s reports that it was a situation of human error in the process RATHER than the actual pesticide itself causing the die-offs…

The fact is – these neonicotinoid pesticides are harmful to pollinators. There are other options… and other ways to go about it. The State of Oregon recently acted to ban 18 different neonicotinoid pesticides in the wake of this issue – but that ban expired December 24th… the good news is, Oregon is requiring an Oregon specific label that will go on these pesticides so that they can reduce the potential for this happening again – also enacting rules that don’t allow Linden trees (basswood) to be sprayed with these insecticides. Period. That will hopefully reduce the issues of the imidacloprid in the foliage and nectar which was killing the bees left and right in these situations.

What’s tough with putting the responsibility on the applicator is that there will always be some that don’t read the label, don’t dilute, and don’t follow the instructions, so the sad reality is, this will likely happen again. The labels will help, a ban would be better…

… but unfortunately, this is all too little too late for Jim Barlean of Barlean’s Honey – located in Milwaukie, Oregon… Jim lost the majority of his bees and his entire honey crop this year due to this issue – and as a backyard beekeeper, it’s concerning to me since we can’t really control where the girls are going… evidenced by the bright red honey discovered only a few weeks ago in my own hives from the cherry plant a few blocks away.

One of the best components of what I saw in ODA’s plan to combat this in the future was education efforts – showing people exactly what that random-stuff-they-bought-at-whatever-box-store-they-bought-it-at and are spraying all over their gravel paths, walkways, garden beds, fencelines is doing to flowers and the pollinators it’s being transferred to. Our pollinators have a hard enough go of it already and the toxic cocktail of pesticides, fungicides, and all the other ‘cides’ we’re tossing their way isn’t helping.

The documents that ODA has released to the Statesman Journal can be found below for your persual… There are 4 separate documents detailing their findings in each of the incidents that Oregon Department of Agriculture investigated.

West Linn Incident – Oregon Golf Club

Portland Incident – 200 Market Building

Wilsonville Incident – Jim Barlean

Hillsboro Incident – City of Hillsboro

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You Are What What you Eat Eats…

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You are what what you eat eats. – Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food)

Here at the Little House on 17th Street, we’ve been thinking quite a bit about the above quote after finding the neon red honey in our hive in the past couple of weeks.

We’ve come to realize that this urban homesteading experiment we’ve embarked upon – however noble – has the potential to unravel before our very eyes with certain factors that are outside of our control, and frankly, that is somewhat unnerving.

You Are What You Eat

The age old adage is certainly true, you are what you eat… We began this renovation of our home and yard in an attempt to get the adulterants out of our food supply. We weren’t interested in eating food-like substances chock full of all of the preservatives, chemicals and genetically modified components they can cram into them. All of that can be mitigated by simply growing your own and purchasing intelligently. The problem with that concept however is when the surrounding environment – in our case, suburbia – decides to slowly interfere with your plans…

You Are What What You Eat Eats:

The truth is, when you live on an urban homestead – you have no control of what is being done beyond your fence. You don’t know if the flowers that your bees are visiting have been sprayed with insecticide, you don’t know if they’re visiting trees treated with Safari, whether they’re invading the local cannery and drinking long and deep at the vats of HFCS and Red 40. You have no control of where the roots of your plants go – if they leave the boundaries of your fences, and absorb glyphosate from individuals attempting to keep their weeds down in their little corner of manicured suburbia. For that matter, you don’t really know what the previous homeowner did in the soil… you have no idea whether your chickens are eating bugs that have been sprayed at the neighbors house and simply immigrated across the border to our homestead to die…

…things are truly outside of your control.

It’s a strange irony that at the times when you try to control for all these variables by raising your own chickens and growing your own foods, that the foundation you have built your homestead upon can erode so easily with the coming or going of food chain elements, or the past sins and indiscretions of the homeowner… in all honesty it makes you feel particularly vulnerable.

It has also got us thinking – what is truly organic? Can every little variable be controlled for and guaranteed that what you’re buying in the store that is labelled organic is truly organic? Don’t get me wrong – it’s got to be significantly better than what is being done conventionally – it’s not being sprayed directly, it’s not GMO, the list goes on – but it’s kind of scary to think that even if you do wish to opt-out of the conventional industrial farming model – that it may not be possible to keep it completely unadulterated due to the actions of those who don’t wish to opt-out…

Food for thought. You are what what you eat eats…

So THAT’S where Robitussin comes from!

Last week I had a chance to get the bees buttoned up for the winter (read… finally got off my lazy duff and did something I should have done 3 months ago…) 

We had such beautiful weather through the months of October and November, the girls were still out flying, and doing their thing and to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what I should do. They seemed pretty happy – so I was content to let them keep doing what they were doing. Then in a space of a couple weeks it got insanely cold, then rained, and I didn’t have a decent day to open it up for quite some time. 

The other problem was – I knew that they didn’t have enough honey put away for the winter, so feeding them was a necessity and I had no idea how I should do that. I didn’t like the syrup option – it would get too cold… I didn’t want to be opening the hive constantly for small amounts of dry sugar, a front of the hive feeder would make the bees come off the cluster to eat – I really needed something at the brood, but was at a loss of what to do.

Until I came across the concept of a candy board with a protein patty sunken inside.

It required a bit of building, but the basics of the principle is this. Think of it like a super shallow ‘shallow’, that is lined at the bottom with 1/2 inch hardware cloth for support. Into this you mix a combination of sugar, water, vinegar, and a little bit of lemongrass essential oil – then pour that mixture into the box – spread it and let it harden. That gives them solid food for the winter.

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The problem I had was my boxes – I have them in a medium, shallow and a deep. The deep is at the top as I was trying to encourage them to move the brood up from the shallow where they swarmed to, into the deep – but they never did. (So I thought). 3 boxes was way too much open space to keep them warm for the winter – not to mention, the main brood cluster was in the middle box of those two and the bees would have to leave the cluster to eat – and that’s no bueno.

So I did the only logical thing a guy should do. Go outside in the cold of January in Oregon, open the hive, rile the bees up and put a candyboard in. Yup. That’s what I did.

Like many things in life, I learn most of my lessons the hard way – apparently beekeeping is no different.

I pulled the deep off – of course splitting the cluster. The bees went ballistic, but I quickly placed the candyboard, then went to shaking off the frames of bees in the deep that represented the top of the cluster. Thankfully that wasn’t brood, just a small amount of capped honey. All in all – I was in the hive less than 5 minutes.

Since they didn’t the honey – I brought it inside for us to taste.

After cutting the caps off to let it drain… well – that’s when things got interesting.

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I don’t know a lot about beekeeping, but I don’t think the honey is supposed to look like Robitussin…

We began to theorize what might have happened, trying to understand where it came from. We went from sugar syrup on a hummingbird feeder, to other possibilities (vampire bees)… then I googled it, and sure enough got a hit – this has happened two other times in the U.S. so far as I can tell that has been documented. Once in Utah – where a beekeeper was feeding his bees crushed up candy canes and the Red 40 got into the honey of his bees, and dozens of other commercial hives costing an insane amount of money… another time – the bees got into the stuff at a Maraschino Cherry plant in New York… the lightbulb went on. We are within bee forage distance from the Oregon Cherry Growers plant… where they manufacture … yup! You guessed it… Maraschino cherries.

So it’s been a bit of an interesting experiment in what the bees bring home. To a certain degree, it kind of defeats the purpose of trying to have organic backyard honey if your bees are getting into vats of High Fructose Corn Syrup and Red 40… the good news is – it appears that this was late season honey. If I pull the honey earlier in the summer – we should be ok. If they want the red stuff later they can have the red stuff.

I’m certainly not eating it…

The Ides of August – The bees are restless…

This might be normal activity for your hives – for mine – they are typically quite a bit more subdued than this.

3 or 4 in and out at a time, quickly followed by 3 or 4 more… just continuously. This… not so much.

Interesting – and I’m taking it as a sign of good health as the population climbs.

My Life As a Country Song

I came home tonight from work to find Thing 2 curled up on the couch, his head nestled what appeared to be VERY uncomfortably on the rim of his puke bucket, the wife yelled from the kitchen which has lately began to look a lot like the Nalley factory that we were out of Mustard Seed – the tone in her voice told me it was serious, and on top of it all – Thing 1 informed me that yet another chicken had gone broody… I’m up to my ears in projects, there’s stuff all over the yard, in the house…

I didn’t realize that my life had become a country song.

Thing 2 is taken care of – the chicken had already been caged, and it’s a good thing the store is 5 minutes away.

That’s the interesting thing about ‘farming’ in the city. The country life follows you – the good and the bad. Living within city limits, we’re finding that we have to find creative solutions to the not-so-awesome-parts of keeping a large garden, chickens, bees, and complete green space overhauls. With these come tools, feed, equipment, and periodic headaches.

We’re having to now deal with the raccoon that is taking out our produce in the garden and investigating our chickens… We’ve had to figure out how to deal with broody chickens effectively (UPDATE: 5 days in the hole took care of Arugala – she’s all good.), finding ways to deal with the flies that come from having free range poultry… finding counter space to put a decent beet harvest, 25 pounds of pickling cucumbers, and all the canning supplies… then there’s weeding the garden, reclaiming the lumber in the driveway, ordering gravel… then there’s the projects…

…you see, country living in the city isn’t all roses like some of the hipster urban homestead blogs would have you believe. It can be gritty, chaos laden, smelly, dill pickle-y… it’s kind of like making things from Pinterest – the pictures look so sweet- but in reality… it doesn’t always work out as it should… (Speaking of this phenomenon.. you have to see this if you already haven’t… http://www.boredpanda.com/funny-pinterest-fails/) and there’s always some slight downsides to every endeavor…

Life itself is two-sided. You can’t have the good — you can’t reap the rewards without the challenges. The proverbial vegetables won’t grow unless it rains… Trials bring growth.

Would I trade it? Nope. Not at all.

Because in addition to all of the above… today I bought my lovely wife a pickle crock, the house smells like pickled beets, sweet pickles, dill pickles, and the beautiful jars full of color are beginning to fill up the counter. I spent part of my afternoon with my bees, I bought a pellet gun… *whistles*… I’m wearing overalls right now… (seriously.. I am – they’re fantastic – how often do you get to wear overalls!?!)

Life brings challenges and frustrations sometimes. It wouldn’t be life without them. You can’t have the good without the bad… to an extent – how could you know the good if it weren’t for the bad?

Yup, my life has become a country song – and I love it.

 

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