This film warms my heart.
Poland is the size of New Mexico and contains 900,000 hives, according to Jacob Gabka, a queen breeder from the Warsaw University of Life Sciences. We met at Sue Cobey’s queen-rearing class last summer when he was doing research alongside the creator of the New World Carniolan Queen. He informed me there are only 2.4 million hives total in the U.S. and that 1.5 million of them are used for almond pollination. We have a long way to go in this country to achieve the depth of devotion to bees that the Polish have. I asked him if he’d seen the video of Polish beekeepers protesting GMOs in Warsaw a few months prior. He said no, so I got my laptop out to show him. Interestingly, several times that day we discussed in class the necessity of clean land for queen rearing programs; they’re often sequestered away from agricultural areas as bees are quite sensitive to chemicals and less likely to rear successfully in spray areas. He chuckled as he watched and I told him of my vision of dubbing American children’s voices over the old Polish beekeepers. My dream finally came true when a group of my beekeeping students and community got together to make this video. I hope it will spur American beekeepers to action to help protect the bees and our children from the harmful effects of GMOs.
Composting wasn’t on the radar screen in Portland when I started gardening there in the mid-90′s. A few of my clients had those small black plastic compost bins which weren’t much use to a gardener who generated yards of cuttings each visit. Unlike Eugene (where I gardened previously) where having at least one compost pile was as requisite a lifestyle item as a blue tarp, the neighbors to the north hadn’t quite caught a whiff of the green home revolution yet. It was common practice in those days to haul garden debris away to a landscape center where it was processed- only later to be hauled back to the garden in the form of compost. Compost that contained the combined vegetative effluence from both residential and commercial landscapes, many of which were sprayed on a weekly basis with herbicides and pesticides.
At the time it seemed ridiculous to me to involve so many fossil fuels in the process of soil making. Gas-powered blowers ‘cleaned up’ the detritus of fall which was trucked to the outskirts of town where it was shoveled multiple times by backhoes, ground up, shoveled into windrows to cook, turned, and shoveled into piles where it was shoveled again into individual trucks to be put back into gardens again. While garden compost made this way is useful for new landscapes and improving soil for the first few years in a garden, an established garden can be maintained for the most part with soil generated from leaves, perennial, vegetable and softwood cuttings on site.
Attempts at discussion in the 90′s of compost piles in residential gardens were often met with “Rats. We don’t want rats. Doesn’t compost attract rats?” If you spend any time working outside in Portland, you will see rats scuttling in the gutters, bounding the curb, making their way to any immaculate inner-city or suburban front door. Compost or no, where there are sewers there will be rats using your lawn or garden as a super-highway. Clearly there was much work for me to do in the area of compost education.
I began by making what I call ‘Compost Columns’, at least three-foot diameter rings of welded wire mesh, to be filled with garden debris. I placed them at convenient intervals throughout a garden, sometimes hidden in the plants, other times near hose bibs and potting areas where old plants and potting soil could be dumped. There was no need to turn the debris, just add to column at the top- as it composted nicely within the ring. Columns were placed under trees to feed ravenous roots and to accelerate decomposition. (Its amazing how fast the level inside the column goes down when its under a tree!) If I wanted to extract soil, I would turn over a column set outside a tree canopy and shovel out the rich, black, worm-filled humus. Cuttings re-sprouted and grew on the outside edges of sun-exposed columns, making a plant-fringed upright structure. Compost Columns made a great vertical composting system for small scale gardens, like those in Portland.
Compost Columns worked great for the most part, and were handy for me to use as a gardener. It took a little bit of convincing for a few clients, until they became gardeners too and saw the benefit. My compost cause received a boost when I returned from a trip to Manhattan with a photo of Central Park on 5th Avenue with Compost Columns in larger scale use. “See,” I said “They do it on 5th Avenue too.”
My latest development of the Compost Column is a ring of brightly-colored sticks to hold cuttings, seen in the photos. I love this version, especially in the fall when they contrast the Neapolitan layers of red, yellow and brown garden debris. This compost pile is between a garden walkway and the sidewalk on the way to Mt. Tabor and receives accolades from passers’ by.
Portland now picks up both kitchen and garden compost combined at the curb. Its a terrific advancement, but it still takes fuel to process and there are reports in the news of neighbors’ annoyance at the stink emanating from the collection centers. I think there’s a lot of work to be done keeping leaves and garden debris on site. Along with Compost Columns, I’m devising plantings that can receive leaf-fall, so we can ‘leave the leaves’ in the fall and help keep the soil local.
In Ross Conrad’s book Natural Beekeeping, there’s a great chapter on hive diseases and also a helpful section on how to autopsy a hive. To get a definitive answer on what is ailing your bees (while they’re still alive) here in the Northwest, you can send a sample of your ailing bees to the Oregon State University Honey Bee Lab where they will be analyzed for varroa, nosema and tracheal mites for free. I asked Carolyn Breece, Research Assistant at the Lab if they tested for chemical and pesticide exposure as well. She said they send those samples to Penn State where they are analyzed for $130 per sample- pretty steep for the average beekeeper- but if you’re fueled with a burning desire to know why your healthy colony up and dies after your neighbors take out their pesticide sprayers- it will provide the proof you need to show them how the chemicals they use on their landscape eventually end up inside your hives. Here are the instructions for sending a sample to the OSU Bee Lab:
Collect 100-200 live bees from a brood frame into the empty sample cup. Replace lid and place this jar in the freezer until shipped to us. Thawed bees will be OK in mail for a few days, but will begin to decay if left thawed for a prolonged period. Please freeze bees immediately after sampling and keep in freezer until ready to mail (see address below).
Please mark your sampled colonies with respective numbers so that you can provide us the survival status of the hive in Spring 2013.
We will analyze the bees for varroa, nosema, and tracheal mites. Please don’t send bees that have been dead already. They will be too decayed for analysis.
Carolyn Breece- Honey Bee Lab, Department of Horticulture, Oregon State University, 4017 ALS Bldg. Corvallis, OR 97331