Tennesseetransitions


Bee Informed-This is Truly Foul News!
July 14, 2014, 8:37 PM
Filed under: beekeeping, Uncategorized | Tags:

Bee-HiveAttention Tennessee beekeepers in Washington, Sullivan, Hawkins, Unicoi, Johnson, and Carter counties:  a case of American Foulbrood is being investigated in Kingsport, TN.  State apiarist Mike Studer is inspecting hives to determine whether or not this is an isolated case, but all beekeepers are encouraged to check/inspect their hives.  New beekeepers are encouraged to contact their mentors, an experienced beekeeper, or one of our local inspectors to ensure the health of their hives. It is generally recommended that beekeepers burn the whole hive to help prevent the spread of this disease.  It would be prudent to harvest any honey available and unless you have been cleared by an inspector as free of foulbrood, it is suggested that you not feed your honey back to your bees. You can read more about the disease here:  American Foulbrood Disease

It’s been said that ‘bees are the canary in the coal mine for our food system’. But what can NON-beekeepers do?

1. Encourage your congressman or woman to look at the science behind a class of nerve-poisoning pesticides known as neonicotinoids; there has been a ban on their use in European countries for years (imagine that).  While you’re on the phone with their office…

2. Also let him or her know that the task force that President Obama created just two weeks ago is a good first step to address the issue of rapidly diminishing honey bees and other pollinators, and that you expect their support. Remind Democrats and Republicans  alike that if they eat, they’re involved in this crisis.

3. Support local efforts to block the rewording of our city code that would lump honeybees in with ‘farm animals’ and forbid them as livestock. Stay tuned to this blog for more on that.

4. Consider becoming a beekeeper. We are extremely lucky to live in an area with a very active bee club and a bee supply store! The club will provide you with a mentor and educate you on everything you need to know to be successful.

5. Teach your friends and family that honeybees are responsible for every third bite of food we take and that they are not ‘out to get them’ but are merely ‘out to collect pollen and nectar’. Last week in the community garden, I was helping a group of women that are going through drug and alcohol rehab with their plot, when we saw a honeybee land on a squash flower. One of the young women told her daughter to ‘get away! get away!’ So, I used that quick opportunity to tell her what I’ve just told you. She immediately calmed down and told the girl ‘it was okay now’.  Repeat after me: “It’s okay. They won’t hurt you”.

6. Plant bee-friendly plants wherever you can tuck them in-sunflowers, bee balms, herbs, and about a million others come to mind. From blueberries to hollyhocks, you’ll find it easy to provide them with plants that give them the pollen and nectar they need to make honey and to stay healthy.

7. Avoid lawn chemicals and garden pesticides.

8 When you do eat honey, make sure it’s raw, local honey-it’s a well known fact that eating LOCAL honey daily can help you with seasonal allergies, acting like allergy shots do: a minute bit each day eventually will make you immune to those things that you’re allergic to.

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Go Tell the Bees
March 11, 2014, 9:08 PM
Filed under: beekeeping | Tags:

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Honey bees, honey bees, hear what I say!
Your Master, poor soul, has passed away.
His sorrowful wife begs of you to stay,
Gathering honey for many a day.
Bees in the garden, hear what I say!

Northern Europeans brought to Appalachia a custom that when a beekeeper died, the survivors must go tell the bees of their master’s death, persuading them to stay rather than take wing and follow the master to heaven. When we moved in 2012 from our country home to the urban home that we live in now, the new buyers wanted me to leave my bees with them. Luckily, since I wasn’t dead but simply leaving,  I felt I should be the one to tell them so. One of my very first lessons as a new beekeeper had been given to me by a man who had been keeping bees for over 40 years. I was so afraid of being stung, I would actually hyperventilate when it came time to get in the hives. He told me to take off my gloves and to rub my bare hands all over the wooden hive parts so that my bees would become acquainted with my smell and would not attack me as if a stranger. I did as I was instructed, knowing that a honeybee’s sense of smell is their strongest natural sense. And from that magic moment forward, those little girls only stung me if I accidentally crushed one. (Well, there was that time that I made the fatal mistake of returning the honey supers to the hives at the end of a long honey harvest day after dark…) Anyway, it only made sense when I left them in the care of their new owners that I should say ‘goodbye’. I cried that day, but the  young couple that had bought the place were eager and happy to become their new caretakers, so I knew they would be ok in the end. I even gave them a copy of ‘Natural Beekeeping’ as a house-warming gift.

I’m very thankful that this area of NE TN has a large, active beekeeper’s club. This coming weekend they’ll be holding their annual ‘Bee School’. Rather than me write out all the details about it, I’m just going to link you to them here. I’ll be giving a class at the school on Friday night about ‘Natural Beekeeping’. I  killed kept bees unsuccessfully for the first five years I had them before finally accepting that what I was doing simply wasn’t working very well . It was then that I began to follow my own instincts about what might be best for the bees, and that lead me to a wonderful book called, appropriately enough, “Natural Beekeeping”. I borrowed it three times that winter from the library, and finally realized I had to own it for myself. It revolutionized my thinking about what was really best for the bees and I began to follow the advice the author had given. The following three years I stopped using harsh chemicals and began learning and using other methods of keeping them healthy. It involved a completely wholistic approach, akin to having a successful organic garden by starting with building healthy soil. Guess what? The bees not only survived, they were thriving, and that last summer before moving, I not only had the best honey harvest I’d ever had, I was able to split hives because their colonies had grown so large!

We’ve all heard about Colony Collapse Disorder, and the serious issues honeybees face. I’d like to simply say this: if you can’t keep bees yourself, please plant native flowers and trees that bloom at different times to provide local bees with the pollen and nectar they need to survive, avoid using toxic chemicals in your garden and yard, and continue to fight against GMO plants. And please, go tell the bees how much we love and need them!

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It’s About Time!

clock     As I listened to my husband’s metronome keeping time while he practiced some music, and as I heard the minutes ticking by on the old mantle clock, I realized I haven’t been able to post here as often as I like lately because of time constraints. But, I always seem to make time for the things that are most important to me, and this blog is one of those things. I’m currently putting together a presentation on ‘Natural Beekeeping’ for the local beekeeper’s annual school that’s coming up in March; it’s a topic that would never have been considered 10 years ago when we first got into beekeeping! But with the passage of time has come new knowledge of how to be better beekeepers without using all the harsh methods that we were advised to use then. Now there are practices that offer the bees kinder, gentler, more natural ways of maintaining good health in their hives. (here’s a link to more info about the bee school: http://www.wcbeekeepersassociation.com/

Michael and I are also marking time again while he undergoes his final chemo treatments. We’re on Week 3 of 10, spaced every other week, so we’re looking at mid-June before it’s all done. With spring  just 3 weeks away, the demands of serving as the coordinator of the community garden are at a seasonal high, marked by meetings, plantings, grant writing and more. To that end, there will be a seed swap and giveaway this evening at the Carver Center, (where the gardens are located) at 6 PM.  You don’t have to have seeds to swap, just a true desire to plant some, whether at the community garden or in your own home garden. Following that will be the application and screening process of potential new gardeners to fill the five vacant plots that are available this spring. If you’d like to have a plot, be sure to be there at 7 PM for that. It’s important to be ON TIME. Michael has decided to start a monthly newsletter for the Community Garden and has been spending a lot of his time putting together the first edition.

There’s also our church that we like to contribute our time, talent and money to, friendships to nurture, new songs and music to learn and play, soups to simmer and loaves of bread to bake, errands to run and exercise to make time for each day as well. Oh yeah, and watching Netflix too! All these things take time, and when  you’re ‘our age’, they demand plenty of rest as well, but luckily, I find writing is restful for me. I like writing this blog, sharing with you ideas that we can use to make our lives more resilient, healthier or simply more joyful! The ideas take time to research, to write about, and certainly to implement, but I consider it time well spent. Our retirement years have been fulfilling and busy to say the least, but these activities serve to give meaning and purpose to my life, and I get back far more than I give.

I’ve recently accepted the position as the chair for the ‘Livable Communities’ group that is a subcommittee of  a larger group called “Community Partnerships”. We have developed a strategic plan based on feedback that was given at the Economic Summits that took place in 2011 and 2012. Turns out that the results of the surveys that were taken at those summits show that some of the very things that I’ve been  writing about here are also the very things that folks felt were most important to them: supporting local food growing efforts by developing community gardens while at the same time increasing our resilience, beautifying the city by increasing greenway spaces, improving public transportation, developing interconnected beautiful, clean and safe bike and walking paths, and encouraging new and repurposed commercial and residential development in the downtown area, are just some of the things that our group will be looking at. They’re important enough to me to make the time to help implement them, and will be an endless source of  things to share with you on this blog in the months to come. I like the solutions-oriented approach we’re using, and feel it’s a good use of our time together. Our meetings will be held only every other month, with the next one scheduled for March 18th at 5 PM at my house. A schedule any more ambitious than that might prove to be too time consuming, but, every other month? Even I can fit that in, and I hope you can too!  We’d love to have your input and ideas, as well as your TIME, in helping our community become a more livable and resilient place to live. Yes, it IS about time you joined us. If  you need directions, let me know. Check us out on Facebook in the meantime:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Livable-Communities-and-Community-Partnerships-Group/163798207018404

One final note:  After giving this post a bit more thought, I want to make this clear: this is NOT meant to be a guilt-inducing blog post! Working parents, students, business owners, caregivers and all you others that are already busier than you want to be shouldn’t feel that my invitations to ‘come’, ‘join’ or ‘help’ are slanted at you. You’re already doing your part! I’m appealing here to those lucky souls like myself that have empty nests, work only a few hours a week, or just, in general, find themselves with time to spare. Forming friendships and working on projects that help me as much as the one’s they’re designed for, all while improving my own life as my community becomes a better place to live, is a win-win situation for me. Pick something that’s important to you and carve out some time for it. You won’t be sorry, I’m sure of it.

DO something!



Feeding Our Future

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For those of you new to this blog, I moved to my 113 year old urban house in the summer of 2012 with a deliberate mission to grow a garden and cultivate a sense of community in my new neighborhood. Today my next door neighbor brought over two slices of still-warm lemon pound cake. I suspect she’d spotted my husband Michael a half hour before, trying to increase his stamina with the daily 2 minute walks he takes (still in his sleep pants!) from our back door to the alley and back, and thought to herself: “That poor old man! I should take him some cake!”. Whatever her reasons, we were both happy with her decision to share. Michael’s happiness was with the delicious cake. Mine was in the fact that I’ve FINALLY been able to ‘connect’ with her. (OK, I loved the cake too) All summer I’d left little bags or recycled butter bowls filled with tomatoes, peppers, herbs and more at her back door, picked fresh from our garden. We’d speak in the back yard, just polite ‘hellos’ and ‘how are yous’ but her kind gesture encourages me now to continue to get to know her, and her pound cake recipe! I’ve spoken lots more with her son and his pup than with her, finding out that they’ve lived there for over 6 years, he’s a grad student, and the dog’s name is Pippa. The point is, sometimes it can be difficult to ‘reach out and touch someone’ but almost everyone will eventually respond to small gestures of food and friendship.

Why do I care so much about getting to know the neighbors? Before moving to our urban home, we’d lived quite remotely in the country and I’d missed having neighbors during that 10 years, but it’s become more than that. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know that I am concerned that our country is facing an economic collapse-in our lifetime-right along with depleted energy and water sources and ever-increasing global temperatures that are already affecting everything in our lives from food supplies to wildlife. To that end, I’ve learned how to grow food for my family, can and preserve it, and cook our meals from scratch. That alone has given me much peace of mind, and empowered me to discover other resiliency strategies. I’ve learned to live by the adage of “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”. Our home is stocked with several months worth of food, fuel and water, we stay out of debt and try to  live simply but still yet, I realize there is no hope for any of us outside of a community. We must learn to work with our neighbors in developing sustainable lifestyles based upon reduced consumption and sharing of resources. What good will it do for me to have food and water supplies when my neighbors are hungry and thirsty? How long could WE eat on what I have stored? What if there were bank failures in this country, like the ones in Cyprus this past spring? How would we access cash once the ATM’s were empty? What if there was a massive power failure for an extended period of time? There would be looting and  rioting if folks in the South couldn’t buy their Mountain Dew and Moonpies, I tell ya! How would we pump gas into our cars, light our homes, cook or stay warm? How would we flush the toilets and clean our clothes? Do you ever think about these what if’s? I do, and the only way I can rest easy is by being prepared for those scenarios. That includes making sure that my neighbors are too. Then, if those things never happen, we’ve simply got a well stocked pantry and a productive garden, right along with extra toothpaste and a support system too.

I write often about how these changing times demand that we grow a strong local economy. Michael and I have been attending bimonthly meetings for the local ‘Liveable Communities’ group and are greatly encouraged by the sharing and feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ that we get from the group, but liveable communities really start right. next. door. This holiday season, why not use the natural conviviality of the season to get to know your neighbors better- perhaps take them a card and some cookies, signed with your name and address so they can remember you later too? (I intend to put the internet address of this blog on the cards I hand out too, hoping they’ll read it and get interested in ‘feeding our future’ as well.)  I left a card for a neighbor congratulating her on the new beehives I’d spotted in the driveway, and later, when we made a face to face connection, she told me she’d wept when she read the card because she had been so worried about having the bees and how the neighborhood might react to them. She and I are friends now, and she tells me she’ll let me work with her in her hives next spring! I’ve begun talking to another neighbor about his struggling bread baking business, brainstorming with him on the feasibility of building a COMMUNAL outdoor wood-fired oven at the Community Garden next spring. (would the city EVER allow that? We intend to find out!) Not only are we working on ways to build a local foods network, at the same time we’re having fun building friendships and feeding the future. This poster hangs in my kitchen. May it offer you some hope and inspiration too:

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We’re Emerging!

fall foods

Last week I was part of a panel of local food activists and advocates that were asked to listen to and critique a Milligan College senior that is presenting a paper at the International Food Studies Conference later this month out in Austin TX. It’s an honor for him to have been chosen to present, especially since the other presenters all seem to be authors, professors, and other professionals in the field. I learned a few things during the panel discussion that I wanted to share with you. I have long felt that ‘creating’ a local food economy is the number one thing every city and region in this country could do to protect their citizens and tremendously increase their resilience if times get hard- or even if they don’t. (Of course, times are already hard for many of us-unless  you don’t consider our government being shut down a hardship. And consider the ripple effect this is going to create!) But I digress…

I learned that Johnson City and the rest of the Tri Cities Region  is moving from our former description of ‘rural area’ to what is now considered an ’emerging urban area’. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I rather like the rural feel of our area, but I also enjoy the progress I’ve seen in the last decade. Since I can’t change any of that anyway, I simply say “whatever”. What did excite me though was learning that we also have an “emerging local food economy”.

For generations this area was heavily dependent on tobacco subsidies. The farmers that ‘sold out’ when that ended sold good farmland to housing developers who then built tan cookie-cutter  suburban homes on our hillsides. Many of those that stayed on their land began to raise cattle and corn, the latter being fed to the former, and the former being shipped more and more frequently to foreign countries like China for consumption there.

So, what do we produce right here at home now? It’s a surprisingly long list. Small farmers and growers are producing many of the following food items: Fresh fruits and many of their value-added byproducts, ie: applesauce, juice and butters; jams, jellies, and syrups; vegetables of every imaginable type; Wheat is being grown in nearby Limestone, as is corn for meal, grits and tortillas. Meat animals of all varieties, along with all of their byproducts – from bacon and eggs to cheeses-are being raised in our region. Cane for molasses and grain for sorghum, bees for honey (and pollination), corn for liquor and grapes for wine are all being produced right here too. So, we have meats, eggs, dairy, fruits, grains, sweeteners and libations. Do we need anything more? I’ll admit that rice, chocolate, bananas, olive oil and citrus would be nice for sure, but it’s a well-known fact here in the South that bacon grease can be used as a substitute for a lot of things ;). All joking aside, I believe alternatives and substitutes would be developed, with those ‘must haves from afar’ considered an occasional treat instead of part of our daily caloric intake. The point is our local farmers are already producing everything we need to eat healthy and varied diets. If all we imported to our supper tables were just a few specialty items, all of this former tobacco land could be used to produce enough of the diverse products we need and want. Supplemented with hunting and fishing, foraging and community  gardens, we could be food self-sufficient. If we consumers would vote for these local foods with our forks and our food dollars, small-scale family farms would become an essential part of our lives once again.

vote with your fork

Many jobs could be created if there was enough food produced locally to feed us all, energy costs to produce that food would be lowered since it would no longer need to be shipped from around the world, and WE would have the distinct privilege of being able to enjoy the freshest, tastiest food available! Our personal and communal resilience would increase too, since we wouldn’t be dependent on foreign countries, foreign oil, OR the federal government for our food supply.
Sound too good to be true? It’s not. Research tells me that powerful and innovative technology called GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is already being used to strengthen our food system and food access work here in NE TN and SW VA.  While that work is progressing, we can make every bite count in the meantime by seeking out whatever local food sources we can. Our demand will eventually create the supply we need to keep us all fed. We are emerging, after all.



Forget the Money Market- Invest in Yourself

I had a meeting with my financial counselor recently and asked him where I should invest my small inheritance that I received from my mother. I was thinking a CD, Money Market fund, or some other short-term investment where it could earn a bit of interest, yet not be penalized if I needed to use it. His advice?  Keep it in my emergency savings account because interest rates are so low still that it wouldn’t be prudent to tie it up in anything right now. The assumption is that rates.will.rise. Yeah, and so will the price.of.things.

So I gave a lot of thought to where I might currently get the best R.O.I. for my little nest egg based on that advice, and came up with the some ideas; while CD’s are currently paying less than 1% interest, and mortgage rates are hovering near 5% now, perhaps I could hold a mortgage for someone? Nah. Not unless they intended to buy a tiny house to live in.  The best Return On Investment would come from investing in my household: a new roof, long-term food storage, energy-saving measures or even learning new skills that might prove useful over the rest of my life. Self reliance tools like a pressure canner, a grain mill or sewing machine also came to mind but since I already own those things, I bought a new laptop instead.  My old desktop computer was really outdated, and my daughter, whose computer was even older, can still enjoy the old one. I bought it during Tennessee’s annual back to school tax-free weekend and saved enough cash on the tax to pay for a new wireless printer. Both the computer and printer are tools for me, and learning the new Windows 8 operating system has turned out to be a REAL investment in my brain health (or brain degradation, depending on how you look at it). I don’t have a smart phone, (nor do I feel the need for one and the monthly fees to support its smartness), cable TV, a daily newspaper or any number of available technological wonders of the world. A computer is my tool of choice to stay connected to my family, the world, and to you. Besides, I’m writing the next Great American Novel and long hand is soooo 1980’s 😉

I’ve also decided to invest in a rocket stove and a couple of small solar panels too, so that if the grid goes down, I can charge my laptop and my ‘dumb’ cell phone while boiling the water for a cup of herbal tea, using only a few twigs as fuel. Rocket Stoves rock.

Speaking of herbal tea, I’ve also decided it would be wise of me to invest a bit of money, some time and a lot of labor into a new medicinal herb bed so that I can grow some of my family’s medicines. Learning to grow and use plants like Elderberries for making cough syrups, Comfrey for wound care, Feverfew for headaches, Camomile for upset stomachs, and Hawthorne for high blood pressure should keep me and Michael out of the drugstore, more money in our pocket, and healthier to boot. That’s what I call a really good R.O.I. !

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Outdoor clotheslines, a chicken tractor and a couple of hives of honey bees will complete my investments for now. The rest will be saved for when we need that new roof on the house-another good investment in our largest asset, which is our home.

It’s true, you can’t buy happiness. That said,  I’m sure I could be REAL HAPPY with a European vacation -for about 2 weeks. But what could possibly be a more satisfying start to each and every day than eating a fresh egg that I’ve just gathered at my back door, spreading my morning toast with honey from my own hives, and washing it down with a cup of herbal tea, while writing a new book or reading the morning news on my laptop- all while sitting in my garden? Call me crazy, and I’m sure some of you would, but investing in yourself, your health, your home and your own unique ‘good life’ will give you the very best returns. Guaranteed.

 



Silent Spring?

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I’ve been out of town and quite busy lately, so I haven’t had much time to write. But I’m back now, and full of ideas on how I can continue to transition to a hotter, leaner world than the one I’ve grown old in. I had to pull out all of my spring planted bok choy this week, because it all went to seed before ever forming heads. I’d even bought an early variety of seed this year, hoping to nip that problem in the bud-literally. At least the spinach and peas are still holding their own, giving us frequent spinach salads, mixed with raw peas, lettuce and arugula, then topped with mandarin orange slices, farmer’s market goat cheese and some of the pecans that I bartered for last fall. (In my haste to eat it, I forgot to take a picture but trust me, it’s good :D) Potatoes, peppers, squash and tomatoes are knee high now, and all the beans are up. I’ve planted green beans, Hopi Orange Limas, and Edamame this year-  we love them all! With a full bed of carrots, beets and parsnip seeds tucked in to the soil, I think I’m done with planting-for now! But I mourn those lost Bok Choy cabbages…  I remember calling the county extension agent the first year I lived in East Tennessee, inquiring about reliable veggie varieties for spring. He told me then that spring-planted brassicas don’t normally do very well here, and sadly, he was right. But next spring I’m going to be ready, and will have a cooler, richer spot with a bit of shade for them to finish their last few weeks of growth under. That’s the great thing about gardening, isn’t it? There’s always ‘next year’. Or IS there?

In 1962 Rachel Carson wrote ‘Silent Spring’, the book that is widely credited with helping launch the environmental movement in this country. Earth Day began in 1970, as a direct result of Ms. Carson’s expose of the detrimental affects of pesticides and pollution-especially on birds. 50 years later, more pesticides, and now genetically modified seeds that have built-in weed killers bred into them, are wreaking havoc on our honeybees. Recent news stories have been all about how the most recent US Farm Bill proposal will continue to subsidize large ag conglomerates that grow (mostly GMO) corn, wheat, soybeans, rice and cotton, all  while offering little or no help whatsoever to small farmers-you know, those hard working folks that are raising grass fed meats, free range chickens, heirloom and organic veggies and  low spray fruits. Meanwhile, GMO seeds continue to spread world wide (even a variety that has never been approved by the US or any other country was found growing in Oregon recently!) honeybees keep dying, while we’re all  fat, sick and nearly dead from eating the Standard. American. Diet. (S.A.D., ain’t it?)

I’m well aware that I am constantly repeating myself in these blog posts about  eating a more sustainable, more local, more organic and more home-grown plant-based diet, but I’m not about to remain silent about something I feel so strongly about. I’m pretty certain you can find lots of blogs to read that will present an opposing point of view if you’re at all interested in it. But honestly folks, such a diet really seems to be the easiest and best thing we can do to boost our own health and that of the planet, while spending less AND improving our resilience in the face of climate change, reduced oil reserves and a falsely propped up economy.

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I recently wrote a post titled “Empower House”  about how we can turn our homes into places of production rather than just viewing them as a place to store our stuff. I don’t know about you, but I LIKE LOVE the feeling of empowerment and self reliance that eating this way brings to my life. My garden will never be able to supply my family with all of our food needs, but by growing those things we like fresh, and then having some food storage in the pantry, root crops in the cellar, extra water on hand and buying staples like beans, rice, pasta, yeast, wheat and toilet paper (don’t forget the toilet paper!) in bulk, I feel pretty certain that we’ll manage fairly well if times get hard. And even better if they don’t!

I really don’t want to be viewed as ‘Chicken Little’, yet, like Rachel Carson, I feel like the earth and all her life-giving support systems are crying out for our care and attention. Will we eventually see a Silent Spring? Will our honeybees survive to continue to pollinate our crops? Now that we’ve reached the milestone of 400 ppm of carbon dioxide in the very air we breathe, the chances are, shall we say, breathtaking.

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