"We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and for each other. It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes that we are inviting catastrophe to make. The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependant on what is wrong. But that is the addict's excuse, and we know that it will not do."
—Wendell Berry

Friday, 19 February 2016

Time to harvest the honey.

It has been blisteringly hot this week. 37 degrees Celsius yesterday (I think that is something like 98 Fahrenheit). Even though we are in the tropics, we live at altitude and out summers rarely if ever even break 30 degrees. I am definitely getting soft. I grew up in Townsville where anything under 40 degrees is considered lovely and over 45 is "a bit warm". 
Anyway, my point is what better time to don a full head to toe bee suit and go life heavy weights in the sun? Believe me if there was an option I would not be doing it but the bees have filled their supers and are getting crowded. If this is not attended to they will soon swarm out. So I borrowed an extractor and an uncapping knife as I have not yet bought my own and today I went to work. As soon as I had thrown the feed at the various livestock I donned my bee suit and lit the hive smoker. I had already laid out all the extraction gear the day before. I then went down to the hives and first cleared the long grass from the entrances with the scythe before smoking the hives. Unfortunately the lady wife and son were out for the day so photos are limited- hands covered in honey, wax and propolis are not a good thing for cameras.
I then did a quick inspection of the new hive and found it is growing nicely. Very pleased. Then came the heavy lifting where I had to remove the supers loaded with honey from the second hive. Now each super weighs about thirty kilos when full and care must be taken when lifting. This is when I came unstuck. *Thinks to self*... "I shouldnt have picked this up like this"... TWANG... "ARGH @$#%%&*$$" and my back was well and truly "stuffed" as we say in Australia(at least this is the most polite description I can use).
Well now I was in a bit of a pickle, the honey had to be extracted today (as the supers needed to go back on the hives same day) and I had absolutely no one to help. So I dragged the supers up to the house and went off to find painkillers and a lie down for an hour.
The uncapping station. Frames are perched on the board over the tub and the hot knife is used to remove the wax cappings
Once the painkillers kicked in I got back into action. I boiled a pot of water for the uncapping knife (it is an unheated type so needs to be dipped in hot water) and began gently slicing the cappings off the cells. The scent of honey like this is just amazing, totally unlike the scent of honey in a jar. The cappings go into a tub for later sieving and draining and the combs go into the extractor two at a time.
The combs are then spun, very gently at first to remove about half the honey on one side, this reduces the weight on the comb. They are then turned around and fully spun out on the other side, then turned back and the final spinning removes the last of the honey. These combs are now empty cells and are known as "stickies". The process continues until the entire super of ten frames is done.
Time for a cuppa. Let the collected honey finish draining through the sieve and pour into the holding tank.
Repeat the whole process. Another cuppa and clean up. Return the stickies to the hives. Bees are a bit pissed off but they will get over it.
All up I think I have about thirty litres once the cappings are drained. The honey is a dark gold with a wonderful floral scent and a mid sweet floral taste. No bitter aftertaste. I am very pleased. 
I will take some honey to my neighbours, it is important to honour old traditions and a beekeeper should always see that his neighbours have honey.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Q&A #3 Vegetarians and other garden pests

Q: Why are you not a vegetarian?

Warning: If you are an emotional vegetarian type who cannot take criticism now is a good time to skip this post!

We are not vegetarian for a very simple reason. Human beings are an omnivore. Fact. Even the most cursory glance at our dentition, the length of our intestine, the balance of stomach acids, the number of stomachs we have and the efficiency of our overall digestive system proves beyond a doubt that human beings eat meat or at the very least meat proteins.
From a viewpoint of belief, I believe humans are just another animal on the surface of this planet. We do not live apart from nature despite the opinions of big business and government. As a human animal I will eat my natural diet insofar as is possible.
I freely admit I could live on milk product and eggs to meet these needs and this may sound all fluffy and happy to the new age types until you consider that a cow must have a calf to give milk and only hens lay eggs. If we were not to harm any animal and live this way we would soon be swamped by an excess of bulls and cockerels needing feed and space. Remember half the chicks hatched are cock birds and half the calves born are bull calves. Instead we give them a good life and grow them to maturity. They are then painlessly killed for meat.
The animals on our farm are also a vital part of the nutrient cycle. The dung from the various animals produces a valuable compost far richer than anything made from vegetable matter alone. A farm with no animals to supply this concentrated richness would be a poor affair indeed!

Q: But don't you become attached to your animals?

Of course we do! We very deliberately make sure we know each and every animal on the farm. We take great pains to hand tame them and ensure they have no fear of humans. They are treated with kindness and the utmost care to ensure they remain healthy and happy.
There are several very important reasons for this:
  1. We must know our food was raised and treated humanely. I believe this is a core requirement of our own humanity. To eat meat produced under cruel conditions is to condone those methods.
  2. When the time comes to kill an animal for meat it has no fear or apprehension anything is about to happen. It is comfortable and relaxed around humans and its death is absolutely painless and sudden. This is an absolute rule on our farm. 
  3. An animal treated with care and kindness produces better meat. If I am to put years of care and feeding into an animal, I want the best result possible.
Do I have feelings of regret when I have to kill a steer I have known for three years? Yes. However, this animal was given life, a good life, for this purpose and now the time has come.
 Finally a little note for vegetarians, especially vegans. Next time you want to lecture me on the evils of killing animals, please make sure you are not doing so while wearing leather shoes and a woolen jumper. If you do I shall treat you as the fool you are!

Q&A #2 Hard work

Q: Isn't your lifestyle a lot of hard work?

It certainly is! But what is wrong with that? To be asked this question by a person who pays money to work out in a gym is sad to say the least. I would prefer to do work that yields a practical result apart from making me fitter and a gym owner richer. There is a real satisfaction in finishing with a new stretch of fence or a pile of firewood for the winter.
It is also just what we do. We do not drive fast cars or go to the football each weekend for entertainment. In general I find the concept of watching someone else playing a sport to be an exercise in futility and complete waste of my time*. Our fun is found on our farm. When you have a yard full of livestock you will never need to watch a soap opera again! The longer we live here the more reluctant we are to go out into town. There is always something interesting to do and when done spending time sitting in the shade with a cup of coffee just enjoying the view will keep me happy for hours.
*Except for Sumo. If two fat guys smacking the crap out of each other is not a night of fun I don't know what is!

Q&A #1 "Why do you do it?"

Q: Why do you live the way you do? Why live the green/ permaculture/ organic/ hippie etc lifestyle? 

For the most part I will simply answer that I prefer to live on my own farm growing my own food. I suppose the larger answer is that the world is going to get a lot more crowded in our lifetimes unless we as a species start accepting some responsibility. Taking control of our personal impact upon this planet is the major reason we chose this lifestyle. We are responsible for our own food and for the wastes we produce insofar as we are able. Even though we are not now and probably will never be fully self sufficient we will still attempt to do as little damage as humanly possible.
Our lifestyle is also a living example and encouragement to those who are interested for whatever reason. Many folks in our community use us as a practical library- we have taught people to grow veggies, milk cows, slaughter livestock, make cheese, keep bees, build fences and so on.
The last and possibly most accurate reason for me personally is that I just need the space to live like a real human being. I firmly believe city life is entirely detrimental to human kind. It is an environment where people are shielded from the natural world and as a result lose the understanding of their place in the natural cycle. We are just another animal on this planet, nothing more, and it is high time we began behaving like good neighbours rather than overlords.
On our farm we live alongside nature. Our farm is divided in two. The top level of our farm is paddocks and orchards. This is where we live alongside our livestock and grow our food. The bottom half of our farm is tropical rain forest and will remain so. It belongs to the local wild life. We do not farm this area or allow our animals to enter. We do not take from this area except to pump water for our tanks in the dry and we allow none of our wastes to enter this area in any form.
We also learn to live with the seasons. We eat whatever is in season at the time or learn to preserve for when it is not. We read the weather and learn to prepare for the coming rain or dry. We understand the language of our livestock and care for their needs. We are aware of the sound of the world around us- I can tell the season by the birdsong or know a predator is near by the change in noise. I know if a stranger or a local is walking along the road by the sound of the livestock.
I believe this is the healthiest and most natural way for a human to live. In the coming years the possibility of such a lifestyle will become rarer as more and more humans join us on this planet. I want space for my son and his family when I am gone and I want my son to know how to live well. I want to try to spread this message to as many other people as I can in the time I have left.

Question and Answer time

There would appear to be an ever growing interest in living the green lifestyle. I regularly find myself answering the same questions over and over. I speak to many people around the world, on the internet for the most part but also through local groups and just folks I meet in passing.
So here are some of the most commonly asked questions and the accompanying answer. Please keep in mind that I am in no way the definitive expert on these subjects, I am only offering my own opinions and experiences such as they are. I was originally going to do this as one post until I realised how long it would be so I shall instead post answers as I get to them.