November 11, 2011

Honey sweet and feeling sour

Clear and tawny, it promises robust flavor. It keeps that promise with quiet floral notes and the slightest taste of butterscotch. Above all is a pure, natural, wholly unmolested sweetness.

The very first crop of Shuddering Squirrel Acres Wildflower Honey is bottled and shelved. It was a withering season that forced me to leave comb on my hives longer than is usual, hoping to squeeze more production from my hardworking honeybees.

Though they did their best – it’s the honey bee’s way, except for the drones – having a few more weeks in the season didn’t help. The total take of surplus honey from my two hives this season is 6 pounds. Under normal conditions it could be 100-300 pounds or more. While the small take will be enough to get us deliciously through the winter, there’s no honey to sell, and not enough beeswax either.

It makes my tiny bee yard a losing operation for the year. Last season was a wash because there were new bees in new hives and they needed the summer to build comb and get it filled with brood, honey, and pollen to make it through last winter. Waiting a year with no payoff in surplus honey tries your patience, and is unavoidable. So I had high hopes for my bees’ sophomore season, and it fizzled.

Add to that a lingering problem of particular concern to beekeepers in the South – small hive beetles. I’ve had them for two seasons now, and the oil-filled traps I used in the hives were only a little help. Apparently the little bastards haven’t overwhelmed either hive, but the bees spend a lot of time and energy fighting them off, leaving less for drawing comb, making honey, and making more bees.

Many natives have told us that our first two winters here were flukes – frigid and icy and snowy and pretty much like the winters we intended to leave behind in Michigan. We’ve been told that the last two summers were flukes too – dry, droughty, dangerously hot, so humid that breathing the air felt like drinking soup.

Flowers came and went quickly in the spring. Major blooms in spring, summer, and fall did not materialize. So much for productive bee hives. And the produce that could be found around here, sometimes even at farmers markets, was generally less than attractive, stunted, mealy, and grossly expensive.

As far as I’m concerned, anyone who argues that global climate change is hooey, born of some grand elitist conspiracy abetted by grant-hungry scientists, is an idiot, a moronic ideologue. When every state in the U.S. but Hawaii gets measurable snowfall, something is wrong, something is different, something has changed. With drought conditions plaguing more parts of the country – and the world – something has changed.

We see its effects on our small farm, where for two summers our labors and investment went largely to waste, our gardens yielding very little, certainly not enough to preserve for the winter. Same with my honey bees. The only reliable return on time and expenses is with our chickens, which we raised from tiny chicks bought late last winter. They now provide us with about 20 exquisitely fresh brown eggs every week – plenty for us and some to share. We’ll be adding to that little operation in the spring with the goal of having enough eggs to sell.

It hardly needs to be noted that our neighbors in this low-income farming county are suffering the same kinds of losses but many magnitudes higher than ours. This follows the May 2010 floods that left most of Middle Tennessee under water. (Nashville wasn’t the only place devastated by the 100-year flood, but the city and its affluent suburbs were the only ones that got any sustained attention for it.)

It gives us a perspective that we didn’t have in the city. We see firsthand some of the reasons our foods are now increasingly too costly. We see for ourselves the damage being done by a mutated climate.

The faces of the homeless and jobless. The vacant storefronts. The fallow land. The tweakers who wander like sore-plagued corpses trying to score enough cash to go back in the woods and make or buy more meth, while helicopters fly daily looking for pot to destroy in the “war on drugs.” No doubt many of the pilots and agents on the ground unwind from their days and nights in this hideously expensive, wrong-headed war by slamming beers and/or shots. Maybe while watching Ken Burns' Prohibition.

There are other walking, limping, or wheelchair-bound wounded who pack low-income clinics because they can’t afford regular doctor visits or needed hospitalization.

There is abundant evidence online, on TV, in theaters, movie houses, and all other media that our society is getting stupider, shallower, less creative, and less original by the day.

I think any politician at any level who speaks ideology instead of policy, who boasts that he or she will never compromise that ideology even in the face of widespread political gridlock in dangerous times, who panders to a political base (no matter how base it might be) out of self-interest and self-preservation rather than working hard to find sustainable solutions to our intractable problems, any of these so-called leaders should be required to shovel out a chicken house, to clear away chicken shit for a day or to.

Maybe they’d see something they recognize.