Saving the Bees

This school year my son pitched a ‘save the bee’ plan to his fellow students.  He proposed that his class sponsor a honey bee hive to be place in a community space. He thought this would increase awareness to the essential role bees play in our food supply.

As part of their research they called a local Honey Farmer and scheduled a field-trip to discuss the project. What my they learned at his meeting with the Honey Farmer, I have to admit I did not know…

beehives

(Fruit Hill Farm Apiary, May 2017)

Honey bees are colony bees, but there is a whole other world of pollinator bees that just don’t receive the same level of attention…solitary bees. There are over 4000 types of solitary bees, and they fall into 2 categories:

*  Mining bees (about 70% of solitary bees)

*  Nesting bees (about 30% of solitary bees)

Mining bees burrow into the ground and create their temporary living spaces in garden beds and lawns. If you see them and you desire to encourage bee populations, just leave them alone. Let them enjoy their short lived residency in your yard.  They will only be around from 10 days to 4 weeks, and the great news for your garden is they are around when your garden needs them most!

bumble bee

(Nesting Bumble Bee spotted on Fruit Hill Farm)

Nesting bees, include summer leafcutter bees and the increasingly popular springtime mason bees. The most prevalent mason bee in our area is the Blue Orchard Bee and they are the workhorse of our pollination world. Some mason bees accomplish the pollinating work of 120 honey bees!  To promote nesting bees survival, all we have to do is provide them a sanctuary or ‘bee hotel’ for respite when needed.

We all learned a lot this year through my son’s mission to ‘save the bees’. No doubt honey bees are an essential part of growing food.  If you want to join the effort of protecting bees however, don’t forget about the unsung heroes of our food system, the solitary bees.

beehouse

(Food Forest Bee Sanctuary, May 2017)

Building Soil is Job #1

In 2015 we were inspired by the short-film Homegrown Revolution, featuring the Dervaes family. The short film shared the story of one man’s path to freedom for himself and his family by building a self-sufficient farm on 1/5th acre in the suburbs of Pasadena, CA. That story sparked a flood of new dreams and ideas for my family. A new journey had begun!

Getting Started

With more ideas, than time and money to support the ideas, we struggled with where to start.  After watching the movie Back to Eden, we decided job #1 in building a restorative relationship with the natural world needed to be rebuilding our soil.  Our lawn had died off previously in 2 of our 4 yards, leaving us with a fair amount of exposed ground.

Uncovered ground is both a symptom and a contributing factor to dying soil. The part of our yards that still had growth were covered with English Ivy and other invasive species, which is also a clear sign to the condition of the soil health (or lack of) underneath.

In the spring/summer of 2015, we arranged for a local tree trimming service to deliver 2 truckloads of wood chips and used them as mulch in garden areas we assessed they would be the most beneficial.

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Summer 2015

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Summer 2015

Then we heavily seeded the rest of the property with a nitrogen fixing cover crop.  We also set up a composting station in the yard to help grow fertile soil amendments and encourage the return of worms back onto our property.

Last, we bought chickens and in the fall rabbits to partner with us in our soil building efforts. The rabbits put out a steady stream of ready to use ‘organic fertilizer’ and chickens provided needed disturbance and aeration to the soil.

The result was the next spring we had this…and we were delighted how much more fertile our yard was becoming.  Yet we still had a long way to go.

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Spring  2016

Slow. Stop. Sink.

The same chickens that were a godsend the year before, were little destroyers of our growing efforts in 2016.  They pecked and scratched the land bare, exposing the soil again by the end of the growing season.

To compound problems, it was a hot summer and our food forest area is on a slope. What little rain that did fall during the 2016 growing season didn’t seep into the soil in the same way it did in flatter areas.

As we observed the area we selected to develop into a perennial food forest, it became apparent that we needed to improve the hydration to the area by increased mulching and building a hugelkultur mound around the perimeter.

We wanted to prime the area to slow, stop, and sink rain water into the soil.

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Fall 2016

Food Forest Project

As we cleared the last of the invasive overgrowth and brush from another area of the property, we used the larger pieces of green waste to built an animal deterrent around the food forest area.

Our plan was to let the sticks and small logs dry out and they would serve as the foundation of our hugelktur mounds for the 2017 growing season.  We heavily mulched the area every time we cleaned the rabbit hutches and we seeded the area in the late fall with a nitrogen fixing cover crop mix.

As the snow melted, we started to fill in the gaps of the hugelkultur mounds with small pieces of organic matter and compost. In early March we planted a spring nitrogen fixing cover crop on the mounds themselves.

In April when we moved the chickens into their new gated area, we built a keyhole garden for our annuals where the old coops used to be right outside the hugelkultur mound.

We also took out 2 trees that didn’t survive the winter. We replaced them with 2 peach trees to accompany the pear and 4 apple trees already in the forest area.  Last we added 2 hazelnut trees, gooseberry and boysenberry bushes, and a bunch of perineal flowering plants to round out the layers of the food forest.

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Spring 2017

Beyond 30:1 Carbon Nitrogen Ratio

In the last 2 years we have learned so much about building soil. One of our favorite teachers has been Dr. Elaine Ingham and we have watched every video of hers we could get our hands on. We encourage all growth, including edible ‘weeds’, to keep our soil covered and healing.

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Summer 2017

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Summer 2017

On Fruit Hill Farm we consider building the soil job #1. Every garden area that we have approached with soil building as our goal has given generously during the growing season.

Pennies on the Dollar

Nothing comes close to the peace a family feels with an established larder in their home. We live in a unique window of history and we surrounded by abundance. Wise households are taking advantage and establishing well-stocked larders.

It is so much easier than most would believe. To assess whether a stock larder could be established on a modest income, I looked up the max. monthly amount of nutrition assistance available for a family of 3 (the size of my household). The maximum benefit available is $526/mo. With that amount of money, a larder could be established in 3 months using the following lists at your guide for a family of 3 (please adjust according to your family size).

Monthly Staples – $404.50

4 gallons of milk – $10.00

4 dozen eggs- $8.00
Butter – $5.00
Veggies (per personal tastes) – $75.00
Tomato pastes and sauces 24 cans – $12.00
Lettuce/Cabbage ($2.50/head) – $40.00
Onions 5 lbs. – $10.00
Garlic 1 lb. – $5.00
Potatoes 20 lbs. – $16.00
Fruits (per personal tastes) – $50.00
Rasins 40 oz. – $6.00
Oranges 20 lbs. – $26.00
Apples 10 lbs. – $20.00
Lemons 10 lbs. – $7.50
Oatmeal 18 oz. (4) – $13.00
Honey 1lb. – $8.00
Sugar/Brown Sugar 8 lbs. – $6.00
Peanut Butter 28oz. (2) – $12.00
Meat & Cheese $2.50/day – $75.00

Building the Larder – $114.0

Beans 20 lbs. – $15.00
Spices – $7.50
Oils 50 oz. – $16.00
Vinegar & Salts – $17.50
Sweet potatoes 6 lbs. – $8.00
Rice 25 lbs. – $29.00
Flour 25 lbs. – $21.00

Monthly Total – $518.50

Mason Jars 4 Boxes/month (not covered by nutrition assistance) – $32.00

Following this buying guide will give you all the food you need to eat very well and under budget. If you aren’t practiced at cooking all your meals, you will need to learn. A tip, I bet there are a handful of mentors just waiting for the ask at your local church. I for one would jump at the chance to share what I have learned on my own journey with someone who is taking their first steps towards true freedom!

For couples or singles the time to establish a well-stocked larder will be longer if you go it alone. The maximum benefit for a single is $200/month. Try to find a couple friends in the same circumstance and pool your resources. With 3 singles pooled together for just a 3 month agreement, you could use the above table and to establish your 3 separate larders and have about $80/month left over.

After the first three months, things get pretty exciting fast. First you may notice that once your larder is established and you can cut your monthly spend by $135/month*. Or you could start enhancing your larder with a diversity of flavors the first three months you couldn’t afford. Coco powder, fresh roots like ginger or turmeric, seasonal fruits/veggies, or an organic small animal like a rabbit or chicken to make bone broth and experiment with organ meats** are all great choices. Or you could use your extra resources to buy and dehydrate pounds of carrots, celery, and onions to use later to brightened up your recipes for months to come.

Getting to Pennies on the Dollar

After some time cooking out of your larder, you will likely start feeling drawn toward the full freedom of being able to provide for yourself and your family. When you start feeling pulled to self-sufficiency it will be time to start your own garden and maybe even buy a few animals. Chickens and rabbits are a great jumping off point on the full freedom path.

My family has chickens, turkeys, rabbits, bee hives all on our suburban lot. Check your local laws before taking your journey to the next level, and make sure you take great care of your operation so there are no complaints from neighbors. In my town we can keep 4 fowl and 4 adult rabbits (baby animals under 90 days don’t count). The amount of food produced may surprise you. Also the beehives don’t just produce honey, our bees increased the garden yield for us and our neighbors. When we started gardening and raising animals, in addition to cooking, we started to learn traditional food preservation techniques. Mentors, YouTube, books, and classes are all ways I learned on my journey to establishing a traditional kitchen.

With a garden and a few animals, your monthly {scratch that} quarterly food expenses could start to look closer to this:

Quarterly Staples

Dairy Needs – $40.00
Amish Butter – $8.00
10 Dozen Eggs (with chickens)- $11 in feed
(without chickens)- $35.00
Fruits (not able to grow & store) – $150.00
Veggies (not able to grow & store) – $150.00
Oatmeal 18 oz. (8) – $26.00
Sugar/Brown Sugar 20 lbs.
-or- half gallon of honey – $18.00
Peanut Butter 28oz. (2) – $12.00
Meat (growing your own) -$32 in feed

Maintaining the Larder

Beans
Spices
Oils
Salt & Vinegar
Potatoes & Sweet potatoes
Rice
Flour (or Wheat Berries)

Replace based on your stores ~$100.00

Quarterly Total – $547.00+

* Examples used in this article used the amount of money for a 3 person household on food stamps. However, the model works even better for someone who isn’t receiving assistance. An independent person is free to start spending the money that was previously spent on building your larder in the first 3 months, on buying animals and planting a garden. 

** I do not recommend eating the organ meats or making bone broth from animals that you didn’t either raise yourself or trust the practices of the person who did.