Thursday, May 21, 2009

Honey Dreams

Although beekeeping is the main subject around which all posts (tangentially) gather, this blog also aims to document my shift (and that of my friends) toward a more sustainable life.

Nowadays, the idea of sustainability is inextricably linked to environmentalism. For some strange reason, however, I've always been more compelled by the concept of sustainability than that of environmentalism. Sustainability seems to speak to the human aspect of environmentalism by appealing to our inherent selfishness: how do we benefit, as opposed to the Earth? Because let's face it, many people (especially people in 1st world countries) don't see the connection between the Earth's health and our own.

Environmentalism sounds hard. It conjures images of lugging out the recycling and the garbage. It implies more work. What is so incredibly pathetic about this perspective is that the "work," in reality, involves thought more than physical labor. But people, and I'm talking about us 'Mericans, don't like to think. The mere consideration of the possible material of an empty container of yogurt proves to be too taxing for certain individuals. "As a tax paying 'Merican, I've got the right to throw this here yogurt container wherever I see fit." It is almost as if we feel entitled to not think. (And by "we," I mean "they." However, I am attempting to avoid "they" statements, as I do not want to define "them.")

Society has taught us that if we need something, we should buy it. But what if we don't want to buy it, or can't buy it, as is becoming the case for more and more people? Instead of looking around and asking oneself, "How can use what I already have to get what I want?" most people will either wait until they can buy it, or decide they don't need it, after all. But we're more creative than that...

I have always had a visual image of my "ideal life" in my mind. This image has drastically changed throughout the years, and continues to tweak itself as time rolls out. It probably changes imperceptibly from second to second. Today, my ideal life involves bees, obviously; lots of all different types of hives all over property that I own. This same property will be home to many fruit trees and and vegetable gardens with tons of herbs, a pumpkin/melon patch, an expanse of wildflowers that morphs into its own conception of "beautiful." On the property, there will be an old house that needs a lot of work done. I'll live there with my true love, and we'll spend our days fixing the house, attending to our gardens and hives, providing fresh produce to our community, and trading what we have for what we don't have. Building the life that we want with our hands, essentially; self-sufficient and self-employed. The house will be filled books, laughter, and dogs. We'll grow our own indulgences, and invite friends and family to cook and/or enjoy them with us.

I could go on, but I'm realizing that the more detailed I get, the more I remove myself from society, and the more unrealistic my "ideal life" becomes. (It snowballs into commune territory.) And I'm not trying to make this unrealistic or unreachable: I am convinced, today, that this life is completely viable, and it is up to me to make the choices that will get me there.
The new bees, that will reside in my parents' backyard in Connecticut, will produce honey that I intend to sell. This will be my first entrepreneurial endeavor of any kind, except for the odd lemonade stand and the "Babysitters Club" I formed with 5 other girls one summer, inspired by the book series of the same title. (I was Claudia, the artistic, popular, half-Asian fashion plate who hid candy in fake books and dealt with her grandmother Mimi's stroke in the 7th book of the series, Claudia and Mean Janine.)

It is my first foray into semi self-employment, the initial step in what I hope will be a lifelong journey. I want to be judged on my product rather than my personality, whether the product is the honey from my bees or my words themselves. This first year will be more of an experiment than anything, since I'm learning absolutely everything as I go. It is exciting, strange, and unexpected. The unexpectedness makes it slightly intimidating, but I figure, what do I have to lose? Following this line of reasoning, I have also decided to pickle and sell my cukes this year, whose abundance last summer was overwhelming. (It was possible to subsist on cucumber soup* alone for a period of about 2 weeks.)

*Cukes, plain yogurt, mint, scallions, chicken broth, fresh garlic for spice, blended til smooth, chilled, with salt and pepper to taste. The most satisfying food/drink on a hot, humid day in July. Best when consumed outdoors, preferably near pool and/or beach.

Anyway, instead of buying jars to bottle these things, I want to use existing jars. Why buy new jars when I've got, you've got, we've got old jars right here? How much energy does it take to melt that glass into a different-looking jar?

A sweet, sweet reverie...

...honey housed in all different shapes and sizes of recycled jars and bottles, labeled by hand with little flowers drawn all over, maybe a recipe tag for something outrageous like honey milkshakes; each bottle unique; I'm dreaming up names: C's Bees'? Sweet C Honeybee? Strange varieties of pickled cucumber, like round, yellow, Lemon Cukes and heirloom White Wonders in spatial and tactile disharmony, each one distinct but strangely similar; yellow, green, brine and vinegar and garlic...

The sight of these things existing in reality would give me great pleasure. Photo shoot-worthy. Hopefully the future will unroll in such a fashion that my visions will materialize. If they do, or if they don't, at least I'll be writing about it.

Save the jars and bottles that you can imagine housing our future honey and/or pickles, if you'd like to contribute to this honey/pickle/heirloom tomato* venture. Of course, you know who you are.

*I have over 15 healthy-looking Cherokee Purple tomato plants that I grew from seed in my apartment. This weekend, they'll be making the move outdoors, to the quiet sanctuary of my parents' backyard (with the new bees!) Perhaps a small stand in a Farmer's Market? I think so.

On another sustainability note, its composting time! Now that the summertime bounty is beginning to crowd produce isles everywhere, we've decided to start a worm farm up here at the homestead in Wash Heights. You can buy worms (and compost) at the Greenmarket at the Community Compost:

They sell a "worm condo" to house the worms, but we're just using an old plastic box for storing clothes and stuff. Anything with a top that you can poke holes in is fine. It you're a gardener (or know one!) there's no reason you shouldn't compost: its easy, cheap, and natural. has great info. You can even bring your food scraps to places in your hood where someone is composting, even if you don't want to. Seriously, people want your food scraps badly.

There are tons of gorgeous herbs and tomato plants for sale right now... both of which grow well in containers if you're in the city (and have enough sun.) For those of you who have had the misfortune of never smelling the fresh, earthy scent of a healthy tomato plant, RUN to the nearest farmer's market and at LEAST stick your nose into its depths and inhale with gusto; even better to buy one and savor its scent, admire its stature, and devour its fruit all summer long.

Now is the time, you would-be, could-be gardeners: Make something grow!


  1. mmmmm, cukes! care to share pickling recipes/techniques?

  2. as soon as i figure out how to do it!