Friday, May 13, 2016

Baby knows best and Luca's floor bed

I just had a lovely experience with Luca's nap time wind down. He indicated he was sleepy so we went through to bedroom and after a short story he was ready for some milk. After a little lie down and some milk he was revived - sigh.  He crawled off his bed and back in action. It's been a long five days without his dad Tris and at this point I'm feel slightly exasperated but this is a baby-led household. So I resigned myself to a longer wind down and told him 'okay but I'm going to tidy the bedroom, we're going to stay in the bedroom and he can let me know when he is ready for his nap'.

There are no 'toys' in the bedroom but of course he always finds lots to do. He pulls up on things - pulls the books off the shelf -examines the carpet. At this point I'm brushing my hair, something he loves to observe, and I always give him the hairbrush after I'm done.  He takes the brush (an object I think he's had a hundred times) and is looking very glassy eyed at this stage. I let him have it for a brief moment and then take it away and say 'I think it's time for your nap.' He lets me know he is unhappy about this and I pick him up. Ironically I've put the brush down on dressing table next to a book I'm reading 'Baby Knows Best'. Hmm - realizing my mistake I hand him back the brush, put him down and he commences to play with it.

He's exploring the brush in an entirely new way. He's rubbing it across surfaces and listening to the sound it makes, shaking it and banging it against things,throws it down and picks it up. Sometimes putting it in his mouth which I can see he doesn't enjoy but must try several time to form a hypothesis. He plays with it for about 15 minutes. I'm sitting near him on his bed but I'm not a saint - I watch a bit but I also check Facebook and Instagram, Lucas powers of concentration far out pace mine.

The brush work complete it lies abandoned on the floor. He goes over to the window and lifts the closed blind looking behind it, interestingly a ritual we do together before he goes to bed every night. He then crawls up to me - I'm filming him at this point, I ask him if he's ready for his nap, after giving the cats tail a tug and kissing the rug, he crawls onto his bed, I so appreciate how the floor bed has facilitated this independent process. He's still napping now. Baby knows best.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Darkest night

Darkest night

Today is a dark night.

You can't make out your hand in front of you face.
All about you swims blackness in static fuzz 
you open and close your eyes to ensure that they are in fact open.

I am afraid. 

I wish I were a burrowing animal,
I could reverse backward into an earthy hole
but there is nothing to receive me.

This landscape is totally foreign,
no landmarks to reach out a shuffling hand to and recognise 
nothing to bump into or rebound off.

How do I live in this new landscape?

How to be me with 
this new-knowing-nothing, 
trusting nothing that was once in the marrow of my bones.

My maps all up in smoke
little soft grey ashes uselessly smouldering.

It isn't just me moving into blackness; 
in my womb I carry my growing child.

I ought to know,
I ought to be brave.
But where my heart, my couer, my courage, once was is a dull empty ache.

I go walking into the blackness, 
bumping into nothing.

~ Lauriane Neave
How I feel today with dad's stage 4 cancer and being 16 weeks pregnant.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What it means to be a 'keeper'

We have been given the idea that we have dominion over the natural world. Why? Bees are helping me 'unlearn' this notion and behaviour. I am trying a new role of custodian ('keeper' in the purest sense) - I feel like that's my 'job'. 

Def. of keeper: noun
  1. 1.
    a person who manages or looks after something or someone.

This National Geographic article about "scientist-advocate" Lori Marino helps us challenge the notion of man's dominion over the natural world.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Become a custodian of a precious wild space

Such an important wild space - Help raise  R9.2 million required to secure and restore the Roodeberg. Donate now here.

Monday, November 4, 2013

5 Minute wheat-free Orange Cake

Quick, easy, moist and heart warming. 

200g orange
175g soft unsalted butter 
3 eggs
1 cup raw sugar (or 1/4 cup honey, half cup sugar, honey does make it even more moist)
1 cup almond meal
1 cup shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 180'C. Grease 22cm square pan. Cut unpeeled orange into segments and blend into bit in food processor. Add butter, egss, sugar and almond meal and process until well combined.

Bake for about 45 minutes

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Beekeepers - Sweet-toothed, Gambling Saints

You fall for venomous creatures who have absolutely no loyalty to you or your interests. Who will sting you mercilessly without remorse. Who can up and leave when they feel the need, who will go wherever they please.  

And then there is the weather over which you have no control. Which will dictate a good or bad season. A heavy or light nectar flow. A healthy or weak colony.

And then there are the flowers. They may arrive hard and fast or not at all. They may be pollen or nectar light. You could run out of boxes or you could be feeding bees sugar syrup. 

And then there are the diseases, the viruses, the pests, the pesticides, the herbicides, and the insecticides. 

There is man's obsession with his damn food desert of a lawn. Loss of meadows and weeds and wild flowers that sustain bees. Monocultures, self pollinating GMO crops. Global warming and warped seasons. The indecipherable worldwide bee and pollinator decline.

Fluctuating honey prices, undermined by Chinese imports. Laundered honey from 10 different countries full of corn syrup and toxic antibiotics and you watch people put them in their shopping baskets because they are cheaper, come in a squeegee bottle and taste sort of like the real thing. They bypass the local treasures, unaware that the making of which has enriched their gardens, parks, mountains and food baskets.

The loneliness of being an unsung hero solely and secretively baring the back bending toil lest his sites get poached or robbed. 


But then there is the miracle, here in every harvest. 
Only honey with is inexhaustible blends of sweetness can fill your longing. 
And the bees, 'the messengers of love', bringing their alchemy to your life, tirelessly manifesting. Who's hummmm you come to adore as you lift the lid of another hive not knowing what you will find inside. And when you work with them it is Christmas every day. And your heartaches, which are nothing in the face of this, dissolve into sweetness on your tongue.

And now you ask in your heart, "How shall we distinguish that which is good in pleasure from that which is not good?"
Go to your fields and your gardens, and you shall learn that it is the pleasure of the bee to gather honey of the flower, But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee.
For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life, And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love,

And to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy. 'On Pleasure' - Kahlil Gibran

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Pollination - Moving bees...

When the light is fading and the bees have stopped flying we arrive with the flatbed truck, she grunts into the paddock and the smoker is fired up.
Several puffs at each entrance of the hives marked with a clod of earth. Clods of earth can symbolise various scenarios on the inner workings of the hive or reminders, a promise of later work. I am sure that each beekeeper has their own system of hive top symbols. 

The full moon is rising, bringing light and less urgency to the work.
Entrances are gently stuffed with fistfuls of grass. We assume our positions, one in front and one behind, sliding our hands under the base of the hive, bending the knees, looking up at the sky, 1, 2, 3, heft! A weighty hive inevitably draws a happy remark from one of us; welcome weightiness speaks of healthy hives laden with treasure.

The truck is loaded, neatly stacked boxes side by side strapped down. The truck sighs willingly baring the load and driving the road up the Far North to the avocado orchids. Rows and rows of trees frothing with creamy yellow sprays of the avocado blooms the Bees have arrived to work. At night it's maze of rows and lanes need deciphering; the orchardist map is pored over leading us deeper into the green labyrinth. Pink ribbons tied to branches at the end of the rows mark the spot. Pallets flung alongside the trees receive the boxes of bees, their new home for at least 4 weeks. All is hushed the trees softly whispering, filling the air with a round malty scent. Placing down two or four groups of hives on the pallets with careful footing, no one wants to drop a box of bees. We open the entrances and leave them to wake and work, to cover each blossom, pollinating and bringing bigger yields and fuller fruit.

Avocado from the Lauraceae family - Persea americana
Bees are main pollinating 'agents'. 
It is suggested that there be more than 6 - 10 colonies
per hectare of avo plantation
With 9 frames of bees and 3 frames of brood

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Circadian Dance

Bees have very similar circadian patterns to humans and when you work with them your body and lifestyle starts falling more deeply instep with these natural rhythms. There are the seasons, quiet cold Winter is a time of rest, rising Spring a time of build up and anticipation, welcome Summer a time of harvest and harbinger Autumn a time to regroup and prepare for rest. It is morning or night there are no days of the week. Awakening dawn, the heat of the middle day, falling dusk and night. Too much wind or rain is a bad honey day, a bright and breezeless mild day is a good honey day. Then your senses become attune to the changes of forage throughout the seasons, months and days. Your eyes seek out the patterns in flora around you as you whizz past in your flat back bakkie. You watch flora come into fullness and then fall back allowing others to take centre stage. Each month of the year bringing its own nectars and pollens and shifting depending where you are in the world. Some sites are bathed in early sunshine and some in late, some are wind swept but nectar rich and some are tucked into a valley... And it is written there in the sky and on the earth that there is a time and a place for everything.

I can recall a time, just over a year ago, when I was so completely outside of this circadian dance. For more than 40 hours a week I was bathed in neon light, inhaling conditioned air, unable to open a window and let life in. Connected to the world through the screen in front me, buffered through this incredible medium but lost mostly to the earth. The bees have invited a great unplugging and not leaving me hanging they have facilitated a reconnecting. Just by observing their patterns and falling into time I have remembered the dance of natural life, a thread that lies at the base of me, and what a joy that is. 

Fudgey Flourless Chocolate Brownies

I am blessed to be doing my apprenticeship in a healthy home full of inspiring ideas in the kitchen. Kali is often pulling out these yum recipes for us to try and between her and my Pinterest recipes we have become a bit obsessive... Here is her delicious wheat-free brownie recipe.

3 Eggs, separated
1/4 tsp salt
1 Cup mashed banana (+/- 2 ripe bananas)
1/2 Cup coco powder
1/2 Cup honey
1/4 Rice/grapeseed oil
Dash of vanilla essence
Nuts and chocolate chips - optional

Preheat oven to 175 'C
Whip egg whites. In a separate bowl mix yolks, honey and salt, blend in cocoa, gently fold in egg whites.Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Bees and Bugs


Recently I was laid low by a virus, the flu virus. My head ached, sinus congested, eyes and nose streamed. My bee suit hung glumly form its hook, slumped, hoping for better days. We all know this physical feeling of total depletion. We wait for our immune system to win the battle. And it does. 

Because the bee hive is a super organism you can look at its health as whole, as the hive's immunity. In the mid-eighties bee colony immunities in Europe and the States became familiar with one of its greatest adversaries. The varroa mite or varroa destructor, as it is officially called, is tick like bug that uses its two pronged tongue to penetrate the exoskeleton of the bee and live of its hemolymph (blood for bees). Once it has traveled into the hive, riding on the back of an unsuspecting bee, it jumps into a brood cell and it is here were it reproduces undetected in the capped cell. Its offspring lives off the developing baby bee, weakening and deforming the future generations of the hive. Each mother mite will produce 6 eggs, one male and the rest female. So that as the colony of bees grows so does the mite, exponentially. Eventually, in most cases, the colony succumbs to this pest dwindles and dies.

Moreover viruses, like Deformed Wing Virus, are spread from bee to bee as the mite bites into and feeds on them. Destroying the immunity of the hive like a dirty needle.

The mite has many genetic cousins and in the global melting pot with bees being moved all over the world we have managed to cook up this particularly destructive genotype, first discovered in Southeast Asia. It arrived in Europe and the States in the mid 80s and since has decimated both commercial and feral colonies around the world. It is estimated that only 2% of the original wild colonies remain in the US.

Varroa was discovered in New Zealand much later, in 2000, where more than 30 000 hives were lost and more than 2000 commercial beekeepers pushed into 'forced retirement'. Now all bee hives, hobbyist and commercial, are treated for mites. The big bad Bayers provide the the strips which you hang between the frames of comb in your brood box. It apparently is harmless to the bee. One of my jobs as a handlanger is to remove and dispose of the expired strips. 

Pest management is now part and parcel of beekeeping and there are very few beekeepers who are able to be organic. Varroa arrived in South Africa in the 90s but thankfully (very thankfully) it is not as big a problem. I don't treat for them and I think many commercial beekeepers don't. It could be because our bees are stronger, being indigenous, with better hygiene habits and are more likely to bite and clean these blood suckers off one another?

As beekeepers treat for varroa it grows stronger and more resistant to the chemicals. It has  morphed and grown more resistant over the years but bees have not. It means that now more than ever beekeepers are guardians of these incredible creatures. And wild bees? Encourage them in your gardens, plant more flowers don't use pestices/insecticides. Bee well.

Friday, September 27, 2013

First day

4 Sites - 58 hives - 2 Stings - Endless sunshine 
Today was my first proper day on the job. I got to wear a sparkling suit, which was less sparkly at the end of the day, and clumsily wield my hive tool. Shamelessly following at Harlan's heels while he inspected hives and shoving my mesh clad face inches from the frames he patiently held up. We needed to feed some with sugar syrup, it's been a wet slow-to-start Spring. Many we topped with a second box in preparation for the immenent onset of Spring nectar flow. The sites were beautiful most in lush paddocks, some very remote and requiring no small skill to drive up to. All were busy on this fresh Sunny day. There is some Manuka flowering, it's a rather inconspicuous shrub/bush. You wouldn't guess that it holds the key to the highest priced bulk honey In the world and is responsible for what Harlan refered to as 'the good rush' of beekeeping.

One hive had AFB (American Foul Brood) which was interesting but sad to see. It's a vicious bacteria detectable in the brood and means the hive, bees and all, must be burnt. All the hives have Varroa strips in them (produced by Bayers) which the bees work around and is meant to treat for this viscous mite. The caramel coloured Italian bees are a lot more tolerant than our Cape bee, nonetheless I managed to get stung by senselessly placing my hand in the wrong spot on two seperate occasions. Italian stings have an exquisite initial sharpness but ease off and despite the swelling there's not too much heat or throbbing, thus far. 

The frames used are all-in-one frame and foundation plastic frames that have been dipped in wax. So the bees draw out the comb from the plastic sheet. I read once that this can interfere with the vibrations and thus the communication within a hive but again the bees seemed happy enough to adapt to this innovation. 

We dipped into some honey from the comb, it wasn't quite ripe and I suspect the best is yet to come. 

Sitting in the beach, where we broke for lunch, I felt deeply blessed by the landscape, her creatures and this opportunity. I am struck by the hard work that commercial beekeepers sign up for, as Harlan says, one has to be incredibly pragmatic. There is little time to get sentimental and you need to be constantly keenly observant as you quickly and gently open up hive after hive amidst hessian puffs from your smoker. And then there are relationships that need to be created and maintained with human land owners for decent sites. And knowing how to lift a one ton bucket of sugar syrup and decant some of it into a drum. And understanding meteorology, and remembering to put on sunblock.

Close of day 1

Sunday, September 22, 2013


It fills you with the soft
essence of vanished flowers, it becomes a trickle sharp as a hair 
that you followfrom the honey pot over the table

and out the door and over the ground,and all the while it thickens,

grows deeper and wilder, edged with pine boughs and wet boulders, 
pawprints of bobcat and bear, until

deep in the forest yous huffle up some tree, you rip the bark,

you float into and swallow the dripping combs,bits of the tree, crushed bees 
 - a taste composed of everything lost, in which everything lost is found