Thursday, January 31, 2013

Biodiversity with Bees

It seems that many times, diversity in ability trumps raw talent, and it turns out that the trend holds in the area of ecosystem services as well.  Basically, the concept of ecosystem services is an attempt to quantify the good things nature provides for us so that they can be taken into account when calculating the true cost of a product or process.  Some examples of ecosystem services include clean air, soil nutrients for food production, and pollination of crops.  Brittain et al. looked at that last one in an article that appears in the most recent issue of the academic journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. (Believe it or not, the Royal Society of London publishes journals with even longer names.)  It turns out that honeybees do a better job of pollinating almonds if other bee species are present (specifically, non-apis bees).  The authors were inspired to try almonds because it also works for sunflowers. 

In short, for crops like (commercial-scale) almonds, where the trees are planted in alternating rows of different varietals, honeybees tend to move more commonly up and down a row than between rows if left to their own devices.  The reasons for this behavior aren’t clear, but one hypothesis is that it happens because the next-nearest (good) flower tends to be in the same row.  In the case of almonds, that’s not good because you need the bees to fly between rows for successful pollination (and fruit set).  What the authors found was that the presence of other types of bees causes honeybees to change their flight patterns such that they fly between rows more often, thereby increasing pollination efficiency.  They suggest that when the non-apis bees are around (and visiting flowers themselves), two things happen because of the increased competition for nectar and pollen.  First, the next-nearest good flower for a honeybee might not be in the same row since a lot of the flowers have already been "emptied" by the non-honeybees.  Second, when the non-honeybees visit a flower, they might leave behind a chemical marker that the honeybees don’t like.  Both might contribute to the honeybees having to look farther for the next-nearest good flower, which is just as likely to be in the next row over as in the same row.  However, the authors aren’t completely sure about the causes.
This little guy, Osmia Lignaria, will tell your honeybees that it's OK to color outside the lines. Photo credit: Wikipedia 

It's important to note, however, the improved pollination would only be expected within certain man-made systems.  That is, if the trees weren’t planted in unnatural rows to begin with, the bees’ movement between trees would have been less biased even without the other bees (but the almonds would be harder to harvest mechanically).  

Isn’t it fascinating that honeybees’ flight pattern can be affected by the geometry of your garden and the presence of other kinds of bees?  Nature never ceases to amaze (me, anyway).  The article also points out another advantage of having other kinds of bees present—some species can forage at lower temperatures than honeybees, which means they can get to work earlier in the day, and also earlier in the season.  That can be especially important if you’re growing early-blooming fruits like apples and cherries in northern climates.

Since honeybees tend to go to the next tree in the line, planting your orchard like this might make your bees dizzy (but probably not).
The article doesn’t say anything about how the changes in movement affect honey production, but if it's pollination you're after, it looks like workplace diversity is important, even if your employees are insects!

Related links: the University of Arkansas has some advice on how to attract certain species of non-honeybees to your garden.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

HARK! (Ham Apples Rice Kale)

If there's one thing we can't stand, it's throwing out food, even if that just means it's going to our tiny herd of livestock (about 2,000 head of worms).  Last night, we had some leftover ham roast Katie made with roasted root veggies the night before.  As it turns out, we also had some apples and kale in the fridge threatening to spoil.  It's probably been known since caveman times that ham and apples go together, but kale?  Seemed like it could work.  We sauteed the kale, added the chopped apples and ham.  It made for a nice colorful skillet, if nothing else.

Cheesy rice and lentils made up the base of this food pyramid.  Seasoned with salt and pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, caraway and dried basil, with shredded jack cheese melting into a creamy delicious mortar for the tiny grain and bean bricks. It was one of those meals where you finish eating and know you'll be useless the rest of the night (in a good way).  Mmmmm.  Full recipe below.

1.5 c long grain brown rice
0.25 c lentils
3 c water or broth (if broth, omit oil below)
1.5 t ground pepper
1.5 t salt
1.5 t garlic powder
1.5 t onion powder
1 T dried crushed basil
1.5 c shredded jack cheese
1 T olive oil or other lipid

2 apples, diced
1 lb cooked ham roast, diced
3 c chopped kale
1 T olive oil or other lipid

Cook rice and lentils in water, adding seasonings, cheese, and oil when water has been absorbed.   Meanwhile, saute the kale in the other tablespoon of lipid, adding diced apple and ham once the kale is wilted.  Serve the kale mixture on a pile of the cheesy rice.  Make plans to not do anything after supper.


Hello World!  Welcome to The Homestead Laboratory.  This blog is a chronicle of our experiments with sustainability and self-sufficiency.  We'll do our best to regularly post stuff we've discovered, or at least found to be helpful, in that regard.

This blog also records our forays into re-purposing and making due, which we think should be called whatchagotamology (after the Pat McManus short story, Whatchgot Stew). 

Hopefully you'll find something useful, or at least be entertained by our mistakes!