April 29th, 2013
March 26th, 2013
First, by “nutrient dense” I mean two things. The amount of nutrition in food measured by vitamins and minerals compared to calories. The most nutrition-packed foods are typically fruits and vegetables. “Energy dense” foods are normally high in calories and low in vitamins and minerals, including most cereals and grains, products with added sugar and inputs that are high in carbohydrates, and alcohol. Foods with high nutrient density provide relatively more of the nutritional needs of our bodies, and usually provide a more complete and balanced nutritional package. Good news: of these healthy foods we can grow in our gardens!
The second meaning has to do with how foods are grown. Just because a food is nutritional-packed does not always mean it’s healthy. Some fruits and vegetables with high nutritional density may be unhealthy because of how they were grown. Toxic pesticide contamination is the main reason foods that normally have high nutritional value may actually be unhealthy. According to the Environmental Working Group these are the “Dirty Dozen” foods with the highest pesticide residues:
Peaches, Apples, Sweet Bell Peppers, Celery, Nectarines, Strawberries, Cherries, Pears, Grapes (Imported), Spinach, Lettuce, Potatoes
These nutrient dense foods can be far healthier if we eat them WITHOUT the added poisons. How do we find these 12 crops without pesticide residues? By buying them from organic sources (and the more local the source the more nutritional value, usually). OR, by growing them at home. Half of these “Dirty Dozen” are perfect candidates to grow in Kitchen Gardens, raised beds and containers where you control how they are grown.
This tomato seedling is surrounded by our "magic spinach".
But how can families in developing countries gain access to more nutritious food? Many traditional farmers markets in poorer countries still provide access to good food from local farms but more pesticides are creeping into these once-organic farms. And for many families cheap calories (corn, rice, beans, sugar) are all they can afford. So for them growing kitchen gardens (and orchards) makes great sense.
Restoring Our Watershed, a non-profit I founded in Costa Rica, is starting a nutrient dense community organic gardening project at Paraiso’s Centro de Nutrición (Nutrition Center, or CEN). The CEN is part of a national government program to provide young mothers and their children with food and milk. For this project, we are helping a women’s group to plan and maintain a nutritious garden, providing 75% of the produce for the CEN and 25% for their own use at home. The goal is to provide a wider range of vegetables to the CEN’s lunch program, improving the diet of participating children and availability of local food. Ultimately, we hope that mothers will begin new gardens at home, and we will help.
What will be grown at the CEN garden raised beds? 90% will be familiar healthy foods that are already appreciated including beans, cherry tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, plus taro, nyami, jicama, and chayote. Also, we'll have banana, cuadrado, and plantain trees. But we also want to introduce some new foods that can both grow well in the wet/dry, windy/hot climate of Guanacaste. Our focus will be campote (sweet potatoes) and a new-to-us variety of spinach we just discovered that is easy to grow, pest and disease resistant, drought and flood tolerant, plus nutritious and flavorful raw or cooked.
Perennial spinach growing in intensive raised bed
We found this ‘miracle’ green in the Costa Rica “Sacred Seed Garden” and hope to introduce it to the US in 2014 to expand nutrition-packed kitchen gardens here. Only problem is this perennial spinach seems to grow only from cuttings and not seeds. Good that we all have overnight delivery in the US!
February 26th, 2013
Honey bees AND wild pollinators need your help. Join the movement for some sweet rewards.
Gardeners know that good pollination makes for better crops of tomatoes, cucumbers, apples and raspberries. European honey bees come to mind as the most important pollinator. And that is especially true for certain commercial crops like almonds that need to have 1 million honey bee hives brought to California’s Central Valley to provide pollination for 60 million trees (supporting 80% of the world’s almond production). But wild bees, beetles, flies, butterflies, moths, birds and bats also are critical in moving pollen from the male to the female parts of flowers for fruit and seed setting.
This point was affirmed last month in a massive international study of 600 sites in 20 countries involving 41 crops published in Science. It found that wild insects are more important than we may have thought for crop pollination and that honey bees cannot replace the value and importance of wild pollinators. Science reported, “wild insects pollinated crops more effectively, because an increase in their visitation enhanced fruit set by twice as much as an equivalent increase in honey bee visitation. Further, visitation by wild insects and honey bees promoted fruit set independently, so high abundance of managed honey bees supplemented, rather than substituted for, pollination by wild insects.”
So our gardens and farms need BOTH wild insect and honey bee pollinators.
Nearly 20 years ago I read that Albert Einstein (the physicist, rather than the entomologist, but still a deep thinker about global issues) said to the National Union of French Apiculture, "if the bee disappears off the surface of the earth, man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man." I don’t know if he was thinking about wild bees or cultivated honey bee or both. This new research indicates the answer is both. The study reported in Science shows the pollinator services provided by wild insects can add to the pollinating power of honey bees. In fact, both wild insects and honey bees are needed to maximize crop production, and the ongoing decline of wild insects due to habitat loss, whether from land conversion to farms or suburbs, will reduce harvests as Einstein warned.
What can be done? Wild pollinators usually live in natural habitats, such as the edges of forests, riparian zones, hedgerows or grasslands. Gardener’s Supply has always promoted “less lawn and more gardens”, pollinator-friendly organic pesticides and creating homes for beneficial insects. Agriculture can also help promote nature’s pollinator services with practices that conserve or restore natural areas around and within croplands, add diverse flowering plants, provide nesting areas, and minimize pesticide use. The Science article concluded that without steps to conserve wild pollinators, “the ongoing loss of wild insects is destined to compromise agricultural yields worldwide”.
What else can be done? Please donate to the Bees for Trees project I am proud to be a part of. Your contribution will help the bees, the trees, rural families learning an important trade, AND the “Earth’s” garden. And you get free honey, a tax break and a great deal on your next order at Gardener's Supply. For details and to donate, please see below:
FREE HONEY AND GARDENER’S SUPPLY GIFT CERTIFICATE…
I helped start a non-profit in the dry tropical forest of Guanacaste, Costa Rica with 5% of the planet’s biodiversity and more wild pollinators than anywhere. The mission of Restoring Our Watershed is to restore a 29,000 acre watershed by building a more sustainable “nature-based economy”. One of our successes is a micro-loan program called Bees for Trees. Participating families are given enough capital to begin producing honey from ten hives, and Bees for Trees buys all the honey they produce. In exchange for their new livelihood, they reforest the 5-10% of their farm most important for watershed health, like stream buffer zones. They must also stop using herbicides and pesticides.
Perhaps most exciting is the economic return for the families. With just two to four weeks of labor every year, they are able to increase their household income by the equivalent of four to six months while also improving their land. Because of the new research reported in Science we are modifying the tree planting part of Bees for Trees to supply more flowering and fruiting trees good for the honey bees and also for wild pollinators. We need financial help to give more Bees for Trees loans so we launched a crowdsourced fundraising campaign. Through Indiegogo.com, we are raising $7,600 to advance Bees for Trees – please click here to contribute.
Click here for Free Honey and Gift Certificate!
(*With apologies to the Troggs and their 1966 best selling song “Wild Thing”)
“FREE’ HONEY AND $100 GIFT CERTIFICATE…
A good friend of mine, who happens also to be a renowned ecologist, loves bee keeping on his farm in Wisconsin. Seven years ago he changed from Landstroth hives to the Top-Bar hive design and discovered he gets more honey and bees wax with less cost, work and hassle. Would this new bee hive design have the same benefits in the tropics where a non-profit I helped start (www.ourwatershed.org) is restoring a 29,000 acre watershed with help from bees and their buddies?
Please read on. -Will Raap
Click here for Free Honey and Gift Certificate!
KEEPING THE BUZZ FOR THE BEES – NEW HIVE DESIGN COULD CHANGE BEEKEEPING IN THE TROPICS
by Matt Rosensteele
Executive Director of www.ourwatershed.org
Pure, raw honey could transform the Nandamojo river basin on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Our organization, Restoring Our Watershed (ROW), gives small loans for honey production through our Bees for Trees program. The project is proving to be successful in the most important ways.
Bees for Trees enables us to create green jobs and keep families on their farms, reforest priority areas for the watershed’s health, and help fund our overhead by selling a product that is good for people. We also help people become beekeepers, establishing more homes for millions of pollinators and enhancing the forest ecosystem in our valley.
As we scale up the initiative, we are looking for advice from all perspectives on an important issue: should we “not fix what isn’t broken” and stay with the commonly-used Langstroth hives? Or should we expand technologies available to local beekeepers, try something new, and give Top-Bar hives a try?
Bees for Trees was designed in response to historical, economic and ecological challenges the Nandamojo valley faces. The watershed was devastated by rapid deforestation to create cattle pastures during the 1950s, sixties, and seventies. The beef industry in the region later declined, and in the last twenty years tourism and foreign investment (through construction) became important components of the area’s prosperity.
The international financial crisis greatly reduced those sectors, and neither have fully recovered. This has created severe economic stagnation in the area. Families are hardly able to make a living, let alone invest in sustainable land use changes that are necessary to renew our watershed hydrology. Through beekeeping, we have found a powerful opportunity for the valley and are hoping to create a “honey economy” where ranching and tourism are no longer providing enough jobs.
Families who participate in Bees for Trees are given enough capital to begin producing honey from ten Langstroth hives (about $3000). In exchange for their new livelihood, they reforest the 5-10% of their farm which is most important to watershed health, such as a spring or stream buffer zone. They must also agree to stop using herbicides and pesticides.
ROW supplies new beekeepers with a mix of native species trees to complete the reforestation as well as training in natural honey production. When harvest time comes, we pay a fair price for their honey. After calculating its value, we allow the producers to take up to half the honey income in cash, applying the rest to their loan balance until it has been paid. Then, they become full owners of their new honey enterprise and benefit from 100% of its income.
The Langstroth hive has served Bees for Trees producers well so far. We will have 70 by the end of the year. Our source for hives and training uses Lanstroths (the familiar vertical stacked frames for honey combs), and as a result, all of our producers are using them too.
The hives yield substantial amounts of honey – a typical family is able to repay their entire loan within two to three years, meaning a “return on investment” of at least 33% annually. Our first producer serves as a kind of “manager,” as he owns an extractor and has received thorough training. We hire him to help other families on harvest days, and he transports his extractor to their farm. His home serves as our bottling facility and the “warehouse” where ROW purchases honey from several producers.
Perhaps most exciting is the economic return for the participating families. With just two to four weeks of labor every year, they are able to increase their household income by the equivalent of four to six months.
Top-Bar hives, on the other hand, could be an ideal fit for us to use in expanding our network of producers. They can be more inexpensive and easier to construct than the Langstroth design using local waste wood, which would help expand the program faster with less capital.
It seems Top-Bars do not require an extractor in order to harvest honey, which would eliminate the cost of paying Jaime to work with other families during harvests. Producers, however, would probably have to spend more time on harvesting honey with top bars, as the process can be slower.
The research we have done also suggests that Top-Bar horizontal hives can be easier to maintain and produce more sellable bees wax. That would reduce the costs associated with training new Bees for Trees families plus increase income, and easily-understood technologies can be scaled up more easily than complex ones.
An exceptionally important factor (given the nature of our work) is that the Langstroth hive design is the only one used in Guanacaste beekeeping. We have not yet found one beekeeper in our area that uses Top-Bars. The wealth of information available on beekeeping indicates that it may be worth a try to popularize thus new technology, and we want to probe this possibility.
We want to find out whether or not the top bar hive could revolutionize beekeeping in Guanacaste. ROW needs capital to test the Top-Bar design and see how they compare to Langstroths, and we have launched a crowdsourced fundraising campaign to do so. Through Indiegogo.com, we are trying to raise $7,600 to advance Bees for Trees – please click here to contribute.
With those funds, we will conduct a comparative trial of the two designs, report on our results and decide which design to use for Bees for Trees. We will also be able to give two more loans, start two more families producing sustainabl income and reforest another 7.5 acres of our valley if our funding goal is reached.
What do you think? Beekeepers of all stripes are invited to comment!