The Accidental Homesteader

BeekeepingI’ve always liked to garden, and I absolutely adore hanging out in the backyard reading a book or writing or eating something hot right off the grill. But the reality is I’m pretty lazy. And I’m very busy. I have a day job, and I’m a writer and blogger as well. I don’t have much time for a labor intensive yards. And yet… I’m a homesteader of sorts. An accidental homesteader, and I totally blame the bees. No, seriously.

Most people are aware that bee populations have been plummeting, with the honey bee particularly hard hit. Without bees our diets would be a hell of a lot less interesting, so when we moved into this house, setting up a hive was at the top of my hit-list.

So in the spring of 2015 I took a class, bought a hive and some bees, and have been a happy beekeeper ever since. I did it mostly for the bees, but I figured I’d also get a better fertilized garden (better harvest), maybe some honey in the fall, and a bee sting or two (hopefully not!).   I did not expect becoming a beekeeper would forever change me, but it did.

Bees survive on the pollen and nectar that flowering plants produce to procreate. The bees process nectar into honey and store it in honeycomb to feed the hive through the winter months. The pollen is a critical source of protein for bees, helping them stay strong and healthy. Bees cannot survive without sufficient amounts of both. No flowering plants providing pollen and nectar, no bees. No bees, no fruit, no nuts, no veggies, no coffee. Or chocolate. This would be very bad.

When you look at suburban or urban areas from the perspective of a bee you soon realize the large green expanses of grass so favored by humans are actually a vast expanse of desert. Grass sucks up an awful lot of water, but it never blooms, provides no pollen and no nectar, and produces no food for anyone or anything else either. It takes up the bulk of the land in the suburbs but provides no nourishment for those who live there.

Adding insult to injury, people are quite fond of applying herbicides to their lawns to make extra sure nothing interesting can grow there. Pesticides are also very common in these areas, and these chemicals kill off the good insects as well as the bad.

Even if you take pesticide/herbicide use out of the picture, when you stroll through an urban or suburban neighborhood it’s easy to see why the bees are struggling. Most yards have nothing flowering in them at all. Those that do typically have small patches of flowers, tiny islands of color in a sea of short green grass. To add insult to injury, many GMO flowers are made to be infertile, meaning they create neither pollen or nectar. There is literally nothing for a bee to eat in all those miles and miles of suburbs and city blocks.

If I’d have thought about it I would have realized it long ago. But frankly, I’d never even considered it. Until I got the bees.

In the class and in my readings I realized how little food was available for wild or honey bee populations, despite all the land available in urban and suburban areas. I also realized how easy it would be to change that. Planting low maintenance shrubs and trees that bloomed instead of plainer and less interesting non-blooming options like junipers is easy and inexpensive. Planting perennial plants in beds around your house means no maintenance and very little cost as these plants come back on their own every year. It also means a much more interesting and beautiful home, as well as food for bee populations. Another very simple option is replacing that kentucky bluegrass with clover. Clover is durable enough to handle foot traffic, requires less water, and turns your lawn into a beautiful expanse of red, purple or white flowers every spring. Beautiful, and good for the bees too!

I love my suburban home and my yard. I also love chocolate. I can have both without a lot of work and without a lot of expense, all it requires is a bit of fore thought. The bees made me realize I could create a more sustainable, beautiful, and healthy yard with little cost or effort on my part. Why wouldn’t I do that?