Jul 28, 2011

The Honey Trail

by Grace Pundyk

Not sure why, but this book is just not holding my attention. It has quite a different focus than the other books about bees I've been reading lately, although it does touch some on the history and husbandry of honeybees. Mostly though, The Honey Trail is a kind of travelogue and cultural examination of the production of honey. In it, the author visits different countries to see their beekeeping practices up close, taste a myriad varieties of local honey, and learn what part honey plays in each distinct culture. For example, in Yemen supposedly the profits of honey are tied into terrorism, although after reading the chapter on it I was still confused and didn't really understand why. I made it halfway through the second chapter, about honey in Australia, before realizing that my mind was wandering wildly. It's an interesting enough book, but just not friendly or descriptive enough to keep me reading at the moment.

The other countries she visits in pursuit of honey are New Zealand, Borneo, Russia, Italy, the UK , Turkey, China and the United States.

Abandoned ......... 337 pages, 2008

Jul 26, 2011

The Beekeeper's Lament

by Hannah Nordhaus

Journalist follows a large-scale beekeeping operation around the US to study the plight of the honeybee.This book answered all the questions I had left over after reading The Hive Detectives, and then some. The Beekeeper's Lament gives a lot of detail into the world of beekeeping. Readily apparent that this is a very complex and fragile system. So very many of our crops depend upon the bees, who are in turn dependent upon humans now, to keep them alive. Apparently all the feral hives have disappeared (honeybees were never native to the US but introduced from Europe) and those under the care of beekeepers are constantly assailed by a myriad of diseases, pests and maladies. Lots of theories on what is causing the colonies to collapse, but no real answers yet. I am full of new admiration for the beekeepers who work like John Miller (the man most featured in this book) who drive their thousands of hives all around the country chasing the flowers. He, like many others who keep bees, make most of their money off renting the hives out to almond farmers. It was fascinating to learn about how the industry has grown and changed- for example oranges used to need pollination too, but now that consumers prefer seedless oranges, citrus farmers are trying to keep bees out of their orchards. There's a little bit about the history of bees and their keepers here, but it's mostly about the workings of the industry, the failure of the bees' health, and how it is becoming harder and harder for beekeepers to make a profit at all. I was most intrigued by reading about how it all worked, like the different methods the "bee guys" use to get their bees through the winter- feed them artificial stuff like syrup, put them into hibernation, or truck them to warmer climes.

Very intriguing, and alarming, stuff to read about. Sorry this post is so jumbled, I'm typing it out in a hurry while the baby sleeps. Read a few of the reviews linked to below, for something more comprehensive! Or better yet, just read the book. I borrowed my copy from the public library, when curiosity on the subject just made me search the catalog.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 269 pages, 2011

more opinions at:
the page 99 test
fresh words daily

Jul 25, 2011

winner

A few days late, but here we go. Random.org says the winner of my latest giveaway is commentator #6, Sarsafrass! Happy reader, send me your snailmail and I'll post these bookmarks off to you within the next few days. Congrats!

Jul 21, 2011

The Dirty Life

on farming, food and love
by Kristin Kimball

Another book about farm life. In The Dirty Life, the author describes how she made the decision to leave her busy, affluent New York City existence for the backbreaking labor and intense involvement of starting a farm with her new fiance. Not just any farm, but one that would provide a full diet to a small (at first) community of members who bought into "shares" of the farm's produce at the beginning of each year. Other farms that provide for people this way usually only grow vegetables, but the Kimballs' farm aimed to give everything a person would need for a well-rounded diet: milk, eggs, dairy products, meats, grains, etc. Even (eventually) other things such as wood for fuel. But the book isn't really about how this kind of farm works (it was the only one of its type when they started).

It's about the tough work of putting a functional farm together out of a neglected piece of land. It's about planning, planting, sweating, fixing things, learning animal husbandry, dealing with setbacks, getting to know the neighbors, battling weeds (on an organic farm they must all be hoed or pulled by hand!), desperately trying to prioritize chores, falling to bed exhausted, and rejoicing in the growth of plants, the birth of new animals, the taste of wonderful food two steps from its bed in the soil. A wonderful read, one that really takes you into the heart of what it's like to grow and raise the food to feed an entire community. It's about the soul of a farm, and how it won one woman's heart, through all the difficulties and small joys.

I discovered this book in a Friday Finds post on At Home with Books. Borrowed it from the public library.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 276 pages, 2010

more opinions at:
Fizzy Thoughts
Esmerelda's Book Thing
A Life Sustained
Edge of the Page 
Stuff as Dreams are Made On

Jul 19, 2011

See You in a Hundred Years

by Logan Ward

Young married couple decide to leave their jobs and live on a farm for twelve months, as if it were the year 1900. They didn't use electricity, plumbing or even accept a ride in a car from neighbors. They burned oil lamps, dug an outhouse, pulled water from a well by a hand pump, and heated their house with a wood stove. Milked their own goats, used a horse for transportation and occasional hauling, grew their own vegetables to eat. Thought they were going to get away from the hustle and headache of the rat race, but at first it was just as much headache and worry trying to supply food for their own table and wondering if they'd make it through the winter. Eventually their muscles toughened, they learned to manage the animals, the neighbors reached out to them (even entering into the spirit of their experiment and only giving them foods that would have existed in 1900, for example). Being a woman and a mother I was curious how the wife learned to cook on a wood stove and transitioned from disposable convenience to laundering cloth diapers (with a washboard!) but as the husband wrote the story there are more details on splitting wood, teaching himself to handle the horse and drive a wagon, etc. It's a very interesting tale, funny at times. At the end of the year they were relieved to go back to some modern conveniences, but still wanted to live close to the land the way they'd come to appreciate. I don't know if I could ever do without the ease of a washing machine or other things for so long, but admire their determination and integrity to the trial.

Borrowed from the public library. See You in a Hundred Years came to my notice because I read about it on Worducopia. There's an article about the Ward's year-long experiment here.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 252 pages, 2007

more opinions at:
Bermudaonion's Weblog
Fizzy Thoughts

Jul 15, 2011

bookmarks giveaway!

How long has it been since I did a giveaway here? Seems ages. Well, I have this pair of flower-themed bookmarks that just fit the summery season. There's an image on both sides; the first picture here is of the front
and second of the back:
If you'd like to own this pair of bright bookmarks, it's simple. Leave a comment and I'll check back in a week, run the names through a random-online selection process and declare one of you a winner!

Jul 13, 2011

Hill Song

A Country Journal
by Lee Huntington

Journal entries about life on a Vermont farm. Describing the work in the gardens, the sweat and joy of harvest. The passing of seasons. Wildlife both big and small observed in the surrounding woods. The moods of changing weather, how the people adjust to it using only wood as fuel for heat, etc. But other things too, like musings on why elderly people are so little respected these days, or how people use cliches to describe things without even actually looking to see what they resemble. A nice, contemplative read. Hill Song is one I took my time with.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 163 pages, 1985

Jul 6, 2011

Clabbered Dirt, Sweet Grass

by Gary Paulsen

This book paints a vivid picture of life on a farm, back around the turn of the century. Aunts, uncles and grandparents lived with the family. Most of the crops and animals raised on the farm were for their own sustenance; old clothes were sewn into warm quilts, many things were mended and made by hand. The little money needed for school supplies, flour and salt was hard-earned cutting cordwood or picking potatoes on other farms. People worked very long, hard hours and all the families came together once a year to help harvest grain, the team moving around from farm to farm until everyone's crop was in. Close association with the animals, upon whose lives they depended. The great workhorses. The pigs and cattle- living breathing animals for so long fed and cherished, then transformed into meat for the table. The horror of accidents from men caught in farming machinery, small children wandering into danger (one toddler gets eaten by a hog), people lost in the snow simply trying to walk from one building to another. But they don't strike home too much because none of them are known personally- only stories told of other's misfortune. Through the whole book there aren't any real characters that you follow or come to know, overall it's just a portrait of a way of life. A simple book that you can read in one day (I managed it, and you know how little reading time I have nowadays!) yet its images stay with you. I keep thinking now of how dependent the farmers were upon the weather, how precise their timing had to be in order to get things planted, harvested, etc at the right moment so things wouldn't fail to grow or spoil or be lost in some way. It was a difficult, back-breaking way of life, and yet it had its own sweet rewards. The cold swimming hole. The warmth of a cow's flank during milking. The fabulous meals cooked up for harvest teams by wives and daughters. The beautiful warm heaps of quilts stitched with memories that children piled under in shivering attics....

I picked this book up at a used sale once; attracted to it because the title was so curious and it looked unlike any other book I've read by this author. My assessment was right. It reads unlike his other books too, although I recognized his style something about this one feels different. In a good way. It is lyrical, memorable, evocative. Clabbered Dirt, Sweet Grass is definitely a book you should read.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 120 pages, 1992

Jul 5, 2011

Robbing the Bees

a Biography of Honey
the sweet liquid gold that seduced the world
by Holley Bishop

I am becoming enthralled by bees. The one thing that still discourages me from getting my own backyard beehive (besides the fact that my husband is terrified of bees- although this book asserts that you are more likely to get hit by lightening than die of bee stings!) is the cost it takes to set up such an operation. But that doesn't daunt me from learning more and more about bees.

Robbing the Bees looks at much more than just beekeeping methods, although there are two threads that do delve into what that entails. In one, the author follows a beekeper whose operation includes some seven-hundred hives which he shifts around the countryside, renting his bees out to pollinate different crops. Mostly he focuses on the few weeks in which his bees can gather the nectar of tupelo trees in Florida; the honey from them being so rare and delicious it sells for a high price. In another recurring thread, the author describes acquiring his own backyard hive, the early mistakes he made and his experiences keeping bees. But the real flesh of the book is in its historical aspect. It explores all things about bees and how humans have interacted with them throughout history. From medieval use of hives as weapons (catapulting them at the enemy) to the Egyptians' use of honey as food preservatives and beauty products. Honey has also been used historically in medicines, and the wax has a myriad of uses. The book describes how honey was first gathered from wild hives (and still is in many parts of the world today), then how people first began to keep hives in their yards. Even then early beekeepers had to kill the bees in order to obtain honey; it wasn't until someone invented removable frames that it became easy for us to rob the hives and leave the colony intact. Of course, since the book is about bees there is a lot of information on their biology and social structure, and their important role as plant pollinators. Robbing the Bees is just packed with information, which is probably one reason it took me so long to get through it, I was taking my time to absorb it all. A fascinating book. I'm glad to thank the Stay at Home Bookworm for making me aware of it!

Borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 324 pages, 2005

more opinions at:
Peter Bradberry
Beekeeping
Beth's Book Reviews