The joys of urban beekeeping

My honeybees were out this morning in my back garden in Battersea. I saw them before I left for work, heading for the parks, railways sidings and gardens that dot this corner of south London. With Michaelmas daisies, Japanese anemones and autumn-flowering crocuses still in bloom, they will hopefully return to the hive laden with food to add to their winter stores.

One of the joys of keeping bees in London is the longer season. Bees are usually active from spring to the end of the summer, but the mild climate and huge variety of plants and flowers means that you can see your bees coming and going practically all year round. And there is nothing more heart-warming than seeing your golden and black–striped workers returning to their hive with blobs of brightly coloured pollen on their back legs and nectar in their bellies. It is a perfect way for an urban dweller to unwind and reconnect with nature after a long day in the office.

I started keeping bees in London with my partner five years ago. What about the neighbours, most people ask. We’ve never had any problems. Once they understand that bees only eat nectar and pollen and only sting if under attack, they have always been highly supportive.

I wanted to keep bees to bring a piece of the countryside to the city and because I think I was suffering from what is now called nature-deficit disorder. I had no knowledge of what it entailed, nor any history in the family of beekeeping. We enrolled on a one-day beekeeping course and signed up to get a swarm of bees from a member of the London Beekeepers Association. Since that first colony arrived, many more people have taken up the hobby, and we have more hives scattered around London in the gardens of friends and family, as well as a nature reserve in Kings Cross.

RTFA. A brief glimpse of the ease and simplicity of urban beekeeping. And here I am revisiting the topic for at least the 3rd time in as many weeks.

My father-in-law hasn’t rolled in from the road, yet – but, he’s already emailed that he has ordered a book for me. Just in case I get round to getting serious about beekeeping.

Tracking evidence of The Great Dying

More than 251 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period, Earth almost became a lifeless planet. Around 90 percent of all living species disappeared then, in what scientists have called “The Great Dying…”

The world revealed by Algeo’s research sounds horrific and alien – a devastated landscape, barren of vegetation, scarred by erosion from showers of acid rain, huge “dead zones” in the oceans and runaway greenhouse gases leading to sizzling temperatures. This was Earth, 251 million years ago.

The more famous “K-T” extinction between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods – in which the dinosaurs went extinct – was triggered by a large meteoroid or bolide striking the Earth. The Great Dying, between the Permian and Triassic periods, has another culprit.

The Permian-Triassic extinction event is still not fully understood,” Algeo said. “It took some time, but it finally dawned on the geologic community that this was not caused by a bolide.”

Algeo and his colleagues from around the world are building a better understanding of the events that all but erased life from our planet. The work involves five principal investigators in addition to Algeo…

The evidence Algeo and his colleagues are looking at points to massive volcanism in Siberia. A large portion of western Siberia reveals volcanic deposits five kilometers (three miles) thick, covering an area equivalent to the continental United States.

“It was a massive outpouring of basaltic lava,” Algeo said. And, the lava flowed where it could most endanger life, through a large coal deposit…

“The eruption released lots of methane when it burned through the coal,” he said. “Methane is 30 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. We’re not sure how long the greenhouse effect lasted, but it seems to be thousands of years, maybe tens of thousands of years…”

“If there is a lesson to all this,” Algeo said, “it is a reminder that things can get out of whack pretty quickly and pretty seriously. We are used to a stable world, but it may not always be so stable.”

Another portion of the lesson reminds us that it takes significant material input to a system to result in this kind of destabilization. Not that nature – or humans – are immune from doing so.

Limoges feeds French nostalgia with a feast of organ meat

While the French may be renowned for their refined culinary tastes, they have another side. It was on full display this month in this city in central France known for its expensive porcelain but with another side of its own.

Limoges is also a city of butchers, and their annual festival, La Frairie des Petits Ventres, or The Brotherhood of Small Bellies, is a celebration of what Christine Travers delicately terms “products that we could never find in supermarkets.”

The festival was created with the idea of building interest in the meat products consumed by peasants in much older days. One local favorite is the Amourettes — literally, “the fling” — a dish of sheep testicles cooked in garlic, parsley and port.

Mrs. Travers had just finished a blood sausage sandwich and a piece of chestnut pie, and after washing it down with some cider, confided a closely held secret: it is the sheep testicles that draw her most of all.

“It melts in your mouth, and tastes like lamb sweetbread,” she said, as she made her way though a crowd of ecstatic seekers after delicacies prepared from tripe, lamb testicles, and the organs of lamb, veal and pigs.

The one-day festival starts in the morning with an open-air market, and closes in the evening with a religious procession. It is the excellence of the tripe that attracts hundreds of food lovers to the narrow Rue de la Boucherie, or butcher’s street, a picturesque medieval lane lined with half-timbered houses…

The Frairie des Petits Ventres was created in 1973 by Renaissance du Vieux Limoges, an association of preservationists and butchers who came together successfully to fight plans to demolish the old city center.

The butchers showed their commitment, they said, by putting up stalls outside their shops to sell cooked innards and local specialties. The Frairie des Petits Ventres quickly became a local institution.

Eating everything but the breath expelled at slaughter is a tradition born of economics. Only societies with abundance – or rather ruled by those with access to abundance – begin to forget utilization of every bit of consumables.

And though I have noted in other posts my dislike for blood sausage, I enjoy a few family recipes for heart, tongue and, of course, haggis.

$22M + Lockheed + Pentagon flunky = private spy network

A senior Pentagon official broke Defense Department rules and “deliberately misled” senior generals when he set up a network of private contractors to spy in Afghanistan and Pakistan beginning last year, according to the results of an internal government investigation.

The Pentagon investigation concluded that the official, Michael D. Furlong, set up an “unauthorized” intelligence network to collect information in both countries — some of which was fed to senior generals and used for strikes against militant groups — while masking the entire operation as a more benign information operations campaign.

The inquiry concluded that “further investigation is warranted of the misleading and incorrect statements the individual made” about the legality of the program, according to Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman…

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ordered the investigation after The New York Times reported on the existence of the network in March. The inquiry was carried out by Michael Decker, a top aide to Mr. Gates for intelligence issues…

Mr. Furlong, a senior Air Force civilian official, has been barred from his office in San Antonio for several months. The Air Force inspector general is conducting a separate investigation into the matter, to determine whether Mr. Furlong broke any laws or committed contract fraud.

Pentagon rules forbid the hiring of contractors as spies.

Mr. Furlong’s network, composed of a group of small companies that used agents deep inside Afghanistan and Pakistan to collect intelligence on militant groups, operated under a $22 million contract run by Lockheed Martin.

Furlong continues to have a successul career in what are termed “military-friendly” corporations and contractors.

In other words, that portion of the military-industrial complex that does the grunt work that leads to fatter contracts for corporations that profit the most from death and destruction.

God be praised! Mountain Dew moves to #3 spot!

Mountain Dew passes Diet Coke, becomes No. 3 soft drink in U.S.

PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew has been one of the strongest soft drinks in the U.S. for some time, thanks to edgy marketing and devoted fans.

Now it’s notched another victory, passing Diet Coke to become the No. 3 soft drink brand — behind Coca-Cola and Pepsi — over the first nine months of 2010, according to trade journal Beverage Digest. The data does not include Wal-Mart or the soda fountain business, which are both large in the U.S.

I love the comments on YouTube which felt it necessary to explain to us that they’re not singing about the soft drink. Har!

Woman gets one year for robbing the dead

A 30-year-old woman who pleaded no contest with her boyfriend to burglarizing the home of a Sonoma Valley family killed in a car crash was sentenced…to a year in the county jail.

Amber True of Redwood City also received five years’ probation for the Nov. 30 break-in at the home of John and Susan Maloney, who died along with their children, Aiden, 8, and Grace, 5, when they were struck by a teen motorist on Highway 37 three days earlier.

Judge Arthur Wick rejected a plea from prosecutors for a six-year state prison term, saying there was no evidence True and boyfriend Michael Gutierrez, 27, knew why the house was empty before they crept in through a doggy door…

Earlier this month, Wicked handed down an eight-year prison sentence for Guitierrez, a longtime drug user with a criminal record that dates back more than half his lifetime. Gutierrez was charged with committing the burglary while on probation for another felony…

Prosecutor Mike Li argued her recent sobriety should not be a factor in determining a sentence for the crime, which he said caused a great hardship for surviving family members.

Also, he questioned how True and Gutierrez could not have seen memorial bouquets and cards scattered around the house. Li said “it was highly improbable that they did not know something was amiss.”

Throw away the key.