Give the gift of bees

Imagine the looks on your friend’s faces when they open the box under the tree and out fly a brand new hive of bees!

OK, that is probably not a great way to give bees, but thanks to my sister-in-law Dawn’s gift to Michelle and I, we now know that there is a great way to do it: Heifer International. Following the old “give a man a fish…” adage, Heifer donates livestock and seeds to poor people in third world countries (and teach them to care for them) so that they can become self-sustaining. Even better, recipients of the gift must agree to pass along some of the offspring of their gift to others in need, so the goodness multiplies.

For a mere $30, you can give the gift of bees. Do it!

P.S. I always check out charities on Charity Navigator before giving to make sure the money is actually going to programs, not just fundraising and salaries. Heifer looks decent, with 75% of funds going to programs. Not as good as Room to Read, for example (87%), but pretty similar to OxFam (79%).


European Tour 4291What are those little white dots speckling the cliff wall of this sharp-cragged ravine? Bee hives, of course.

As previously noted, every man, woman and child in Europe is apparently a beekeeper, and there is nowhere we don’t find hives. These hives are improbably set to collect honey from the craggy barrancos (ravines) of La Gomera, but the more interesting honey, from a taster’s point of view, comes from higher up.

La Gomera is home to one of the last patches of laurisilva (laurel) forest that, prior to the last ice age, circled the entire Mediterranean. Set in the remote Macronesian archipelago, it is also home to a host of flora found nowhere else in the world. And where there’s flora, there are bees.

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European Tour 4410Always eager to taste the untasted, we bought a jar of Miel de Abeja de Laurisilva, honey made from the nectars of the primeval laurel forest. It has a warm, full, nutty flavor, complete on the spoon by itself, but equally happy to be mixed with hot water, chopped ginger and black tea. First rate, we’re toting a jar home. Get a spoon ready.

Honey is hot

Best as I can tell, every man, woman and child in Europe keeps bees.

No really, I just can’t get over how every store, every market, every roadside stand is loaded with twenty different kinds of locally produced honey, propolis, beeswax and what have you.

Hive Mind StickerLet’s take an example. Yesterday, Michelle and I were getting ready to dunk in Terme Di Petrioloi, some splendid hot springs (or terme, in Italian) a half hour south of Siena when a shabby looking guy comes ambling up to us with a basket full of…you guess it…his own honey and propolis for sale. We laughed and tried to explain in our broken Italian that no, we don’t want to buy any honey because we have our own hives and we are from the United States.  He is puzzled because by “broken Italian”, I mostly mean “speaking in simplified English and gesturing”, so I hand him one of our Hive Mind black-and-silver stickers and point back and forth between it and us.

He’s excited about the sticker (it’s pretty striking, kind of like a Batman – Dark Knight feel to it, if I do say so myself) and then I notice that the conversation has piqued the interest of the dreadlocked guy standing by a van right across from us. He looks curious about the stickers, so I pull another couple out for him and his girlfriend and try again, by waving back and forth between it and me, to explain that we are beekeepers.

Michele Busca ApicoltoreWell, wouldn’t you know it, but he’s a beekeeper, too (that’s his card to the left). I know! His partner, Frederica, spoke English well enough to facilitate our conversation, and it turns out that they have 35 hives over on the Adriatic coast of Italy, and have just popped over for a few days to enjoy the terme. They’re sleeping in their van and plan to head back the next day.

I didn’t get to taste their honey (who brings honey with them to hot springs?) but I did get to taste some their home made grappa, and if that’s anything to go by, I’m sure their honey was splendid.

The terme, too, was splendid. Rushing, clean, hot, hot water with a few different pools deep enough to submerge in. The rock was coated with greenish-white build-up of sulphur and other minerals which was odd to rub, because it had a porcelain-like smoothness to it, but at the same time, had a slightly soft, gripping quality of rubber. The smell was strong, but less like rotten eggs and more like burnt matches.

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In any case, despite seeing honey everywhere, I’ve resisted buying a bunch to bring back. I’ve only bought about five jars of various kinds of tasting (forest, wildflower, acacia, etc.) and received one jar (with saffron) as a gift from the beekeeper we bought the other small jars from when he found out we were beekeepers, too. The International Brotherhood of the Beekeeper lives!

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Honeycomb Vase

09_22_honeycomb_190honeycomb vaseThe New York Times’ year end magazine special “The Year in Ideas” is always full of treats, and this year is no exception. For obvious reasons, my favorite is The Honeycomb Vase. Using similar principles to my honeycomb sculpture and the belljar honeycomb, Tomáš Gabzdil Libertiny, a Slovakian product designer, created this beautiful flower vase out of honeycomb. Instead of putting an object into the hive and letting the bees build around it, Libertiny created a vase-shaped negative space and let them build into it.

Apparently, as a bonus, the anti-bacterial properties of beeswax help keep flowers fresher longer. On the downside, the vase is not watertight.

More photos of the vase at the Studio Libertiny web site.