Sunday, March 23, 2014

If you love bees...

 If you love bees... or eating food in general (without bees there would be almost nothing to eat, except maybe Soylent Green), then here's something you need to know about.

The bees are disappearing.  Even The Doctor knew it was important.  As weird as they are, bees aren't actually aliens (probably), but rather are a vital part of our ecosystem.  Not an ecosystem, but our as in the Human ecosystem that we depend on for survival.  Bees make the plants go happy (reproduce) which in turn participates to our breathing and eating abilities.  There are places in the world without bees, and they suffer.  It is unlikely that the amount of physical labour involved in living without bees could produce enough calories to sustain the population needed to produce that labour.

So basically, no bees quickly leads to no humans, or very few of us surviving, probably not you or me.  Even if we were only to loose the plants requiring direct bee intervention to stimulate their sexlife, then the other plants, the ones that don't need bees for all or any of their pollination would suffer.  Out of those plants we eat (or can eat) as humans, many of the ones that do not rely on bees, rely on human labour.  So reduction in food, leads to reduction in population, leads to a reduction of human labour... which will mean less food...  On top of that, the plants that don't require bees, do require plants that require bees for long term survival.  For example, bigger plants protect smaller ones from extreme weather and capture (and slow the release of) water, which limits the extremes the smaller plants need to endure.  Smaller plants die off quicker, creating better soil conditions, but they also have lovely root systems that are good for reducing erosion, protecting the soil from extreme temperature fluctuations... and so on ad infinitum.  No bees means a good chunk of that sustainable system is lost, which puts more stress on the rest of the system, which soon leads to less food for humans... It's more complex than many of these 'what if there weren't any bees' theories take into account.  We can extend the time humans survive through chemicals, however, it appears that this technique only works as a short term solution, and actually reduces the capacity of the land to support food growth over the long term... and, in theory, long term survival of our species should be important to us.

We need to do something about this.

Here's something:

This is a beehive.  What's really neat about it, and why it captured my interest is that it combines really old and really new technology together to create something more accessible and functional than the modern or ancient technology can do on it's own.

It's called an Open Source Beehive and it's plan is to provide a make your own, printable top bar beehive.  You use this mighty router table printing thing and special, bee friendly plywood to make a flat-pack hive that fits together like a piece of Ikea furniture.

Now I've been wanting a beehive like this for years.  I've even started building (not one, but) two.  Only things came up and the wood I had ready got used for other things.  It takes many tens of hours to make one of these things if you don't have the skills or tools (or in my case, neither).  So being able to 'print' a beehive in about half an hour or so, is fantastic.  I just need to find a router printer thing big enough.

The other half of this project is to monitor the health of the hive using a sensor.  This part doesn't interest me as much, I don't have wifi and cell coverage is poor here.  But for those of you who are interested in this, it attaches to the beehive and tells your smart phone (something else I don't have) if there are any changes in air quality or hive temperature.  It's really useful if you aren't talking to your bees daily.

This open source beehive project is currently in the crowd funding stage.  Basically they ask people to donate money if you believe in this project and want to support it.  You can donate one dollar or one million... they probably accept euros and yen as well.  If you go to the link and look at the right, at different donation marks, you get a reward.  The theory behind crowd funding is a lot like knitting.  Every stitch counts towards a sweater, every dollar donated adds up and make the project happen.

My motive for sharing this isn't just to rant about the importance of bees.  There is a method to my madness:

First, the crowdfunding only has a few days left and they aren't quite at their goal yet.  Even if you don't donate, maybe you could mention it to your bee loving friends.

Second, I'm searching for people in the local area interested in working together to make some of these hives, with the theory that if we buy in bulk, it gets the price down and when the bees arrive, we can support each other with advice and stuff.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tea Brick - what is it and how to use it

It looks like a back tile or tablet, beautifully carved with exotic designs.  But really it's just tea.

Alright, true, there is no such thing as 'just tea.'  Tea is a vital part of many people's lives be it the English Cuppa or a plant deeply steeped in Asian history.  This tea brick is no exception.

Created for easy transportation of an essential resource, and a trade currency, these tea bricks have a very important history.  One store I know calls this the 'tea of the nomads'.  These bricks are as beautiful as they are romantic.

I've been in love with the idea of these since I first saw them many years ago.  But whenever I came across one for sale I was too cowardly to take the plunge.  Lately I've had more food related courage, so when I this opportunity arrised, and there was this beautiful block of tea for sale a very reasonable price, I snatched it up.

For the first experiment with the tea block I got out one of my more exhotic tea pots (I'm a bit of a teapot hoarder, I should really do something about that, maybe later).  This one is shaped like a flower which I've never seen in real life, but I imagine it is the lotus so often described in poetry.  A special tea deserves a special tea pot.

I took a sharp knife and shaved some tea dust off one end of the tea block, put it in the tea pot and poured just off the boil water over the tea dust.  Just off the boil is basically bringing the water to a full boil, then taking it off the heat and leaving it several seconds until the water stops bubbling, before pouring it into the teapot.  I didn't want to risk scorching the tea incase it was green tea which loses some of it's deliciousness when the water is too hot.

The tea in this block is very much like what we call black tea in the west.  Only it has a lighter taste and texture to it.  Like a more delicate version of a cuppa.

The tea dust expanded in the water and sunk to the bottom, making it easy to keep most of the tea leaves in the pot, with just a bit leftover at the bottom of the cup for telling your fortune if so desired.  I saw an indistinct blob, not sure what that means for my future, perhaps new glasses?

So that's one way to use the tea block.  Here's a list of things I've thought up, some I've tried, some have yet to be experimented with.

  • Make some tea, mmmm, tea.
  • Use it as decoration or photography prop.
  • Make roasted tea - save off some dust with a sharp knife, toast it lightly in a dry fry pan, then make tea - haven't tried this yet, but hope to this morning.
  • Make butter tea or other yummy food with it.
  • Keep it in your emergency kit for when the zombies come.  This tea is a preppers dream.  So long as it stays dry enough, it will keep forever.  It's lightweight for the amount of tea, and great for replenishing people's electrolytes.  

I debated whether or not to write the last point, for fear that the demand for tea bricks would skyrocket.  Then I remembered only 4 people read this blog, so I think we're safe for now.

  •  Another way to make this tea is to shave it off, roast it, then grind it into an extremely fine powder to make a drink like match, only darker.  You take the powder and a little bamboo whisk.  You whisk the tea into the hot water until it's almost emulsified.  Difficult skill to master, to be sure.  But a delicious one nonetheless.  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

In Celebration

I had a certain something last week, so some friends of mine treated me to a very special cake to celebrate.

It's from Fol Epi, one of the few places in town I trust not to include wrong foods.  They make the most amazing things, like this devilishly divine raspberry chocolate cake.  They even mill their own flower there and  often donate the excess bran to local farmers.

What a treat to be able to eat yummy cake!