Foiled you Woodpecker (I hope)!

Green Woodpeckers are a common ‘problem’ when it comes to keeping bees. As much as I want to protect our bees, it does seem a little mean to tease the woodpeckers with a larder full of tasty treats and then put a barrier up. However, that is what I have done. Both sites will be woodpecker proofed as I have found evidence of an old damaged hive at Barsham and the birds themselves have been seen at Flixton.

We toyed around with different options of minimising woodpecker damage – and ended up with the middle option of forming a barrier around the hives with rabbit wire. The cheaper option would have been to wrap thick black plastic around the outside, which may have an adverse impact on humidity inside the hive (although Hugh has used it successfully in the past). The more expensive option would be to form a cage out of rigid wire, probably the easiest to handle, but beyond our means at present.

Barsham was the first site to be done, it was nice to find the hives are situated in a winter sun trap (sometimes things do run to plan) and the bees were busy flying in the warmth. First of all I removed the feeders so I could bring them back to clean them. Incidently, the kitchen smells really good right now, the propolis is reluctant to come away from the feeders and is gently scenting the air from where they are sitting on the draining board. A little bit of summer. I wonder if any of the laundry liquid companies have ever thought of using it as a scent?

The rabbit wire was secured with canes, wire and tent pegs whilst the bees buzzed around. It was nice to be amongst them again, I wasn’t even worried about not wearing a jacket or veil. Gloves would have been good though – not because of the bees, but because I managed to give myself several wire cuts, one of which did bleed rather impressively.

BBKA (British Beekeeper's Association) annual survey

The results of the BBKA annual survey were released this week – the good news is that more people are keeping bees and being more involved with supporting bees. However, we will need to wait to see what survival rates over winter are. I have lifted the following from the BBKA website:

*50 per cent increase in the number of bee colonies in the last six months
*four times the value of BBKA members’ honey harvests goes to the economy through pollination
*5,000 members of the public sign up to lend their support as ‘armchair’ beekeepers

The British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA) estimates that each of the beehives kept by its members contributes four times more to the agricultural economy through pollination than the value of the honey received by the beekeeper. The findings come from the charity’s first countrywide survey of its members’ honey harvests released today, 28th October 2010.

The value of pollination provided to the agricultural economy by each hive has been estimated at more than £600 per hive.**

Speaking at the opening of the National Honey Show, Martin Smith, BBKA President, said: “It is extremely encouraging that our members have produced more than three and a half million*** jars of honey this summer – that’s more than a third of all the nation’s home-produced honey.

“We estimate that beekeepers have also increased the number of their bee colonies by 50% – up to 120,000 from 80,000 in March.****

“This summer too 44 per cent of beekeepers kept one or two hives which of course reflects the 40 per cent increase in people taking up beekeeping. With 5,000 ‘armchair’ beekeepers through our Adopt a Beehive scheme, public support is making a difference too”

Mr. Smith continued:
“The test of whether beekeeping in the UK is still improving however will come when we survey the number of hives which survive the coming winter.

“But let’s not forget the £200 million contributed by honey bees through pollination and the resulting increased crop productivity.”

The current membership of the BBKA at just under 20,000 shows a near 100 per cent rise in the last three years coinciding with the huge public interest in bees and beekeeping.

The survey showed that while members on average have been keeping bees for just under 10 years, just over 40 per cent of the respondents had taken up the craft in the last 2 years only.

Beekeepers in rural areas tended to have kept bees longer at 10 years, than those in urban areas at five years whilst 42 per cent of rural beekeepers reported increased honey output compared with just 34 per cent in urban areas.

** Calculated on the £200m annual value of pollination provided by the estimated 270,000 hives in the UK
*** Based on 120,000 hives producing 32 lbs of honey.
**** Figures from winter colony survival survey, published 24 May 2009-10

Chips and Kebabs – Biodiesel

This is an amended version of my post on This Low Carbon Life (Transition Norwich blog) from yesterday, day 3 of our Waste Week.

The lorry pulled up outside the kebab shop in Beccles and I saw the words WASTE VEGETABLE OILS, (or similar, I didn’t have my camera handy), Great Yarmouth Council and J & H Bunn on the side. As Sustainable Bungay were waiting to pick up a still for our co-operative Transition Biodiesel project and we’d just planned a waste week on the TN blog, I went over and introduced myself to Ray Harding. This was in August.

I told Ray about Sustainable Bungay and Transition Norwich and our moves towards a low carbon life. I also said that whilst I’d reduced waste hugely in my own life, I knew next to nothing about what happened to waste oil and fats on a bigger scale in the catering industry.

I’d found the right man. Ray has worked for over thirty years (first in Germany and now in East Anglia) collecting waste vegetable oils and fats from restaurants, residential homes, school canteens and kebab shops, for conversion into biodiesel. At present he works for J & H Bunn, a fertiliser company based in Great Yarmouth, whose vehicles run on biodiesel and who produce some organic fertilisers.

Here is a distillation (sic) of what I learned:

This production of biodiesel from waste vegetable oil and fats has nothing to do with the ethanol made from crops like rapeseed and corn. The waste oils and fats Ray collects are taken to Viehouten’s huge processing plant in Holland, which produces 1000 tonnes of biodiesel a week from them. This is then sold on to Shell for use in transport.

In England some vegetable oil waste gets made into commercial biodiesel, but not the solid fats, which all go to the continent. In Germany and Holland these solid fats are used to produce ‘Summer Diesel’.

“Biodiesel is dying a death in England,” said Ray, “because the tax on it is so high. Over the years, it’s climbed from 0% to what it is now, 35% + VAT.”

So the business goes to Holland. Oil companies make only a few pence profit per litre of ‘conventional’ petrol here (because of the high tax), but can afford it because of the amount they produce. But it’s not worth their while making biodiesel. It struck me as a Transitioner that an awful lot of potential business is leaving the local economy here.

A huge quanitity of waste oil and fats get poured down the drain and create serious blockages in the water system. Ray had been running presentations along with Anglian Water about solutions to this problem and was featured in an article last Wednesday’s EDP (20th October, p.21).

Ray was concerned that anyone could now make themselves 2500 litres of biodiesel a year, partly because the resultant glycerine and fatty acid residues from the distillation process would also be poured down the drain. But with petrol at almost £1.20 a litre as opposed to 30p or so for homemade biodiesel, the financial attraction is clear.

I said we’d discussed the byproducts in Sustainable Bungay and jokingly added we were taking a very Permaculture approach to the whole project, doing the research, finding our ground. I had originally got very excited about the prospect of making herbal glycerine soaps, and in the space of one meeting I’d built up a whole social enterprise in my head selling high-quality locally produced ex-vegetable oil waste glycerine skin cleaning products with organic home-grown herbs which were being sold all round East Anglia… I WAS Monsieur Le Parfumier!

Only it wasn’t going to work out quite like that. For a start making something that wouldn’t take the first layer of your skin off would require further processing.

So now we have the Biodiesel still in Kris’s garage. Next is a group visit to someone in Aldeburgh who already has one up and running. Then who knows? A community biodiesel car club? A community van? Watch this space!

For info on Sustainable Bungay’s Biodiesel project click here

Pics: Filtered Waste Vegetable Oil from Wikipedia Public Domain; Another Mark’s Fish and Chip Shop, Southwold by me

Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air

David J C Mackay  (2009)

A spectacularly well organised and revealing book. It pulls no punches in outlining the problem of (re)creating a sustainable energy sector.

We are taken through various chapters on modes of energy production and consumption, building a stack of quantities on each side. Then asked questions about how the resulting energy equation might be made to add up.

It means change. If we all do a little, the overall result is a little! And the conclusions are not pleasant for anyone concerned about energy security. Basically, there is no easy answer to maintaining (yet alone growing) global energy use.

Cutting consumption is clearly important, as is a mix of energy sources. Localisation will help in many ways (shortening supply/transport chains and reducing transmission losses for example)

Any book of this scope is bound to refer explicitly to the climate crisis in seeking low-carbon solutions, but it seems to me the author has been true to his intent of being apolitical. And objective. A scientific approach if you will.

The curious reader, wishing to gain a broad technical understanding of energy issues, will learn a great deal. And the depth of analysis in chapter notes and appendices suggest it will be an ideal textbook or sourcebook.

The Summit and the Cellar

Just as I wouldn’t have chopped firewood before I joined Transition, neither would I have spent all day at the Waveney Rural Summit in Bungay’s Fisher Theatre listening to people talk about local businesses and social enterprise. And three years ago I definitely would not have been co-leading a Sustainable Bungay Transition workshop with Josiah, Charlotte and Nick on Transport and Economics and Livelihoods.

Local transport? Mine was a plane to Spain.

Upstairs in the theatre VC Cooke Ltd., a waste management company, (who supplied the soil for our Bungay Library Community Garden), talked about their zero waste policy, Suffolk County Council about bringing fibre optics and faster broadband to rural areas and the Suffolk Foundation about helping set up social enterprise grants. The Fisher Theatre Youth Group showed a DVD of their productions and local Tory MP Peter Aldous presented community awards and told us he ‘believed’ in the Big Society. But first we have to climb a brick wall, he said.

Meanwhile down in the cellar, it was several degrees cooler than everywhere else. That’s where we held our grassroots Transition Workshop. It began to warm as Josiah spoke about Transition as a people-led response to the interrelated realities of Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic instability, and what Sustainable Bungay as a Transition group has organised, from a food conference, Growing Local!, to our Give and Grow Seedling Swap, to Bungay Community Bees. Charlotte introduced the 63 patterns, now called ingredients, which make up a Transition initiative, and which range from individual actions (Standing Up To Speak) through outreach and scaled-up community projects (e.g. CSAs) to engaging with national government.

Splitting into two groups we discussed how Transport, and Economics and Livelihoods might look in the future. Charlotte’s group talked hitchhiking, biodiesel, insurance and car clubs. Several transport activists of a certain age had already set up community bus services in Bungay, though some schemes had not worked because people wanted to travel when they chose. In a future of leaner energy and less money, we would have to be more flexibile with time and more willing to share space.

In Economics and Livelihoods we discussed the need to create more local jobs and services. The whole mindset of passive consumption is going to be challenged in the coming times, and we’ll need to be more directly involved in the fabric of our everyday lives. For example, a social enterprise could deliver locally-produced ‘tiffins’ to homes and offices and also teach people to engage in food production from growing to cooking. To be more aware of where our food comes from, more engaged in the business of life. This would have real, positive benefits for our physical, emotional and mental health.

We were still happily discussing when lunchtime came and no one seemed to be in a hurry to leave the cellar. As Josiah and Charlotte summed up the workshop in the theatre upstairs afterwards, I became aware of one ingredient which marks a lot of our Transition events and activities. It was upbeat. We were speaking for a new time.

Pics: Waveney Rural Summit; Josiah talks about Transition in the Cellar; Charlotte Sums Up Transport in the Theatre


(I first published this post in a slightly different form on the Transition Norwich blog on Saturday 23rd October.)

Lolly Sticks Abound

First of all, I have to admit to being a little lazy and reaping the benefit of other’s hard work. Over the past two weeks myself and some friends have been enjoying planting spring bulbs in the Library Courtyard Garden with pupils from Bungay Primary School. If the library courtyard team hadn’t made such a good job of creating a space for me to do that in I would probably have spent those crisp, bright days doing chores at home. So thanks all!

After an initial muddle with the first class we got much slicker operationally – which meant we could spend longer with each child choosing a spot, looking at the bulbs and showing them a picture of the flower their bulb will grow into. The children were all enthusiastic, although some were rather more keen on directing than grubbing around and others dove right in hands (thankfully not heads) first. Each of the five classes has their own ‘patch’ and the children wrote their names above that of the bulb on a lolly stick marker before poking it into the soil. Consequently, lolly sticks abound in the beds – rather gruesomely described as looking like a ‘dollies graveyard’ by one of the team (who shall remain nameless).

As both bulb type and position was largely down to choices made by the children, the original planting scheme went out of the window early on. However, some beautiful flowers were chosen by the Library staff (purchased via donations) and should ensure a riot of colour next spring. Apart from the lavender bed which has only Alliums planted in it, Hyacinths will intermingle with Narcissus, Chinodoxa, Anemones and Fritillaria amongst others. When they visit the library in the spring the children will be able to identify the one they planted and hopefully bring their families in to enjoy the space as well.

As the school have not yet given clearance for photo’s of other pupils they have not been shown – but watch out for some in a few weeks time.

Babbling about Bees

At the beginning of October I (Gemma) hosted The Beccles Ladies Probus Club at The Willows Cafe for a talk about the bee project. Out of 20 ladies, there was one who had been a beekeeper in the past, everyone else hadn’t seen the inside of a hive so were interested to see how it was made up and works, this was coupled with learning about the Bungay Community Bee Project and how it works as a CSA.
The ladies are sponsoring a Christmas tree in Beccles and as a result of the session will be decorating it with handmade bees!

Reflecting on the first 'new' Green Drinks

First published on the Transition Norwich community blog ‘This Low Carbon Life’ these are Charlotte’s reflections on the first of the new format Green Drinks:

A Lifeboat moment

Last night 25 people gathered in a downtown pub in a market town in the East Anglian borderlands. It was Tuesday night and raining cats and dogs and the pub was almost empty. The backroom however was full: heads were craning forwards to tune into the mood of the moment. The big cuts were about to be announced (at 12.30pm today) and the Sustainable Bungay sub-group on Economics and Livelihoods was about to be launched.

“We need to learn skills with working together, said Gary Alexander who had been invited to share insights about visioning a sustainable community outlined in his booklet, Sustainable Diss. Here is the Good News, he said and outlined what the town c.2030 had achieved and how people only got into exchange and relocalisation when they had no other choice. When we discussed our imminent future we were sharing the Bad News. Wheat will go from £150 to £700 a tonne in 10 years, said Glenn, a farm manager, and filled us in on how tractors now use more fuel, so that carbon emissions can be reduced. David told us from his experience in Africa how it takes two years to reskill a community to do small-scale farming. Cathy “in the spirit of the gift economy” brought some chard from her garden to share.

“Are you coming to our Apple lunch?” asked Netta from Sustainable Beccles.

“If the exhaust hasn’t fallen off the car!” I laughed, and thought about the cost of petrol and how hard it’s getting to travel from place to place.

It’s difficult to see how we can effect change in our economic structure, not just because we lack financial or political power, but because we have been distracted for aeons from looking at the truth of the matter. We prefer ideas to reality. We like to handle facts as if they are our property and preside over them like CEOs. The fact is we are small and the iceberg that looms before us is large and invisible and the best response I can think of right now is what I was doing one hour earlier in Josiah and Elinor’s kitchen, mapping out our Transition workshop alongside Iris (almost one) eating a biscuit, playing swords with Reuben and Tristram, and chopping up some (local organic) veg for dinner.

It’s cold outside, but in the kitchen it felt good. We were all in Transition together, and that counts in ways you can’t evaluate on any form. The pub was warm too, but disquieted.

“490,000 public sector jobs are going to be axed,” said Josiah by the bar as he invited us to debate the issues around small wooden tables. What were we going to do as a community to build an infrastructure, to give each other a hand, to start up small enterprises within a hostile atmosphere?

He brought a paper by Tom Crompton (WWF) to our attention. Common Cause: The Case for Working with Our Cultural Values :

“The values that must be strengthened – values that are commonly held and which can be brought to the fore – include: empathy towards those who are facing the effects of humanitarian and environmental crises, concern for future generations, and recognition that human prosperity resides in relationships – both with one another and with the natural world. Undoubtedly these are values that have been weakened – and often even derided – in modern culture. They are not, for example, values that are fostered by treating people as if they are, above all else, consumers. But they are values that have an ancient and noble history within Western thinking, and they still fundamentally inform much public debate. They are there to be activated and strengthened. We believe that everyone – individual citizens, civil society organisations, government and business – can play an active role in strengthening them. Indeed, they are values that must be championed if we are to uncover the collective will to deal with today’s profound global challenges. “

The problem with this case is not its premise, but its position. We are used to seeing the bigger picture from the outside with our minds rather than from within the situation with our actions. You, stupid human, what a mess you have made! You wrong people need to do this and that. Change your behaviour! Shift that consciousness!

No matter how intelligent or visionary or noble our words, we remain above the situation. We’re not in the thick of it, saying how it feels, speaking as one of those stupid humans who have been trained to think that how we live is normal and OK and “civilised”. We’re not seeing that when our assumptions are challenged we either start commanding the idea of reality (“Pepsi and ASDA now say our agriculture is unsustainable”) or start inventing happy endings for ourselves.

Somewhere in our scaredy-cat minds, we’re thinking . . . any minute now the cavalry will come and I’ll be rescued. I’ll win the lottery. Someone I don’t know will sponsor me, pay for me, let me off the hook. I’m thinking one day I’ll be able to go back to America, to Mexico, my books will sell, I’ll wake up one morning and my bones won’t creak anymore. One day everything will be all right. And even though the world is crashing around our ears and I know my agent won’t call and I’ll never be able to fly or put my legs over my head again like Iris, I’m holding out somewhere. We all are. And that somewhere isn’t here in the room.

This is it. We are the people we are waiting for.

When I woke up with this morning I realised. Those Titanic thoughts have to go, or we won’t make the lifeboat. Gotta get real.

Poster for Green Drinks: half a cider at the Green Dragon; Cathy’s abundance of chard and damsons at the Library Community garden; discussing the future