Monday, February 20, 2012

The Bee's Knees

Hello once again from Andalusia,

Me and the beehive!

I'm currently writing from my office here in the passengers seat of la Galvez, parked next to my friend Hector's house, below his terrace and patio with beach views here in El Pelmar. The waves of the Atlantic ocean are crashing onto the beach and the Sun is glaring into the window, due to the magnifying effects of the van window, my office is even solar heated. Life continues to be good to me.
Ramon and the tower of beehives, all to be cleaned and sorted.

After our initial arrival to the area this past week, Ramon and I have more or less settled into the swing of things at Daniel's house in La Muela. As I mentioned previously, Daniel is currently turning his land into a queen bee rearing center, and we arrived just in time to lend a needed hand.

A surprise in a box. The mouse turned the beehive into a home.
While Daniel was in Chili the previous 6 months spending time with his big time Chilain Apiculture Uncle, his beehives went unattended to, and as a result require a but of attention in order to recuperate. Just as moths venture into the humidity of the wardborbe  and slowly eat away at our clothes during winter months, these fine insects do the same inside the beehives. Attracted to the moisture of the wax left behind after the last of the honey harvests of the fall and winter months, the moths procreate and lay their eggs, while each cocoon slowly eats away the pine wood consisting of the beehive boxes. Their cacoons are stronger than they look and the beginning of the beehive preparation process begins by knocking them loose, scraping them as well as the remaining bits of Propolis (tree resin collected by the bees and mixed with their saliva to be used as a glue, heat retainer and antibacterial within the hive) off of all surface areas. The 10 panels within the hive are also separated from the main box and the boxes are inspected and separated according to their condition.
View from the office.

The physical work only leads me to more curiosity into the world of bees, and in addition to asking every question that comes up, Daniel has offered me his extensive but concise library of spanish language beekeeping books. I have spent the past week familiarizing myself with the livlehood of the bees, their behaviour as well as products. As nature's pollinater the worker bee (non egg laying female bee) ventures up to 3 km away from its home in search of pollen and nectar filled plants. Through a very cleaver kick action of the back legs, the worker bee picks up and stores a grain of pollen on each of its side legs in order to bring back to the hive. Back at this hive, the Pollen is stored alongside the egg laying area, and used to feed the growing larva. Meanwhile the nectar is collected by the tongue of the bee and carried back to the hive in its stomach. While in it's stomach the nectar mixes with natural enzymes of the bees, including fructoses, and when the bee returns home, the nectar mix is regurgitated and passed on to a fellow worker, before being packed, covered and stored into the hexagonal wax cell they call home.
I love the uniform!

Inside the beehive the Nurse Bee, the other non egg laying female bee, between her 3rd and 10th day of life,  is responsible for feeding royal jelly, the vitamin B rich substance produced in their hypofaringic glands, to all larva in their first 3 days of life, as well as the Queen bee for her entire life. Here I might add that the Queen bee does nothing more than eat Royal Jelly and Lay Eggs. Not Bad.

A healthy panel full of Larva, and Pollen

Anyways, this is the basic breakdown on the action between the hives, and I continue to by amazed by their simplification of such a complex task. Each hive has between 60,000 to 100,000 members, and due to the Queen bee's gluttony the worker bees split and organize the work between themselves. I won't go too much into the detail in their communication, but between the vibrational frequencies sent between their hind legs, their precise abdomen shakes used to indicate the direction of a plentiful harvest, and their 5 multi-directional color perceiving eyes, the bees have a sensational  system of organization.
Bees dancing out side their front door

Thursday, we went up to Daniel's office which happens to be bluffside with a spectacular view of the beautiful coastline, where he is actively recuperating 30 beehives. Dressed in the full bee suit, Ramon, Daniel, and I inspected the state and development of each of the hives. Early Spring is the time that the bees are growing their family so we focused on inspecting the state of their development. We took note on the quantity of panels filled with larva and depending on their production, altered the order of the panels within the hive or substituted an empty panel for honey. Because it is early in the season and the bees are in a period of recuperation we had the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with just about every stage of bee larva development.

Inspection time.

Eucalyptus clearing.

Our bee time has been shared between forest clearing work, and once again Ramon's Chainsaw skills as well as forestal work have come in hand. In order to clear space and open the land up to more sunlight we have taken down quite a few Eucalypti, Arizona Pines, Cedars and wild Olives that have overgrown the space. As a result of our wood clearing work, our week has been filled with the 3 stages of warmth, cutting, hauling and then burning the fruit of our labor in bonfire form. Which of course just isn't the same without chocolate, graham crackers, and marsh-mellow roasting on a stick, though I am still trying to find a way to introduce this to the Spanish people

South African Cave drawing.

Spanish Cave drawing.
La Galvez is in top form, and my list of sewing projects is
happily growing!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Hello from Andalusia

My life is like a story book, and I am doing my best to keep it that way. 

Good Bye Madrid
After a successful stay in Madrid, Ramon and I have made our way to Andalusia, the south of Spain. We spent the month of January apovechando (the concise Spanish word for saying to take advantage of) a great apartment in Madrid, and ended our stay with a fresh coat of white paint for all the walls. We simultaneously uploaded photos and a description of the apartment onto the World Wide Web, and were instantly visited by a plethora of perspective apartment renters. Ramon says that he got a little tired repeating the same details over and over again, but I continue to think that it was a great way to meet many interesting people.    

Anyways we did the best we could with the rental process and finally tore ourselves away from the city in order to prepare The Galvez, our beloved, 4 gear Serbian Modified van for her continuation south. We spent the week staying in San Martin de la Vega with Ramon's mother Daniela, constructed pull out boxes that fit under a fold up bed, installed a full service cooking unit, and mounted a fine piece of Serbian Art. Like most tasks shared between Ramon and I, the project offered us an opportunity to practice our patience as well as ability to listen. When both are done well, we call this communication.

Daniela overlooking my carpentry work.
 Though a bit resistant at first, by the end of our 7 day stay of sharing our company as well as failed food recipes, on my part that is, as Daniela is officially not a fan of sweet potatoes and the Serbian white bean recipe was a failure due to toughness of the skin (which could be a result of old beans or the lack of soaking time), she warmed up to us, and even donated 28 square meters of strong durable fabric, to the pull out roof tarp we continue to prepare. We collected the rest of our things in Madrid, I bought one of my favorite chocolate palmeras (the best cookie in town), and we showered before taking off to Grenada!

Palaces of Water.
The View of Granada from the Royal Gardens in La Alhambra
We arrived in the evening and parked aside La Alhambra, the first Arabic Castle in Andalusia. We once again spent the day losing ourselves in the rich diversity of the area. Surrounded by Eucalypti, pines and many other coniferous species I failed to verbally comprehend from Spanish to English, the surrounding area at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains offers a paradise of nature. In 1237 Muhamed the first Al-Ahmar, arrived to Andalusia and was immediately attracted to the access of Water. Something most of us take for granted, but at the basic level of our well being, is essential. He was the first of many inhabitants as well as artists to create the architecturally beautiful space we now recognize as La Alhambra, and as I like to see it, all in celebration of water.

Olives, Olives and more Olives
We caught the sunset on the freeway  and spent the night camped in Grazalema National Park heading south towards El Peurto de Santa Maria. Two and a half years ago I made my way to Laos searching for my passion in life, and stumbled across a Gaditano man mid-way through the construction of an adobe house in a small village outside of Vang Viene. I spent a month working alongside him and other travelers passing by, and after his departure decided it was only right to carry the project through. I stayed for another 2 months animating the construction with all those around, as well as assimilated myself into the local culture. An amazing experience to say the least and a contact worth hanging on to. Pedro and I were in contact the previous year when I arrived to Andalusia in search of beekeeping, and this time he invited Ramon and I to spend a few days at his house. As it turns out, Pedro has mounted an organization of Sustainable Tourism Routes and invited us to collaborate with him. We left his and Anchax's place with work, and are now officially preparing the information for our interactive educational caravan in route to Burkina Faso.
Welcome to the Abyss of beauty in Andalusia.

I continue to believe that everything happens for a reason, and our arrival to Cadiz and the amazing Casa Caracol, the hostel where I lent a hand last year, was no exception. Nico, the owner of the joint, spent the past 2 weeks building beautiful wood bunk beds, which also happened to weigh at least 50 kilos, each side. We arrived just in time for their installation. Due to the style of the 1900's architecture, the tall and narrow buildings required using a pulley system operated from the roof top in order to lift the furniture from the street, up and through the window. Ramon was able to put the cords that we carry with us in the van as well as his tree climbing knots to use, and over the course of the 5 hours spent tying, lifting and unloading the recently finished furniture to its appropriate place in the hostel, we had the opportunity to catch up with all the beautiful people in my favorite city of Cadiz. There’s nothing like a little team work to bring people together.

View looking up, this was the trial run,
we soon after replaced the platform for
well tied knots directly on the furniture.
We haven’t stopped moving the potato since our arrival, and after a successful pair of days in Cadiz we made our way to La Muela, where my friend Daniel is turning his house in el campo (rural house) into one of Spain’s only queen bee rearing centers. We spent the night sharing stories in front of the fire, and catching ourselves up to speed and the morning, stretching, chatting and playing accordion in the beautiful sunlight. Daniel has a long list of work to take care of in order to prepare, and it seems that Ramon and I have arrived at just the right time to lend a helping hand.

Needless to say I am very excited about my return to Andalusia…

Oh, and I forgot to mention, Carnival is just around the corner...