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Growing Veges is Not My Forte

I think the title of this post says it all. If you don’t believe the title, have a look at the pictures.

itty bitty veges

These vegetables are itty bitty.

Clearly, not my forte.

I’m very good at starting gardens. I’m just not so great at finishing them. Well, actually, the finishing isn’t really a problem either. I guess you could say it’s the middle bit – the maintenance – that defies my abilities.

I created my vege garden in the one spot available in my little yard that didn’t already have an established garden. I prepared it beautifully, planted seeds, added fertiliser and watered diligently.

garden - new

My freshly prepared garden, all ready for me to plant in.

I was very excited to find seedlings coming up.

butternut pumpkin seedling

Butternut pumpkin seedling.

I especially liked the pumpkin plants – they grew so fast! I’m very much an instant gratification kind of girl, so rapidly-growing plants really appeal to me.

young butternut pumpkin plants

Young butternut pumpkin plants.

The problem with gardens is you can’t just spend a few weeks taking care of them and then leave them. Which is inevitably what happens with me. It’s what happened this time. I watered and weeded very well until work went crazy and I started working stupid hours (like until 2am sometimes). Then sleep came ahead of weeding and watering, so the plants had to fend for themselves.

This happens to me every time I start a garden. Without fail. I knew this going in, so I purposely planted them in a place where they would get rain and sunshine so they could technically be a bit self-sufficient, and clearly the weeds had no problem growing, so they would be ok.

In fact, for a while, my veges were ok.

Then the pumpkin vines started to get white splotches on them (which one of my colleagues tells me was likely mould – apparently this is a common issue Queensland pumpkin-growers face). All the little pumpkins (except one) rotted. Something started eating the sweet potato leaves. The carrots and spring onions got lost amongst the weeds. The only thing that seemed to be hanging on was the nasturtiums.

Overgrown garden.

Overgrown garden, with the butternut pumpkin vines in the foreground, as they begin their descent into death...

I pretty much gave it up as a bad job.

But several months after planting, I came across the little notations I’d optimistically made in my diary: ‘Carrot Harvest!’ and things like that. So I thought it wouldn’t hurt to dig the little suckers up and see what was under the ground.

When I got down to the garden, I thought maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all. The carrot tops were long and green and lovely. Pity about the carrots underneath.

stunted carrots

My stunted carrots - lovely long green tops, miniature roots.

Diva politely sat by the veges to give you a better idea of scale.

diva and veges

Diva showing the vegetables to scale.

Yes, the carrots are about 3cm (just over an inch) long.

Tiny carrots and pumpkin.

Tiny carrots and pumpkin.

The lone butternut pumpkin – looking gargantuan beside the carrots – was about 12cm (nearly 5 inches) long.

pumpkin

My tiny pumpkin.

I also planted about 20 spring onions. They all died, except for one that grew to about the size of a chive.

spring onion

No, it's not a chive. It's a spring onion. Yeah.

I didn’t pick it.

The sweet potatos are still going, but they are very chewed up. The nasturtiums are battling on (like Xena).

The thing about my gardening is that every time I do it, although I suck at it, I always suck a little bit less. I learn something every time. I will know, next time, to plant my pumpkins in a much airier place, so they don’t get too damp. I will know that green tops on the carrots doesn’t mean the roots are making much headway. I will know that spring onions hate me: they don’t grow in pots on the verandah for me, they don’t grow in the garden for me… but I am going to find a place where they do grow. Maybe in pots out in the open.

I’d be interested in anyone’s opinion on how to stop whatever it is eating my sweet potato vine. I think I can still salvage it. I saw a shiny, flea-sized bug on a leaf once, but otherwise I haven’t seen any bugs or caterpillars or anything on the leaves at all.

On the bright side, even though my vege gardening this time around was a fail, I still got to eat the pumpkin.

El pumpkino

Tasty little pumpkin.

Yankee Elv cut it open and it looked just like a normal butternut pumpkin, just tiny.

cut open pumpkin

The pumpkin looked normal inside, just miniscule.

So she made me butternut pumpkin chips. They were a delicious little snack!

chips

Tiny little chips from a tiny little pumpkin. (Roasted and sprinkled with salt.)

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Wassup?

I haven’t been steadily posting recently cos I’ve either been busy or tired. Life has been interfering with my life! So here’s a snapshot (in hindsight, it’s more like a full school photo) of what’s been happening in the house of ELV.

The house of ELV (speaking of) is being sold – we have to move elsewhere. We don’t know for sure whether they want us to see out the lease for a few more months, or leave ASAP (although they can’t force us), but already plent of debate about buy vs rent has ensued. We’ve decided to rent again for now. So the house-hunting begins. I will miss our friendly neighbour even if he does kill passionfriut vines and can’t understand most of what I say. I already miss the duck at the other neighbour’s house – I don’t know what happened to cute little Mishka. I will also miss the sounds of the chooks over the back clucking away in the mornings. *sigh* I hate moving.

My butternut pumpkin vines are growing rampantly and have already started to flower (so pretty!). If we can stay for a few more months, I may get a pumpkin or two. Otherwise, the new owner will be feasting on the fruits of my labour.

I’ve been telecommuting up a storm, which has proved more enjoyable than I anticipated. I really thought I’d miss the camraderie of the office, but due to a combination of many of my chatty friends moving to other jobs and the use of collaborative technology to talk to my remaining friends, it has been pretty cool. I get more work done and my lungs enjoy the lack of air conditioning. I’m only going into the office once this week. Think how little the impact of my transportation is this week!

I read No Impact Man‘s book. I liked it, although it did get a little preachy at times, but only momentarily, then it went back to interestingly philosophical and funnily anecdotal at the same time. It took me back to when I first started reading No Impact Man’s blog a couple of years ago. I loved it and it inspired me no end. It was nice to feel that zeal again. A note though: why was it ok to tell the world that his wife used menstrual cups, but not share what he used instead of toilet paper? I’m not one for secrecy about bodily functions anyway, although I respect his choice not to expose everything, but isn’t that a bit of a double standard? (I shan’t stir up controversy by discussing what this double standard may indicate…).

My buddy went to Singapore and all I got were these two metal ear diggers. I only got them on the proviso that I blogged about them! Yankee Elv and I have both tried them. Apparently I have pretty clean ears, so nothing much is happening for me, although I’ve heard good things from others. Yankee Elv doesn’t get dirty ears at all (we’re not sure why, perhaps something to do with a lack of inner ear hair due to deafness?). She mostly uses cotton tips to itch the ear in which she wears her hearing aid. For this purpose, she tells me, the ear digger is a poor substitute – she can’t think of anything other than a cotton tip that will do the job, as she doesn’t like the hard, scrape-y feeling of the ear digger. Can anyone think of an alternative?

I’ve been reducing the amount of soy milk I’m consuming, since I’ve increased my intake of soy yoghurt and soy cheese as I’ve struggled through my first six weeks of veganism. I’ve been supplementing my soy milk intake with oat milk, and thought I’d do a little unofficial research into which is the best. Expect an oat milk review post coming soon.

Something is eating my sweet potato leaves. I thought it was a caterpillar, but I only saw it on them once. For a while I saw these shiny little bugs about the size of large fleas, but they seemed to disappear a week or so ago. Now they’re just holey leaves. What has been munching them?

I’ve decided before we move house, I am going to take cuttings of rosemary, pink frangipanis and jade plant. All three are growing brilliantly here and I don’t want to lose them. The grapefruits aren’t in season or I’d plant some seeds – the grapefruit tree really is prolific in its bounty and produces the most enormous, spectacular, juicy fruit. Alas, I think I shan’t be around to see it this year. Does anyone know if you can grow native ginger from a cutting? I’m sure we have some of that somewhere too…

I’m looking for a copy of Sharon Astyk’s Depletion and Abundance at the library as I’ve heard it’s good. I used to read her blog, but found it too heavy for my short internet attention span. I think I will like it better in book form. Unless I know the author or have read the book already, I try to get all my books from the library. What’s the point of wasting resources and space with a bazillion books you’re only going to read once? I like the books on my shelves to be old friends.

I’ve been trying hard to be a good vegan, and I think I’m mostly succeeding, but I haven’t always been able to keep a cheery face on. Now, you might think that a cheery face about veganism isn’t necessary, but I think it is when you’re talking about it with non-vegans. As a vegetarian, I always present the face of ‘gosh, I am supportive of everyone’s choices, and if you want to eat meat, that’s your right – but wow, vegetarianism is easy, tasty, fun, healthy, good for the environment… wow, it’s just so great!’. Yeah, that’s quite a face. I better hope the wind doesn’t change. However, I guess I didn’t have as many people to talk with when I first went veg, as opposed to now, when all my co-workers know and ask me how it’s going. They are all very supportive, but I find it hard to publicly keep my chin up on a day when I’m really missing cheese or chocolate – especially since these things are often to be found in our office! I think they all think I’m a bit of a fringey, fanatic weirdo – in a nice way, of course. Telecommuting has helped since I’m not around those foods so much, and so has Lindt Lindor’s 70% dark chocolate (I know it’s not Fair Trade, but one step at a time)… but still, I find myself feeling guilty over my inability to be perky, sunshiny vegan at work. Breaking the dairy addiction is hard – much harder than giving up meat was! Sometimes I think it’s too hard and I’m being mean to myself (after all, isn’t life about experiences? I like my experiences to be as pleasant as I can make them). I think maybe I could just get dairy sparingly, from a nice organic farm… but then I think of the baby cows, especially the bobby calves, and their poor mamas! I think the guilt I’d feel over that would surpass any nice feelings the cheese/chocolate/ice-cream gave me. And so I stick with it. Soldier on, you know. Codral hit the nail on the head with that one.

Yankee Elv and I went to the West End markets on Saturday. We missed out on Dagwood Dogs from Ykillamoocow, to our surprise. They normally start cooking them at 10am and this week they started at 7am, bowing to popular demand. Not my demand, I like a sleep-in! I got a pumpkin/barley roll (kind of like a vegan sausage roll, but one that isn’t trying to taste like herbed, minced animal bits. It was a tasty breakfast with the home-made tamarind sauce and the homestyle lemonade we bought. Plus I had a few of Yankee Elv’s Greek honey puffs for dessert, and a vegan melting moment (passionfruit cream, from The Bakery V stall). We also tried Hibiscus juice (gorgeous, tasted similar to sweetened cranberry juice), tapenade, local honey (also not vegan, I knooooow), pineapple chunks and more juice. We were quite restrained really. We got lots of stuff, including some things I haven’t tried before (parsnips and fresh olives, like, right off the tree kind of fresh). I also got a couple of plantains, which I think I’m going to use in a curry, plus lots of our usual kinds of veges/fruits. I loved going to the counter and paying tiny amounts; I paid 75 cents for the two most enormous carrots ever. I did not like going within a five stall radius of the feral seafood stall. We mightn’t eat fish, but Yankee Elv and I both grew up around seafood and I’m sorry, but if it smells like that then you do not want to be putting it in your body. Ew. We wound up the morning with a visit to Reverse Garbage, but didn’t buy anything. It’s fun just to look and imagine.

Only two of my spring onions have lived and they are tiny – I think they drowned in their wet little corner. From one extreme to another with them! I’ll try again at the new place. I can’t tell my carrots from the weeds, so I guess the new owner will be in for a surprise eventually…

The new Clem 7 tunnel is brilliantly fast, but apparently has tonnes (literally) more pollution that was originally estimated. I don’t know that the two air sucker towers (I can’t remember what they’re called! One is Jacaranda purple and the other is Poinciana red) are doing their job.

jacaranda

One of the Clem 7 air sucker tower things is the colour of the flowers on the Jacaranda trees.

Motorists have been advised not to wind down their windows in the tunnel because the pollution is so bad. We found this out after we spent 25 mins in a traffic jam in there, with the windows down cos our car has no air conditioning. This is why I like buses. The tunnel was very zippy outside of peak hours though, taking about 4 mins from end to end.

I’ve just remembered I haven’t hung out the wet sheets and blankets I washed, which made me think of the clothes line, which made me remember that all potential new houses must have a place for an under-the-house line. The list of requirements seems to be mounting.

And I have also realised that I’ve written a tonne! Clearly I needed a post like this. I started on the oat milk review yesterday and it just seemed to drag and things kept distracting me… sometimes I guess you need to just let it all flow out higgledy-piggledy.

Speaking of pigs (well, piggledy, close enough) – look!

edgar alan pig

It's Edgar Alan Pig from Edgar's Mission! He's so cute!

And that’s all I have to say about that.

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Spotlight: Natural Pest Control

Bugs are good. Really, they are. In compost, in nature, everywhere. It’s all cyclical, folks. Food web, circle of life – you know what I mean. However, they can be annoying, spread disease (think mosquitoes), painful, poisonous (think spiders), messy and generally a pain in the butt. I don’t think it’s an abnormal thing to not be particularly fond of them. However, I do think it’s not ideal to blitz them into oblivion with intensive pest control. It’s good to keep a balance. We spend so much time trying to avoid bugs in so many ways – how about some of the natural ways?

In the Elven household, we live in harmony with bugs by:

  • Sharing our house with geckos (they eat lots of bugs, but sadly our most common geckos are non-natives – even so, Yankee Elv loves them)
  • Letting lots of spiders live in our yard – mostly golden orb weavers (but not in the house, not in the house!)
A female golden orb weaver spider living outside our kitchen window.

A female golden orb weaver spider living outside our kitchen window. She moved along herself before we had to move her - she was preventing us from opening the window - but now she's back with her cronies over the front flower bed.

  • Stopping the cats from terrorising the local lizards, including blue-tongue lizards (they also eat lots of bugs)
blue tongue lizard showing tongue

A very pissy adolescent blue-tongue lizard bravely showing us his big, scary tongue. Pou had been trying to toy with him, but he was having none of it! We rehomed him under a bush.

  • Keeping all the windows open without screens during the day (only some of our windows are screened, so if we screen those that are and still keep the screenless windows open, bugs come in but can’t get out again – if you keep them all unscreened, they fly in one window and out the other)
  • Shutting all screenless windows and closing the screens on all screened windows at dusk (keeps out the mozzies, moths and Christmas beetles)
  • Keeping the interior lights off unless you’re using them (bugs are attracted to light)
  • Wiping kitchen benches meticulously after food preparation and rinsing all dishes after eating to keep off the ants (I’m still working on this one with Mr Teeny-bop)
  • Keeping all food in sealed containers or jars to remove temptation for the ants
  • Avoiding leaving still water lying around (mosquito breeding ground)
  • Keeping the lid on the garbage bin and kitchen compost containers to discourage flies
  • Using a cat food bowl with a moat to prevent ant swarms
  • Keeping pet food in sealed containers in the cupboard to prevent ants from gorging.

Our one concession to ‘unnatural’ pest control is flea treatment for the dog and cats – they are miserable without it.

This seems to mostly do the trick (although these darned red ants keep coming and trying to live in my bamboo plant). We really don’t have a bug problem – if you don’t count the critters in the compost, and the cicadas that are loud enough for even Yankee Elv to hear!

Do you have any other natural pest control tips?

blue tongue lizard, mouth shut

Blue-tongue lizards are quite cute when they stop hissing and poking out their tongues. This guy is still pretty mad though - he is all puffed up and flattened out.

[As an interesting aside, golden orb weaver webs are currently being studied in the hopes that something similar can be used in medicine to make things like sutures. The golden webs are so strong and flexible they are able to entangle small birds, although the spiders are not bird-eaters. At the moment, we have a golden orb weaver’s web holding up a tendril of the passionfruit vine.]

A passionfruit vine tendril held up by the web of a golden orb weaver spider.

A passionfruit vine tendril held up by the web of a golden orb weaver spider.

golden orb weaver - side view

Look closely and you can see the golden web!

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Composting Revisited

Well, I haven’t done anything with the compost yet, but I am planning on investigating it tomorrow. I asked around on one of the Livejournal communities I lurk on and found out:

  • The grubs are black soldier fly larvae, which apparently are very good for compost (some people use them purposefully for composting)
  • The spiders look like brown house spiders/cupboard spiders – related to redbacks but non-poisonous (except this site says they can be venomous!)
  • My compost may be too dry, too wet, not hot enough or not including enough brown matter, which would have created prime conditions for the larvae
  • The spiders are likely there to eat the larvae (which I’m not convinced of – those grubs are bigger than the spiders, quite a lot bigger).

I have options as to what I can do:

  • Turn out the compost onto the ground somewhere and let the birds make short work of the grubs and spiders
  • Leave the lid on and start a new compost pile outside – in about a year the compost in the bin should be fantastic and the bugs will be gone
  • Pour boiling water in the bin and kill all the critters, then continue with the composting
  • Leave the critters in there cos they’re super awesome for composting
  • Turn the compost thoroughly and try to get the balance better for composting without so many grubs (potentially burying food scraps in the middle of the bin to increase the heat as they decompose, which will keep the bug population in balance better)
  • Cover the compost in 2 to 4 inches of brown matter to discourage the bugs, which will, hopefully, discourage the spiders in turn.

I’m not sure which one I’m going to do yet. Suggestions? I like the idea of the birds going to town, but I am not keen to scoop everything out of there and spread it around on my lawn. The bin is under the house, so I can’t just leave the lid off and let the birds come to it – they can’t get to the bin. My gut is boiling water cos those grubs and spiders really kinda creep me out, but if they’re actually good for the compost, then maybe that’s not a good idea either! Maybe trying to work with the balance of the compost to at least keep the population down is the best idea…

I’m also a little scared of opening the bin and having a swarm of black soldier flies come out, even if they don’t bite or anything. I still don’t want them all in my face.

I’ve got to decide something soon; I have food scraps piling up…

P.S. Thanks to everyone who helped me over on Livejournal!

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Compost Alert!

This morning I went down to empty the weekly compost (from the ice-cream containers that sit in our kitchen) into the compost bin (which you can see here). The compost has been going for a few months now, no troubles, and I was thinking it might be nearly time to turn it.

However…

After I finished clearing away the spider webs around the general under-the-house walls/ceiling area with the end of the rake, I lifted the lid of the compost to find a bunch of these gross little grub things. They were all through the compost, like everywhere. They were not there last week. Sure, there were a few grubby looking things, but they were black or brown and they were not in these prolific numbers – I thought they looked like they were being helpful, so I left them. These new grub things kind of reminded me of a big pile of maggots, except they’re bigger, not quite so white and if you look really closely, they had something that was like little hairs on them.

grubs

Pile of wiggly grubs in my compost - are these supposed to be there?

Then I stopped looking too closely, because I realised there were a bunch of spiders all around the rim of the compost bin… spiders that looked a lot like redbacks. Now, my great-great-grandmother died from a redback spider bite, and I’d like to not add to the family history in that way. Not to mention, I’m a bit arachnophobic. Nothing severe, but I am the squealy, shrieky, stand-on-top-of-the-toilet-while-someone-chases-the-spider-outside kind of person. It doesn’t really go with my pseudo-tough genderqueer image, but there you have it. Spiders make me shudder.

compost bin spiders

Spiders around the rim of my compost bin. Little males and big mama! These kind of look like redbacks.

I felt very brave in going to get a camera to document the grubs and spiders, so someone can help me identify them and decide whether the compost is salvageable and if not, whether I can get rid of it myself or whether I need pest control. I ain’t messing with redbacks (or red house spiders or common house spiders or whatever they are… my google -fu is failing me in identification of the spiders, even though I forced myself to look at all these pictures of hairy, gross spiders).

compost bin spiders

A close-up image of the big mama and some little guys. The black thing at the bottom is a dead bug in their web, so don't worry about that. You can see the mama at the top has a huge abdomen, nearly the size of a pea. The males are considerably smaller. I think there might have been some smaller females too - they were kind of in-between sized. I looked at the mama to check the colour - she had a red-brown thorax and legs, but her abdomen was almost black. Where I would expect the red stripe to be though, there were white spots. I didn't look underneath her to see if she had the characteristic hourglass shape on her belly! My gut says atypically-coloured redbacks.

Here’s a video of the grubs and spiders. The video really helps you get an idea of the wiggly feralness of the grubs, but the spiders aren’t brilliantly in focus (I just used my still camera and it doesn’t allow me to re-focus in the middle of a recording). I have included some pictures (above, with descriptions), which also aren’t great, because the compost bin isn’t in the most well-lit position. My first instinct when I saw them was ‘redback!’, so I try to trust my gut.

So what should I do??

[EDIT next day: Jump to this post if you want to read what I have since learned about my creepy, crawly compost.]

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Meanwhile: Bug-free Gardening

What am I going to do about the bugs in my container garden?

They are these weird little flying critters that look a bit like fruit flies. I think they are the same ones that killed my herbs last time I tried to grow them. They hang around, looking innocuous and blending their little black bodies into the soil. Then they suck all the moisture out of the plants… like those creepy prehistoric bugs sucked the moisture out of people on The X Files! And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Or is there? Does anyone know how to get rid of these bugs? My basil is just a tiny bud, and my parsley and oregano aren’t even up yet!

Tiny baby basil.

Tiny baby basil.

And they’re lurking around my shallots (spring onions).

Little shallots, all in a row.

Little shallots, all in a row.

Strangely, they’re not bothering my onions and spinach.

No bugs by the spinach.

No bugs by the spinach.

Maybe it’s  because they’re out the back and the herbs and shallots are on the front verandah. The herbs were out the front last time too, but I made sure to scrub the pots and use different soil and I grew from seed rather than buy seedlings… and still there are the bugs!

I don’t really have room to plant companion plants (I already have nasturtiums, in a hanging basket), but I will find room if that’s the wayto fix it.

Nasturtium seedling.

Nasturtium seedling.

Anyone, ideas?

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Spotlight: Beekeeping

On Saturday morning, Diva Princess and I had some bonding time watching the bees outside the window. They were very busily collecting nectar from the little yellow flowers in the tree along the side of the house, which has just bloomed. The tree was covered with bees!

I’ve been thinking about bees lately. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about honey, and whether I should be eating it or not. I read a book on honey production last month, and I’ve done a bit of research on the net. Beekeeping is pretty environmentally friendly (aside from the debate over native vs imported bees… but I think the imported bees are here to stay, so I wonder if that’s a non-issue). Mostly comes down to whether I think it’s ethically right. Vegans are divided on the issue. Some eat it, some don’t. The vegans that don’t eat it say the vegans that do eat it aren’t really vegans. Yes, it’s very convoluted.

I don’t have a problem with mutually beneficial relationships with animals. I have pets. I take care of them, they hang out with me. If I had pet chickens, who laid unfertilised eggs (and they definitely would be unfertilised because you can’t have roosters in suburban Brisbane), would I eat them? No, I wouldn’t, cos I don’t like eggs. But Yankee Elv and Mr Teeny-bop would, and I would be cool with that. If I had a pet sheep that I had to shear in the summer so it didn’t get too hot, which is very likely in this climate – I already have to shave the dog for that reason (he hasn’t adapted from North American temperatures to Australian temperatures), would I spin and use the wool? Sure would, if I knew how to spin.

Just FYI, no, I don’t spin and use the dog’s fur. It smells too much like dog. But some people do.

My point is, I think if animals are treated like part of the family, living happy lives, then I’m ok with making use of any by-products, provided their use doesn’t upset the animal. In fact, I hope one day to live on a property with animals rescued from factory farms, and if they lay eggs or provide me with wool, then that works for me. So there’s that argument out of the way.

Diva Princess watching bees with me.

Diva Princess watching bees with me.

What’s the deal with bees, then?

For the most part, the bees just do their thing. It’s in a beekeeper’s best interests to keep the bees happy anyway, so they produce more. Plus, Queensland has some pretty strict regulations on beekeeping. The apiarist isn’t really stealing their honey either. Often they’re providing additional food for them to use to make the honey, so it’s kind of symbiotic, and the bees just keep making honey anyway. Unlike some areas of the northern hemisphere, the honey doesn’t need to be saved as food for a cold, barren winter. Queensland has flowers all year round.

The big problem would be the treatment of the queens. They are sometimes killed, or have wings removed so they can’t lead a swarm. Sometimes new queens are specially bred and brought in to replace old ones to reduce the likelihood of swarming, which has dire consequences for the original queen. Some bees are sent from one apiarist to another in the mail. The other bees aren’t always treated nicely either, but they tend to do these horrible things to each other, so it’s not like humans can help that.

So I guess what I need to do now is find out if there’s an apiarist who works with bees humanely, without doing anything to the queen or shipping bees in the post. If said apiarist works with native bees, so much the better… although it’s unlikely due to low rates of production. I only eat a little bit of honey, though…

Anyone know an apiarist like that, local to Brisbane?

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