The importance of bees in organic agriculture
from my garden
Bees started to build their bee house in my bougainvilla plant – 2005
The importance of bees in organic agriculture
Michael Weiler considers the value of bees in organic agriculture
Honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) keeping reveals a long-standing relationship between humans and insects. Honeybees are of vital importance to the landscape they live and fly in. They increase the diversity of the flora, which subsequently increases the diversity of insects and herbivorous animals and even soil fertility. It is well known that the quality and quantity of blossom flowers are increased when pollinated by insects, especially by bees. The effect of pollination by bees becomes particularly noticeable where fruit is grown for human consumption.
The objective of organic agriculture is the sustainable cultivation of nature, that is the landscape, soil, plants and animals. In addition, respectful social relationships between humans are encouraged. The benefits of such practice are numerous: on the one hand, foodstuffs of highest quality are produced, on the other hand, nature, the basis for life on earth, is developed sustainably. This objective of organic agriculture is significantly enhanced by the presence of bees.
Bees and life
A bee hive can produce between 150,000 and 350,000 bees per year, depending on the landscape and climatic zone it lives in. The bee venom of one hive amounts to approximately 45-100 grams (0.3mg/bee).
However, only a few bees will ever sting in their short lifetime of six weeks. Bees spend their lives flying from one plant to the next collecting nectar. While doing so, they automatically pollinate the flowers and distribute some of their revitalising bee venom to the plants and landscape. Both pollination and revitalisation through bees enhance the fertility and regenerative capacity of plants. Dr. Rudolf Steiner often referred to this link in his lectures on bees.
Organic beekeeping in practice
How can a bee colony be managed in practice to comply with the objectives of organic agriculture, while ensuring the welfare of bees?
First of all, beekeepers have to respect the bees way of life. They have to be enthusiastic about working with bees, but also be willing to face problems that may occur. Next, the necessary time and materials have to be readily available. Bees do not articulate themselves when in need, and are more inclined to ‘die in silence’. For bees to survive, expert human care is necessary, especially in the so called ‘modern’ regions of the world. The hives and other equipment, should be made of natural, untreated, material and no poisons should be used in the management or treatment of the bees themselves.
When honey is collected enough should always be left with the bees so that they do not have to be fed with sugar during the winter. If however, circumstances make it necessary to provide sugar as little as possible should be used, and where feasible some of the bees own honey should be added to the sugar solution to improve the quality of the feed. Harvested honey should not be heated as it causes the quality of the honey to deteriorate. Light and heat also increase the aging of honey.
Michael Weiler works at the Biodynamic Institute in Germany and has kept bees for twenty years.
Biofach sets new records
Once again the organic business world come together in February for the 11th Biofach fair in Nurnberg. With 1,725 exhibitors and 25,000 professional visitors new records were set for this unique and world-leading organic fair. IFOAM was again the patron of the event, a role that includes a major involvement in the conference programme. Apart from general cooperation in the conference programme, IFOAM also organised a number of international seminars on topics that are particularly relevant to the organic movement. Among the theme covered were:
- The roles of local markets and regional marketing
- The social agenda of trade and organics
- Fair and slow – three pillars for a common roof?
This year the “Focus Country” was the United Kingdom with its booming organic market.
IFOAM’s President, Gunnar Rundgren, gave a well received speech during the opening session. The opening ceremony was highlighted with a challenging presentation by the newly appointed German Minister of Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Ms Renate Kunasst from the Green Party. It is a remarkable fact that te first time a German minister of agriculture had paid a visit to the Biofach fair. However, Renate Kunast certainly made up for this and impressed everybody, not only with her strong support of organic agriculture, but also because of her clear and radical analysis of the today’s situation in conventional farming, “That era of industrial farming is at an end”. But she left no doubt that this will only be the case if we are prepared to pay more for food and accept her slogan ‘Quality instead of Quantity’. She also reconfirmed her commitment to work towards 20% of German farms being organic by the year 2010. With the dual crises of BSE and foot and mouth disease, as well as the media talent of Renate Kunast it was not a surprise that Biofach received more media attention than ever before.
The floors of the fair were extremely busy, and watching the discussions and trade activities that took place all day and in every hall there is no doubt that the organic market is not only continuing but rapidly growing in its booming phase. It is now that the yields of the decade long struggle to position organic agriculture as the leading model for the future can be ‘harvested’. It is important, though , not to be carried away by the wave of success or to sacrifice some of the basic organic principles on the altar of market expansion. IFOAM’s role in ensuring this was, in fact, referred to by the Federation’s President, Gunnar Rundgren, when he wrote in his welcome message to Biofach, ‘Our responsibility is not only to follow the organic rules but also to ensure that our production and trading practises are sustainable and people-friendly. It is still too early to determine exactly how, if and when. Ethical aspects of production and trade will be fully incorporated in the organic standards, but it is now clear that if you want to be a future player, you should take this into serious consideration.’
The transition from Biofach’s previous owners and managers, the Okowelt Company (Hubert Rottner, Hagen Sunder, Christine Neidhardt), to Messe Nurnberg, the new owner, went smoothly. Messe Nurnberg’s potential and resources will also ensure that the newly-introduced global Biofach concept will become the focal point of organic trade all over the world. The Biofach Japan in December this year will be the next major step to making sure that ‘the world continues to grow organic.’
10-13 December 2001
The successful concept of the world’s leading organic fair, Biofach held annually in Nurnberg, Germany, is a solid foundation for the upcoming Biofach Japan. It is is organised by Global Fairs, a subsidiary of messe Nurnberg the organisers of the Biofach in Nurnberg. In light of the positive cooperation between IFOAM, patron of Biofach, and Messe Nurnberg, the invitation to become a global partner was accepted by IFOAM. IFOAM will now be the parton for the new concept, which internationalises and decentralises Biofach. The new partnership between IFOAM, Messe Nurnberg and Global Fairs was signed at this year’s
Fair in Nurnberg.
The first event resulting from this new cooperative relationship will be Biofach Japan, taking place from 10-13 December, 2001, in Tokyo. Together with its Japanese members, IFOAM will carry the special responsibility for the educational programme of the fair. It is expected that Biofach Japan will reach beyond Japan into the whole Asian region, which has tremendous ‘organic’ potential.
Global Fairs has arranged a very convenient package arrangement, which not only facilitates participation, but also makes it affordable, considering the high prices typical of fairs, particularly in Japan. Anybody with a business interest in the development of organic agriculture and trade in Asia should not miss Biofach Japan- either as exhibitor or visitor.
The 4th IFOAM Organic World Exhibition
August 24-25, 2002
St. Ann’s Academy, Victoria, BC, Canada
The 4th IFOAM Organic World Exhibition is held in conjunction with the 14th Organic World Congress. For one week-end in August 2002 Victoria will be the ‘organic’ capital of Canada! This international organic festival is an opportunity to showcase certified organic products from around the world.
The attractive heritage building of St Ann’s Academy will provide a unique setting for the marquees and individual display tents scattered throughout the grounds. Exhibitors are invited to display their finest organic food, beverages and fibre products, and to offer for them sample and sale. This Organic World Exhibition is offering exhibition space at half the standard price to non-profit groups who wish to inform the public about organic agriculture projects in their country.
The event will have cultural activities, music and other performances taking place throughout the Exhibition, as well as an exciting programme of films and speakers. This World Expo will be a100% recycled/no waste event with recycling facilities on-site. The City of Victoria is ‘going green’ and organic methods are being used at St Ann’s this season in preparation for the event in 2002.
Come, join in and enjoy the fun as you sample the best the organic community has to offer. Admission is free for residents, tourist and congress delegates. August is the height of the tourist season and 15,000 people are expected to visit the site during the course of the weekend. Exhibitors are encouraged to book their space as early as possible.
For more information concerning any event at IFOAM 2002 please contact
IFOAM 2002, c/o Building 20, 8801 East Saanich Road, Sidney BC, V8L 1H3, Canada.
Tel: +1-250-655-5662 Fax: +1-250-655-5657 email: email@example.com
Registration information will be available from October 2001.
Effective Micro-organisms Technology
EM-Technology was developed by professor Dr. Teruo Higa in 1980 at the University of Rhyukyus, Japan. At the First International Conference on Nature Farming held in Tahialand in 1989, the Asia Pacific Natural Agriculture Network (APNAN) was formed. This network established an international programme for promoting research, education and extension of nature farming with EM-Technology.
EM contains photosynthetic bacteria (Rhodopseudomonas spp.), lactic acid bacteria (Lactobacillus spp.) and yeast (Saccharomyces spp.). It also supports thr activities of other microbes. It is claimed that EM promotes germination, growth, flowering, fruiting, and ripening in crop plants. It enhances the photosynthetic capacity of plants and the efficiency of organic matter as fertilisers. EM develops the resistance of plants to pests and diseases and suppresses soil borne pathogens and pests. It can also be used in human and animal health care. A good introduction on EM-Technology can be down-loaded from www.agriton.nl/higa.html
In Pakistan EM-Technology is being promoted by Nature Farming Research & Development Foundation (NFRDF) which set up the Nature Farming Research Centre and the EM-Technology Training Institute. In the last 8 years extensive experimentation has led to some important innovations in EM-Technology. Now a wide network of EM suppliers and technology transfer officers are available for the thousands of farmers who have begun using EM-Technology.
In January 2000, the EM World Journal (ISSN:1562-255X) was launched by Nature Farming Research & Development Foundation, 41-X-101, Susan Road, Madina Town, Faisalabad, 38060 Pakistan. Ax: +9241613507; firstname.lastname@example.org
The Journal contains research articles on EM-Technology in agriculture and health. One of the articles: Technology of Effective Micro-organisms as an alternative for rice and wheat production in Pakistan by Tahir Hussain et al., reports on a long-term field experiment at Faisalabad, Pakistan, to determine the agronomic and economic merits of EM-Technology. Results were, among others: EM applied in combination with NPK fertilisers, Green Manure (GM) and Farm Yard Manure (FYM) caused significant increase in grain and straw yield and in nutrient uptake by the grain and straw of each crop following the order NPK+EM>GM+EM>FYM+EM. The GM+EM treatment produced grain and straw yields of each crop that approached those for NPK alone. A comparative economic analysis of the treatments showed a significantly higher net return due to EM. The average net profit from rice and wheat production using EM was US$44.90/ha and US$62.35/ha, respectively, compared to about nil for the conventional rice-wheat system with optimal fertilisation and management.
Key elements of “Farm Planning (FP) for Sustainable Farming””
•1. Learning from the forest for the farm.
Before starting a farm planning process in a farm, farm families and extension staff learn from the example of a natural forest as a sustainable environment. The most important ecological processes through which the natural forest sustains itself and creates a balanced environment are in brief:
- Bio mass production
- Diversity and complexity (a web of relations in unity)
- Living soil as a major component of soil fertility
- Recycling of all organic matter
- Efficient use of all the resources
- Site specificity of plant and animal species chosen
By discovering and analysing these processes and their linkages in a natural environment, families and extension staff draw learning points for sustainable farming.
Efficient resource use serves as the starting point for FP. The unity in a natural forest environment as a system with a web of interaction between its elements is also important. Likewise, in FP the farm is considered in a holistic way, as a system with flows of material and energy between all the different farm enterprises.
•2. Observation and analysis of the existing situation of the farm.
The planning process starts from the existing situation on the farm, which is carefully observed and analysed. How does the present farm system work and what are the available resources? The farm family members are the most important resource persons in the exercise of observation and analysis of resources, processes, practices, opportunities and problems in their own farm. Extension staff act as facilitators. Together they document the analysis of the farm system in maps, flow charts and written or “symbolised” text: this is the first part of the farm document.
•3. Exposure visits to farm families who successfully developed their farms.
Groups of farm families who have mapped the existing situation of their farms visit others who are in the process of successfully developing their farms, and collect ideas for their own farm plans.
•4. Planning for further development of the farm.
Before making the Farm Plan, farm families and facilitators discuss about planning in relation to needs, goals, dreams, and vision on the future. Planning starts with the ‘here and now’, the existing situation, and reaches a final goal. It describes changes and improvements in different feasible steps, keeping in mind the lessons learned from the natural forest environment and utilising available resources optimally.
In a Farm Plan this final goal, the more sustainable situation of the farm, is put on paper. Then, with the help of simple formats, often designed by the farm families themselves, the different steps of systematic development of the farm over several years, towards the desired situation, are chalked out: the long–term plan. The long-term plan, is divided in seasonal work–plans, in which the activities for the season, the necessary resources and the expected returns are documented. This is the second part of the farm document made by the farm family.
This farm document, the Farm Plan, is not a blue -print but a flexible framework for the farm development, which can be adapted to changing situations (e.g. weather conditions, availability of resources, changing views and priorities, new ideas, etc.) This makes Farm Planning an ongoing process.
•5. Implementation of the Farm Plan
Implementation of Farm Plans is the responsibility of the respective farm families. Their Farm Plan is a documented commitment to the systematic development of their farms. It increases the confidence of the farm families: “We can reach this goal on our farm with our own resources”. At the end of each season the outcome of the seasonal work-plans is reviewed and new work–plans are made, based on the results, and with reference to the long-term plan.
Farm Planning for Sustainable Farming is a family affair, involving women, men and children and their experience, knowledge and views of the farm. The planning process, the plans and their implementation are ‘owned’ by the family and facilitated by extension staff.
The Sprout Route
Count the stars stretched across the desert sky. Count the grains of sand spread upon the tropical beach. Count the seeds contained in a jar of alfalfa sprouts. Now try to count the many ways to grow the perfect alfalfa sprout. In order to conserve paper and ink, here are six basic sprout routes (which possible total five more than you need to explore):
- A. The Jar/Tube Method
- B. The Bag Method
- C. The Tray/Plate Method
- D. The Towel Method
- E. The Saucer Method
- F. The Soil Method
- A. Jar/Tube Method
The most common container for home sprouting is the jar, and for decades it has proven to be the most effective. In time for the new millenium, a new contender has joined the symphony of sprout containers: Tubby the Tube.
While many nutrition books discuss sprouting in a page, they outline the Jar Method in a paragraph. At the risk of appearing complicated and confused, our instructions span over several pages. Not difficult and foolish, just definitive and foolproof.
The ten simple steps are:
- Measure and cull
- Wash and skim
- Soak overnight
- Drain the soaked water
- Rinse and drain (2-3 times a day for 2-3 days)
- Sun (leafy sprouts only)
- Hull (optional)
- Cull and store
- Clean the jar
- Begin again
We shall begin our bowl-by-bowl description with alfalfa sprouts. Granting that the seeds are viable, they will sprout even if your thumb is not green:
- 1. Measure and cull
Measure two tablespoons of seeds. Eventually you will develop the ability to estimate quantities visually, but for now resort to the spoon and cup.
Pick the seeds clean of foreign matter such as twigs and stones. Extensive experimentation proves that stones do not sprout. Alfalfa seeds are too tiny, but larger sproutables should be culled of the Four D’s: Decayed, Diseased, Discolored, and Dwarfed. All these signify Dead.
Flat-tipped tweezers used by stamp collectors work best, but even a thumb (red or green) and forefinger will suffice. Do not deliberate too long over this. In fact, you may postpone this step just before the harvest, when the quick are more easily discerned from the dead. In this case, a rotten apple seed rarely spoils the barrel.
- 2. Wash and skim
Place the measured and culled seeds into the jar. Fill the jar three-quarters full with room-temperature water. Wither vigorously twirl the jar or stir the seeds in the water with a spoon. A broad wooden spoon works better than a tiny metal teaspoon. Pour off the UFOs (the Unidentified Floating Objects).
Some otherwise lively-looking seeds will also float to the top. These may be infertile, but you are wise to judge them innocent until proven guilty. Again fill the jar with water and, if needs be, pur off the UFOs. Repeat this step until the water appears clear and the surface is free of UFOs.
(Using a tube: Affix the solid brown cap onto one end of the tube. This end now becomes the bottom. The one and only inconvenience of the tube compared to the jar occurs at this step. The fit of the plastic cap to the plastic tube might not be leakproof. Test the fit by filling the tube with water before adding the seeds. If room temperature water leaks, pour it off and add hot water from the faucet. The slight heat will mold the shape of the cap to the shape of the tube. Next, pour off the hot water, add the seeds, add the room temperature water, and proceed as above.)
- 3. Soak Overnight
Just one more time fill the jar three-quarters with room temperature water. Cover with a screen top. Not a jar cap, because air ventilation is important even at this submerged stage. Alfalfa or clover should soak from 3 – 8 hours, depending upon the room temperature: the warmer the temperature, the shorter the soak time.
For other seeds soaking times vary. A common denominator is 8 hours or over-night: a one-night stand. Let the seeds stand in water overnight, and while you are sleeping your sprouts will be waking.
Generally, the larger and harder the seed, the longer the soak time. When the saturated seeds have expanded to nearly twice their original size, or when they no longer rattle but just dully thumb against the glass if you spin the jar, they are ready for draining. Be aware that the larger beans, such as chick-peas, or harder beans, such as aduki, might require 24 hours of soaking at cool room temperatures
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