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A Teachable Moment

keeping  beesbees in city

The surge of excellent bee book continues! Here’s two of the best, both from Great Britain, and both focused on the special challenges of beekeeping in the midst of busy city life: Keeping Bees in Towns and Cities by Luke Dixon, and Bees in the City: The Urban Beekeepers Handbook by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum.

So, here’s a question inspired by Luke Dixon’s Keeping Bees in Towns and Cities: What would you do if a swarm of bees descended upon your local school??

Small children and bees might not seem an obvious combination, but at Charlton Manor Primary in Greenwich they get on very well. The bees live in hives in the playground of this inner-city London school….

The headmaster, Tim Baker, took up beekeeping when a swarm came and attached itself to a wall next to the school’s main entrance. ‘There was panic from staff and calls to close the school,’ he recalls. ‘The children seemed very interested though. When it was collected I found out that the bees were very unlikely to sting when they swarm. I realized how little I and people around me knew about bees even though we had always taught the children that they were important. I was concerned that the lessons the children had got from that close-hand observation of the swarm was that bees were something to be feared.’ To dispel the message of fear, Tim set about finding training for himself and interested staff so that they could set up a hive on the school grounds.

The Next Generation of Beekeepers on Parade:

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There are many flowering plants in neighboring gardens, and there are parks nearby as well, so the bees are not short of forage. As an inner city school many of the pupils do not have access to gardens themselves, so the bees provide an important contact with nature for them….The headmaster is convinced that the bees are of great educational benefit: ‘There are a number of children with behavior issues in the school. They were given the chance to work with the bees. Their behavior has greatly improved and they delivered a talk to the local bee club at its annual general meeting.

Somehow, Bees Aren’t as Scary Anymore:

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The school started with one hive, raised queens, and now has two colonies. The honey harvested is bottled by the pupils and sold to raise money for the school.

As a nice bookend to this story, headmaster Tim Baker reports that another swarm arrived recently and everyone took it in stride. Two of the children helped collect the swarm, and the school’s hives grew by one!

There’s a magic about bees — especially their way of connecting people to the natural world. It’s as simple as that. As long as we’re able, the Land Library will honor these books by giving them a home on our shelves. Here’s two more brilliant bee books we’ve added over the past few months:

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Bees: A Natural History, by Christopher O’Toole, and from our Waterton Canyon Kids Nature Library, Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive by Stephen Buchmann, an excellent book for young adults, and older readers too.

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Robert F. Kennedy called Cesar Chavez “one of the heroic figures of our time.” Chavez founded and led the first successful farm workers union in the country — the United Farm Workers of America– giving migrant workers a voice against a powerful agricultural industry. Throughout his life Chavez fought for social justice, better pay, and safer working conditions. The tools he used were the nonviolent ones of strikes, fasting, and boycotts.

Just in time for this coming Monday’s Cesar Chavez Day is the first comprehensive biography of this visionary leader — Miriam Pawel’s The Crusades of Cesar Chavez. Author Peter Matthiessen, one of the first to write about Chavez, comments: “Miriam Pawel’s new biography, massively researched and expertly written, is a welcome expansion and enrichment of her earlier study, The Union of Their Dreams. Together they represent the definitive story of this charismatic farmworker and controversial leader whose courage and near-genius invigorated the stormy history of American labor.”

Also pictured above: John Gregory Dunne’s insightful look at Chavez and his movement’s first days. Delano: The Story of the California Grape Strike takes us back to September 1965, when Filipino and Mexican American farm workers went on strike against grape growers in Delano, California.

Food, land, and social justice — just a few reasons why the Land Library devotes a full section to the story of Cesar Chavez and the movement he ignited — full of books such as these:

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The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement by Susan Ferriss & Ricardo Sandoval, Voices from the Fields: Children of Migrant Farmworkers Tell Their Stories by S. Beth Atkins, Sal Si Puedes (Escape if You Can): Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution by Peter Matthiessen

And here’s a few inspiring titles from our Waterton Canyon Kids Library:

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First Day in Grapes by L. King Perez & Robert Castilla, Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull & Yuyi Morales, The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child by Francisco Jimenez

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Here’s the latest addition to the Land Library’s bee & beekeeping collection: Megan Paska’s The Rooftop Beekeeper: A Scrappy Guide to Keeping Urban Honeybees, a perfect introduction to this ancient art, full of great photos and wonderful drawings. Megan Paska has learned her craft in Brooklyn, New York, and she shares lessons learned. Lesson such as this:

…in this book I focus on ‘minimally invasive’ hive management practices. I believe that bees know more about how to be bees than we do. To my mind, facilitating their long-term survival takes precedence over increasing their usefulness as pollinators or producers of a high-value commodity like honey.

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…cities can actually be some of the best places to keep a few hives. Unlike keepers living in rural towns, we city dwellers don’t have to worry about pesticides from conventional farms spraying their fields. Rooftop hives also get ample sun and dry out faster after heavy rains; the ability to more easily regulate temperature and humidity means bees with fewer diseases. But more important, at least from my point of view, urban apiaries give city dwellers an opportunity to commune with the natural world in a small but very profound way.” — Megan Paska, from The Rooftop Beekeeper.

No wonder we can’t resist books on bees and beekeeping!

Here’s a couple more from the Land Library’s shelves:
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Buzz: Urban Beekeeping and the Power of the Bee by Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut, The Urban Beekeeper: A Year of Bees in the City by Steve Benbow, the practical diary of a beekeeper and his 30 beeyard sites, spread across London, England.

And, from an earlier post, here’s the most beautiful bee book we’ve seen:

Eric Tourneret’s Le Peuple des Abeilles (with a great film clip too).

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It’s getting to be that time of year when birds are of one mind, building nests to safely ensure the next generation. We’ve been visiting our animal architecture section quite a bit lately, and really admire a wonderful book from Australia, Janine Burke’s Nest: The Art of Birds — full of natural history, folklore, and art. Here’s one of the pictorial spreads in this elegant little book:

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If you are looking for an excellent reference guide, you can’t beat Paul Baicich’s Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds, part of the Princeton Field Guide series (also pictured above).

And here’s one of our all time favorite books — a young artist’s quest to illustrate the nests and eggs that Audubon left out of his massive Birds of America. A few years back we posted a piece in praise of America’s Other Audubon, A Young Artist’s Vision, and the Family that Saw it Through:
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The story of the gifted-but-doomed amateur, the passion of the undertaking shake us. The beauty of the plates and their accessibility, until now denied all except a few who owned the rare original book, make this a rich gift to all who find interest in the natural world.Annie Proulx

In the next few weeks, in the peak of nesting season, a massive new book is due to arrive. From what we have seen, it looks terrific!

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This post is part of an ongoing series inspired by the University of Colorado School of Architecture’s design work for Buffalo Peaks Ranch, the future home of the Rocky Mountain Land Library (and hopefully a sheepwagon or two).

In 2001, a wonderful Wyoming publisher, High Plains Press, published one of the Land Library’s favorite books, Sheepwagon: Home on the Range. Author Nancy Weidel offered one crisp, concise reason for our admiration: “The sheepwagon is a marvel of practicality and efficiency.”

But there’s more reasons to love this book, with its stories, photographs, and sensitive appreciation for hard lives lived in a starkly beautiful land. This book makes clear that the sheepwagon provided both a bit of warmth, and a touch of home. Weidel: “Designed to provide shelter and heat, mobility, and storage, the sheepwagon was the ideal home for the herder….It could easily be moved by two horses, a most important feature.”

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Yes, as you can see, every inch counted, but space also needed to be found for the unexpected. Some sheepwagons had side boxes that “came in handy during lambing, when a weak newborn might be placed there overnight to be revived by the heat of the wagon stove.”

Given Buffalo Peaks Ranch’s tradition of sheep ranching, we would love to see at least a few sheepwagons return to South Park. Of course, being the impractical book people that we are, we immediately lose the point of the story and wonder, what books can we fit in this tiny space? When life is pared to its essentials, don’t we still need at least a small shelf of books? Here’s a few we would pick:

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Two classic memoirs of the American West: This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind by Ivan Doig, and The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich, along with a book that provides a vocabulary for all you can see from a sheepwagon’s steps: Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney, and most definitely this classic Basque story of sheepherding in the American West, and the long lost homeland of the Pyrenees: Sweet Promised Land by Robert Laxalt.

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from Western Wagon Wheels by Lambert Florin

And of course there’s this classic memoir from the Land Library’s shelves — Archer Gilfillan’s Sheep: Life on the South Dakota Range(1929). Here’s Gilfillan writing simply and eloquently about little known lives:

“One of the popular misconceptions about herding is that it is a monotonous job; or as a friend of mine puts it, ‘Herding is all right if you don’t have an active mind.” But there is really little monotony in it. The sheep rarely act the same two days in succession. If they run one day, they are apt to be quiet the next. They herd differently in a high wind from what they do in a gentle breeze. They travel with a cold wind and against a warm one. They are apt to graze contentedly where feed is plenty and to string out and run where the pickings are poor. Herding at one season is so different from herding at another as almost to constitute a different job.”

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This is a very special book, not just because it’s about peaches and the surprising things you can do with them, but because it’s also about growing peaches, the farming life, and most uniquely, because it’s composed by a family.” — Deborah Madison

Masumoto Family Farm is a fourth-generation family farm located twenty miles south of Fresno, in the heart of California’s great Central Valley. Over the years, the Land Library has happily followed the farm’s progress through the pages of David Mas Masumoto’s many books, starting with Epitaph for a Peach, and most recently Wisdom of the Last Farmer.

Now along comes one of our favorite new books of the year — The Perfect Peach: Recipes and Stories from the Masumoto Family Farm by Marcy, Nikiko, and David Mas Masumoto. Here’s Mas and Marcy’s daughter Nikiko describing their brilliantly conceived book:

Just to be clear, we Masumotos have an agenda. We want more people to love peaches. This book is part of our ongoing attempt to share our love with a wider audience. We want to empower everyone to cook and eat peaches. You will find recipes, essays, snippets of stories, and kitchen tips woven throughout this book. We think of it as a literary cookbook. Our desire is that you will savor reading it in two ways. We hope that you will enjoy our recipes and that they contribute to wonderful shared meals and your own creation in your home kitchen. We also hope that you enjoy parts of the book like a novel — a way to learn about farming from the voices of people who actually work the earth and understand more about the realities we live while growing peaches…

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The authors of The Perfect Peach: Mas, Nikiko, and Marcy Masumoto

The recipes in The Perfect Peach have us counting the days before Colorado’s first harvest — time enough to dream about prosciutto-wrapped peaches, peach salsa, pizza with grilled peaches, peach liqueur, peach pie, peach cobbler, and of course, peach shortcake:

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I ate my first homemade shortcake at my grandma’s house. I remember loving the hearty biscuit-style cake that contrasted perfectly with the sweet strawberries. My version of peach shortcake follows in this tradition: the biscuit is more substantive than it is sweet, which provides the perfect excuse for eating this shortcake for breakfast or dessert. I suppose that there are some things that we inherit without knowing it. I am grateful for how my grandmother’s cooking wisdom remains in my life.” — Nikiko Masumoto

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With the Land Library’s strong focus on people and the land, Mas Masumoto’s earlier books form the heart and soul of our collection. Mas’s books are essential, especially books such as these:

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Four Seasons in Five Senses: Things Worth Savoring, and Harvest Son: Planting Roots in American Soil

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Heirlooms: Letters from a Peach Farmer, and Wisdom of the Last Farmer: Harvesting Legacies from the Land.

And here’s a book trailer for Wisdom of the Last Farmer, which includes a terrific visual tour of the Masumoto Family Farm!

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The Masumoto Family: Korio, Nikiko, Mas, Marcy, and two of their most essential partners.

along with a second short film clip, with Mas in the orchard, tasting a peach:

For more on The Perfect Peach and the Masumoto Family Farm, be sure to visit their website!

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The eighty-acre organic farm currently grows seven peach varieties and three nectarine varieties on twenty-five acres. Raisens are grown on thirty-five acres, and the remaining acres are now part of a wild farm program, a nice way of saying “open” land. The critters love it; all farms should have something wild.” — Mas Masumoto

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Consider this: about 75% of all flowering plants rely on pollination to set seed or fruit, and from these plants comes one-third of the human diet. This Monday marks the beginning of Pollinator Week, an international effort to focus on the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations.

Pollinators positively effect our lives and the life of the entire planet. The invaluable ecosystem services they provide are eloquently told in the classic book, The Natural History of Pollination by Michael Proctor, Peter Yeo, and Andrew Lack (originally part of the legendary British book series, The New Naturalists). This well-illustrated book describes all the ways in which pollination occurs: wind, water, birds, bats, insects, even mice.

Over the last few years, there have been many books addressing the worldwide decline of pollinator species, and few better than the Xerces Society Guide, Attracting Native Pollinators. Over eighty species of native pollinators are introduced (including bees, flies, butterflies, wasps, and moths). Detailed instruction is also given on how to create flowering habitat to encourage pollinator populations.

Pollination is an amazingly intricate dance between plant and animal, brought to us by the timeless patience of evolution. Here’s a few more Land Library volumes celebrating this natural everyday miracle of life:

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Managing Alternative Pollinators: A Handbook for Beekeepers, Growers, and Conservationists by Eric Mader, Marla Spivak, and Elaine Evans (a full-color guide for rearing and managing bumble bees, leafcutter bees, and other species that provide pollination alternatives to the declining honey bee), and The Forgotten Pollinators by Stephen L. Buchmann and Gary Paul Nabhan, a now-classic book that was among the first to focus on the importance of a wide diversity of pollinators: bees, beetles, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, bats, and many more.

Sherian Wright has written an excellent guide to one such alternative pollinator, full of tips on how to create a friendly habitat that will encourage the mason bee’s free services:

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Mason Bees for the Backyard Gardener by Sherian A. Wright.

There’s many ways to celebrate Pollinator Week, and many ways to support their survival throughout the year. Here’s one way that we especially love — a San Francisco neighborhood that transformed a vacant city lot into a Pollinator Garden:

For much more on the positive contributions of pollinators, please visit the very informative Pollinator Partnership website, where you can download or order:

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Bee Basics: An Introduction to Our Native Bees by Beatriz Moissett and Stephen Buchmann. This slender 40-page booklet is one of the best introductions we’ve seen to the hidden world of North America’s native bees. Beautifully illustrated too!

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A great week to take time to learn more — and to find ways you can help our pollinator partners!

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