Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thoughts on Afghanistan, Permaculture, and Beekeeping

© 2010 Albert A Rasch and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles

Afghanistan, Permaculture, and a Lone Bee

I haven't had time to consider beekeeping lately. I've been relatively busy keeping my own hide intact. But today was a remarkably clear day. It was quiet but for the regular launching of the magnificently terrible fighter bombers and the occasional rotor slap of heavy-lift Russian made Hinds from the heli-pad. You could actually see the striations on three mile mountain from where I stood.

Walking down the road adjacent to the air field, imagine my delighted surprise when I saw a little striped creature buzzing along the dirty drainage ditch that leaves the base to dissipate in the mine strewn fields. I'm certain that it was a honey bee.

The pea soupy water that sustains activity is a noxious amalgamated brew of run off, partially treated black and grey waste water, trash, and algae, that never the less harbors a significant variety of life. As wretched and poor as it is, it nurtures plants and animals, even supplying much needed hydration to the herds of road worn goats and cantankerous camels that often cross the rocky, barren terrain with their herders; the hard, leather skinned, AK47 carrying, treacherous men that follow them on their way from one dust ridden, God forsaken place to another. Even the sly jackals that follow the herds, picking off the weakest kids from their nannys, take respite in the shade of the over-grown reeds and shrubs that line the polluted canal outside the wire. They come out at night to do their murderous work, yipping and howling like wild drunken dervishes, setting the fresh young and unknowing men that we are sent, to nervously fingering their triggers, their eyes wide with adrenalin.

The honey bee, happily unaware that good, honest men have fought, bled, and died over nothing more than poor, disease ridden dirt and the stupid and ignorant remarks of old charlatans, liars, and fools, crossed over to the other side of the ditch losing itself in the dried stalks of some long dead weed.

I wondered for quite some time where its hive might be.

The funny thing is that I was worried that maybe its hive was near a landmine. I gave serious and deliberate consideration to the possibility that the hive was no doubt near a long forgotten anti personnel landmine. After I worried that idea over in my mind, I wondered if a random, unguided, Iranian rocket might hit the hive and blow it up. So I gave that a lot of troubled thought for the longest time.

Meanwhile, as I hunt-and-peck type this up for you, my Mozambican comrades are busy wrapping detonation cord around corroded, long buried and leftover landmines not 100 hundred yards from where I sit.



The occasional hot rock shard hits the tent, rolling off like sharp volcanic hail.

You get used to it...

I got to thinking about my European honey bee hives at home. Out of the dozen I had two years ago, I still have six or seven that are active and producing. Last spring several of them swarmed, as planned, helping to restock the wild population with new blood. But honey bees do need some care and a little help if you want to collect some of their sweet bounty. Otherwise they figure you just don't care, and they move on to better accommodations elsewhere. Maybe when I get back I will have time to reacquaint myself with my charges and see to their well being.

Being a beekeeper takes a certain type of personality. You need to be calm and quiet, you have to be aware of the weather, the sun and wind direction, and it helps if you know what is going on around you in nature too. What plants are blooming, what bugs are around, the sort of thing that's usually under the radar and beneath notice.

Out here, in the unforgiving, dust ridden plains of Afghanistan, we enjoy our very own twisted and perverted version of Purgatory, with unguided rockets thrown at you by the illiterate followers of conmen and warlords, and our own computer controlled robotic counter-batteries spewing out maelstroms of death and destruction, cleaving the earth like angry bolts, violently rending and destroying acres at a time.

It makes you contemplate many things, some good, some bad.

But it's the small, little things, like that bee, that shows you the futility of man's insane quarrels. Unlike the humble honey bee, what we do, the blood soaked effort we put in, doesn't amount to hill of beans. The bee on the other hand, makes honey from almost nothing but hard work and perseverance.

I wouldn't mind teaching the locals about beekeeping. Except I don't think there's enough of anything here for even one managed hive. Nor do the natives have a desire to do anything but take. Not that it comes from an evil or mean streak in them, though they have that too, but it is the way they have lived for millenniums. We are just another foreign group of violent tourists passing through their Shangri-La. Sooner or later we will be gone, and they can get back to their customary business of slitting each others throats over the abandoned, rusted and broken left-overs, stoning the mothers of their children, and killing each other over real or imagined insults.

But for my civilized friends back at home, beekeeping might be an activity that can fit into your plans of self sufficiency. Really, it does take some work, but it's not too much, nor is it difficult, and it is scheduled. But the delicious, sweet rewards more than offset the occasional sting.

Though I have Langstroth hives, I will ultimately replace them with Top Bar hives. There are a number of reasons for doing so. First, Top Bar hives are easy to make. I've seen them made out of everything from scrap pallet wood to thirty gallon drums. The wooden hives themselves are shaped like half of a hexagon, the angles just like those of the cells in the hive! The bars themselves have only one critical dimension, and that is the width at 1 and 3/8 inch. Other than that there is not much to it.

There are many resources on beekeeping on the internet, and I would suggest that if you are interested in beekeeping, you do your research. Start with PJ Chandler at Barefoot Beekeeper. He has done quite a bit of work on Top Bar hives and organic, chemical free beekeeping. He also has a free PDF guide available on building Top Bar hives, available here: How to Build a Top Bar Hive.

If I could offer a little advise, try to find an organic beekeeper that will take you under his wing and show you the ropes. It's not difficult to do, but it is nerve wracking at first. You will definitely need a smoker to placate your bees. Learn to handle your bees sans body suit and gloves. You do not need that stuff unless you come upon a hive of nasty bees! In which case you need to get rid of the foul mooded queen, and see what the hive is like a month later, after the worker bees have raised a new monarch. You do need to understand your girls and their temperament. Use a veil when necessary, and safety glasses all the time.

This brings me to the idea of permaculture. I first learned about "Permaculture" when I found the dust covered book, Permaculture - A Designer’s Manual’ by Bill Mollison for a measly dollar ($1.00!) at the local thrift store. It was a little water damaged, but after paging through it, I knew I had found a great reference book. Turns out a lot of other people think it's so great that they are willing to pay quite a bit of money for a copy!

Permaculture is defined as a system of ecological design that allows for sustainability in all activities, whether they be manufacturing, leisure, agricultural or any other endeavor. Permaculture takes into consideration how we interact with the environment. It is a methodology that allows you to build a home that is in tune with your environment, then plan on how you can use your resources to grow food, conserve water, nurture and steward your land. It is a method of land management, but it works within the natural order of things. What I especially like about it is the recognition that we can manipulate some aspects of the environment to improve it. Damaged properties and environments can be fixed if you are willing to look, listen, and put in the work necessary to repair the damage.

I look at the scorched and damaged land that I am surrounded by and creative ideas constantly pop in my head. If for instance, we took this fouled waste water, channeled it through some man made serpentine wetlands, the water on the other end would be clean. It would make sense then to create a reservoir to hold the now clean water. Pipe a line to a watering tank, and he goats and camels can get their fill of clean water making them healthier and happier. So while we are at it, why not plant a grove of filberts or pecan trees? We can run some micro drip irrigation through the wire and down to the trees from the reservoir, and...

Oh wait a minute, that's right I forgot, the herders will allow the goats to eat it all to the ground, the locals will steal the pipes and tubing or will cut the trees down on orders from the Taliban. Maybe they'll just burn it for warmth one night.  There's the possibility that it might create cover and concealment for the insurgents; therefore it becomes a impediment to military operations. Never mind that it might be the beginning of the resuscitation of an environment in its death throes; short term human desires and conflicts make any attempt at progress stillborn.

Afghanistan Wins Again...

Well, most of you aren't in Afghanistan. The question is, what can you do to lessen your impact on your personal environment. Maybe you recycle or pick up trash you come upon. I plant mangrove seedlings that I find in spots that I know will help hold the shore or banks. You might put up a bat box or bluebird nests. I crush the barbs on my fish hooks to prevent damaging a fish's jaw when I release it. Holly bands doves in her neighborhood and Mike reclaims lands damaged by years of neglect. BioBob creates corridors to sustain wildlife and prevent erosion. Rick supplements deer through the leanest parts of the winter. You can do all sorts of things that help sustain and nurture the environment we all depend upon. With the world in the precarious position it is in, self-sufficiency will also require us to mind the environment if we are to survive and prosper.

To learn more about permaculture go to the Permaculture Institute website.

Related Posts:
The Coincidental Beekeeper
What Are You Doing to Help the Environment?

Best Regards,
Albert A Rasch
Member:Kandahar Tent Club
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...

Though he spends most of his time writing and keeping the world safe for democracy, Albert Rasch was actually a student of biology. Really. But after a stint as a lab tech performing repetitious and mind-numbing processes that a trained capuchin monkey could do better, he never returned to the field. Rather he became a bartender. As he once said, "Hell, I was feeding mice all sorts of concoctions. At the club I did the same thing; except I got paid a lot better, and the rats where bigger." He has followed the science of QDM for many years, and fancies himself an aficionado. If you have any questions, or just want to get more information, reach him via TheRaschOutdoorChronicles(at)MSN(dot)com.

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles

Keyword:s Afghanistan, permaculture in Afghanistan, beekeeping in Afghanistan, Afghan beekeeping, Afghan permaculture, permaculture practices in Afghanistan


Albert Quackenbush said...

Excellent post, Albert. It not only made for great reading, but I felt like I was right there watching that bee with you. Be safe over there!

Ramil said...

Hi albert, I enjoyed reading your blog and its interesting to read and more so there's something there that can be learn about. Thank you for sharing this to us and I love reading another of your blog post. Hopefully soon.

Albert A Rasch said...


I appreciate the comments! It is the small things that count out here.

Best regards,
Albert A Rasch
The Range Reviews: AGI Armorer's Course Colt 1911

Michael Spinelli said...

Mr Rasch,

SBW has taken note of your post and highlighted it before I could! Excellent read, and quite ellucidating. Perhaps you might delve more deeply into some of the things that you think might be the root of our struggle to pacify Afghanistan?

Mike S.
Mike's Travels

Bob S said...


That's a darn good story, and a lesson to be learned. Thanks for sharing. Keep your head down and don't let them get you.

Stay safe,
Big Bob

Hippo said...

I am definitely going to set up some hives next year. I am dealing with African bees but if some local kid with a bunch of smouldering grass can shin up a tree and rob a hive of its honey, then I am sure I can manage (probably by employing said local kid).

Albert A Rasch said...


Top bar hives are definately the way to go. I have been "told" that African bees on their own turf, aren't as aggresive as they are in the states. As I watch TV shows with fellows climbing trees and smoking them out, it seems that this might be the case. Africanized bees here, seem to go for wholesale, hive-wide stinging if they are disturbed.


Hippo said...

Oh, African bees can be pretty mean if you stumble across their territory accidentally. They will also chase you up to three or four times as far as European bees will. Scientific advice suggests they react to the Carbon Dioxide in your breath so holding it helps. Brilliant. You try sprinting four hundred yards through the bush on a single lungful.

As I said, I will most likely leave the hard work to the kid. He obviously has the experience and if he doesn't, will probably be able to cover ground a hell of lot faster than a fifty year old heavy smoker...

I looked at your link to top bar hives and agree they look good. Then I went out into the garden just in time to see an old wooden cable drum that Dominic was doing a circus act on collapse underneath him. The wood is perfectly machined for what I need so I will be knocking a top bar hive together.

Oh, Dominic was OK, by the way.