Bees 3: Artisanal Farming on Bare Rock

Sometimes answers come. I was thinking, hmmm, hmmm, hmmm, like (Well, like a bee, by the sounds of it.) Like this.

• Plants are creatures of the air. (Check.)

• Plants need water. (Check.)

• This is a planet of water. (Check.)

• Life is everywhere. (Check.)

• This is a planet of rock. (Check.)

• It should be possible to farm on bare rock. Hmm. Hmm. Hmmmmmmm. And, sure, things grow there in the early spring, when humans (that’s us, bees without wings) huddle in our cities in the valley so far below the hills and sip lattes and, mmmmmmm. Nice. But farming means creating plant products for sale, not for buying in a cup of water, and, well, that’s always tough. And so I went to Europe in the spring, camera in hand, tromping through vineyards for weeks, trying to understand soil and sun, and was given a clue …

The  Bingen Ferry Rüdesheim

And sedum, of course, thriving on a vineyard wall.

The stuff was everywhere. All red and chilly in the chilly rain that passed for the sun. Here it is up the valley at Johannisberg, where Riesling was left on the vines late once, and then picked from there once mould had pushed all the sweetness to the core of the berries, and, what a surprise, perfected …

Snail in the Rain Johannisberg

Boy, it was wet. If anyone ever said that vineyards need sun, they haven’t been to Germany in the spring. Whoever it was that invented defrost vents on automobile dashboards is my hero. They’re great at removing rain from the workings of cameras.

And so I thought, eat snails. That’s the trick. A little garlic, a little butter, a weird little pancake ball pan with six little cups, and $10 a serving, this could work. Better than buying sea snails in a tin, with their tummies full of grit, I say. And, true, there are snails, happy snails, in the Okanagan, and we could sure do that, and so I thought, OK, that’s it. We will grow sedum and farm snails. But, of course, hmmm hmmm hmmmm, it’s hot, right? Blasts over those rocks like the sunny side of Mercury. Crisp your average snail up to the consistency of a pita chip. So I scratched my head and went off to photograph neon green bees. I never realized there is a second crop. But there is. Now, sedums grow wild out in the grass, and have the ability to withstand incredible heat and drought, because they close their pores during the heat of the day, when water loss can rise above 65%, store their photosynthetic products in intermediary acids, and open their pores at night, when water loss is very low, and complete the photosynthesis. You could say they farm the cool of the dark. That’s a useful technology, for sure, and because they’re pretty some people grow them for the way they look, and that makes sense. There isn’t enough beauty, or at least not too much. How could there be too much? Here’s a colony decorating a rock outcropping in a private yard along the road that winds along the hill and the next hill and the next and after a few minutes by car or a few bird crossings by foot winds up, well, here.

Landscaping with Sedum

Looking good. Water and weeding not required. This is the ultimate rock garden plant. It’s also highly recommended as a green roofing product: no asphalt, no muck, no stink, and no leaks. Just grows up there in an eighth of an inch of soil and sucks up any water that dares to show itself. Full marks.

Here it is with some zooooom…Sedum Living on the Rock

Ok, a little weeding. Darned mustard…hmmm, hmmmmmm, hmmmmm, mustard with snails… does that work? Oh, the vagaries of thinking like a bee.

Many of the stories of plants on the grasslands are stories of succession: after a burn, the desert parsley comes, and the bitterroot, and the sedum, and the lilies. Then the sage and the grass, the cactus and the ranchers. Finally, when things get so choked up with bunchgrass that a poor vole gets lost on the intricate paths on the way home, fire comes again and starts the whole thing again. Or at least that’s the idea.  And so people tell themselves stories, and some of those are like this: “Sedum colonizes rock, creates soil, and allows other plants to take over.” Well, yeah, like mustard. If one tells stories like that, one is missing the point: the darned stuff is growing on bare rock in a landscape that gets almost no rain, except in June. There is, however, not just wild sedum. There’s this stuff, planted because it’s pretty…

Two Kinds of Sedum Giving the Morning Glory the Old Heave Ho

And huddling close to their rock. I suspect the rock heats up in the day and then delivers the heat at night that allows for efficient photosynthesis when things get chilly under the stars and the coyotes are coming down off of the hills looking for my cat, or yours.

Here’s what the bottom of those two sedums, hens-and-chicks, looks like against the sky it lives in (and in bloooooom, too) …

Sedum at Peace with the World

Life is good.

And what’d’ya know, when you leave the car at home and go on foot and dodge the power line crew that is hacking the tops off of trees and turning them into wood chips, complete with flag people and red warning cones and a lot of noise, you see this:

Bumble Bee in the Sedum

Here she is again …

Talk about artisan honey!

And honey products!

No need to import craft honeys from Australia no more.

What’s more, this kind of farming can be done anywhere, and has the added bonus of preventing your neighbours from parking on the road allowance in front of your hedge!

What Happens to Humans When They Get Tired of Mowing

Hens-and-chicks farming the night heat stored in gravel.

Here’s that again, up close:

Something to do With Our Roadways When We Can’t Drive Our Cars No More, eh!

Seriously, we don’t need retirement-palace priced land to go out farming. Any old rock or gravel pile will do. Bees, however, I think we need bees. And snails. I’m all for snails, too. Beats me what the black ribbon of petrocarbons is doing there, though. Maybe it’s, like, a historical flourish?

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