Internships at Zaytuna Farm under the the direction of Geoff Lawton are an excellent way to build up your knowledge of permaculture in practice. The internship is a 10-week program and included in that ten weeks are advanced permaculture skills classes such as Earthworks, How To Teach a PDC, Permaculture Aid, Urban Permaculture and the Soils course. These scheduled classes make up for half of the internship. What you may not know and what is not all that obvious to someone looking to do an internship is what happens in the other weeks?
Those weeks are not idle. Sometimes you are going out to plant a swale with a future food forest. Perhaps the cattle lane needs to be updated, moved or repaired. You may build a chicken tractor or even a goat tractor. The staff are quietly working behind the scenes to fill that time with worthwhile, meaningful, and applicable knowledge that you can put into practice.
Then there are the "extra courses" — the courses that you did not know would be part of the internship. Examples of extra courses are Danial Lawton’s Permaculture Tools class. Here Danial teaches how to choose, use and maintain hand tools that, when used correctly, can be just as effective as a whipper snipper (weed wacker for us Americans). Danial has also been known to teach food forest maintenance, taking the students through different successions of food forests and how to maintain them for maximum productivity. There have been fermentation and pickling classes, seed saving classes, a herbs class where Geoff makes you a potent power herb and mineral drink.
The current internship had an apiculture class (beekeeping) added. The class was a three day course held off site. The instructor, Peter, and his wife Lucile, are a delightful couple. Peter, who has been working with bees for over 50 years, says "be an Apriest and not a beekeeper." What he was wisely saying is that you are not just keeping bees, but rather living amongst them — observing, caring for, and loving the bees. Obviously there is a benefit to being an apiculturist, and that is the beautiful honey and wax. However it’s not so easy to get.
On day one Peter introduced us to the bees — how they breed, eat, make honey, pollinate and the like. We looked at how to choose an aviary location and what the bees do inside. Then it was wood shop time, where the students made boxes and frames. Peter was taking time to explain each component, its function and how it fit with the whole structure. You could feel the excitement buzzing as the boxes were coming together.
Day two was a bit more full on. The class started with "how do you get bees?" Peter was going into the different options and was expanding on capturing a swarm. As he was going through the techniques of how to capture a swarm, Tom Kendal, from PRI Maungaraeeda, Sunshine Coast, came running through the door saying that he has spotted a swarm. The class went from the safety of four walls to standing in front of a huge clump of thousands of bees. Collecting the swarm was fascinating and required the cutting of a branch that the swarm had gathered onto and shaking that clump of bees into a box that he had primed with a couple frames of bee brood to entice the bees to remain and take care of the babies that were there.
In addition to capturing a swarm we also harvested honey. As I mentioned above, harvesting honey is not an easy task. Each box of honey can weigh 30+ kilos and they are full of bees (that sting). The box is opened and frame by frame the comb is extracted. All the time you are careful not to kill one of those pretty little girls (the bees) because if you do she releases a pheromone that agitates the other bees, resulting in an angry swarm. With a class of 14 students, and nearly none of them having prior exposure to harvesting honey, the bees were getting agitated, resulting in the quick exit of some students due to stings. But like the troopers permies are, they were quickly back in the ranks, helping with the next box.
We then took the harvested frames, where the honey is kept, back to the shed for extraction. Peter went into the different ways of extracting the honey all the way from the low/no cost methods to commercial honey extractors and methods in between. We popped the caps off the combs and placed half of the frames into a hand spinner and the other half were simply placed upside down in a tub to drain out until the next day.
On day three we all brought our jars and filled up! Peter then showed us some of the other benefits of the bees’ other wonderful product, the wax. Beeswax is amazing. Peter showed us all kinds of uses and homemade products that can be made with beeswax. Handling the beeswax seemed to kick up our endorphins because everyone attested to feeling better and happier after handling it. There could be something there….
The last part of the final day was spent on disease prevention and identification and how to nurture and provide space and shelter for local bee populations. Peter strongly suggested joining our local beekeeping clubs, even if we are not personally interested in managing bees ourselves. He emphasized throughout the entirety of the course that it’s not all about the honey or money. The job that these amazing creatures do pollinating our food is far more valuable than any product we could ever derive. But it sure is nice to have real, beautiful, non-diluted or sugar-fed honey provided by our wonderful little friends.
Though I found I was quite uneasy around tens of thousands of bees, I still would like to have my own hives and be an apiculturist. I’m just going to have to have a really good suit.