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An Essential Crop
I had just finished going through the list of animal breeds we are attempting to acquire (I say "attempting" because some of them are fairly rare), and something niggled at the back of my brain. Certainly I was missing something... but I just could not nail it down. Finally it dawned on me... BEES! HONEY!
Growing your own sweetener means one of just a few things - cane, beets, sorghum, maple or beech syrup, or honey. While bees are not the best choice for every situation, they can be a valuable addition and a good choice for a small farm, because they provide benefits beyond just the honey crop.
Some people would argue that sweetener is not needed on a subsistence farm, but I think it is. Some things just work better with a little sweet added. Honey has been cultivated by man for centuries, and honeybees have been a valued part of the small farm all that time.
Actually, I don't even like honey that well. It is not the usefulness as a sweetener that got me pulled in to considering bees essential. After all, we make bread without any sweetener at all, and we can grow some form of sugar without the hazard of bees. No, what really did it, was shampoo.
Honey makes a good shampoo on its own. So does soapwort, only it is pretty thin. The two, mixed together, make a very good hair wash. I'm allergic to just about every shampoo out there, and honey is WAY too expensive to buy for shampoo, so honey was now an essential crop!
Honey is one of the more costly sweeteners now. I used to be able to get it at a reasonable price, but in the last 10 years, the price has escalated, due largely to increasing federal regulations on farms. At any rate, I can't really even afford to buy it for use in cooking, let alone for personal care!
The bees have now made our list of necessary farm crops - or do you call bees a crop? I don't know. I do like that having bees will ensure good pollination of our crops, as well as providing a possible additional source of income.
Bring on the bees...