Anne and Michael, thank you both for taking time to respond. Plaster won't break down in water (water actually catalyzes the crystallization process), but it's so fragile it can easily be powdered or broken down into small pieces with a hammer once it's dry.
As I've been researching more, it turns out gypsum seems to be the best option for increasing available calcium in soil without raising the PH. Our soils are already alkaline, so we never add lime. Gypsum seem like a good option.
I teach sculpture to high schoolers, and we use a lot of plaster of Paris. Most of it turns into sculptures, but there is a substantial amount of waste. I keep scraps and chunks of old plaster around to use as filler when casting, but I'm hoping to find some way to use the spent plaster short of putting it back in a kiln for reprocessing. The waste I'm dealing with is everything from quart container sized chunks, to thumbnail-sized flakes. I'm in Dallas, Texas, and our soils are either Blackland prairie (clay silt, vertisol, alkaline) or chalk prairie, so soil amendment is probably out of the question, at least locally. Any ideas?
Here in north central Texas we are supposed to have pecan truffles (Tuber lyonii) growing in association with (duh) pecan trees. Does anyone have any experience with them? I vaguely recall finding some as a kid, but I just don't spend enough time rolling around under pecan trees in the fall.
We live in an area of east Dallas that should be chalk prairie, but our house is built on the site of an ancient beaver pond. And even though nearby creek has eroded to about 50 ft below the level of our yard, we enjoy silty topsoil several yards deep before we hit chalk derived mineral soils. Love beavers. They benefit the land they've been on for centuries after they're gone.
To pull this back to the proposed PEP1 standard, I'd be "brown" by most of the lists, but my experiences beekeeping are still insufficient. Michael, if you have time, I'd like to see your white green brown lists (I realize that's a lot of homework, and writing curriculum is a miserable task). I ask because your posts are from the top three or four people I scan for when I'm looking for sensible advice in these forums.
Michael, that may be the best approach: start from a bare minimum and add a limited repertoire of manipulations as needed based on the size of the apiary. I can chase down the swarms from my four hives easily, but for 100? Impossible. As to where those limits are, beekeepers with more experience that I would have to speak up. But really, that's more about best practice than this proposed PEP1 certification system. So the question is, do splits belong in PEP1? Maybe, but at what level, and why (meaning, under what circumstances is this acceptable)? Does queen rearing belong in PEP1? Probably not.
Within beek culture there seems to be a subset of people with a strong tendency to get in there and fiddle with the hive. PEP1 should actively discourage that, at least in my opinion.
For context, I meet most of the requirements for the various versions of Brown Belt outlined here except for the versions that are manipulation or sales heavy. My thoughts are that this is PEP[aul] not PEC[ommercial production]. I think that PEP standards would likely be treatment free (except feeding during initial installation, or if trauma to the colony is your own fault, i.e. a late but necessary cutout, or stupidly robbing too much honey). I don't think the type of hive should matter (since some local laws require removable frames) as long as the management style allows for the building of natural comb at the bees own preferred cell size (foundationless), along with cyclical renewal of the comb. Warrés, Japanese multi-tiered boxes or gums, and HTBHs do this automatically, and the Rose Hive method will work for Langs if you standardize on mediums or shallows. Perones or Holzer style gums might be allowed exceptions to that rule. I also suspect that PEP[aul] would prefer natural propagation, therefore no queen rearing, no splits, no shook swarms, but concentrating on recovery of swarms from one's own apiary, as well as baiting local survivor stock.
There are many traits we might select for the beekeeper's convenience (low use of propolis for example) that may actually be a disadvantage for the bees themselves. Here in Texas we have a huge problem with small hive beetle, especially when we have a warmer winter. Opening the hive less often and allowing the bees to propolize the heck out of things lets the bees manage the beetles on their own with beetle traps. Treating propolis as a nuisance, opening the hive and scraping it off (releasing trapped beetles), or selecting for "clean" bees, puts the colony at a disadvantage, requiring more input and management from the beekeeper. Almost any undesirable trait can be viewed this way, and only by allowing bees to evolve on their own can they they meet the selection pressures of an unstable environment.
The book lists look good. I second Beekeeping for All, At the Hive Entrance, and Honeybee Democracy. I think Seeley's book is a crucial read if you want to rid your head of all the dumb ideas about bees you picked up watching Saturday morning cartoons as a kid. The Sacred Bee in Ancient Times and Folklore is nice for some deep historical context, and fun for those who want a purple tinge to their brown belt.
Cortland, sorry just noticed you're in VA. Opuntia stricta is native to your area, or just south of you at least, and can be found well armed with recurved yellow spines, or nearly spineless. Might be better adapted to local conditions.
Plant O. engelmannii as a fence. If you plant pads every 2 or 3 feet you'll have a fairly impenetrable barrier in about two years. After four years no one will even be able to get over it. Deer might browse new cladodes as they emerge, but the spines come onso quickly and the raw flesh is so acidic they'll quickly lose interest. Planting in zone 6 will definitely be an experiment, but I know they grow well in zone 7a. The only main risk is if the growing season is short the new pads might not harden off before a freeze. The risk you run with a mass planting is it's extremely attractive to sucking insects, and can develop scale if there is limited airflow.
There are low growing prickly pears that make it all the way into Canada:
O. humifusa, O. macrorhiza, O. fragilis, and O. polyacantha which is super spiny.
Some yuccas also grow under pines, and are more cold hardy than one might realize. They're deer resistant and can form an impenetrable barrier as a mass planting.
Regarding Prickly Pears:
Opuntia humifusa, which Chrissy probably has growing under pines in her area is very cold hardy if sourced from the northern end of it's range, same with O. macrorhiza. They can both have decent little fruits, it just depends on the individual plant. I have an O. macrorhiza that tastes almost like anise, and another one that tastes like green yuck. Get a pad from one with decent fruits if you can. O. engelmanniican be very cold hardy, has beautiful white spines, and is a very large plant. It has the most consistently tastey fruit here in Texas. O. ellisiana is spineless, cold tolerant, and the cladodes are good eats. I cooked some last sunday with eggs and sausage. The nopal found in grocery stores is O. indica. It does have some cold tolerant varieties, but I have only seen them in Europe where it grows right up to the foothills of the Alps as an escapee/invasive. The varieties in grocery stores are all from Mexico and won't survive much north of zone 9b. The larger prickly pears would like some protection in zone 6, possibly a pile of rocks to their north. The smaller ones desiccate in the cold and perk back up in the spring.
Kerry, I'm in north TX as well, Dallas actually, and just started my first hive on Tuesday. I'm feeding because it's been so cold this week, but after reading Matt's reply I'll likely stop once the feeder is empty. Thanks for asking the question. My father likes to nurse and fiddle with his hive, but since I already have a yard full of chickens, ducks, and little boys I'm hoping to be a little more hands off. Go Texas bees!
Yesterday one of the hives in my dad's yard swarmed (third, possibly fourth swarm this spring from only two hives). In a panic (im new to bee keeping, and I'd just lost out on the second swarm Saturday) I threw together two Warré boxes and a base last night, and then captured (from 20+ feet up in a pecan tree) and installed the swarm in the predawn hours this morning. In my haste I botched the interior volume of the hive. The boxes were based on a very rough draft in a cad program in which I'd drawn what I imagined was a standard interior volume for a Warré hive (300x300x210 mm) and was drawing parts based on nominal lumber dimensions. Mysteriously the boxes fit 9 instead of 8 top bars perfectly. The top bar are 15/16 with 1/2 inch in between. Rechecking the drawing something went wacky switching from metric to standard in the model and my interior volume if roughly 350x350x210 mm. As I said the top bars are standard, bee space is unaffected by the mistake, I just have room for an extra top bar.
My question is, am I ok sticking with this nonstandard Warréesque hive, or should I switch to standard boxes as I nadir new ones over the coming years?
I live in Dallas, TX where we might have a couple days of snow/ice every two or three years. Most winters bees are active even in January, and nerve daisies and Blackfoot daisies bloom right through the winter unless there's an ice storm. In a colder climate I might worry about the bees having to warm the extra volume, but not here. Also, the queen in this new colony is descended from a wild queen captured with her swarm locally well over a decade ago, so well adapted to local conditions. Are there any another reasons for me to be concerned about my goofy Warré?
Also, I'm new to this forum, but y'all seem like really nice people. Thanks for any suggestions or advice.