The Wild File

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Q) If bees take nectar from poisonous plants, will they make poisonous honey?


A reader with settlin' on his mind wrote to ask if it's STILL POSSIBLE TO HOMESTEAD anywhere. Not in this country. In 1976, Congress repealed the Homestead Act of 1862, which granted 160 acres to anyone who would inhabit and farm it for five years. That said, there are opportunities. One dying Kansas town, Marquette, is giving away two-thirds-of-an-acre plots to anybody who moves there and builds a home. Some countries, like India, offer varying amounts of free land to companies or individuals that invest large amounts in local industry—but you probably don't have that kind of scratch. Your most affordable option? The African nation of Zambia. Seeking to ease a decades-long food shortage, that country's government recently started leasing vast swaths of unfarmed land to fo...

Illustration by Jason Holley

Drew Craven, Traverse City, Michigan

Legend has it that in the first century B.C., Roman troops under the command of Pompey ate a batch of bad honey and were trampled in battle, but modern bee experts wonder whether such a calamity is even possible. According to Jim Cane, an entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Logan, Utah, poison honey could result only if all the bees in a particular hive collected nectar from plants that contain alkaloids toxic to humans—such as ragwort, azaleas, and rhododendrons. But in the buzzing reality of daily life, bees collect from hundreds of types of plants, so whatever toxins they pick up are diluted to the point of harmlessness. Bottom line? Fear not. But if you must worry, take your honey by the tablespoon rather than the bucket.

Q) I've heard coconut juice can be used as a blood substitute—true?
Paul Povey, Gig Harbor, Washington

Gilligan, it's a good thing you came to the Professor before trying this. The thin, semisweet "water" inside a coconut (not called milk, which is processed from the coconut meat) can't carry oxygen, so it can't stand in for blood. But it contains important nutrients like glucose, potassium, and calcium, so it can, like saline, be introduced into the bloodstream to rehydrate patients who are unable to swallow. The British, Japanese, and U.S. militaries employed this technique in the South Pacific during World War II, and even today it's used as a stopgap in places like the Solomon Islands when supplies are scarce, according to California E.R. doctors Darilyn and Troy Falck, who have done so, and saved lives with it. The setup is simple: Suspend coconut over patient, run transfusion tubing from coconut's eye to human's arm, insert IV needle, and let it flow. But go easy. Too much of the juice would be toxic, due to its high potassium content. A typical patient's limit? Four nuts per day, tops.

Q) What's the windiest place in the solar system?
Amy Waddell, Los Angeles, California

If Winnie the Pooh took in a blustery day on Neptune, he would become Winnie the Projectile—wind speeds there routinely reach 900 miles per hour in the atmosphere. (Neptune being a giant ball of gas, it has no surface on which to measure surface wind speed.) Why is the eighth planet from the sun so blowy? We don't know. According to Adam Showman, a planetary-science professor at the University of Arizona, scientists can estimate wind speeds on distant orbs by tracking the movement of clouds and dust, but they don't know why one planet is windier than another. While they sort that out, chalk up one more reason to appreciate life on Earth. While the fastest recorded wind here, occurring on the ground in an Oklahoma tornado, was a hair- raising 318 miles per hour, the average wind speed on the surface is a much more bearable 10 to 20 mph.

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