Taming a tangled wilderness

We’re unusually free with sharing our successes and failures here at Innisfree on the Stillwater, a fact that is intentional and purposeful rather than naive and dramatic. You see, our desire, along with giving people access to quality, sustainably grown … Continue reading

We’re unusually free with sharing our successes and failures here at Innisfree on the Stillwater, a fact that is intentional and purposeful rather than naive and dramatic. You see, our desire, along with giving people access to quality, sustainably grown food is also to help educate the vast majority of people who don’t understand what it takes to grow their food exactly what it takes to grow their food.

In addition to some thinking we’re arrogant for having such a goal, one of the classic responses we get, especially to failures, is that we don’t know what we’re doing. The irony, to a point, is that these critics are right, but for entirely the wrong reasons.

As it turns out, we don’t know what we’re doing because the knowledge of what we’re trying to do, in many cases, has been almost entirely lost, sometimes intentionally. Over the past several decades, there has been a radical revolution in agriculture almost unheard of since the invention of agriculture itself, and often not always for the better. This revolution has happened so quickly that the knowledge got lost before it got written down.

The result has been tragic, from loss of crop diversity so severe that entire annual crops are now entirely clones to animals so closely bred for specific genetics that they die from eating food they’re supposed to be able to eat, along with a population now so far removed from the realities of what it actually takes to feed them that this all seems normal to them.

We don’t know what we’re doing because we’re on the frontier trying to create a bulwark against the threats these kinds of changes represent. We understand we’re not going to overturn or replace those realities, but we also know some level of that knowledge must be salvaged or rediscovered or the potential for disaster is real and imminent.

So yes, we admit our ignorance, not as a condemnation of ourselves, but as a bellwether of the risks we all face. We do this because we desperately want to learn before it’s too late and for others to understand the risks we all face.

Perhaps that makes us arrogant, but the fact is that explorers and discoverers have always had to be to succeed at what they’re trying to do. We accept that aspersion and the challenge it represents because the task must be done.

DLH

Soon…

As you can see, much has changed since my last Flow hive update – for the better!

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Some people with Flow hives have reported that the bees are not capping all the cells on their frames all at once. I will need to open things up and pull out the Flow frames to make sure that all the honey cells are capped before I harvest – if too many cells are still being filled, the honey will have too high of a water content and ferment. I do want to try my hand at making mead, but on my own time, with properly “dry” honey!

Unfortunately, it’s going to be a spell of hot and humid days around here, so that will have to be an early morning hive check. I have no desire to overheat in that bee suit. But once the frames have been checked, if any are 90% or more capped, I can harvest just that frame and leave the rest of the frames alone. I find that fantastic.

The outer frames appear to be works in progress, as seen from the observation window.

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I have a traditional 10-frame medium honey super on the other hives, and am keeping an eye on that as well. The frames just have foundation on them, so those bees need to draw out the comb before they can start making honey.

Minding my beeswax

With regular hive maintenance and honey harvesting, there is beeswax as one of the “by-products”. Bees build comb where they shouldn’t (called “burr comb” or “brace comb”) that needs to be scraped off for me to be able to get the frames out. Honey can only be extracted when the wax caps over the honey are removed.

What to do with all this? Melt it down, strain out the impurities, and make something! In this case – votive candles. They will need to set up over a day or so (I will wait a few days to be certain that the centers are solid), then can be removed from the mold and trimmed.

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Buttermilk honey scones

Today’s experiment (which began yesterday) was to use up the buttermilk from this week’s butter-making. I’m pleased with the results!

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Clockwise from top left: strawberry, cinnamon & ginger, orange, plain

The strawberries were fresh from the market last Saturday, and the oranges had been dried last year and re-hydrated for this recipe.

I used the recipe from The Messy Organic Mum, with a few changes (always!) – I used my fresh-ground hard white wheat for the flour, and I soaked the mixture overnight in the fridge, then brought it to room temperature before adding the extras and baking.

For next time? More cinnamon and ginger because the flavor was too subtle. I used roughly 1.5 teaspoons of each – I could barely taste the cinnamon, and couldn’t taste the ginger at all. Maybe add some more orange pieces, too.

This one is a keeper, and the sweet or savory possibilities are endless.

 

 

 

Whole grain lemon donuts

Finally got around to using my new silicone donut pan, and tested out a baked lemon donut recipe I found. Of course, I modified the recipe to what you see below 🙂2016-05-10 09.18.28

1 1/2 cup whole-grain flour

1/2 cup honey

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg

6 oz plain yogurt with lemon juice to taste

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup milk

Because I used all whole-grain flour, I mixed everything up and let it soak in the fridge overnight, then baked at 325* for 20 minutes (donuts were lightly browned on top). Glazed with 1 cup powdered sugar + 4 Tbl lemon juice whisked together.

 

They turned out pretty good – not too dense, and when glazed, a good lemon flavor.

For next times:

  1. Add more lemon juice to the yogurt – the unglazed donut didn’t have much lemon flavor, but when the glaze was added, it tasted very good.
  2. Roll in cinnamon/sugar mixture instead of glazing with lemon
  3. Use applesauce or a banana instead of olive oil

What’s the big deal about the Flow hive?

Chances are, you have heard about this new idea in beekeeping called the Flow hive, the invention of father and son Stu and Cedar Anderson from Australia. To make a long story not so long, they thought they  had a great idea to change beekeeping, set up a Kickstarter, received a whole pile of money from backers who also thought it was a great idea, and now had to figure out how to make what they thought was going to be a small-scale business into a now multi-national business. Things happened, ship dates were delayed, at least one machine went kaput, etc etc. as they tried to keep a handle on everything. Check out their website for their full story and videos.

The interwebz is love it, hate it, and everything in-between. Many of the haters are of the “people who don’t know anything about bees are going to now have beehives and screw it up” sort. Flow has a ton of videos about the nuts and bolts of beekeeping available on YouTube (to join the three tons of videos about the nuts and bolts of beekeeping  already available on YouTube), they have compiled lists of beekeeping organizations by country and state, and have generally be pretty darn proactive about giving people the resources they need to be successful in beekeeping. The glass of information is full – take hold of it and drink deep.

Fast forward – I received my two Flow supers a couple months after the targeted shipping date (not the full hive option, just the 7 frame super) and put them together. The cedar wood is a nice upgrade, by the way. Some of the corner joints didn’t fit very well (too tight), so I had to Dremel them down to fit. Aggravating, but nothing to skewer them over. I’ve gotten worse constructed items from well-known bee supply companies. I got them assembled, then coated them with Spar urethane for protection from the weather.

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Flow super fully assembled – the bees will be living in the box under this, and there will be a cover on top.
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Side view – observation window with cover
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Covers removed and ready for honey harvest. This side is at the back of the hive so the bees are not disturbed while harvesting.

The girls have been bringing in the pollen over the last week, which means spring is definitely here, so I will check the hives on a calm, sunny day to see how the frames are filling up. When it looks like they need more room, I’ll add a Flow super to 2 of the hives, and a regular medium honey super to the third hive. This is a brand new honey super, so the bees will have to make the honeycomb on the frames before they can start the honey process. Will the Flow supers be filled and ready to harvest before that?

Why did I spend the money on this? Like many beekeepers, I don’t want to disturb the bees more than necessary. Taking frames out of the hive to harvest the honey is something that can upset the bees (I’m taking their winter food, in their opinion), and honey harvesting itself is hard work – put on the beesuit, go to the hives, take the heavy honey box off the hive to wherever you’re harvesting the honey, remove beesuit, uncap the frames, put them in the honey extruder, spin the honey out, filter the bits and pieces out of the honey, pour the honey into jars, put the frames back in the box, but the beesuit back on, take the box back to the apiary, put the box back on the hive, clean everything up.

Also, 1 frame can be harvested at a time. You can lift the frame up to see how many cells are capped, and if it’s ready – harvest time. If there are still a lot of cells that aren’t full, put it back and check the next one.

By this point, the beekeepers in Australia and other places in the southern hemisphere have had their honey season. They’ve put up videos of harvesting the honey from the Flow hive – standing right next to the hive with no beesuit.

I have seen one video (not in English) of someone who had taken the Flow super off of the hive, and took it in a building to harvest. He seemed to be having lots of problems with the harvest. Without being able to understand what he was saying or know the context of why the super was in a building and not still on the hive, I’m leaning toward operator error. I could be wrong.

So this season will be an experiment in honey harvesting. With any crowdfunded item, there’s a non-zero chance that the item was great in theory and not so great in application. But all indications so far are that the Flow works. Stay tuned to see if it works for me!

And just so it’s in the open, these are documentation posts. I will not be debating the merits (or lack thereof) of the Flow, but recording my experience. Take any hate elsewhere.

Pre-bacon

This was bound to happen…

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It’s been fascinating to watch these two little girls – we have them in one of the large barn pens until the weather is better. This is the pen where we keep the beeves while they are waiting to be taken to the butcher, so there is a nice deep layer of cow poo, straw, and hay for the pigs to root through. As you can see, they got right to work looking for yummies to eat!

They have pretty precise control over that snout of theirs – I’ve seen them delicately root in one spot, but they can also use that snout like a plow and move through several feet of debris.

They also “nest” – we have a heat lamp for them, and I watched them paw the hay around where they were going to sleep until it was where they wanted, then they snuggled into the nest together.

Little Pink is more wary than Big Black, who will come right up to me now. They both know the sound of the feed bucket, and start running around until I get in the pen.

And they don’t stink. Really, they don’t. In my experience, stinky animals come from being confined to too small of a space, or being fed a poor diet. They do have a scent, but everything has a scent. 🙂

 

More whole grain success

Too darn cold to work outside, except to feed the critters, so why not play with some more whole grain recipes?

I’ve (re)discovered that the longer you soak the grain flour, the better the finished product will be. 12-24 hours seems to be the conventional wisdom.

Yesterday morning I started a batch of tortillas, pancakes, and bread. I left the bread dough to soak all day, and the tortillas and pancakes soaked overnight.

Results?

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Whole grain pancakes

 

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Whole grain tortillas

Thus far, we are pleased with the pancakes, tortillas, pita, and pizza crust. I did a batch of whole grain buttermilk biscuits with a longer soak, and they turned out much better.

The bread is a work in progress – maybe I’m soaking it too long, maybe the yeast is not active enough, maybe it’s in too warm/too cold of a place to soak, maybe… It’s rising, but this past batch only came out around 3″ high – better than the first batch, but not quite sandwich bread yet!

I still need to tweak the hamburger buns recipe with a longer soak to see if that lightens them up a bit – they were pretty dense.

Nothing has been inedible (yet!), which is reassuring!

 

100% whole grain

We have wanted to transition to using flour that we grind ourselves, and I just recently used the last of the King Arthur flour, so have been searching for recipes that use 100% whole grain flour. So far, we’ve been happy with the buttermilk biscuits and hamburger buns. I have recipes lined up for pita, tortillas, bread, pizza crust, and bagels – will report on those as they happen.

The thing I’ve noticed is that once the dough is mixed, it needs to rest (anywhere from 2 hours to overnight – the recipe will specify). This allows the moisture to soak into the grain, and you end up with a lighter end product. This means you need to plan a bit more, but the end product is worth it!

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Swinging for the fences

The one part of our farming adventure at Innisfree on the Stillwater that has dogged us since the beginning is the fact that we have continued to lease our 100 acres of tillage ground, mostly for the sake of the … Continue reading

The one part of our farming adventure at Innisfree on the Stillwater that has dogged us since the beginning is the fact that we have continued to lease our 100 acres of tillage ground, mostly for the sake of the cash rent. Of course, that lease meant a compromise in the form the use of herbicides and pesticides on that ground every year, but the money was hard to turn down.

Taking back over that ground has always been a part of our plan, and with the upcoming end of the current lease, it has been a regular topic of conversation for us.

This year, as the result of the advent of glyphosate-resistant weeds, the ante got upped with the application of 2,4-D to the entire 100 acres, which fact proved to be a bridge too far for my wife and me. As a result, we’ve decided not to renew the lease and to start working that ground ourselves.

This is a significant step for us, mostly in that it involves a loss of about a third of the farm’s cash income over at least the next couple of years as we transition to new endeavors. Irrespective of the cost, we plan to follow through on this because it is the right thing to do.

Sure, maybe we’re radical and idealistic, but we actually want to leave our little part of planet earth better than we found it for future generations. And so, we will take that ground back over and farm it the way we believe is right.

For us, that means planting about 40 acres of it in grass hay and about another 30 acres of it in fast-growing hardwood trees we plan to sustainably lumber for a variety of farm uses, especially for fence posts for our animal operations. The remainder will function as both a prairie area and for small food plots.

This transition is going to be risky and stressful, but neither of us have any doubt it is the right thing to do. We firmly believe Innisfree represents the future of agriculture, and that fact alone makes what we have decided worth it.

Here’s to hoping and to swinging for the fences.

DLH

[UPDATE: Edited for content]