Monday, February 27, 2012

Bread. (As a vehicle for honey)

-posted by Jayne

Today I thought I would share with you our family's favorite bread recipe. In our house, bread is mostly eaten as a "vehicle for honey." Although we do eat our share of sandwiches and like to dip crusty bread in soup, we usually just toast our bread and smother it with butter and honey.
I am proud to say I have not bought a loaf of bread from the store yet this year, as I have simply made bread making a part of my weekly routine. I like to make 2 loaves at a time so I can stick one in the freezer, and have one fresh. This recipe is not the healthiest of all bread recipes since it is made with white flour, but it is super simple and easily can be adjusted with other flours. I have been substituting whole wheat flour and have had good results, although it doesn't rise quite as much. Any expert bread bakers want to lend a hand to tell me what I can do to make it rise better? Please feel free to leave me a comment!

This recipe comes courtesy of my mother-in-law, who clipped it from the recipe section of the Columbus Dispatch.

Easy Crusty Bread
start to finish: 3 hours (20 mins active)
Makes 1 loaf

1 1/2 cups slightly warm water
1/4 cups whole-wheat flour
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp instant yeast
3 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt (original recipe called for 2 but I thought it was too salty)
Cornmeal, for dusting

In a large bowl, combine the water, whole-wheat flour, sugar, yeast, and 1 cup of the bread flour. Stir until smooth. Let stand until doubled in size and bubbly, about 60 minutes.
Add the rest of the flour and the salt and knead in a bowl until smooth. The dough will be very sticky. Cover and let rest for 15 mins. Fold the dough over on itself. Repeat the rest and fold process 5 more times. The dough should become very elastic and stretchy with big bubbles of air. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and dust with cornmeal. (I just give it a generous sprinkling of cornmeal).
Using floured hands, place the dough on the prepared baking sheet. Allow to rest 15 minutes. Spritz the loaf with water, then bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped. Transfer to a rack to cool.

What I love most about this bread is that it is crusty, yet not too dense. In the summer when we are regularly at farmers markets, I often trade honey or soap for bread with Lucky Cat Bakery. Their bread is amazing! When the farmers markets were over in November, I was determined not to go back to the fluffy tasteless store-bought bread, so I began researching bread making by reading Healthy Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day. This book is very helpful in learning how to make these crusty loaves, rather than traditional bread-pan loaves.

As you can see by the above picture, it is very hard to explain to a 3 year old why they can't eat a piece of bread yet because Mommy has to take a picture for the blog...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Feeding Bees

-posted by Isaac

Maizy has her tortilla Mardi Gras mask and she's ready to party.

It's a warm week on the bee farm as these February days dwindle away. The girls are out flying, having a good time wasting energy, not finding a darn thing to eat. The temp. reached 55 yesterday and I think they called for near sixty today. This makes for a delightful time if you're a bee-- checking out your new warm world, stretching the wings, sniffing around... but if you're a beekeeper, you're not crazy about it. This was the thought that crept in during my early morning zone-out today.

I like to spend a few minutes 'fire staring' on winter mornings before the wild ruckus begins. When all is quiet and dark, the kids are still sleeping, and there's nothing but the warm, crackling fire for entertainment. Thinking, you ask? ... poetic and philosophic? No, not hardly. Just staring mainly. But I did have one bee thought this morning, and that was this: we could really be screwed. It's too warm! The bees are flying daily and building up a nice brood nest I'm sure. If you live in Georgia, this is a good thing. But not here. Mason and I took the truck to find a load of wood the other day, and we worked in t-shirts. In February!

The reason this may turn out to be a bad thing is that we're looking at March right around the corner... the real killing time for bees. As you beekeepers know, a few days of cold while the bees are trying to raise and keep brood warm can spell disaster. The bees seem to put more importance on keeping the brood (baby bees) warm then feeding themselves. Many hives die of starvation this time of year. Not from lack of available food, but rather a lack of mobility in the hive. They'll sit on the brood and starve with honey stores just two inches away.

I try to remedy this problem by feeding periodically throughout the winter. Although we leave a full super of honey to the bees in the fall, by now they have eaten their way upward to where most hives have a sizable cluster on top. A big food patty on top where the girls can get to it sometimes does just the trick. This winter I tried feeding Dadant sugar patties in January. Most of the hives ate them right up, even with frames of honey right beside the cluster. I came back the first week of this month and plopped down a big cake of my own concoction-- a blend of granulated sugar, powdered protein, and our own honey and pollen.

This is a fairly weak hive pictured, but I like this photo because it gives you a chance to see which patty the bees like better. Proud to say Honeyrun Farm came out the winner. I think it must be the honey blended in there. In most of the hives, the stronger ones, the Dadant patties are all gone.

I'll go back for another round of feeding and checking in March. Hopefully everyone will still be hanging in there. We're sitting at about a 15% winter loss at the moment (Not too bad!), but it all could change with a big blustery cold.

Lent is upon us. "What are you giving up?" Jayne asks.

I told her I would try to give up womanizing, but that would be really hard. I think maybe, for forty days, I'll try to give up worrying about the bees. You can do everything right in this business, have a healthy thriving hive one day, and dead bees the next. Feeding helps, but the weather this time of year is the real factor.

I grew up feeding about 100 head of cattle with my Dad every morning. Then in high school I worked at a jersey dairy, and that was even worse-- blended and rationed feed for every cow twice a day. Bees are so much easier-- a couple feedings a winter and you're done! Of course, cows don't suddenly drop dead either. Lent is tough.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Time Spent at the PEAS Farm in Missoula, MT

(posted by Jayne)

While Isaac was roaming around the western United States working with a commercial beekeeper, I was finishing my masters in Rural Sociology at the University of Montana. As part of my masters program I held an internship at The PEAS (Program in Ecological Agriculture and Society) Farm, which was a partnership with the University's Environmental Studies program and Garden City Harvest, a non-profit that focuses on building community through agriculture.
The PEAS Farm greenhouse in the distance, located in the Rattlesnake valley in Missoula.

The PEAS Farm offered me the opportunity to learn more about growing vegetables on a larger scale than the backyard garden we had growing up. My sister-in-law Becky and I had the crazy dream of becoming produce farmers, but we had never really seen it done in a tangible way, and didn't know if it would really be possible to make a living this way. The PEAS farm showed us a reasonable scale that could be achieved, and put us in contact with an inspiring professor and farmer, Josh Slotnick. Josh and his wife founded Clark Fork Organics in 1992, and in 1996 he became an Environmental Studies professor at UM and helped to start the PEAS farm.
One of the best parts about working at the PEAS farm was that while we worked in the fields - planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting... Josh would teach. Josh has the gift that so many professors have - being able to explain obscure concepts in such an easily understandable, attainable way. Michael Pollan, Wendell Berry, and Jared Diamond were just a few of the authors often discussed, intermixed with information about crop science, organic farming practices, as well as practical knowledge about how to cook rare vegetables.
At the PEAS farm I learned how to eat beets, celeriac, and kale. Oh, the kale... it grew so large and never got bitter! This was cool weathered Montana, afterall. And the carrots were so so sweet... the best carrots I have ever tasted. We ate them right out of the field without washing them because they were too good to resist. The PEAS farm grew the carrots, and then took them to a cannery at the Montana State Prison where inmates worked to preserve the food, which was eventually distributed by the Montana Food Bank Network. This was just one of the many great programs the PEAS Farm took part in. Below is a picture of some of my fellow workers taking a break while harvesting carrots. So we didn't work too hard all of the time...
The PEAS Farm had such a profound effect on my life, and I credit my time there for giving me the faith to jump into this Honeyrun Farm project once we returned to Ohio. I still remember clearly a time during my final Fall semester at UM, working at the farm one afternoon, we finished early with our harvesting for the day. We had harvested a pumpkin that was well known for having great seeds for roasting, and we retired to the PEAS Straw Bale Barn to try them out. I was standing on the porch of the barn, looking out over the Rattlesnake Valley, the trees blanketed in brilliant colors of Fall, the soft green mountains surrounding us on all sides, and said to Josh and my fellow workers, "After I leave here, when I think back on my time spent in Montana... this is what I am going to remember the most."
And I was right. Not just the beauty of the area, but everything about the PEAS farm resonates with me as being the right place for me at that point in time. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to work at the PEAS farm, and only hope there could be more programs out there similar to Garden City Harvest in Missoula, MT. Thank-you Josh, for encouraging a new generation of farmers.

And yes, it is perfectly acceptable to wear flip flops and sneakers to a graduation ceremony in Montana.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Super Bowl of Beekeeping

I got to watch Super Bowl XLVI with my Dad this past Sunday. As usual, for me anyway, the game didn't mean much, but listening to Dad's game-play analysis was pretty fun. I'm the ear when he needs an ear. In the past decade, I haven't been able to fool with the Super Bowl all that much. One particular year I missed it was spent beekeeping in this wide beautiful country out west.

In 2006, February, I was in California; a player in what is considered to be the "super bowl" of beekeeping. As some of you are aware-- the great almond pollination begins about now, and thus the great migration for almost all commercial beekeepers, nearly 1.5 million hives. No, we didn't have our Honeyrun bees out there. In fact, there was no Honeyrun Farm. Jayne and I were newlyweds. She, a grad student at the University of Montana, and I, a peon making a peon's wage, got hooked up with the late great Wayne Morris out of Hamilton, MT.
Wayne was a second generation commercial beekeeper with around 5000 hives and loads of equipment to move bees. I was lucky enough and dumb enough to be hired on to his crew in August of '05 when Jayne decided she was going to run off to the mountains to finish her masters. Some people, God bless them, get to use their minds to further themselves. Jayne, possessing both beauty and brains, finds herself in this category. On the flip side are people like me and the unsavory workers of commercial beekeeping operations, obliged to set our backs into our wages, encouraged to show up, shut our mouths, and not do a whole lot of thinking.

A bee yard in Bishop, CA

Commercial beekeeping is pretty industrialized. Wayne's operation worked with hives on pallets, big trucks, trailers, forklifts, warehouses, $100,000 extracting facilities, semi trucks to transport bees, enormous holding yards to dock bees, thousands of gallons of HFCS to feed bees, high dollar pollination contracts to make the bees pay, and a witches' brew of chemicals (legal and otherwise) to keep bees alive. My eyes were opened to so many things, good, bad and ugly. August through October was an adventure in Montana beekeeping. November was an adventure in honey extracting. In December and January the adventure was on the road-- transporting 3500 hives from the beautiful high desert valley around Bishop, CA. to the warm avocado laden hillsides of Ventura in southern California.

February brought the almonds-- the super bowl of beekeeping. We (five of us) moved all the hives from the coast to just north of Bakersfield ("the armpit of California"), where Wayne had his bees contracted at $140 per hive on several different almond plantations. 3500 hives... you do the math.

Hold on, little darlings... here comes the food!

I'll spare you the details of actually moving, feeding, medicating and killing hives. Maybe we'll chew on that in another blog post. I'd like to instead share some personal memories of a pollination peon during the great almond pollination; the highlights and lowlights of California '06. You'll surely come to see as I did: commercial beekeeping is not at all romantic or wholesome, especially the pollination part... long nighttime hours, big dusty trucks, and fleabag motels... Here are some snippets of memory in no particular order:

*The continuous blurry stream of truck stop food and truck stop talk, truck stop restrooms and showers, and the good reading on the stalls.

*Wayne's favorite breakfast: Carl's Jr.

His favorite dinner: any "good" salad with a few shreds of lettuce and about a pound of Thousand Island dressing.

*Pulling into the fleabag motels at three in the morning.... they were usually next to the roaring super highway, and the check-in guy, always foreign and oh so welcoming!

*Dropping a pallet of bees (literally, from about six feet up) already lost, one o'clock in the morning in some godforsaken avocado patch.

*Getting lost nightly, even in the high desert (moving bees is all in the dark).

*Driving a loaded bee truck through Los Angeles at two in the morning.

*Becoming well acquainted with Monster, Red Bull, Rock Star, Full Throttle... gag.

*The southern California super highway, Rte 99. One wet night we slowly passed by a wreck... cruiser lights and blood on the road. Wayne's comment: "Ouch... rough night for you!" he downshifted and turned up the radio.

*From an overpass, looking at miles of almond trees, all snow-white in bloom.

*Walking through the almond trees one sunny morning. The bees were out and active. Wayne watched awhile and said, "Well, now I don't feel like a total failure."

*Looking at the vast blue Pacific from a hillside near Ventura. (Wayne! We never did get to go swimming!)

*Multiple trips up to Fresno (even worse then Bakersfield, if that's possible) to fill a thousand gallon tank with HFCS. Dadant provided the goods.

*Wayne getting into a shoving match with one particular fleabag motel owner. The guy woke us up twice, demanding more money. Wayne was never at a loss for racial slurs.

*Taking a run in Fresno and literally being forced to jump over the homeless guys who were sprawled across the sidewalk that morning. Like me, they enjoyed that warm winter weather in the California sun.

*Another run, this time in Bakersfield at six in the morning after Wayne and the boys had retired to the motel. I was shirtless with long hair and a big beard (a Montana Jesus), and I came running toward this scarred up hooded guy gripping a four foot steel pipe. He gave me a wide-eyed glare... but didn't take a swing. Perhaps he was as frightened as I!

*Working through the day, the night, and into the next morning on a 20-hour Salton Sea run. We had moved bees out of the almonds and driven down to place them on the citrus in the far, far south. Wayne wanted to be the only beekeeper in the country making honey in March. I fell asleep watching the Mexicans throw fishing lines in a grapefruit irrigation pond. They wound their line around beer cans as makeshift reels.

*The stark contrast between day and night in the almonds. By day, everything was calm and peaceful-- beautiful white blooms bathing in the California sun. The hum of working bees filling the air.... By night, it was trucks, noise, floodlights, ropes, smoke, yelling and work and work and work...

*Picking a strawberry, an avocado, an orange, lemon, grapefruit and pomegranate all within the span of a few hours. Eating them all.

*The "bathroom trolley" (a wagon with a port-o-john) that served the 20 or so Mexican workers I watched one morning picking strawberries. The field was around 90 acres in size; the berries were ripe. The workers (men, women and children) were all hunched over. I leaned against a shade tree at the side of the field. Then I went behind it and took a pee.

*Midnight runs to the Seven-Eleven. Pints of Haagen-Dazs ice cream. Only the best for the Wayne Morris crew!

*Wayne dropped me off at an L.A. airport one sunny April morning. I was heading back to Montana and from there, home to Ohio in May. I remember saying something like, "Thanks for everything, Wayne. I'll see you next year for the almonds."

Bee help for pollination is hard to find because of the obvious nature of the work, and I knew Wayne wanted me back the following year. It turns out, those were the last few words I ever spoke to Wayne Morris. He met his untimely death the following Fall swimming in the Sea of Cortez. I didn't find out until the winter. The guy I talked to said that he was pulled out in the rip current and drowned. The business was sold the spring of '07.

I'm left with the memories of not quite a year in commercial bees. Again, thanks for everything, Wayne.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What do Beekeepers Do in the Winter?

(Posted by Isaac)
The honeymoon is over. The baby honeymoon, that is. Our last post was November 27th, a day before 8 lb 3 oz Bridger Thomas Barnes was born. Although things have continued to be very busy with kids, new baby and the bee business, we realize we need to do a better job with the blog. The new goal is to post at least once a week. We'll do our best. To those out there who like to check in with us, thank you for your patience. Here is Bridger at 7 weeks, happy as can be.

We had our first market day of 2012 last Saturday at Worthington. It went extremely well. Jayne and I are overwhelmed at the support and encouragement coming from you honey lovers. It was fun to see the locavore market crowd and once again get to talk honey, bees, soap and babies. It is sincerely flattering that some of you hold out for Honeyrun Farm honey and seem to put our products on a pedestal. For our part, we'll continue to strive to put out the very best in local raw food. Thank you so much!

As some of you know, I'm no longer teaching. 2012 will mark the first year that Jayne and I have gone "all in" with this business. We realize we've taken somewhat of a risk, but the present tidal wave of support for local farmers in central Ohio has enabled us to take a leap of faith and devote 100% of our energy to Honeyrun Farm. Well... maybe I should clarify. At the end of most days, it feels like 95% of the energy goes into child rearing, as those of you with kids well know.

Jayne will continue to lift the heaviest burden in 2012, chasing three young kids around while marketing soap, honey, pollen, candles, herbs, gift boxes, ect...

Here she is, packing boxes for Etsy customers while Bridger naps, strapped to mommy's chest. We're lucky he's such a calm, content baby.

For my part, I'll continue doing my hobbies, but this year be calling it my "work." -- producing honey and pollen, building things, and providing pollination to local orchards. As in 2011, I'll help my brother and cousins when things get busy on their 2700 acre grain farm.

So what are we doing at present you may wonder... Mainly dreaming of Spring, but yes, the days can be busy for beekeepers even in the winter. I'm using every spare moment in January and February for building hive parts. We hope to be up to 300 hives by the end of this year, and this means a lot of frames, boxes, bottom boards, lids, ect...

In April we'll need plenty of healthy hives for pollination of apple orchards, so that entails feeding and checking hives in February and March. I'll be mixing hundreds of pounds of sugar and protein feed patties for the bees this week. Yum yum...

Check back in next week, hopefully we'll stick to our blog this year and keep you up to date with what is going on around the farm. We appreciate your support and interest!