Monday, February 10, 2014


We attended the 2014 Southeastern Kentucky Beekeeping School event this weekend. We attended the Eastern Kentucky event last year, so decided to mix it up and do the Southeastern one this time around. The drive should have taken about an hour and forty-five minutes. It snowed Saturday morning, however, and the roads hadn't been treated when we left around 6:15 AM. It ended up taking us close to two and a half hours to get there. I considered turning and going back home at one point, after nearly losing control of the truck on a four-lane highway, but we were more than halfway there, so I figured the drive back home would be worse than continuing.

The event itself was very informative. I attended workshops on Natural Beekeeping, Forage Crops for Bees, Queen Rearing, and Races of Bees. The workshops gave me a renewed interest in beekeeping. I was especially pleased with the Races of Bees workshop, because it helped me to understand more about the diversity of European Honeybee available, and how to determine which might be the best fit for us.

After the workshops ended we met a friend in Somerset before heading home. Its always nice when we can work in seeing someone we don't see often with attending workshops.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Exploring the Uses of Raw Milk

As I mentioned previously in Obtaining Raw Milk via a Herd Share, we joined a herd share about a month ago. Since then we have been enjoying the many uses of raw milk, as Andrea has experimented with making various products that we previously had to buy.

When raw milk is allowed to settle, the cream separates and rises to the top. This can either be skimmed off, and used in place of heavy whipping cream, or mixed back into the milk by shaking it. The lady who runs the herd shares indicated that some of her customers like the richer taste of the milk without removing the cream, but we've found sufficient uses for the cream that we've been removing it so far.

The first thing that Andrea made from the cream was an Alfredo sauce, which we had with some homemade pasta. The sauce was delicious, but homemade sauce is not something we have regularly, so I can't really judge how much of a role the fresh creamed played in the way it turned out.

Next Andrea decided to make some butter from the cream. I had no idea how simple it was to make homemade butter, especially if an electric stand mixer is used. The first taste of the homemade butter was on fresh from the oven homemade bread, which was an incredible combination. We gave up margarine long ago, and like to use locally produced butter whenever possible. I think homemade is better than even the locally produced stuff, though, but I'm likely biased. I've been told that making homemade butter from store-bought heavy cream is also quite tasty, and preferable to store-bought butter.

Andrea has also began experimenting with cheese-making. She has made ricotta a couple of times, which we've used in calzones, a baked pasta dish with alfredo sauce, and most recently cheese filled ravioli. The last batch that was used in the ravioli had a bit of an off taste, which she attributed to the vinegar that was used. More experimentation is needed, which just means more tasty foods to eat.

She has also made homemade mozzarella, which is nothing like the shredded pizza cheese most people are accustom to. We like to buy fresh mozzarella, so were able to compare the homemade version to that. The homemade cheese was easily as good as the store-bought fresh cheese, and can't even be compared to the pre-shredded stuff that you find in most grocery stores. The homemade mozzarella was tasty to eat by itself, and wonderful in calzones.

Andrea hopes to experiment more with cheese-making in the future. She also plans to experiment with either making yogurt or kefir, which I'll integrate into my morning smoothies. We typically have about half a gallon of milk left over each week for experimenting with, so she should have ample opportunity to try out everything she wants.

Raw milk is not required for making dairy products. There are, however, advantages to using raw milk instead of pasteurized. Of course there are risks as well. There is much disagreement over the seriousness of those risks. I urge everyone to do his/her own research and decide whether or not to try raw milk, whether for drinking, cooking, or making cheese, butter, etc.

What is Sustainability?

Yesterday, at a beekeeping workshop, one of the speakers made a statement about "sustainable beekeeping" that caught my attention. During a brief introduction of natural and sustainable beekeeping he defined sustainable beekeeping as maintaining the same number of hives from one year to the next. This is certainly not how I would define sustainable beekeeping, and it caused me to think about the way in which definitions such as his weaken the term.

I'm not picking on this gentleman specifically. I see many examples of sustainable being used in a way that I disagree with. Most often it seems, like with this sustainable beekeeping definition, the vision for sustainability doesn't extend past the farm, organization, or relevant industry. I've seen homesteaders describe the term sustainable as being an activity that generates sufficient income to allow the person to not hold an odd-homestead job.

According to the USDA the legal definition of Sustainable Agriculture is: "... an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long-term:

  • Satisfy human food and fiber needs.
  • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends.
  • Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls.
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations.
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole."

I find it interesting, though, how different this definition is from the definition of the individual words. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary sustainable is defined as "involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources". Nowhere in the definition of sustainable agriculture, however, is there mention of ensuring that natural resources are not depleted. The focus seems more on the benefits to the farmers, the society, and the economy.

In Miles Olsen's Unlearn, Rewild, the author asks an important question about ideas of sustainability. He provides the following example, 
"The Brazilian rainforest is being cleared at at alarming rate to make way for vast plantations of soybeans. Hundreds of thousands of acres of genetically modified monoculture. What if those tractors were powered by biodiesel? What if they were powered by methane trapped from composting human feces, which was then used to fertilize the field? Imagine that picture as an example of sustainability - vegan food being farmed using green fuel and human compost."

Then he asks the real question, "But why would anyone want to sustain that?" Olsen makes the point that we are trying to find convenient ways of somewhat reducing the environmental impact of our lifestyle, and calling that "sustainable". No matter how much we invest in alternative fuels and renewable energy, however, we are never going to turn the modern "civilized" lifestyle into something that is sustainable without making significant changes.

That is not to say that renewable energy and alternative fuel sources do not have their place in sustainability, because they certainly do. Those things, alone, however, are not sustainable, especially when paired with damaging practices like Olsen's Brazilian rainforest example.

We need to view sustainability in terms of overall impact to the environment, natural resources, and society, and not simply whether it can financially sustain our lifestyle or allow a given industry to continue for some period of time.

Sustainable beekeeping, in my opinion has nothing to do with how many hives one has. In fact, I see no reason one can't expand every year and still be practicing sustainable beekeeping. The key to sustainable beekeeping is ensuring there are bees and forage plants for them to feed on. I suspect that reducing chemical pesticide use, both in agriculture and landscaping, is a much bigger factor in sustainable beekeeping than anything an individual beekeeping may do in his/her apiary.

Many people will tell you that sustainability is subjective. It should not be, however.

Monday, February 3, 2014


Like most recent weeks, last week was pretty unproductive. The weekend was a bit of  a change, though.

The one productive thing I did during the week was attend the Field to Fork Planning Committee, during which we discussed which workshops to offer. I was volunteered to lead a workshop on growing garlic, which should be interesting. Leading a workshop is definitely a first for me, although its something I've assumed was inevitable to happen eventually.

By Saturday morning most of the snow had melted, and the temperatures had improved considerably. I'm not sure what the high temperature for the day was, but I suspect it was near 60 degrees. There was even a brief period during which I was outside working in a t-shirt.

I didn't tackle any major projects, because of the mud. I began by clearing some of the trails of briars that gone along side them and fallen over into the pathway. I especially focused on the trail from the trailer to the old house we're tearing down, since that is, by far, the closest way to travel between the two points for anyone walking.

While I had my pruners and brush axe out I decided to take a better look at the spot where I think we might eventually build a house. I walked around the edges of the most level section, and used the GPS to record it. Later I was able to download the data from the GPS and get a good look at the shape of the spot, and determine its area, which is roughly one-quarter of an acre, which should be plenty for the small house we plan to build.

Next I decided to ride the 4-wheeler up to check out one of the upper trails, an old logging road. There is only so much of the road passable, due to overgrowth, but with most vegetation dead I was able to park and walk the rest of the road, with help of the pruners in the most overgrown areas. I had followed the road partially before, but never the entire distance. It extended another quarter of a mile or so, where it ran into the property boundary. From here I was able to follow the property boundary for another tenth of a mile, before getting to a rather steep area that I thought might be too dangerous to tackle with Andrea gone and not aware I was out in the woods, so I turned back. I suspect I was getting fairly close to the northeast corner of the property, which I've never been able to locate. I'll definitely go back and try again.

It rained all day Sunday, so I spent the day working on projects inside. I listed some unwanted books for sale online, and then spent much of the remainder of the day shredded paper, which I'll later use as mulch in the garden. The weather forecast was calling for snow over night, perhaps as much as five inches, but at first glance this morning it seems they missed the forecast almost entirely, and we only have a dusting of now.