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beehive dead-out

Planet B Gardens’ bees, sadly, did not make it through this winter. After the bear attacks in the fall that took out half the hives, I had one large, strong hive left and one small, weak one. The remaining hives went into winter with plenty of fresh capped honey. When I opened the large hive, 75% of the honey remained, undisturbed. The smaller hive had 50% left.

There was no sign of moisture build-up, no mold, no varroa mites, no other visible disturbance in either of the hives. A ball of dead bees huddled together in the center of the hive, while the remaining dead ones littered the bottom board. This winter was particularly cold, so knowing that and from the lack of other disturbances, I suspect they simply froze to death.

Local beekeepers say they expect a high level of swarm activity this spring due to the fluctuations in weather among other factors. I cleaned up a bit of cross-comb and removed the dead bees, then set up three hives with the remaining frames of capped honey.

I might get lucky and scout bees will discover my hives full of food and decide it’s a great place to relocate when they’re ready to swarm. Or I will hear of a swarm through the beekeeping community grapevine and relocate the bees to my waiting hives. I could purchase bees again, but last year I heard of several swarms ready for relocation and would like to try repopulating my hives with a swarm (or two) first.

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shed antlers

Found a nicely matched pair of whitetail deer antlers on our walk around the property. Male deer naturally shed their antlers in late fall or winter after rutting season. Often squirrels and other rodents around here will chew on the antlers after they drop, so nice to see a pair in such good condition. These will no doubt be turned into antler art the next time I’m inspired.

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spring traffic jam

Wild turkey hen attracting a lot of attention….

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first garlic

First sprouts of Siberian Purple garlic emerging this spring from the few spots in the garden where snow has melted this season.

Much of the garden remains covered in snow, though, and the ground temp is still less than 40F.

Planting cover crops will have to wait a while longer. Crimson Clover going in once the ground warms up a bit more.

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yeast from scratch

Cultivating wild yeast to leaven bread is something I’ve been wanting to try since I learned it was possible. I should have done it much sooner. My bread game is changed.

The process creates a sourdough starter that will last as long as I keep feeding it. Creating the initial starter takes around 14 days before it’s ready to use for baking bread. I started with local hard red wheat berries that I ground into a course flour.

I mixed equal parts of the whole wheat flour with pineapple juice — 60 grams each by weight. I kept it in my proofer set to 70F, and followed the remaining sourdough starter-making videos here.

After a week of tending my starter, it still wasn’t fermenting much. I turned the temp up to 72F. That seemed to jumpstart things a little bit. After a couple more days, though, fermentation activity remained low. I ended up purchasing local freshly-ground whole wheat flour to continue my feedings. Once I did that, fermentation really took off with big bubbles forming in the mix. The wheat berries I had were a few years old, so may not have had enough natural yeast and bacteria to get the process going strongly enough to create a leaven.

I made my first dough with the starter on Day 15. To test to see if the starter was ready, I fed the starter and marked the level of the mix. The videos say the starter should double within a few hours when it’s ready for baking. Mine more than doubled within the first hour.

From there I took out 100 grams of the starter, 390 grams unbleached white all-purpose flour, 8 grams sea salt, and 250 grams water. I mixed that together, and set it in my proofer at 75F for 4 hours. After 4 hours, I took it out, stretched and folded it a few times, and proofed it at 70F for 2 hours. The dough was very sticky at this stage.

At the 2-hour mark, I stretched the dough from the outside to the center to form a gluten “skin” and let it rest for 20 minutes at 70F. In the meantime, I floured a banneton.

I put the dough in the banneton after 20 minutes, put the whole thing in a plastic bag, and placed it in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning I put the banneton with dough in the proofer at 76F for 4 hours until a finger poked in the dough had just the right resistance — not too “slack” and not too tight. Seeing the video helps.

Once the loaf was getting close to finished proofing, I placed my baking cloche in the oven and preheated to 500F.

When the oven was ready, I took out the bottom cloche half and lined it with parchment paper.

The next step was to flip the dough into the preheated cloche. Unfortunately, the dough stuck to the banneton so I had to rip the bottom layer of the unbaked loaf to get it out. Not ideal both for tearing the dough and for deflating it a bit. The top of the loaf looked a bit funky, too.

I reduced the temperature to 450F, sprayed the top of the dough with water, put the top on the cloche, and baked the whole thing for 15 minutes. I removed the top at that point, and finished baking for another 15 minutes.

The resulting bread was deflated on one side, but the crust had a beautiful crunch, the crumb was springy, and the taste was a tiny bit sour and delicious.

Next time I’ll make sure the banneton is sufficiently floured before putting in the dough to proof. I’m looking forward to seeing how the starter changes over the next week as I keep feeding it, and if the bread is any more sour.

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flower skull mosaic

My latest creation…

Bison skull mosaic — inspired by Norwegian rosemaling.

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spring cleaning

Look what was buried under the snow in the yard. Some spring cleaning help, my little woodland scavengers?

Okay, Tika said he’d help.

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endless snow and baking

Getting mad baking skills with the endless snow this winter….

Rye batard today—fresh out of the oven.

 

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first sign of green

Winter 2016-17 has been a snowfest. It’s mid-March and the forecast is for another foot of snow this week to add to the 4-6’+ of snow already on the ground, depending where you look. Last year this time spring garden prep was already underway. The indoor potted chives on the window sill are a good early indicator spring is around the corner, though. The first couple of flower buds popped up this week!

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plant burger review

Is this burger made from plants as good as a beef burger? Actually, no.

I like it better.

I was in Seattle recently, which is one of the test markets for The Beyond Burger.

Grill a few minutes on each side, and quicker than a beef burger, I’ve got a medium-rare looking, thick patty to put on my bun.

It has a nice char flavor, along with the hint of umami and meaty chew I expect from a beef burger. It’s not quite as dense in texture as beef, which I prefer. It doesn’t have that slightly metallic muscle juice flavor of medium-rare beef either, which I do miss a little if I’m being super critical.

All in all, this mix of pea protein, umami flavorings, vegetable fats, beets for color, and starches to hold it together is a winner. Inspires me to try to replicate it in my kitchen.

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