Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Fermented Vegetables: Class Handout

Here is the handout for Neil Schmidt's Fermented Veggies class.  If you're interested in taking this class, keep an eye on The Natural Gardener's events calendar for the next time Neil will be presenting it.  


Lacto-Fermented Veggies
(Class Notes)
by Neil Schmidt
Education Coordinator & Presenter
The Natural Gardener

Brining the cabbage
Food Preservation:     Lacto-fermentation is due to Lactobacillus bacteria that produce lactic-acid in anaerobic environments.  These bacteria are found on the surfaces of vegetables and the digestive systems of humans and other animals. Lacto-fermentation not only retains the nutrients in the veggies but they are more easily digested since they have been slightly broken down. Most food processing for storage decreases the nutrient content of the food.  Lacto-fermentation allows for medium to long term storage without losing nutritional content.  It is also less resource and labor intensive than canning or freezing. On top of these benefits the microorganisms in lacto-fermentation are highly beneficial probiotics for intestinal health.

Whole cabbage leaf to hold down smaller pieces.
Traditional Fermented Foods:  Every culture on Earth has developed some types of fermented foods.  We will focus on the veggies!  Pickles, Sauerkraut, Kimchi and Escabeche are just the tip of the iceberg!

                                          Container w/ lid Fermentation vessel needs to be large enough to hold all veggies and at least 1-2” of brine above.
            Weight Ceramic, glass, sterilized rock, wedged chopsticks (anything to keep the veggies submerged)
            Large Metal Bowl Large enough to mix veggies with salt and squeeze thoroughly.
            Jar Funnel Helps keep the area cleaner and easier to pack jars.
            Large Spoon – Used to get veggies in and out of the fermenter and jars.

Fermentation vessels each with a different airlock system.

Process:  3 rules to keep in mind: Use fresh organic produce, keep it salty and submerged.  If you follow these tips your finished product will be delicious!
1)      Clean all equipment thoroughly.  It does not need to be sterilized.
2)      Cut veggies to desired size, place in large metal mixing bowl and coat with salt. Massage salt into veggies and squeeze out all liquid possible. Let sit for 2 hrs.
“The salt pulls water out of the cabbage (through osmosis), and this creates the brine in which the cabbage can ferment and sour without rotting.” Sandor Katz
(I prefer to leave the veggies in larger pieces so the bubbles can escape to the surface keeping the veggies from lifting out of the brine.)
Kahm yeast – edible but can impart off flavors. 
Increase salt content of brine and the issue should go away.
     3)      Squeeze out all liquid again.  Then spoon into fermentation vessel pouring brine on top to cover veggies. More brine can be made and added if there isn’t enough. 1 tsp-1 tbs/cup of cold clean water.
     4)      Cover the surface of veggies by layering whole cabbage leaves to keep pieces from floating to the top. Place weight on top on cabbage leaves.
     5)      When the desired sourness is achieved (5 days- 2wks) skim all growth from the surface of the brine and unpack fermentation vessel.  Pack into clean jars, fill with brine and refrigerate.

Kahm yeast again.
Contamination by mold or other harmful organisms is not very common when the 3 major tips above are followed.  If mold is found or the veggies have started to disintegrate and become mushy you will want to discard that batch!  Basically when in doubt through it out! However, strong smells do not indicate a problem.  I have found it always smells worse (stronger) during the ferment than once it is harvested. Kahm yeast is a common organism that can grow on the surface but presents no problem other than slightly off flavors.  If Kahm yeast becomes a problem make your brine a little saltier. If the batch seems too salty or vinegary the veggies can be rinsed and new less salty brine added to the jars when putting them in the fridge.

More information from Sandor Katz's website WildFermentation.com

Now go ferment something!

Thursday, May 17, 2018



See?! EGGS!!! Those ickle bitty white things in the cells near the bottom.

Here they are!

Late last month, the same day I brought those Africanized foragers home, I split one of my honeybee colonies into four (five counting the Africanized forager one). A couple weeks before, I'd also taken a little split from another colony, the one in the top bar hive I got from Sarah and Justin (Hi, Sarah and Justin!).

Checked them today and four of them have eggs! That means QUEENS!! The fifth looks like it should any day now, and the sixth - well ... it's made up of those Africanized foragers, and it's all the way across the creek. I should check them, too, but they're all the way across the creek, and they're assholes, so I don't wanna'.

I don't know if I told y'all, but I had health problems early spring last year (all better now!) and didn't notice my hives getting robbed out 'til it was too late. So I started this year with one little colony I cut out of the floor of a storage building in South Austin last fall, and now I have six and possibly eight colonies. Life is SO good! Despite it being 91 degrees right now here in Spicewood. (Why yes, I did get into my beesuit nekkid today.)

I have a young friend who wants to get into bees, and I told her if I'm lucky with the splits, I'll share. I'm going to have so much fun texting her that SHE'S DEFINITELY GETTING BEES!


Update: I texted her and SHE'S ABOUT TO POP, TOO!! What a good day.

See that black blob? That's a bee who wanted her closeup.


Thursday, April 26, 2018

How to Change an Aggressive Colony of Bees from Demons to Angels.

Well, that was fun.

A friend of mine "inherited" a honeybee colony when she bought her property a few years ago and they came with it.  They'd always been gentle little things, causing no more trouble than drinking from her birdbath and drowning in it occasionally.  She'd enjoyed watching them flitting around her butterfly garden and pollinating her squash.  She's not (yet) a beekeeper, but felt strongly that her property benefited from them being there, so she called other beekeepers out to check them every now and then to make sure they were healthy.  Life was good.
After my inspection. Man, that's a lot of bees!

That changed this spring.  They started buzzing her up at the house a couple hundred feet away, fifty or so at a time, getting caught in her hair and stinging the dogs.  Something was wrong.  So she hired me to come check them, to see if the little jerks at her house were from her hive or a feral colony.  I suited up, lit my smoker, and dug in.  It didn't take long to find out that yep, it was her hive.  I got bumped by a couple bees twenty feet from the hive, and man did they boil out as soon as I took the top off!  Ever seen three hundred tiny little faces lined up along the edge of a beehive box, glaring at you with much malice in their beady little eyes, vibrating with malevolence while five hundred of their sisters dive bomb your face?  I have.

Thanking the Lord for xanax, I gritted my teeth and went through the whole thing anyway, checking for swarm cells so I could squash them and forestall these genetics from escaping into our local area more than they already have, giving us time to figure out how to deal with them.  The five boxes took me well over an hour to look through, and I got stung through my suit fourteen times that I could count.  Three of those were on my face, so I spent the rest of that day looking like I'd had a bad collagen injection from a cut-rate plastic surgeon.  (Not to worry - I was all better that evening, after a swig of liquid benadryl and a nap.)

They were scary mean, so I knew and she knew they had to be dealt with.  How they got this way we'll never know for sure, but it's likely her old gentle queen was superseded, and the new one bred with some drones from a mean queen in another colony.  I told her we should requeen with a more gentle one, and we set about finding her.  BeeWeaver was all out for the season, so she called Tanya Phillips of Bee Friendly Austin to see if she had any available.  After describing to her what I told my friend I'd gone through, Tanya strongly recommended she get Les Crowder to do the requeening.  Of course I jumped at the chance to tag along!  So I called him and we made a plan.  I installed queen excluders between all the boxes so he could find the queen easier the following week, and we met up at my friend's house five days later to do the deed.

How to haul bees with a Miata.  Who needs a truck anyway?
Les is a soft spoken man who just feels good to be around.  He worked the bees so gently, taking care not to squash any if at all possible, taking his time easing each frame out, working slowly and methodically, waiting for the bees to get out of the way before doing the next thing.  I like that.  I'm the same way.  Part of it is self-serving - the more bees you kill, the madder and more likely to sting they get - but a bigger part of it is the guilt I feel for killing them just so I can hurry up and get things done.  Yeah, yeah, there's over twenty or forty thousand of them in the hive so what does it matter to kill a few.  Well, there's over half a million minutes in a year, so what does it matter to kill a few of those instead?

I was ready with my little bottle of alcohol when Les found the queen (I bet she makes a great swarm lure!).  We talked a bit about what an amazing animal she was, such a strong queen to make such a productive and healthy colony, how Mother Nature sure knows how to breed things better than we can.  Of course we both knew what had to be done, and into the alcohol she went.

Beeswax makes a great entrance plug.
Les proceeded to move the hive to a new spot further from my friend's house as I gathered up tools and set a box on the original spot to catch the foragers so I could take them away that night.  On Les's suggestion, I'd brought a frame of open brood with eggs from my Sweetheart Hive, a darling little feral colony I'd cut out of the floor of a storage shed in South Austin last fall.  We put it in a box with a few frames of capped brood from the aggressive hive, and I set it in place.  Taking some of the capped brood and the majority of the foragers would lessen the numbers of aggressive bees my friend had to deal with while waiting the month and a half for the new queen's more docile daughters to take over, and if all goes well I'll end up with a new colony headed by a daughter of my Sweetheart queen.  Nice trade for being willing to deal with the jerkiest of the jerks for a month or two.

Les told me where the queen cage was so I can find it easily when I come back in a week to let her go, and we left, glad to be away from that colony.  Man, they were not fun.

And the vibrating begins.
I'm so glad my friend called Les to do this.  Not only was it fun to work with him (yes, him - not those bees), but I learned things, AND he saved me from making a big mistake.  If it had been me, I'd have let them release the queen in a few days, or released her myself in three.  Les said with Africanized bees, which these very well may have been, that's too early.  They'll likely kill her unless you leave her in the cage for at least five days, or better yet a week.  So yeah, my inexperience with Africanized bees would have at best cost my friend more money and frustration having to find a new queen and having this done all over again, or at worst doomed her colony.  Crisis averted!  I'm so glad I got to avoid screwing up and dealing with the guilt that would come along with it, especially because I'd told her, before I found out how mean they were, that between the two of us we could absolutely handle caring for this hive without having to call anyone else in to help.  Ooof.

A cold front blew in last night, so I decided it'd be best to wait 'til just before dawn this morning to go get them.  It was perfect - almost all of them were in the boxes, and it was so cold that the few left outside couldn't put up much of a fuss.  I plugged the entrance with a wad of beeswax,
I wonder if Joe knows what's in the boxes.
ratchet strapped the whole thing together, carried it to my car, ratchet strapped it to the trunk, and away we went.  With thoughts of what would happen if they slipped on the way, or worse yet I got into a wreck, I used two one-ton-test straps to hold the boxes together and five to strap it to the trunk, then oh-so-carefully and oh-so-slowly putted all the way home.  Yep.  Seven tons of ratchet straps.  I probably would have used more had I had them. *snicker*

As if riding four miles on the back of the Miata wasn't enough to piss them off, they got loaded into the tractor bucket when I got home and, as daylight broke, we slowly vibrated our way across the creek to the spot I'd carefully picked out for them, Joe Dog following behind.  Their new home is a few hundred feet from my house, a hundred more than that from my beeyard, across the creek and through a bunch of brush and trees.  I would have put it even further away, but wanted to keep it a good distance from the county road back there.  Bicyclists ride by there fairly often and I didn't think they'd appreciate SURPRISE BEES!!!1!!  Though I guess it would have made them pedal faster ... more cardio, yes?

Before I opened them up, I turned the tractor around and headed it towards home, still running, so I could make a quick getaway, or at least as quick of a getaway as one can make on a tractor. Man, they were
Opened up and all done! Yes, I took that photo while hiding on the tractor.
Mama didn't raise no fool.
mad. Good thing it was still cold or me and Joe would probably have gotten nailed a few times again.

It feels good to have accomplished this.  I'd always wondered if I could take working a really aggressive colony.  Living in an area Africanized honeybees have definitely infiltrated, that's a very real possibility.  My friend said Les told her this was one of the most scary-aggressive colonies he's encountered in this area.  With his decades of bee experience, that's saying something.  So now I know.  I'll be fine.  So long as I have xanax.


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