Monday, March 31, 2014

Velveeta is not cheese!

by Alison Jones

Did you know that Velveeta is not cheese? According to Chicago Business, several years ago,
"the FDA issued Kraft a warning letter saying some versions of Kraft Singles Pasteurized Process Cheese Food and Velveeta spread were misbranded because they were falsely represented as "cheese foods." Those items are now identified as "cheese products." 
There is a difference between cheese and a cheese product. Most cheese is made with only two or three ingredients: milk, culture, and usually rennet. A few cheeses, such as queso blanco and panir, are made with only milk and something acidic, such as vinegar or lime juice. Velveeta has lots of artificial ingredients in it that traditional cheese does not. Cheese products are much cheaper to manufacture than real cheese.

Why does this matter? According to Yahoo Voices, "If something is chocolatey, it doesn't necessarily contain chocolate. If a dog food is meaty, it doesn't necessarily contain meat. . . . It's a matter of maybe not getting what you think you are getting. Also, the price could be disproportionate for the ingredients it contains." So, Velveeta is a cheese product, not cheese. Read labels and make sure that you know what is really in the product.

On Wednesday and Friday of this week, Thrifty Homesteader will be sharing some real cheese recipes that you can make at home!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Top bar hives for healthier bees

by Christy Hemenway

The best and most important features of a top bar hive? Is what goes on inside the hive...

Letting the bees be in charge of their own natural process -- 
This is what makes for natural beekeeping.

Honeybees make "brood comb" to raise babies in, "honey comb" to store food in, and all this comb is made from beeswax, and made specifically for the very important things that bees do inside the hive. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Bees make beeswax. That's the way nature intended it. And bees know how to do it best. So in a Gold Star top bar hive, the bees make their honeycomb naturally -- and most importantly -- they do it without any "assistance” in the form of sheets of wax-coated plastic known as "foundation.”

This is important – to bees, and to us -- for three reasons:

So you could say that natural beekeeping is “ALL ABOUT THE WAX!”
  1. It's important because of the cell size -- It allows bees to make the cells in the honeycomb in the size that is best for the purpose they will use it for. The size of each honeycomb cell figures into many of the workings of the hive - even down to the length of time it takes a worker honeybee to be born!
  2. It's important because of the comb shape -- It allows bees to make the honeycombs themselves in the shape they prefer - a gentle curve known as a "catenary curve.”
  3. It's important because of the chemical contamination that's been discovered in foundation. The pesticides that have been used by beekeepers in beehives since the mid-1980’s to treat for a parasite infestation -- the varroa mite -- are "wax-soluble.” This means they are literally absorbed into the bees’ wax honeycombs. Eventually these honeycombs are recycled – melted down, and made into more foundation. Disconcertingly, these pesticides also survive being melted down and made into new foundation. So that even brand new foundation, just purchased, contains detectable levels of these poisons. We have made the inside of a beehive a chemical catch-all!
But at Gold Star Honeybees, we say:


We don't treat our hives with chemicals, and we don't use foundation wax at all – the bees make all their own beeswax from scratch. But we wondered, does this all really matter? What if the bees bring back toxic chemicals and pesticides from the environment around them -- enough to contaminate the wax?

These were all good points, so we had the wax tested.

Maybe it doesn't even help to let bees make their own beeswax without the use of foundation. It's prettier, sure, and it's less invasive, yes -- and it looks like art when you see how they build honeycomb on their own without being forced into the "one size fits all" of pre-printed foundation -- but we wanted to know: Does it really make a difference?

We sent a sample of wax to the good folks at Penn State - natural beeswax honeycomb, taken from a Gold Star Top Bar Hive in its second year. This test checked for detectable levels of 170 different pesticides. Not a single one of them was found in the wax from the Gold Star hive. Click here for a downloadable PDF file of the results of the testing. (Note: Key to the results codes: N.D. = Not Detected, PPB = Parts per Billion, and LOD = Level of Detection.)

So now we say -"THE CLEAN WAX CAMPAIGN HAS BEGUN!!!" Keeping bees on their own clean, natural beeswax is one key to having healthy bees. You can be a part of this clean wax movement too. Get in touch with us today and keep your bees in the cleanest, greenest top bar hive available.

Christy Hemenway is the owner and founder of Gold Star Honeybees, a complete resource for all things related to beekeeping in top bar hives. A passionate bee-vangelist and advocate for natural, chemical-free beekeeping, Christy is a highly sought-after speaker, helping audiences to understand the integral connection between bees, food, human health and the future of the planet. She is the author of The Thinking Beekeeper: A Guide to Natural Beekeeping in Top Bar Hives.

Thrifty Homesteader is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Thinking about top-bar beekeeping?

If you've been thinking about beekeeping with top-bar hives, The Thinking Beekeeper by Christy Hemenway is a great reference. It is the first book I've read on top-bar beekeeping, and it explains a lot of things that I had questions about -- things that Langstroth hive beekeepers haven't answered to my satisfaction. (In case you're wondering, we have two Langstroth hives and no top bars.)

The book starts with a history of beekeeping and talks about the unintended consequences of using the Langstroth hive -- the box hives most people have associated with beekeeping for the past hundred years. Why do most modern beekeepers use insecticides to kill insects that bother bees? And why do bees need antibiotics to survive now? Bees have been around forever and survived without our chemicals and drugs. Why do they have so many problems now? One reason -- because the artificial plastic comb used in Langstroth hives has a single size cell (unlike real comb), which makes it "easier for varroa mites to thrive and harder for honeybees to resist them."

Christy also talks about other modern practices that can be harmful to bees, such as removing swarm cells, splitting hives, and over-harvesting of honey. Because it is so easy to harvest honey from a Langstroth hive, people are more likely to over harvest.

For trivia fans, the book also busts a common beekeeping myth. Although most people would say that a hive has only one queen, about 15-20% of hives actually have two. Christy says that most people never notice this because they've heard there is only one queen, so as soon as they see one, they stop looking.

Comb and bees from a top-bar hive
Part Two of the book explains the top bar hive, gives you info on supplies, equipment, hive preparation, and installing bees, as well as how to do hive inspections. You'll learn about what's normal in a hive and various problems you might encounter, as well as natural ways to fix them.

There are chapters on overwintering and harvesting honey, which includes info on rendering beeswax. Although harvesting is not as easy with a top-bar hive as with a Langstroth hive, the equipment needed is much cheaper, so score one for being ecothrifty! I have to admit that harvesting honey was one reason I have been hesitant to get a top-bar hive, in spite of all the things they have in their favor.

If you would like a chance to win a copy of The Thinking Beekeeper, there are lots of options below. You can click on all five of these for five chances to win or just click on one for a single chance. Can't wait to get your copy? You can order a paperback by clicking on the title above. Prefer to read it on your Kindle? Click here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Want to know more? 

On Friday, Christy will be our guest blogger! She'll be talking about the importance of wax in your hive. If you have never thought about the wax, you will be in for quite a treat. I had no idea how much the wax affects the health of the bees before reading her post and her book. As Christy says, "It's all about the wax!"

Between my personal interest in top-bar beekeeping and knowing the author from the Mother Earth News Fairs where we have both spoken frequently, I asked the publisher if I could have a copy of the book to review here on the blog. Other than the book, they gave me no compensation, and I agreed to review the book honestly. If you ever wonder why the reviews on here are generally positive, it's because I only read books that I like, and I only review books that I read. Life is too short, and my to do list is too long to read books I don't like!

This post includes affiliate links to Amazon. If you purchase a copy of the book by clicking on the links in this article, you will pay the same price as if you went directly to their website, but we'll receive a small percentage to help pay the bills here on the blog.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Did you know ... bees feed us

by Alison Jones

Bees pollinate many crops that we enjoy eating! According to 10 crops that would disappear without bees, "more than $15 billion worth of crops are pollinated by bees each year just in the United States alone. Put another way, one of every three bites of food Americans consume comes from a plant visited by bees or other pollinators." Among crops that would disappear if bees did not exist -- apples, almonds, blueberries, cherries, avocados, cucumbers, onions, grapefruits, oranges, and pumpkins, to name a few.

Did you know that bees have been disappearing at an alarming rate? According to the United States Department of Agriculture,
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a serious problem threatening the health of honey bees and the economic stability of commercial beekeeping and pollination operations in the United States. The main symptom of CCD is very low or no adult honey bees present in the hive but with a live queen and no dead honey bee bodies present. Often there is still honey in the hive, and immature bees (brood) are present.
CCD is not fully understood, and a single cause has not yet been identified. It may be a virus, bacteria, fungi, parasites, or stress, or some combination of these factors.

Photo courtesy of Phil Dalto.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The London Dispatches: Vauxhall City Farm

By Cadence Woodland

Welcome to another urban farm and history lesson from the wilds south of the Thames!

Vauxhall was once home to a hugely popular “pleasure garden,” a highly manicured area open for public entertainments like parties, art exhibitions, music, and once a place to see and be seen. Samuel Pepys wrote of his visits there in the 1660s, it was a major society hub during the Regency, and remained popular straight up through the time of Charles Dickens. Many of the important ideas about modern mass entertainment, from concessions to crowd controls, to security, were first pioneered in this space.

Vauxhall Gardens in the 1750s (image via Wikipedia)
Vauxhall in 2014
Like many areas, Vauxhall fell into a bit of a decline and then was heavily damaged by bombing in World War II. Many people don’t realize this but recovery from the German blitz took decades. Many of the housing and urban planning issues facing the city today stem directly from the fact that so much housing was lost, hastily rebuilt, and unevenly managed during and after the war. It's also a contributing factor to why many areas declined so drastically in the second half of the 20th century. Vauxhall was one of these in the 1970s when a group of squatters, who happened to be architects, organized the first farm on the mostly derelict site, named Jubilee City Farm.

Today, Vauxhall City Farm is one of the largest urban farms in London. In addition to a wide variety of larger farm breeds, they also house a “small animals stable,” birds currently being acclimated for a small aviary opening soon, several land and water fowl, and several breeds of rabbits. 

You may remember the goats from my excursion to the Southbank Centre.

But Vauxhall City Farm is most famous for their therapeutic and educational equestrian program. Their riding lessons are geared particularly to challenged and disadvantaged children who would not otherwise have the opportunity to participate. I took equestrian lessons for a while as a child myself and let me tell you, it is not a cheap sport! But it is a highly worthwhile one, and I'm really grateful to see efforts to expand it to urban dwellers who might not have had another chance to interact withe horses, arguably one of the most significant domesticated animals to the British in particular and Western civilization in general.

Their efforts are paying off in serious ways – one of their former students was a disenfranchised teenager from an area of London run by gang members. He discovered riding through lessons on a donkey at the farm, and is now working and training in the dressage field with a goal of competing in the 2016 Olympics.

Vauxhall City Farm is still growing. They won a grant last year to build three new stables and they have additional expansion and development goals. There are substantial food and natural dye gardens, though admittedly they were not in a very photogenic state when I visited them in February. Volunteers and school groups are heavily involved in the educational and day-to-day running of the farm and today it remains what it began as, a local effort to reclaim land to raise food and livestock.

A volunteer works in the sheep and goat pen.
Time and time again I’m impressed to see how Londoners have stubbornly reclaimed unwanted land and turned it into farms. Every single site I’ve visited in this series so far seems to have started out as a slum, a ruin, or an urban wasteland that most people either couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with. And in each case they have been revitalized into productive spots using little more than volunteer work and determined action.

Cadence Woodland is a freelance author's assistant and writer. Her journalism has contributed to the New York Times, the National Wildlife Federation, and other venues, but she can be found most often at her blog where she writes about her adventures across the Pond in London.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Recipe: Creme Brulee Pie

If your backyard hens have thrown themselves into full production mode, and you want a super delicious and FAST dessert, this is the recipe for you. I included this one in Homegrown and Handmade, and because it was so fast to make, I often demonstrated this when doing TV talk shows to promote the book. It was no problem at all to get this mixed up and into the pie plate in the 5-minute TV segments.

It is also not nearly as decadent as it tastes. With only 172 calories per slice (1/8 of the pie), I have even been known to eat a slice for breakfast. Compare the nutrition facts with a lot of children's breakfast cereals, and this pie is actually more nutritious. I am not saying you should have it every day, but you don't have to feel guilty if you have this as a dessert every now and then.

Butter a 10-inch, deep-dish pie pan. Do not flour it, or the custard filling with bubble up, and you'll have some very thin areas after you take it out of the oven and it falls. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Put the following ingredients into a blender and blend on low for about 30 seconds or until all ingredients look well mixed:

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 t. vanilla
4 eggs

Pour into pie pan. Gently sprinkle with 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar. The turbinado sugar will stay crunchy on top of the pie through the baking process and mimics the flame-kissed top of creme brulee. The batter will be quite runny, so take care when placing in the oven. Bake for 40 minutes. A sharp knife inserted into the center of the pie should come out clean, and the sliced area should stay open and not look watery inside. We chill the pie in the refrigerator for at last four hours before serving, although a few people have told me that they like it when it's still warm. And a word about the lovely yellow color of the pie in the picture -- don't expect your pie to be that dark unless you are using eggs from pastured chickens.

This post was part of the Clever Chick Blog Hop!
This post as also part of the Simply Living Simply blog hop

Monday, March 10, 2014

SALE on Raising Goats Naturally

Kidding season started a little over a month ago on Antiquity Oaks, and we are in the midst of a three-week break before the second half of our does give birth. To celebrate -- now that we've caught up on our sleep -- we are offering a discount on bulk orders of Raising Goats Naturally: A Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More. For only $90, you'll receive five autographed copies with FREE shipping!

What can you do with five copies of a book? Include a copy when someone buys a starter herd of two or three does and a buck. Sell copies to new goat owners at the cover price of $24.95 each. Or get together with four goat-loving friends to place an order.

The only catch is that you have to order by Tuesday, March 18, because that is when Cicada will be at day 145 of her pregnancy, so life will get crazy and exhausting again after that!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Chickens and turkeys together?

If you have chickens and are considering adding turkeys to your homestead, you have no doubt either read or been told by a well-meaning friend that you cannot keep chickens and turkeys together. It is widely believed that chickens will give blackhead disease to turkeys and wipe out your flock. This is not usually true in natural situations, and there are several things you can do to guard against the disease. First, chickens cannot give blackhead to your turkeys if they don’t have it. Maintaining a closed flock and only purchasing day-old chicks and poults from certified disease-free hatcheries reduces your risk. Because chickens can be carriers and show no symptoms of the disease, do not accept any rescue chickens, unwanted roosters from someone else’s flock, or any free adult chickens for any other reason. Wait three years before getting any type of poultry if you are concerned about blackhead from previous poultry that lived on your property.

Why wait three years to raise poultry if you are concerned about the blackhead history of your property? The disease can be transmitted through cecal worm eggs, which can be ingested by turkeys. Earthworms, which are eaten by turkeys, eat the cecal worm eggs and become carriers. The protozoa inside an earthworm are protected as the worm travels through the turkey’s acidic stomach to the cecum, where it can infect the bird. Chickens raised on infected property can perpetuate the disease quietly. By not raising any poultry on the property for three years, you break the lifecycle of the protozoa.

Blackhead first became a problem at the end of the nineteenth century. U.S. turkey production fell from 11 million birds in 1890 to an average of 3.7 million annually between 1910 and 1920. I doubt it is a coincidence that this happened at the same time that poultry producers were moving birds inside and creating larger and larger flocks. Blackhead infection is unlikely in free-range situations because the H. meleagridis pathogen is not strong enough to survive the drying effect of wind, ultraviolet rays of sunshine, and freezing temperatures.

In the early 1900s, poultry producers thought that turkeys contracted the disease by consuming feces of infected birds. Today, however, researchers have discovered that a turkey’s stomach acid kills the blackhead protozoan. The most likely route of infection is fecal-cloacal, meaning that a turkey will get infected if it sits in infected feces, which is most likely to happen in a confinement situation where turkeys are crowded and roosts are not provided. People used to believe that turkeys would be healthier if raised inside with wire flooring, and those turkeys probably were healthier than their cousins that were confined on solid floors. The wire floors almost entirely eliminated fecal contact. However, it is difficult for turkeys to contract blackhead if they are free range and can roost in trees or if they have roosts available to them in their overnight shelter.

This is an excerpt from Homegrown and Handmade: A Practical Guide to More Self-Reliant Living by Deborah Niemann

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Recipe: Quick Spinach and Goat Cheese Quiche

Most people think of quiche as a complicated, time-consuming meal, but it is one of our go-to meals when we're in a hurry. We also tend to eat a lot of them this time of year because we are drowning in eggs, as our hens are extra productive after their winter holiday from laying.

What makes our quiche so quick and easy? No crust! This can be ready to pop in the oven in less than 15 minutes!

1 1/2 cups whole milk (cow, goat, or sheep)
3 eggs
1/2 cup of flour
Pinch of salt
3-4 cups spinach
5-6 oz goat's cheese sliced into small pieces
Green onions, optional

Set your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and by the time your oven is warm, your quiche will be ready to pop in there.

Butter your quiche dish or pie plate. Arrange spinach in cooking dish, and top with goat cheese.

If you are using frozen spinach, thaw it in a colander by rinsing it with warm water. Squeeze the spinach to remove excess water. Otherwise, your quiche will be watery. Frozen spinach also takes longer to cook because the whole quiche will be much colder when you first put it in the oven.

Blend milk, eggs, flour, and salt in a blender until smooth. Although you can use any type of real milk in this recipe, alternative milks (soy, almond, coconut, etc) will yield disappointing results. Substitute other milks at your own risk, but if you find one that works, put your results in the comment section and be sure to indicate which brand of alternative milk you used.

Pour blended mixture over the spinach and cheese. Sprinkle green onions on top, if desired. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30-35 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean.

We usually serve our quiche alongside a salad and rolls. If we are making the quiche for four or less people, we each have 1/4 of the whole pie, meaning that you would double the values in the Nutrition Facts below. If we have more than four people for lunch or dinner, we cut the quiche into eight pieces and make more side dishes. Or we make a second quiche with broccoli and cheddar, so that everyone has a choice of which one they want. Some people will take a 1/8 slice from each!

*serving equals 1 slice, assuming 8 slices per quiche

This post was shared on The Homesteaders Blog Hop.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Goats are climbers

by Alison Jones

Did you know that goats enjoy climbing things? According to Amusing Planet some people have built brick towers for goats to climb on. At first I thought it was just a specific type of goat that enjoyed climbing. When I first met Deborah's goats I noticed that they were very friendly and liked to jump on people. I didn't think much of it because dogs and cats also like to climb. However, as I did more research I found out that pretty much all goats like to climb.

As I watched this YouTube video of goats climbing a tree, I wondered where their ability came from. Goats apparently have great balance, which is one of the key elements in their ability to climb. Goats also climb trees because they are prey animals. In the wild, goats have to defend themselves and one way to avoid being dinner is to climb a tree. They also climb trees to eat because as browsers (rather than grazers) they love leaves and bark. In Morocco, goats climb the argan tree to eat the fruit, which is similar to an olive. According to Science Buzz the center of the fruit is a nut that the goats can't digest, so they spit it out, and the farmers collect the nuts to extract the oil. As seen in this picture, the goats sometimes eat too much from the tree, which can be a problem.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...