This "A Grain of Good" post is sponsored by City of Bridges Chiropractic, who believes every Pittsburgher can be a champion in their health endeavors, through nutrition, spine health, exercise and…
“My goal in life is to walk around like Pooh Bear, with my ‘paw’ deep in a large crock of honey, savoring the sweetness all day long.”
In addition to honey’s sweet appeal, the Urban Farmer’s deeper motives for becoming a beekeeper stem from his passion for the environment. When I first introduced him as a beekeeper in the Meet a Beekeeper post, he explained his desire to defend the honey bee:
“I started to read more about the negative effects of GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) and monocultures (growing a single crop, for a long time in vast areas, which prevents a diverse, year-round diet for bees and simultaneously depletes soil nutrients). The link between bee colony collapse [bees disappearing] and GMO’s seemed so obvious. Bees are dying, and people act as if it’s a big mystery, but if you look at the flaws of the industrial agricultural system, there’s an easy solution: support local honeybees. I chose to dive in completely and become a beekeeper.”
Throughout his fledgling beekeeping efforts, the honey was always off limits for us. He had to reserve the liquid gold for the bees, especially as the colder months approached. However, this year his hives have been flourishing, which meant there was sweetness to be shared. This also meant he was one step closer to his Pooh Bear aspirations! The honey extraction process merited a spotlight! I still have much to learn about bees, so who better to explain this exciting process than the Urban Farmer/the Urban Beekeeper himself!
How do you know when it’s time to extract honey?
In our climate in Pennsylvania, we have two major “nectar flows.” This refers to mass blooms of a variety of vegetation. The first nectar flow takes place in early summer, followed by a dearth (a drop in the nectar flow), then again in the early fall when knotweed and golden rod become the major food source for our bees. Generally, beekeepers harvest any excess honey after these flows, making sure to reserve enough honey for the bees to get through the summer dearth and the long winter. During the winter, honey is their only major food source.
How is the honey extracted from the hive?
The extraction process starts by removing the honey supers from the hive. Supers are smaller hive bodies that are placed on the top of the hive (see diagram). The bees naturally use the larger bottom hive bodies, called brood chambers, to raise their young and store pollen (and some honey too). Instinctually, bees store the honey on top of their young. When the hive has enough honey stores built in the brood chamber, they will start to store honey in the upper supers. At that point, the beekeeper can easily remove the frame of honey with out disturbing hatching eggs.
This, however, does not make it easy to remove bees from the honey supers to transport them for extraction. Some beekeepers use a leaf blower to persuade the bees from the frames or a tried-and-true process of shaking the bees off the frames and securing them in a box as fast as possible, before the bees rush back to their frames. Either way, it’s not an easy or full-proof procedure, and you might discover some stowaways!
What happens to your hives as the weather becomes colder?
The bees slow down in the cooler weather. They forage less and then not at all in the dead of winter. The queen slows down egg laying, and the bees go into a mode of trying to heat the hive. They detach their wings and vibrate at such a frequency that they can heat the hive through the negative degrees of winter.
When is the best time to start beekeeping? How does one start beekeeping?
The best time to start a new hive is in early Spring – March or April. Bees are becoming active at that time of year, and they begin the process of regrowing their numbers. Bee packages are available for purchase at this time. This is also the time of year when beekeepers make “splits” (splitting a bee hive into two hives), so it’s a good time to find local bees for sale. If you are interested in starting a bee hive, I highly recommend reaching out to Burgh Bees for information on where to find bees, as well as a listing of courses available through the organization. [Burgh Bees has a lot of helpful resources for non-locals too!]
If there’s anything I’ve learned in observing and discussing bees with the Urban Farmer, it’s that beekeeping is a fickle trade. A beekeeper can do everything right, only to discover his bees have fled the hive. Then, sadly, it’s back to the beginning. So when he discovered he could harvest honey from his hives, it was a celebratory moment with an especially sweet reward!
Extracting honey made me appreciate the beekeepers who harvest, store and sell large quantities of the honey. It’s sticky work for sure, and as we cranked the machine beekeepers have surely been using for centuries, we had our doubts. Were three frames worth this rigamarole? Would we salvage any honey, or would it all be stuck to the guts of the apparatus? We of little faith! When we turned the release nozzle, the honey flowed and flowed and flowed!
Sometimes my words and my emotions fail to convey my excitement and pride in the moment, so instead, I use my kitchen and my table. I’ve seen up close the ups and downs of tending to the little black and golden creatures. I’ve seen the stings, the swelling and the defeats. However, this pancake brunch was to celebrate the Urban Farmer’s determination, his dedication and nature’s dessert.
Honey sweetened, whole-wheat pancakes with honey & cinnamon whipped cream and topped with honey roasted bananas – this was a pancake brunch ode to honey!
Hopefully the bees’ remaining honey will carry them boldly through winter. Hopefully, the following spring will entice them with its nectar flow, and hopefully, this honey harvesting will become a tradition. For now though, we celebrate each spoonful we have and the progress the Urban Farmer is making on the bee front!
Whole Wheat Honey Banana Pancakes
w/ Honey Cinnamon Whipped Cream & Honey Roasted Bananas
Note: Pancakes are a great way to use local milk that has just turned, as well as bananas that are over ripened. I used a soured milk for this pancake recipe, and it yielded an extra fluffy pancake and less waste! As always though, exercise caution when using an ingredient past its peak. Alternately, you can use buttermilk.
“You in?” he yelled while already launching me forward.
“And this is how it ends,” I thought. “Death by homemade zip line!”
As the very questionable swing rocketed forward, I gripped fiercely and managed to scooch my bum into the very key area- the seat! The smile on my face shifted abruptly to an expression of pure panic as I beelined for the very solid tree directly in front of me. “Does this thing stoppppp?!?” I wanted to yell, but before I could form words, the swing yanked me backward in one jarring, whiplash-inducing motion.
Wooohoo! One more time!
Welcome to the Kunkle Family Reunion, Quelcy!
The Kunkles, the Urban Farmer’s family through his mother’s side, are titans of tradition! The family reunion I attended could have been any of the family reunions from the last 50 years. The faces may have aged, and new little Kunkle offshoots may have arrived, but the campsite was the same. The games and challenges were the same, and the spirit of good ol’ family fun was the same.
That family fun didn’t include technology either. I didn’t see kids scrolling on phones. I didn’t see iPads or movies. I saw rackets, gloves, tree swings, dogs and kids splashing in the creek, and middle-aged men competing against children with the seriousness of Olympic athletes. In a word, it was comforting.
The reunion was especially comforting because beyond the Kunkle family compound, “progress” threatens the beautiful hills, meadows, mountains and streams. Where families once hiked and swam freely, toxins and carcinogens now bar them from their own land. The promises of natural gas proved too good to be true, and the landscape of Western Pennsylvania is changing rapidly. In the name of “progress” so much has already been lost in our region (see these firsthand accounts if you don’t believe me).
But these external threats and unraveling traditions made the Kunkle Family Reunion all the more special. Real people. Real connections. Real traditions preserved and passed to the next generation of Reunion Presidents, Vice Presidents and Treasurers. Like a grandmother’s beloved recipe baked by her granddaughter, these ritual handoffs deserve to be celebrated. So, without further ado, I bring you this glimpse into the past, and why it stuck with me.
The legendary Kunkle Reunion Base Race kicked off the events of the day. The competitive nature of this event quickly became apparent when the historical scoreboards came into sight. The discolored boards of the 80s marked the key year when the bases were moved, lest any performance be judged unfairly by the distance differential. It was also worth noting that Mike Shoop’s slowest time was the result of a knee injury, not a lack of athletic ability.
Julep and I watched with pride, awe and maybe even a heart flutter or two as the Urban Farmer dug deep and delivered the overall winning base race score of 9.3 seconds, a far cry from his score of 39.1 seconds in 1986!
“Quelcy Kogel to the plate,” the man in suspenders announced. “Oh no…no, no…no,” I objected, but all eyes were on me. I had come merely to watch, but the Urban Farmer had thrown my hat in the ring. He had entered my name without my knowing!
My palms were sweaty, my heart was racing, and off I went! Every competitive nerve in my body was tingling.
I fell short of my main squeeze, so don’t be surprised if you sporadically find me running bases in the off season. Next year, I’ll be prepared, but I sincerely hope the official time-keeping uniform never changes!
Young and old kept the tradition alive, and after such exerting work, it was time for swimming in the creek, which first requires jumping from a rope swing (and requires leaving cameras safely on dry land).
As happily overwhelmed as I was, my Julep was overwhelmed in a way that gave us all quite a scare. Between the other dogs, the commotion, the anxiety of watching her papa tethered to another human and teetering in a three-legged race, the poor little one overdid it. As the Urban Farmer and I held her close and tried to decipher what exactly was causing her to drool, pant and tremble excessively, so many family members came to our side.
Family members who I barely knew rallied to offer any help they could. Closer family members overlooked dog drool and wet fur to help us ice down and comfort our poor dehydrated fur baby. They showed such sincere concern for our Julep, and I’ll never forget it.
I had come simply to observe and relish the Kunkles’ traditions, but in the end, I felt so connected to the Urban Farmer’s family. As our Julep rehydrated, refueled and showed signs of her normal self, the rest of the reunion adjourned to the campfire for silly songs, s’mores and the rest of the evening’s time-tested agenda. Though we left early, the day left me with a lasting impression.
The Urban Farmer, like his family’s reunion, borrows from the past in an effort to preserve tradition. He worked tirelessly this year, through rainy spells, dry spells and rampant groundhog spells to stay true to his farming convictions. He believes in tighter ties to our food, and more connections with the makers and growers. He believes in a self-sustaining local system, and he won’t stop until he achieves it.
As the autumn settles upon his farm, the tomato vines have given one last burst of bright red fruits. Like base races, old truck rides and creek swims, summer tomatoes are worth preserving.
In an effort to truly preserve the flavors and the spirit of summer, I returned to America’s classic condiment- ketchup!
As a Pittsburgh resident, it may be blasphemy to offer an alternative to the beloved Heinz 57, but I find it blasphemous to masquerade high fructose corn syrup as an American tradition (though sadly, it is becoming an American tradition).
This homemade ketchup won’t boast the exact ruby redness or perfectly smooth texture of store-bought counterparts, but each dollop of this condiment will impress. Make your own ketchup, and every winter burger or oven roasted french fry will become more satisfying and take you back to summer grilling and tomato harvesting in the heat. There’s something to be said for preservation!
Here’s to traditions, memories and delicious condiments!
“One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.” ~ Henry David Thoreau In the middle of August, we gathered to celebrate the farmers, the fields…
The cashier withdrew the receipt he had been pushing towards me. He skimmed it with a puzzled look on his face, searching for an error. “I guess it’s right. I just didn’t expect your order to cost that much money.”
“Consider it my super power,” I responded, grinning through the sinking feeling.
As I pulled into the driveway, the neighbor boy dangled from a tree, his summer tan nearly camouflaged by the bark of the shady branches. “Where did you go?” he pried.
“To the grocery store,” I responded in the general direction of the tree.
“That’s all you got?” he asked in disbelief.
Debby Downer from the adjacent house probably judged me silently behind a curtain, as I schlepped my “meager” quantity of groceries to my third floor abode. Fortunately, the dog was eager to encounter beef cubes and minty sticks, so she put up little protest to my apparent failure.
I get it! I spend a lot of money on food.
However, with hormones, GMOs, pesticides and God knows what else being injected in our food, it’s hard not to spend excess money on what should be the simple act of eating and feeding those we love. Thus, I justify these expenses as health insurance or better yet, preventative care.
Fortunately, this summer’s ingredients have been boosted by the Urban Farmer’s efforts. Contrary to popular belief, we haven’t been swimming in vegetables, with the majority of the harvest making its way to the CSA members. However, late July and August have been kind to us, especially on the juicy tomato front!
The Urban Farmer and I recently hosted friends on the farm, and that Mint Themed Dinner on the Farm was the first time I had to do very little shopping to prepare a meal for a gathering. Not only was it refreshing to celebrate the farm as a beautiful piece of land with a spectacular view of the downtown skyline, but it was refreshing to celebrate all the farm has produced recently like these exquisite beets…
Each slice into the beets revealed a different fuchsia intensity and pattern worth painterly strokes, but most importantly, roasting revealed a tender, flavorful bite, complemented by smoky sea salt and subtly sweet coconut oil.
Beets, cucumbers, tomatoes and mint- all from the farm- became one colorful, healthy, flavorful, juicy salad to celebrate the farmers, the fruits of their labors and the height of summer. There were very few groceries, and there was no one critiquing my food-buying habits. It was a win-win scenario. Harvest or hop to the farmers’ market, and snag these beauties while the season allows.
I’m not one of those foodies who spends hours in front of The Food Network. My only bond with cooking shows was during my nannying stint in Paris, when I watched to learn more French and inspire my menus. The tv personalities solidified my understanding of the words butter, cream, more butter and more cream. Yet, like a foreigner attempting to swear in a second language, I pretend I have enough understanding to reference the Iron Chef in social settings.
What [I think] I know is there is a secret ingredient, and several talented chefs must scramble to highlight that ingredient in an out-of-this-world way. My understanding of the rules and personalities stops there, but I do mentally play my own version of this challenge from time to time. In Iron Quelcy (if you will), I select an ingredient to feature in a menu, incorporating that ingredient into each element of the meal, from the cocktails, to the main course, to the dessert. The challenge is for the ingredient to be a common thread through the meal, not an overwhelming, blanketing flavor that in the end feels like eating one big bowl of mush.
For our most recent dinner on the farm, the star ingredient was mint, which grows rampantly in these parts. Most often associated with sweet leanings, the true brainstorm was using mint in savory ways. First up: Mint Pesto! Akin to a traditional basil pesto, this minty version has kicks of lemon and garlic contrasted by the sweet, cooling mint associations. It pairs well with grilled vegetables (we used eggplant, onions & zucchini), as a crostini spread, or wherever you would typically apply pesto. Give it a whirl, and stay tuned for more results of my self-imposed mint challenge.
In addition to the many hats he wears- farmer, beekeeper, graphic designer, photographer, environmentalist– the Urban Farmer also wears a kilt from time to time. Marching and playing the bass drum in the Balmoral Pipe & Drum band is one of the very few activities that motivates my soil-loving fella to wear shoes. These kilt & shoe gigs have made for many a unique weekend adventure to cathedrals, parades, historical festivals, a “Tartan Day” and most recently to the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix.
The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix is an annual car show and races right through the winding roads of Schenley Park, one of the city’s valuable green assets. In architecture school, we learned to use perspective and contour lines to translate our drawing professor’s slides (slides!) of Grand Prix automobiles to paper. Aside from the many sketches and hearing the yearly rumble of cars in race mode, I never really explored this massive gathering of car enthusiasts. However, bagpipe performances, vintage cars, and a sunny day in Schenley Park all called for a picnic, so I packed a farm-influenced egg salad, and to the car show I went!
Strolling through but a small section of the Grand Prix, I gained a new appreciation for these car enthusiasts. I once discounted this annual event as a pompous waste of resources and a flashy display of expensive collections. While I still see elements of excess (i.e.: semi trucks, with more amenities than my apartment, for carting car collections?), I also came to see the celebration of design, quality, old values and the idea of building something to last.
I had to quell the judgmental idealist inside me, acknowledge the charitable underpinnings of the event and simply indulge the side of me who believes in nostalgia, tradition and bringing people together. I also indulged the side of me who really just wants to cruise around town in a vintage, red beamer. After all, I am the owner of this beauty, who awaits some much needed love and care this winter (i.e.: when the Urban Farmer puts on his “mechanic” hat).
I hadn’t the slightest understanding of the racing rules or categories, but the people and car watching enthralled me. Plus, I may have discovered my spirit animal in this real-life Luigi. Consider this a glimpse of my future, white overalls and all!
The engine of this forest green car (above) might be impeccable. It might trace its roots to a pastural English village. I have no idea. I was simply blown away by the leather detail on the spare tire!
I went for the bagpipes, the sunshine and the park picnic, but as it turns out, I’m really a sucker for a red, vintage set of wheels. Whether you’re browsing beamers, a flea market, or simply a park on a sunny day, try this egg salad for your next picnic. You’ll revel in some sandwich nostalgia made healthier and more vibrant by farm-fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Farm Fresh Egg Salad Sandwiches
About this Recipe: Greek yogurt, dijon and local eggs come together with accents of local celery and sweet peppers. You don’t need to measure anything. Just trust your tastebuds and your eyes to achieve the right flavor, color and texture. Using local celery makes a big difference in flavor, and be sure to include the greens. Pick a flavorful mix of greens for the sandwich such as mustard greens, which add a pleasantly bitter accent, much like a hint of wasabi. For a little sweetness, add a slathering of organic relish to the bread.