Absentee Gardening was more absent than I intended…

Apathy and laziness turned my plans of absentee gardening into a feral patch of land. Installing hops trellises was the last time the garden received any attention whatsoever. Thankfully the individual who mowed the small barn yard area had the foresight to just steer clear of the garden as he did not know the exact locations of the boundary plants. As a result, the grass in the walkways is knee to waist high. I made quite the mess for myself!

Luckily I was able to get some lines in the ground for hops. Otherwise the garden ran wild this year

Luckily I was able to get some lines in the ground for hops. Otherwise the garden ran wild this year

I could blame being busy but the undeniable truth is I just did not make the time to get out to the farm. To be fair to myself, I did make it out for the first scheduled maintenance to find my weedwacker unable to remain running. Blisters and a torso that was sore for a week speaks to my frustrations with having to start the machine so often. After taking it to an expert, I learned it was pretty much shot as too much air was mixing in due to non-replaceable parts wearing with over a decade of use. From then on, I just ignored the problem. Rest in Peace friend (despite requiring a constant battle of having to constantly change line only for it to get stop feeding when it melted together only to run out of fuel when everything was finally working properly).

The major negative points:

  • Pokeweed. Pokeweed everywhere.
  • Ailanthus. Tree of Heaven’s everywhere.
  • Walnuts. Yes…walnut seedlings in the garden. I love walnuts so I may just try and transplant them, but the production of allelopathic juglone in fruit and veggie gardens is concerning.
  • Asparagus are utterly thriving. However it is now apparent that a few of the plants are female despite the nurseries best effort to provide only males. With 47/50 crown survival rate, I’ll still so satisfied with the plants that I am happy to give a recommendation for Nourse Farms.
  • Cascade hops are thriving, centennial are decent, all other are “meh”. No training was done beyond leaving the hops to find the trellises so there are huge ground level mats of hops vegetation which inefficiently consumed large amounts of nitrogen and nutrients. Next year, ruthless pruning will be done.

However a few positives came of my inaction:

  • Where I originally thought invading grasses were knee high in the garden beds, I found most of those were plants from the aisles whose immense weight caused them to lay down over the beds preventing further weed invasions. Similarly, the wild mat of hops growth served the same role.
  • The vast amount of grass clippings created with my borrowed weed wacker gave me plenty of nitrogen and potassium-rich material to pile on the now-unrecognizable boundary bed. The hope here is that the clippings will burn away all the vegetation that has encroached into the mulch.
  • After mowing the aisles I found yet another healthy and happy volunteer pumpkin. I’ve planted exactly zero pumpkins and have had more than 80 successfully grow!
  • I thought a late frost killed my 1 year old mulberry trees, but they rebounded beautifully with nearly full leaf sets. Even the hazelnuts are bouncing back although with much less vigor.

Now that hunting season is back, I have more motivation to go to the farm and generate some fresh content.

As soon as I can get my thoughts written down and organized into a series of posts, I’ll share a hunting trip that was one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far!

Kitchen Adventures

Many uses for whey

So you decided to try out making cheese or yogurt for the first time. Now you have a disappointing amount of your desired product, and an alarming amount of whey byproduct. Fear not, whey is so useful, that industrial production of this once waste product has surpassed production of actual cheese!

A word of warning, whey contains a concentrated amount of the substances that cause dairy and lactose allergies/intolerances.


Most of the fats and proteins have been removed from the whey when the solids were extracted for cheese/yogurt. While the remaining nutrition is mostly sugars, the vitamins and minerals are valuable. A cup of weight contains 60 calories, 13 grams of carbohydrates and numerous micronutrients (source).

Ways I’ve used Whey

Yogurt whey is fermented thus packed with the probiotics that many people (including myself) pay good money for. I drink a few ounces of whey when I wake up in the morning on an empty stomach. It has a weird combination of savory with an acidic tartness that I’ve acquired a taste for…likely from my love of sour beers and kombucha. Expect the same effects as probiotics…especially if you are relatively new to the scene! Mozzarella whey is not biologically active however if I am running low on yogurt whey, I will inoculate the former with the latter.

While cheese whey lacks the good microbes of yogurt whey, it is still full of nutrition. Furthermore it’s acidic properties pull great amounts of calcium, collagen and flavor from animal parts when used as the base in a stock (my observation, no scientific basis). Before I discovered whey, I used a vinegar water base to try and achieve the same effect. With the boost in nutrition comes a boost in calories as well that should be accounted for. I usually wake up with yogurt whey and go to bed with whey-based bone broth.

Similarly, when I still ate bread nothing was better than a loaf of sourdough with the the water replaced by whey. I can’t even describe the change in flavor but it was irresistible. If I could comfortably digest the products of baking, I would be trying whey in everything!

Seeing as protein is the most expensive food source for any creature, I have fed whey to livestock as well as pets. Fair warning, introduce whey slowly and incrementally into an animal’s diet to prevent having some loose messes to clean.

As a last resort, whey can be added to the compost pile or to the soil as an acidifying fertilizinger. If you have neither compost nor acid-loving plants, find someone with a compost pile or who grows blueberries or tomatoes!

Ways I want to use whey

Whey reduced the occurrence and rate of progress of powdery mildew in squash and cucumber plants (source). It seems weekly applications of 25% whey are the most effective, but more research is needed for exact timing and quantity determinations. I may try it on my grapes for the intended purpose and to see if there is any effect on the devastating japanese beetle populations.

Next time you make yogurt or cheese, smell your hands a few hours later. They will smell like those expensive cosmetics made with lanolin. In fact the smell is such an exact match, I would not be surprised is news broke that these products were being falsely advertised. Next batch of soap that I make, I will add some whey!

I’ve come across quite a few recipes for whey-based beverages ranging from simple, refreshing lemonade to creative cocktails. Citrus flavors and whey would be symbiotically complimentary in my opinion so I am going to try them out! I will surely report back.

Lastly, I am inexplicably eager to try out fermenting food. Everything from mayo, to krauts and kimchi to salsa to anything that can be brined or pickled is on the radar. Whey is known to kickstart those processes but I’ve read some foods are better suited for whey inoculation than others. Until I can report back with real experience, I have to defer this subject to your own research.


These are the options I’ve encountered or researched but I am sure there are many more. Putting whey down the drain is a water pollutant and a waste of a good resource so I hope you can find a way to put it to use!

Kitchen Adventures

Easy Mozzarella Cheese Recipe (Expanded version)

Making mozzarella cheese at home is easy but time-consuming. One batch takes about 2 hours and yields 13 oz of cheese per gallon of milk which for me, is 13- 85 calorie servings.

Followup to the bare bones recipe posted yesterday.

Tools Required:

  • Pot to hold 1 gallon of high fat milk
  • Thermometer (affiliate link)
  • Measuring cups and teaspoons
  • stirring instrument like a whisk or fork
  • plate to hold curds between steps
  • Latex or similar gloves to provide a minute heat barrier
  • Ladle for dunking curds in the whey (I use a 1 cup measuring cup)

Materials Required:

  • Time – 2 hours active, 0 hours passive
  • 1 gallon of high fat milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon liquid rennet (can use other types, just follow the directions on the box) Affiliate link
  • ~2 teaspoons of sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon acid to get milk to curdle. Affiliate links: small, economically large (I use it in DIY dishwasher detergent)


  1. Pour milk into crock pot or regular pot and slowly heat milk to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 C)
  2. While milk is heating, stir the acid into a bit room temp water- just enough to dissolve the acid.
  3. When the milk is 55 degrees, stir in the acid solution then continue heating.
  4. While milk and acid is heating, dissolve the rennet in the same manner as the acid
  5. When the milk reaches 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31 C) then stir in the rennet.
    1. Do not stir any more after this point!
  6. Slowly heat to 110 degrees (43 C) then hold the temperature until the curds pull to the middle leaving clear whey around the sides.
  7. Scoop out and drain the curds while heating the remaining whey to about 175 degrees (80 C).
  8. Aggregate the curds into a few groups, then dunk and hold in the hot whey kneading between dunks.
    1. The dunking and kneading is to raise the entire curd to the right temperature which is too hot to handle.
    2. Don latex gloves for kneading.
  9. Once the cheese is almost done, add a few teaspoons of salt to the whey.
  10. Repeat dunking until the cheese is smooth and stretches like taffy.
    1. It can now be rolled and cut/twisted or balled or however you wish to store it.
    2. If it starts breaking instead of stretching, just redunk to warm it back up
  11. Eat, refrigerate for up to 2 weeks or freeze the finished cheese.




Curds are fully separated from the whey


Collecting the curds and straining the whey. Cheese is starting to reveal itself!


First round of dunking the irregular, lumpy curds into the hot whey


Ready for the final dunking. As the curds turn to cheese demonstrated by their smoothness, I consolidate them into the storage size. I also keep a little sample set aside for immediate eating.


Final amount of cheese from 1 gallon of milk. Side note: I adore and fully endorse this scale (affiliate link)

Yes, that’s right…1 gallon of milk only yields 13 oz. of cheese. It takes less time overall but a lot more work than yogurt and the result is a biologically inactive product. Although I love cheese, the roughly 3/4 gallon of whey that remains is my try goal. I mostly use it in to make stock in combination with animal bones, or inoculate it with yogurt whey to replace my $60/month probiotic. Luckily the whey is so useful, the once waste bi-product of cheese making has overtaken industrial production of the valuable cheese itself. I’ll explain more ways to utilize whey tomorrow!

If you possess a greater amount of patience than me, you can keep the curds warm to roll, stretch, twist, cut, etc. your way into beautifully presentable cheese. When I use mozzarella, it is to grate for pizza/pasta type dishes or rip chunks off to stuff under fish or fowl skin before baking. So I don’t put much effort into presentation. It is however rich and delicious but you will likely need to play with the salt levels in the dunking whey to nail your desired levels.

Kitchen Adventures

Easy Mozzarella Cheese DIY (simplified recipe)

The process to make mozzarella cheese is so simple but a bit time consuming. This recipe assumes 1 gallon of milk with 1 teaspoon of citric acid and 1/8 teaspoon rennet, both diluted in a small amount of water.

  1. Heat milk to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 C) then stir in an acid.
  2. Slowly heat to 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31 C) then stir in the rennet.
  3. Slowly heat to 110 degrees (43 C) then hold the temperature leaving the pot unstirred until the curds pull to the middle leaving clear whey around the sides.
  4. Scoop out and drain the curds while heating the remaining whey to about 175 degrees (80 C).
  5. Aggregate the curds into a few groups, then dunk and hold in the hot whey kneading between dunks.
  6. Once the cheese is almost done, add a few teaspoons of salt to the whey.
  7. Repeat dunking until the cheese is smooth and stretches like taffy.
  8. Eat, refrigerate for up to 2 weeks or freeze the finished cheese.

Don’t discard the whey! I’m working on a post to describe all the uses for this nutritious and versatile substance! I will also post a more detailed recipe tomorrow but I know some readers appreciate concise DIY posts. Enjoy!



Kitchen Adventures

First attempt at making yogurt in the crockpot

I’ll be brief and minimally graphic in this introduction. A waterborne illness infected my body in Africa and wrought havoc on my digestive tract and consequently my immune system for 16 months. My doctor was astounded I hadn’t taken any antibiotics because she found alarmingly low levels of the required microbes in my intestinal tract. She recommended nearly unfathomable amounts of probiotics, incorporating fermented foods into my diet and feeding those microbes with vegetable based fiber. Unpasteurized full fat yogurt, VSL #3 (affiliate link) and farmers market sauerkraut (and recently I have added kombucha) were the factors that brought my recovery at long last. Since all of these are very expensive or simply unavailable except seasonally, I decided to try and make my own family of inexpensive probiotic foods. Surprisingly, my first attempt yielded the most amazingly rich and tart yogurt I have ever had!


Tools Required:

  1. Slow-cooker, preferably with a warm setting. Mine is a staple of my kitchen and stays warm for 6 hours after cooking (affiliate link)
  2. Pot if you are going to use the double boiler method. Otherwise just use the ceramic crock pot!
  3. Half Gallon of high fat milk
  4. Whisk or fork
  5. Tightly woven fabric for straining if thicker or greek style yogurt is prefered. Cheesecloth is too open, so use muslin or similar fabric (affiliate link)
  6. Stove to heat pot
  7. Thermometer (affiliate link)

Materials Required

  1. Time: 1.5 hours active, 15 hours passive
  2. High Fat Milk
  3. Yogurt culture: either biologically active commercial yogurt (check label for microbes) or probiotics (affiliate link)


  1. Pour a half cup or so of milk into a bowl and stir in your starter culture (material #3)
  2. Pour the rest of the milk into the pot and slowly heat it up to 180-200 degrees (82-93 C).
    1. Some literature says this alters the protein structure so the milk sets rather than separating into curds and whey.
    2. Heat slowly and stir often to ensure milk does not scorch or burn on the bottom
  3. When the milk reaches 180-200 degrees, add a few cups (not so much that it overflows your yogurt pot) of cold tap water to the crockpot then transfer to the pot with the hot milk to the crockpot. Add more cold water if there is room.
    1. Somehow, without any further action the temperature of the milk/water in the crock pot equalized after 10 minutes perfectly at 110, the desired temperature!
  4. Cool the hot milk to 110 degrees (43 C) then stir in the starter culture from step 1
  5. Keep the temperature at 110 for 2-4 hours
    1. I turn the crockpot on warm for 30 minutes, off until the temperature drops to 100. Then repeat as necessary.
  6. After ensuring the milk is at 110, wrap the entire ceramic part of the crockpot with a towel or blanket for insulation, then transfer to the oven for another 6-10 hours.
    1. The oven simply provides insulation so turn the light on if you have one. Alternatively you can use a cooler or a pile of blankets or towels.
  7. Check the yogurt to see if it has set properly and to the desired extent. If not, just let it keep fermenting and warm it up if you can.
  8. If the yogurt has set, transfer to your desired storage containers and refrigerate.
    1. The rest of the steps are optional!
  9. If you like your yogurt more tart, let it keep fermenting and taste test until it gets there
  10. If you like thicker yogurt or greek yogurt, straining is required. Either:
    1. Line a colander with the straining fabric
    2. Hang the linked yogurt bag above a 2 quart bowl
      1. Using this method yields 17 oz. (weight) of yogurt and about 30 oz (fluid) of whey per half gallon of milk, or 4 234 calorie servings.

Some pictures of the process


Basic process. Note the most important step: take a bit of the milk for a white russian!


While coffee is being brewed, the yogurt is strained into greek style after a night of sleep allowed it to ferment and set.



I like really thick yogurt. Ok ok, my preferred product resembles yogurt cheese more than Greek yogurt!



After straining to thicken or make greek yogurt, about half of the volume of milk will remain in the form of whey. Whey is incredibly nutritious: packed with enzymes, probiotics and protein but also contains a concentrated amount of the substances that cause lactose and dairy allergies/intolerances. I’ll write a piece dedicated to whey in the future. For now, you can drink it as a probiotic, inoculate fermenting veggies, substitute it for water in recipes like bread or stock/broth for a protein (and calorie!) boost, spray it on plants to mitigate powdery mildew, add it to soil/compost as an acidifying fertilizer, or feed it to livestock or pets!

Final thoughts


As this was my first attempt, I made a small batch in case I failed. This allowed me to use my crockpot and a soup pot as a double boiler. No incubator or specialized equipment was necessary. There is a lot of time required, but it is mostly passive. In the future, I’ll be upping the batch to 1 gallon of milk or more.

Secondly, our bodies are designed to digest fat as a primary food source while carbs cause the inflammation that was originally attributed to cholesterol and fats (and heart disease, high blood pressure). In fact, the human body produces cholesterol to repair the inflammation caused by carbs so high cholesterol is an indicator of a problem, not the problem itself (202 kB PDF Meta-analysis of 76+ studies). More fat in the milk correlates with more yogurt or cheese can be extracted. So don’t fear consuming fat, and use high fat milk for this process!

Lastly, yogurt doesn’t really “go bad” per se. Instead the tartness increases until it reaches vinegar levels. The fermentation acts as a preservative which is why we can leave it unrefrigerated, even more so warmed to the ideal growth temperature for spoilage microbes, for so long with no ill effects. The same can actually be said for milk which turns into yogurt, cheese or any of the fermented products that form staple foods in the Middle East (eg: kefir, laban) and Asia. Although when uncontrolled, potentially harmful microbe colonies can outcompete the desired ones. So as long as a reasonable amount of time has passed while the yogurt was refrigerated and there is no fuzzy discoloration, the yogurt is likely to reach an unpalatable tartness before it actually expires!



First Spring Check on the Beehives Coming Out of Winter

Last weekend it was reasonably nice with temperatures creeping into the 60s with gusty winds. It was not the ideal time to check on the bees, but it was close enough and aligned with a break in my schedule.

I didn’t plan on doing a full inspection just yet but I did plan to get in enough to make sure the hives were even still alive. As a first year beekeeper without a mentor, I certainly did everything I read and gleaned from forums to ensure winter survival. Yet being realistic…I wasn’t sure it was enough.

The weaker hive from last year had about 14 frames of stores going into winter where the stronger hive had 18. I left each hive a half pound of sugar atop newspaper on top of the frames to provide winter snacks. Others use fondant or sugar cakes which I find to be an unnecessary use of time and energy. All forms of dry sugar are consumed by bees solely for immediate nourishment whether it is plain old granulated sugar or if it been processed into something else.

This “weak” hive was literally buzzing with activity as I approached. Upon opening the hive, most of the sugar remained untouched by the bees. However a few small hive beetles scurried from the light. In large numbers in a weak hive, these beetles could be a problem. Otherwise a healthy colony will deal with them just fine on their own. The main cluster of bees was spread across the bottom half of 3 frames in the upper super. No cause of concern was found so I moved onto the next hive.

My “stronger” hive was alarming even from a distance. No bees were flying in or out and there was not a single guard out front. Opening the hive caused nothing in the way of the anticipated buzzing sound and revealed entirely consumed sugar that was left for winter snacking. Uh-oh!

Turned out the bees were just cold which makes sense as the siting of this hive does provide much early day spring sun. The cluster was small and confined to either side of a single frame. My strong hive, while alive and seemingly happy, has fallen behind the previously weaker hive!

All that was done to either colony was adding the hive top feeder with 2 gallons of syrup and removal of the insulating hive wrap. Next chance I get I will return to remove the entrance reducers which I held off due to the weather forecast. Today strong gusts, snow flurries and near freezing temperatures shows that was a good decision, and if any syrup remains unconsumed, the decision to feed might not have been a good one.

Now my main concern is catching the building of queen cells, and spliting those frames to a Nuc the day that the bees cap those cells all in an attempt to simulate swarming. Time to buy and paint some nuc hives!


First Check on the Spring Garden

Wanting to let the sun heat up the farm and beehives, I planned to perform the desperately needed landscaping maintenance on the garden aisles. However the weedwacker would not continue running instead shutting off a after about 40 seconds of idling, or whenever I opened the throttle at all. The blisters on three fingers and the intense DOMS in my shoulder blade attest to how many times I got it started. Was it bad gas mixture that sat all winter? Was it the carburetor that a knowledgeable mechanic found to be on its last leg a few months ago? Either way, my desire to be independent from petroleum powered machinery was reiterated and the most time-consuming task on my to-do list was not attainable.

So I spent the time wandering and weeding the garden beds. The hops and asparagus were already sending shoots out of the ground while the buds of grapes and blueberries were beginning to swell.


Emerging Asparagus


Emerging, nitrogen hungry hops with symbiotic, nitrogen-providing clover companion planting


Swelling grape buds

Notice the similarities between young hops and asparagus shoots? They can be harvested and prepared in the exact same manner. I will elaborate on this more in the future.