Tag Archives: urban homesteading

Sourdough Bread Update

A short note….

Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve been trying my hand at making my own bread from scratch. It’s been a couple of months since I started and now have more than a dozen loaves under my belt — literally and figuratively!

In my last bread blog, I told how I had tried a new sourdough recipe and it worked OK; maybe not as well as I wanted, but it worked. Since then, I’ve baked a few more loaves; but the last two that I did came out like bricks, really thick and heavy!

Even though I fed my sourdough starter every day (and even hired someone to feed my cat and sourdough daily when I was away!), it still lost its umph.

So, I started a new culture a week ago. Here it is with some fresh flour looking good and bubbly….

Here's some bubbly sourdough starter just right for starting a new loaf of fresh homemade bread. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Here’s some bubbly sourdough starter just right for starting a new loaf of fresh homemade bread. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

and here’s one of the first loaves….

This sourdough bread loaf is a bit thin, but it's light as a marshmallow. I'm still working on getting it right! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

This sourdough bread loaf is a bit thin, but it’s light as a marshmallow. I’m still working on getting it right! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

It’s maybe not so pretty as some of those that people more experienced than I might make, but I can attest that it’s very light. Pick it up, and it almost seems to float off your hand! It’s like a big marshmallow.

I used the same recipe as before, except I used Organic All Purpose Flour rather than whole wheat.

For cosmetic purposes, I probably ought to invest in a bigger pan, rather than splitting the dough into two standard loaf pans. As it is, one pan is too small without the dough rising over the sides and overflowing; two pans results in a thinner loaf.

Pretty or not, I now prefer to eat my own bread than “store bought.” And I certainly have a greater appreciation for others’ home baking!

I’ll keep playing with it, and keep you posted.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Urban Homesteaders: Probiotics a Yummy Alternative

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

Modern homesteaders, that is, urban and rural folks who are into self-sufficiency, could do little better in regard to their food choices than delving into probiotics.

Simply put, probiotics are the tiny organisms that help maintain the natural balance (microflora) in the intestines. That may sound yucky, but it can be tastier than it might sound.

If you visit Rainbow Natural Grocery Co-Op in Fondren, for example, you’ll see row after row of “natural” sauerkrauts in a remarkable variety of flavors. That’s probiotics.

If you dine at a fine Asian restaurant and sample the spicy and wonderfully complex flavors of kimchi, that’s probiotics.

Finally, if you grew annoyed at the Jamie Lee Curtis TV ads touting how her body is in such great intestinal balance, that’s (yes, you guessed it) probiotics.

Probiotics is a form of homesteading because it’s all about taking leftover or common materials and recycling them into healthful, edible food.

The “sauerkrauts” at Rainbow are carefully fermented unsold produce; Kimchi, basically, is fermented cabbage that was too tough or bitter to eat straight from the fields; Curtis’ product is yogurt with a trademarked probiotic culture added.

It all boils to lacto-fermentation: a long word for homegrown food. As my beautiful wife Annette has blogged (blueskywaters.com/articles.html): Dr. Andrew Weil makes his own sauerkraut, not because it’s a way to preserve summer crops and eat them all year, or a cheap way to recycle old, tough, bug-eaten or leftover garden crops (which it is) but because it’s a healthier way to eat.

“Fermenting does some of the digestive work for you, so it makes a lot of foods more digestible and the nutrients in them more bioavailable,” Weil says. Unlike other methods of preserving foods, lacto-fermentation actually increases nutritional value.

There are a couple of methods for doing this. Weil uses a Harsch crock, as does Rainbow Grocery, but that takes weeks to produce, and they are rather pricey. Annette uses a cheaper method that’s also quicker. Read about it at store.therawdiet.com/

She writes: “I use the sea salt proportion Weil recommends (http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART02021/Dr-Weil-Savoring-Sauerkraut.html), then add any veggie combination that appeals to me. I always add fresh grated ginger and fresh grated turmeric if available. I go easy on garlic, as the process makes its flavor stronger. You don’t have to use a starter, but I do. Yogurt whey, miso, kraut juice or a capsule or two of a probiotic culture is fine.”

Read about more fermentation methods and recipes in the book “Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods” by Sandor Ellix Katz (Chelsea Green, 2003, $25).

Vegans Take Note!

“Sauerkraut is a perfect alternative source of acidophilous and other friendly micro-flora, for those who prefer not to eat yogurt. These flora aid digestion, boost the immune system, and help to keep your digestive system balanced and detoxified.” –Dr. Andrew Weil

Make Your Own Yogurt

Everything you need to make homemade yogurt is probably already in your kitchen, with the possible exception of a thermometer. Visit makeyourownyogurt.com/make-yogurt/what-you-need.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Great Time of Year for Urban Homesteaders

Sept. 7, 2012

Urban Homesteading: Planning for Winter

Those who practice “homesteading”—or self-sufficiency—are busy preserving or “putting up” the produce they have grown this summer. But urban homesteaders who may be limited in the amount of land available to them aren’t left out in the cold. In fact, they have a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables available to them—as close as the local farmers market.

As always, now is a great time to buy what’s available. At this time of year, most farmers are wrapping up their traditional growing time and looking forward to a final fall harvest and a winter season of rest.

The amount of available fresh foods lull consumers who may not be buying as eagerly as they did early in the season—many may even be burned out on local crops. This all works to urban homesteaders’ advantage, because a customer who wants to buy in bulk can usually obtain a bargain.

A tip: Go to the market just before closing time. While some of the items may be sold out or picked over, farmers are usually more than willing to sell the remainder at a huge discount just so they don’t have to haul it back and compost it or give it away.

Another tip: No matter what time of day, you can usually barter down the price of a bruised or picked-over item. In fact, some farmers could throw in the damaged items for free if you buy others in quantity and offer to take them off his hands. You can cut out any bad parts of fruits or vegetables without harming the taste. And remember: If you are dicing them for canning or making preserves, it doesn’t matter what they look like.

Lastly: Quiz farmers over their growing techniques. Organic is the way to go.

Some local farmers aren’t “certified” organic (the Mississippi Department of Agriculture ended its organic-certifying program in December due to budget cuts), but they may still be using organic methods. Most farmers will be more than happy to tell you how they grow their crops. If they don’t—or won’t—don’t buy.

Canning and Preserving Food

The Mississippi State University Extension Service has publications on how to safely preserve food and other issues of interest to urban homesteaders, including: “The Complete Guide to Home Canning” (http://www.msucares.com/pubs/publications/p1152.pdf) and a library of articles grouped under Living In a Recession (http://www.tinyurl.com/clldul3).

Seminars on Agritourism, Growing Fruits & Vegetables

Did you know that agritourism is a growing field in the state? Or that you can hobnob with fruit and vegetable growers to learn from them directly? The Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and the Mississippi Agritourism Association are holding seminars for the public at a conference in Jackson Nov. 28 and 29 at the Hilton Hotel on County Line Road. Early bird registration ends Sept. 15. For more info, http://www.visitmsfruitandveg.com or email info@msfruitandveg.co. You can also contact Candi Adams at 662-534-1916 or cadams@ext.msstate.edu.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Keeping Urban Bees

Keeping Bees

May 30, 2012

Here’s a term that has gained popularity in the past couple of years: urban homesteading. It means making your property, or “homestead,” as self-sufficient as possible, regarding food and supplies, while living in an urban setting.

You could also just call it sustainable living.

Either way, I’ll write on this topic from time to time. Our first stop: keeping bees.

Bees require specialized equipment and are impossible to corral. You’ve heard of trying to herd cats? Bees are worse. They range a mile in every direction and get into anything that promises the sweetness of flower nectar — including, in one instance, invading a Brooklyn, N.Y., maraschino cherry factory and producing metallic-tasting red honey (!), The New York Times reports.

Because bees go so far afield, if a jar of honey is labeled “organic,” be wary. Unless the bees are out in the middle of nowhere, it’s impossible to certify their food sources.

On the other hand, if you keep a hive, you can take care of your end to ensure you are not adding artificial chemicals. Believe it or not, most commercial beekeepers use chemicals to control pests. They also pasteurize their honey—through either heat or irradiation, killing many of its natural nutrients—and even add thinners and artificial color. If you truly want to buy natural honey, look for products marked “raw.”

If you have an acre of land or less in an urban setting, I don’t advise trying to keep standard-frame hives. Neighbors might complain—and rightly so—about 200,000 or so honeybees living next door. To get around this, a number of urban beekeepers have joined together to provide rooftop hives. “Secret” rooftop-hive locations include The Whitney Museum in New York City, the Lloyd’s Building in London and the Opera Garnier in Paris, The New York Times reports.

For city dwellers, particularly those living in apartments, rooftop hives may be worth looking into, but for most urban homesteaders interested in keeping bees, a few enterprising folk are making alternatives to standard, commercial hives.

One option is called an English Garden Hive, which is lightweight in comparison to standard frame hives and decorative. Some call this “the hive of the future” for backyard gardeners. Another choice is called the Kenyan, or top-bar hive, which is so adaptable that you can use boxes, 55-gallon drums, old crates or even a cast-off refrigerator for your hive. Either way, the idea is to harvest just enough honey for your own use, and let the bees keep the rest.

Most beekeepers keep stacked hives, adding hive boxes to the top, called “supers,” for the bees to produce surplus honey for commercial purposes. But garden hives are small to begin with and usually don’t have a number of supers. They’re meant to house bees to pollinate your crops, thus improving produce yields, while also supplying a small amount of honey for personal use.

Urban beekeepers should also buy a bee variety that usually maintains a small population, is gentle to work with, and doesn’t swarm a lot, such as Italian bees.

Urban Beekeeper Resources
• English Garden Hive and other essential beekeeping information and tools: brushymountainbeefarm.com
• Kenyan Top-Bar Hive—See videos at bees-on-the-net.com. This site also has a ton of other information and links about bees and beekeeping.
• It’s getting a little late in the year for buying bees, but Keith Dale of Wee Three Bees Apiary in Hattiesburg, who keeps natural Italian bees, says he plans to have some bees on hand for sale into June. Visit his website, beelicioushoney.com, or call 601-447-6994.
• “Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture” by Ross Conrad (Chelsea Green, 2007, $36) is a good book on chemical-free beekeeping.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.