039 Climate Change and Be-cycling With Peter Kalmus

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Our guest this week is Peter Kalmus who is, among many things, a physicist, a climate scientist, a gardener, a beekeeper, a cyclist and the father of two boys. In our conversation he discusses his “Be-Cycling” response to climate change. Through a series of lifestyle changes he has reduced his personal CO2 emissions from 20 tonnes a year–which is about the US national average–to two tonnes. And he says he’s had a great time doing it. During the podcast he also touches on:

  • His transition from astrophysics to climate science and why he made the switch.
  • The carbon footprint of climate science.
  • Not giving climate skeptics any more airtime.
  • The disconnect between evidence and action.
  • Meditation.
  • Techo-fixes vs. “pulling back.”
  • Figuring out your carbon footprint.
  • Avoiding flying.
  • The carbon footprint of food.
  • Becoming a vegetarian.
  • Dumpster diving.
  • Growing food.
  • RIPE Altadena.

You can find out more about Peter through his be-cycling website. You can also download an excerpt of his book-in-progress (pdf) and see slides from one of his talks (pdf).

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

The Flow Hive: a Solution in Search of a Problem

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This week so many people have forwarded me links to this Indigogo pitch for a new kind of beehive called the Flow™ that I feel I’ve got to respond and let you all know what I think of the idea.

On the slim chance you haven’t been forwarded the pitch yet, the Flow™ Hive is a honey super that you can extract honey from without having to open the hive and remove frames. It’s like a cross between a beehive and a beer tap.  My problem with this design is mostly symbolic.

Conceptually, the idea that a beehive is like a beer keg you can tap is troublesome. A beehive is a living thing, not a machine for our exploitation. I’m a natural beekeeper and feel that honey harvests must be done with caution and respect. To us, beekeeping is, at the risk of sounding a little melodramatic– a sacred vocation. We are in relationship with our backyard hive, and feel our role is to support them, and to very occasionally accept the gift of excess honey. For new beekeepers, and for people who are not beekeepers, beekeeping is all about the honey. “How much honey do you get from your hives? ” is the first question people ask us. But in our minds, the honey matters very little. What we get we consider precious, and use for medicine more than sweetening.

So that’s where we come from, and if you understand that, you’ll understand why we look askance at this “bee keg.” It reinforces our culture’s unfortunate dualistic view of nature that says all of creation is ours for our exploitation–our convenient exploitation.

On a more practical level, it seems to me that the ease of the tapping could lead inexperienced beekeepers to over-tap the hive.

Now, the inventors say this system is less stressful to the hive, because you don’t have to remove the frames for harvest, or even to check to see if the frames are ready for harvest.  And this is true. It is a novel system, where the plastic comb is built so that frame splits open and lets the honey drain out secretly, as it were, so while the bees are not disturbed by the lifting of frames, they periodically discover that all their work has just vanished into thin air.

This novel plastic foundation is key to this system. Under it, the bees do no building of their own. They are set to live in a tower of prefabricated plastic cells. As a natural beekeeper I  don’t use foundation at all, as bees are by nature builders, and I believe they build the best homes for themselves. I would not presume to define the scope and size of their home.

Another concern for me is honey robbing.  Pictures on the Flow™ Hive site also show honey dripping from the hive into open jars. In our region, this would set off a robbing frenzy as other hives in the area discover free, open air honey. When robbing gets going the bees in the hive get very defensive and stinging of people and animals nearby can result. Other photos on the site show the harvest tubes connected to lidded jars, which would be a lot safer. But I don’t think lidded harvest systems are included in the price of the set up.

Speaking of the price: It’s $460 for just the contraption or $600 for a brood box and the Flow™ Hive. I can buy two unassembled Lanstroth boxes with frames for around $40. A top and bottom board ads a few bucks. Some folks build top bar hives entirely from free scrap lumber.

All in all, to me this invention seems like a solution in search of a problem. It’s not difficult to peek in the top of the hive, take out a few honey frames and replace them with empty frames. It’s true that you have to take precautions: honey harvests should be done swiftly, deliberately and gracefully. But that’s not hard if you just make sure you’ve got everything ready before you open the hive.

As of this morning the inventors have raised an astonishing $1.2 million USD on a $70,000 campaign. I can’t help but think that the money would be better spent on researching natural beekeeping methods.

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Saturday Tweets: Garden Yeti!

Three Things I’ve Learned About Baking Bread With Whole Grain

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Sonora wheat loaf on the left, Joachin Oro loaf on the right.

I’ve gone through a number of bread baking conversion experiences over the last 20 years. I began with Nancy Silverton cookbook, moved on to the cult of Chad Robertson and have finally ended up drinking the whole grain cool aid of pro-bakers Craig Ponsford, Dave Miller and Josey Baker. Then I got really crazy and started milling my own flour from heirloom wheat. Here’s three things I’ve learned:

1. Keep it wet. Whole grain flour soaks up much more water than white flour. Bread recipes are a ratio between flour and water. In bread baking parlance this is called a hydration ratio (to get the hydration ratio you divide the water by the flour–the quirk of baker’s math is that the flour is always 100% ). Old school bread recipes, most of which require a lot of kneading, have hydration ratios in the 65% range. Popular no-knead white bread recipes have hydration ratios in the 75% to 80% range. Whole wheat? We’re talking a range between 85% and 110% depending on the type of grain you’re using.

2. Shorten the fermentation time. I use a sourdough starter and, in my experience, whole grain seems to be more active than white flour. Now we’re not talking about the crazy kind of rise that happens with commercial yeast, but I over-proofed many whole wheat sourdough loaves until I figured out that I needed to shorten the first rise (bulk fermentation). The white breads I used to make required a four to five hour bulk fermentation. The whole grain breads I’m baking now seem to do fine with just three hours (depending on the weather, of course). Once I shape my dough, I put it in the fridge to proof overnight. The time in the fridge makes wet dough easier to handle and develops the flavor. And that cold dough can go straight from the fridge and into the oven.

3. The biodiversity of grains and the way they behave as bread has been a astonishing and sometimes frustrating experience (note the difference in the photo above between a loaf made with Sonora wheat and a loaf made with Joachin Oro wheat). Many varieties of  wheat I’ve worked with need to be baked in a loaf pan since they don’t have the gluten to hold their shape as a boule or batard (unless you’re a master like Dave Miller). The Joachin Oro I’ve been getting from my local mill Grist & Toll, on the other hand, yields big and perfect boules. Flours can be blended, of course, and this is the next frontier I plan to explore. And milling your own introduces another variable I’m still getting use to. The fineness of the flour effects the rise of the dough. The convenience and control of home milling has been both life changing and, at times, frustrating.

Have you been baking with whole grains? How has it been going with you?