Talking pollinators at the Common Ground Fair

At 2pm on Saturday, September 24th I will be in Unity at MOFGA’s annual Common Ground Fair to give a talk Ive dubbed “Pollinator Conservation through Agriculture”. *Insert excited squeal here.*

pollinator conservation at common ground fairThere’s a decided interest from the public in pollinators, I’m excited to be able to say. You see it in the news, in the increasing numbers of backyard-beekeepers, at your local garden center, and we see it in the Call Center at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. The representatives who answer the phone there are getting more calls every year from gardeners and farmers wanting to grow plants for pollinators. People want to help, they want to raise pollinator-friendly plants that offer food and habitat for bees, and they want to reduce the risk of pesticide poisoning to bees.

I’m sure the fact that I’m a bee-nut was not the main reason Johnny’s hired me, lol. That was just an added bonus─or a peculiarity they decided was worth tolerating. Lol, I think I’ve grown on them though, they asked me to represent the company by giving a presentation at the Common Ground Fair. Can you believe it?!

Actually I think when Amy LeClaire first mentioned it to me I was horrified and flabbergasted: “But what will I talk about!?” This is a different scale of audience then the Somerset County 4H and the Madison or East Madison Grange. It’s not the Solon Summer Rec Program or the kindergarten class at the Carrabec Community School in North Anson. We’re talking about the Common Ground Fair─the fair of fairs, a revelry for sustainable living, a festival to pay homage to Maine’s agricultural roots.

Amy looked at me patiently, spreading her hands out before her as if the answer should be obvious and said, “Bees?”

Of course! Duh! So I dubiously said yes, I’d do it, and set about revamping one of my favorite presentations about pollinator conservation.

pollinator conservation through agriculture
Monarch butterflies are becoming more rare, but we had one at Runamuk this season.

This presentation first covers why bees and pollinators are in peril, and then discusses specific actions gardeners and farmers can take to benefit and even increase their local populations of pollinators. All of the information I present is garnered from credible sources such as the Xerces Society, the Pollinator Partnership, the NRCS, and more. I’ll throw in some personal anecdotes of my beekeeping misadventures along the way just to keep things interesting. Along with my presentation I’ll have lots of handouts available, as well as book and website recommendations for further learning.

It’s been 7 years since my first hive─when I was suddenly overcome by this fascination with pollinators. Come spend an hour with me, let me share with you my love for bees, and learn what you can do to support local pollinators in your backyard, in the garden or on the farm.

Mark your calendars or fair guides:

Pollinator Conservation Through Agriculture
Saturday, September 24th – 2pm at MOFGA’s Common Ground Fair in Unity, ME
Railcar Speakers’ Tent

9 health benefits of using honey

9 health benefits of honeyI’ll be the first to admit that I’m a honey convert.

I wasn’t raised on it, and to tell the truth–before I got into beekeeping the last jar of honey I bought came from the grocery store (I shudder to think of it now!) and sat in the cupboard largely untouched for years.

I got bees for the pollination of my garden, which was rapidly expanding (and still is!), the honey was just a perk–but once I extracted and tasted my first crop of honey I was instantly converted.  The sweet taste of that liquid liquid gold treacle is like tasting the warm golden sunshine on a spring wildflower meadow–a little taste of heaven right here on Earth.

The more I learn about the goodness of honey and all of the benefits and uses it has to offer, the more I am convinced it really is a gift from nature.

A little history

Honey has long been recognized as one of the most natural of home remedies.  Since pre-ancient times honey has been used to treat wounds and imbalances within the body.

Prescriptions for treating wounds using honey in remedies have been found on the oldest of human scriptures, which date back to about 2000BC.  And in the first compendium of ancient Chinese Medicine that Shen Nang compiled many years BC, and again mentioned in a written form about 500 years AD, it states that honey can be used against many diseases–for example-the healing and cleaning of wounds, and against many different internal and external infections.

Ancient Greeks considered honey to be good medicine, and believed that if bee honey was taken regularly it could prolong the human life.  While in the old Roman pharmacopoeia, honey was the most useful substance they possessed, and it was used to treat afflictions of the mouth, pneumonia, pleurisy and snake bites.

Even our revered early thinkers–Homer, Pythagoras, Ovid, Democritus, Hippocrates, and Aristotle mentioned that people should eat honey to preserve their health and vigor.

Today knowledge on the healing virtues of bee honey and bee bi-products is known as apitherapy, and modern science is validating these historical claims for the medicinal uses of honey.

Health benefits of honey

So for thousands of years we’ve known that honey is good for you both inside and outside the body, but now we have science to validate it and tell us why honey works so well.  I don’t know about you–but in our house, we abide by concepts grounded in scientific fact, which is yet another reason why I like working with our county’s cooperative extension as a master gardener–but I digress.  😉


1. Cholesterol fighter:  Honey is free of cholesterol; what’s more, adding small amounts of honey to your daily diet can help to keep your cholesterol in check.  This is due to the fact that antioxidants in the honey prevent cholesterol from being moved out of the blood and into the lining of the blood vessels.  So daily consumption of honey could raise the levels of protective antioxidant compounds in your body.

honey is good for you
Photo courtesy, Creative Commons License

2. Natural energy booster:  Studies today have shown that honey is far superior at maintaining glycogen levels, and improving recovery time of athletes compared to that of other sweeteners.  Well known for it’s effectiveness in instantly boosting performance, endurance and reducing muscle fatigue, a spoonful of honey can be taken before a workout, or as an alternative to caffeinated energy drinks–even honey spread on toast, or replacing sugar in tea can offer an all natural boost of energy when you are feeling low or lethargic.

3. Immune system builder:  Raw honey contains 5000 live enzymes, along with a full range of vitamins, 22 amino acids and 27 minerals.  Eating honey can stimulate the immune system because it contains powerful antioxidants, antiviral properties, abd contains natural antibiotics.  When combined with apple cider vinegar, honey can help fight respiratory conditions.

4. Anti-cancer:  Scientists have found floral flavinoids in honey–generally known as antioxidants–immediately increase the antioxidant levels within the body’s cells when ingested.  These flavinoids decrease capillary permeability and fragility, scavenging oxidants and inhibiting the destruction of collagen in the body.  Honey is not a cure–but definitely a great preventative not to be overlooked.

5. Humectant:  As a natural humectant, honey pulls moisture from the air and binds it, which makes it a good addition to hand and face creams.

6. Antibacterial and anti-fungal:  All honey is antibacterial because the bees add an enzyme that makes hydrogen peroxide, according to Peter Molan, director of the Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato in New Zealand.  It is that enzyme that gives honey the antiseptic properties that inhibit the growth of certain bacteria and help to keep external wounds clean and free from infection.  Honey’s antibacterial properties not only prevent infection, but function as an anti-inflammatory agent–reducing swelling and pain, even scarring.

7. Reduces ulcer and gastrointestinal disorders:  Modern science is proving that the antibacterial properties of honey make it incredibly effective against bacteria.  Studies have shown that honey can be used for prevention and treatment of numerous gastrointestinal disorders, including peptic ulcers, gastritis, and gastroenteritis.  Even disorders resulting from more resistant strains of bacteria–such as the bacteria Heliobacter pylori–or H. pylori.  Prescription antibiotics typically prescribed for H. pylori are expensive and have harmful side effects, while the use of honey also inhibits the bacteria while posing no side effects.

8. Reduces coughs and throat irritation:  Research published in the British Medical Journal determined honey to be highly effective in preventing acid reflux.  Because honey is 125.9 time more viscous than distilled water, it forms a better coating on the esophagus and can reduce heart burn.  What’s more, honey has been proven to be just as effective as dextromethorphan (key ingredient in commercial cough syrup) in relieving coughs and allowing children to sleep through the night.

9. Blood sugar regulation:  Though honey contains simple sugars, they are not the same as white sugar or artificial sweeteners.  It’s exact combination of fructose and glucose actually help the body regular blood sugar levels.  Some honeys even have a low hypoglycemic index so they don’t jolt your blood sugar.

For best results

To achieve the full effects of the benefits of honey, be sure to use pure, raw honey.  More than three-quarters of the honey found in our US grocery stores is not actually honey.  The Food and Drug Administration states that any product that no longer contains pollen is not honey; what’s more–the food safety divisions of the World Health Organization, the European Commission, and dozens or other organizations around the world have all ruled that without pollen, there is no way to determine whether the honey came from a legitimate and safe source.

Yet the FDA does not check the honey being sold in America to see if it contains pollen.

The process of ultra-filtering is a technique refined by the Chinese (who have been illegally dumping tons of their honey on the US market for years–some of which contain illegal antibiotics).  It is a high-tech process which heats the honey, sometimes watering it down and then forcing it at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove the pollen.

Once honey has been heated and filtered in this manner it has lost most of it’s healthful benefits, which is why it is so important to buy raw honey from a local source you can trust.  Traditional filtering still catches the bee parts, wax, and debris from the hives that might be in the honey, but leaves the pollen–along with all of the vitamins, minerals and enzymes in place.

A note of caution:  Please do not feed honey to infants less than 1 year, as spored of Clostridium botulinum have been found in a small percentage of the honeys in North America.  While these spores are not dangerous to adults and older children, they can pose a serious threat to infants.

Also–keep in mind that darker honeys have stronger concentrations of antioxidants and so is much more powerful medicine–as I pointed out in this previous article about the Power of Dark Honey.

I am converted

benefits of honeyNow that I have had the privilege of tasting and using my own all-natural, raw honey, there’s no going back.  I cook with it, I use it in my soaps, I make herbal salves with my honey, drink it in my tea, eat it on pancakes and drizzle it on vanilla ice cream.  Occasionally I’ll even take a spoonful and eat it straight from the jar, marveling in the taste and wonder of this sticky sweet nectar that my own bees have produced.

I aspire to travel the world some day, a round-the-world journey that will take me to apiaries all over the world–learning the different methods and techniques that beekeepers have adapted, and of course–sampling the myriad of different honeys as a wine connoisseur might do with various wines.  What a thrill that would be!

So what about you–are you using honey on a regular basis?  Do you have a health reason for using honey?  And what’s your favorite way to eat it?  Feel free to share below!


Why honey is effective as medicine; the scientific explanation of its effects – from the University of Waikato, research commons

Health Benefits of Honey

Effects of dietary honey on intstinal microflora and toxicity of mycotoxins in mice – from Biomed Central

6 Health Benefits of Honey – Health Central

Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey – from Food Safety News

Baking to stretch the food budget

baking to stretch the food budget

Now that we’re all settled in at the new Runamuk homestead, I’ve finally been able to unpack my kitchen and cook-wares and get back to my regular baking routines.  With a new mortgage, maintaining our budget is more imperative than ever before, so I spend time each month to plan out meals ahead of time, then on Sundays I make it a point to spend the day baking my breads, rolls, tortilla shells, muffins, etc. in preparation for the week ahead.  What is made and baked is dictated by the menu, and then what is not needed within the next day or two is put into the freezer to maintain it’s freshness.

baking to stretch the food budget
Amish White Bread–as a rule, white bread is not something I make often, but on occasion–this is a very delicious bread.

Why bother to bake?

It may sound like a lot of work, and I confess that baking–like other household tasks–is not my most favorite thing to do–that would, of course, be beekeeping and gardening, and practically any other chore out of doors! lol  But the benefits are worth the time and effort; once you’ve learned the skills you’ll be surprised how quickly you can whip up a batch of muffins, or make a pizza dough–even baking bread takes less time once you gain the experience and know how!

Tastes better

Homemade breads and baked goods simply taste better; you can make them to suit the taste preferences of you and your family, use fresher ingredients, include more grains and increase nutrition, and significantly reduce or even eliminate preservatives altogether.  By making your own, you can be sure–if you so choose–that you’re avoiding high-fructose corn syrup, GMOs, and using only the best organic ingredients.

Save money

Baking your own breads definitely saves money.  I’m not going to go and do the math, but I know that when you consider that a half decent loaf of bread at the grocery store is currently running $5 a loaf (and that’s not organic or gmo-free for sure!), and if you’re going through at least 2-3 loaves a week like we do–you’re bound to save money by doing it yourself.  Then when you figure in some of the other breads and baked goods you use in a week–such as bagels, english muffins, burger or hot dog rolls, tortilla shells, cookies and crackers–that list and expense really begins to add up.

Fresher ingredients

The breads you find at the mainstream grocery store have been made on an industrial scale and engineered not to grow old while they are shipped and then sit there on shelves waiting to be taken home.  It stands to reason that bread you bake at home is going to be fresher.  But you can also include fresher ingredients like your own fresh eggs if you raise chickens, or farm-fresh eggs from your neighbor or the local farmers’ market if you don’t raise your own chickens.  You also have the opportunity to use locally produced grains, raw milk, lard or butter rather than oil–the possibilities are endless and open to your creative experimentation.

Here are 2 of our favorite bread recipes:

Amish White Bread

  • rolls for dinner
    My mother used to make some delectable breads too–she taught me how to make rolls and I’ve never forgotten!

    2c. warm water

  • 2/3c. sugar
  • 1-1/2 tbsp. yeast
  • 1-1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 vegetable oil (extra virgin olive oil is my go-to vegetable oil)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4c. powdered milk
  • 6c. all-purpose flour

In a large mixing bowl dissolve the sugar in the warm water and stir in the yeast.  Allow to sit until creamy and foamy.  While you’re waiting, take a separate bowl and put your oil, egg, and powdered milk into it–whisk together til well combined.  Set that aside and measure and sift your flour and salt.  Next–when you’re yeast is ready, add the egg and oil mixture, whisk together to combine.  Now use a wooden spoon to gradually stir in your flour and salt.  When the dough begins to pull together, turn it out onto a well floured surface.  Knead for about 7-8 minutes, or until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.  At this point place the dough into an oiled mixing bowl, cover with a cloth or towel and allow to rise until doubled in size.  Punch down the dough and turn it out to knead again to work out any air bubbles before cutting into loaves or forming into rolls.

Note:  The original recipe calls for this to make 2 loaves, but I’ve found that those loaves come out very large.  When cut into slices they do not fit well in a toaster, and since the boys like to have toast for breakfast, I’ve gotten in the habit of cutting the dough into 3 and making slightly smaller loaves–which, if you ask me–are still plenty large.

I bake my breads at 450-degrees for the first 5 minutes, and then reduce the temperature to 350.  The bread is done if it sounds hollow when you tap on the top of the loaf.

Honey-Wheat Oatmeal Bread

  • 1c. quick or rolled oats (the quick oats give the bread a smoother texture, while the rolled oats at more substance).
  • 2c. boiling water
  • 1/4c. butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4c. powdered milk
  • 1/2c. honey
  • 1/2c. warm water
  • 1-1/2 tsp. yeast
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3c. white flour
  • 3c. wheat flour

This is my go-to bread recipe, my sister raves about this bread and always asks for it for her birthday and holidays.  It is nutritious and flavorful, and delicious.

In a large mixing bowl place your oats, and cover with the 2 cups boiling water.  If you choose to use the rolled oats you will want to let them sit for 30 minutes before proceeding.  When the oats are “cooked”, proof your yeast (in a separate, smaller bowl, put the warm water, sugar, and yeast–leave it to sit until frothy.  While you’re waiting add the butter, powdered milk, egg and honey to the oatmeal.  In another mixing bowl sift together your salt, white and wheat flours.  When the yeast is ready, use a whisk to add it to the oatmeal combination.  Then use a wooden spoon to gradually stir in the flour until the dough pulls together.  Then–much as described above–turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead 7-8 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Place the dough into an oiled mixing bowl and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise until doubled in size.  Punch the dough down and turn out to knead and eliminate air bubbles from the dough.  Cut into 2 or 3, depending on how large you prefer your loaves, and form into loaves, place in bread pans or try your hand at artisan bread!


There’s not a single perfect method to baking great bread.  What works for one person may not work for another.  I confess that I still consider myself a novice bread-maker, though I have had some luck–there is still much to learn about bread-making that, given the chance, I would love to discover.  The beauty of bread-making though, is that there is a depth of knowledge and history to the art that we can draw from, since bread-making is an ancient art-form that has sustained mankind for thousands and thousands of years.  Feel free to try new recipes, methods, and learn as you go along–you will find your family willing participants in your experiments!

What about you?  Do you bake?  What is your favorite thing to make for your family?