Our garden is in full bloom, or should we say: in full fruit? It is not tending the plants which is effortful these days, but the harvest itself. Every day we have something in our basket and the work in the garden stretches into our kitchen. We cannot consume all the vegetables and fruits while they are still fresh. Without a cellar or a huge fridge, we lack the storage, thus having to preserve all the veggies shortly after we harvested them. By preserving, fermenting, bottling and pickling them, we preserve the fruits and vegetables for the upcoming cold months, when our garden will be almost empty, apart from some winter vegetables.

We want to introduce you to another method of preserving: dehydrating. While browsing Keimling Naturkost a few years ago, we discovered the dehydrator Excalibur Mini. For everyday use in our two person household it is perfect. It is light and space-saving. However, we outgrew it with our garden and the masses of cherries, apples, berries and different vegetables. We needed something bigger! The dehydrator Excalibur EXC10EL made of stainless steel has been on our wishlist quite some time now. Thus, a request for a collaboration with Keimling came just in the nick of time. Keimling Naturkost stands for a raw diet, offers only vegan high quality and is the right port of call for sustainably produced products and which fit the vegan nutrition. Of their enormous range of products we especially value the devices for processing food like the professional blender, juicer and dehydrator. Our Personal Blender, the juicer by Kuvings and the powerful Vitamix have been reliable heavy workers in our kitchen for years. We could test the professional dehydrator, too. In contrast to its smallest brother (Keimling offers different sizes and models of Excalibur and other dehydrators), which we could unpack and wrap again when we needed it, the new device has its own place in our kitchen now and is used on a regular basis now. We never prepared so much food in the dehydrator as this year!

Before we will tell you more about the device, we want to focus on the method itself. In times when fruits and vegetables are available in supermarkets all year round, only few think about the old and a bit dusty method of dehydrating. Yet, it is a great method of conserving seasonal food for the winter months even if you don’t own a garden. If you buy seasonal you are not only buying more sustainable and cheaper, but also get the best possible flavour and rich nutritions. Why should you buy tasteless fruits and vegetables out of the green house or from the end of the world if  you can preserve the taste of summer perfectly?

Dehydrating is one of the oldest and easiest methods of conservation. By dehydrating the food, microorganisms lack the livelihood, thus extending the storability. Furthermore, the fruit’s or vegetable’s flavour intensifies.

If you have ever ate dried strawberries you know it is hard to get away from them. Especially children are excited about them. Yannic still remembers the fruit leather his mother made and which he and his sisters loved so much as children. We love adding dried fruits like berries and cherries to our oat meal or as powder to desserts. Taste and optics of fruit powder is just unique.

However, this season we experimented especially with savoury recipes. We tried granulated vegetable broth of carrots, celery, parsnip, onion, garlic, parsley and lovage is a natural, self-made seasoning, and also different salts with Mediterranean herbs or dried tomatoes.

We rolled onions in flour, fried them in a pan and dried them afterwards, so now we have fried onions at hand. We already snack zucchini and black cabbage chips or spicy crispbread while we make it and they probably won’t even make the first weeks. The dried mushrooms smell delicious, and our noses just don’t want to get out of the glasses with the dried flowers. We already showed you a herb tea mix on our blog, now we also have a fruit tea of rose-hips, apples and calendula. What a flavour!

The list could go on and on, and the ideas for recipes we want to realize with the dehydrator won’t get less, either. 

The good news is, we can experiment endlessly. Drying is very space-saving as the volume of the dehydrated goods decreases a lot. Instead of producing oodles of the same type of jam or a ferment, dehydrating concentrates the flavour on small space. This saves storage and does not have to be cooled. Also, you don’t have to prepare anything apart from cleaning, cutting and maybe seasoning the fruits and vegetables, which makes dehydrating also a time saving method. Additionally, you don’t have to consider too much, so you don’t have to agonise about whether you did everything right. You should only cut off damaged spots and dehydrate at low temperature to keep as much goodness as possible.

Let’s get to the facts about the Excalibur EXC10EL Dehydrator. The device has a digital thermostat ranging from 35°C to 74°C and a timer. You can easily program everything you need to get a prefect drying outcome. No overdrying when the dehydrator dries too long over night or you left the house while the dehydrator did its work. The device being made of stainless steel is a plus for us, despite the weight. Because of the sturdy construction we can be sure to have decades with it ahead of us. 10 slides provide a large drying space, on which we can dehydrate fruits and vegetables in bucketfuls. Due to the see through two-winged glass doors you always see what’s happening inside and can easily take out the slides or put more in. A compartment for crumbs makes cleaning easy, special drying foils enable the drying of purees and prevent moist ingredients from sticking to the sheets. 

We don’t want to get too technical, but some of the details are definitely worth mentioning. The Excalibur EXC10E works with hyperwave technology. The air temperature is always about the chosen temperature. The reason is that surface moisture evaporates fast as soon as the air temperature rises. The fluctuating air temperature (hyperwave technology) supports keeping a constant temperature. Also, the dual dehydration mode is about evaporation chill, which we are really excited about. The dual dehydration mode enables us to program two temperatures. Starting the dehydrating, the temperature within the goods is, due to the evaporation chill, lower than the programmed temperature. Because of this, you can easily program a 10°C higher temperature and still dry in raw food quality to keep the vitamins in fruits and vegetables. Afterwards, the device changes the temperature and time to second programmed ones. This way, the process of dehydration is way faster, of course.

We are incredibly excited to tease out pure flavour in the dehydrator and to handle fruits and vegetables in all new ideas.

Again and Again we tell you about how the people in our neighbourhood in Mecklenburg delight us. All the wonderful, inspiring acquaintances contribute a lot to us feeling so home here. You have probably already read about one of them, Olaf Schnelle*. We put his ideas to rearrange our garden to work and now have the beautiful perennials around our greenhouse. He gave us the crucial impulse to completely start over this season and to bring everything from the back part of our garden to the front of the greenhouse. The work paid off!

We’ve been following Olaf’s work enthusiastically for years and are happy about the exchange with a professional for gardening and fermenting like him. About the last topic we’ve been talking recently when we visited him in his garden. We raved about his wild romantic paradise and how it inspired us in another article. In his garden, it is so easy for us to let our minds wander and to get creative. Together, we tinkered some recipes in which Olaf’s ferments where the main part, plus some vegetables from his nursery, roasted over open fire. A perfect combination. The result were five different dishes. It was an exciting, creative process which culminated in a delicious dinner!

Our little summer BBQ menu included a refreshing cucumber drink with dill and the juice of Olaf’s sauerkraut with grand fir. The stems of the lettuce Olaf marinated in oil and his fermented chili paste. He mixed fermented lavender beet with dill and a bit of olive oil to a dressing. We were especially inspired by the stems of the flowering lettuce because we never thought about them being edible. Learning never stops!

Our contribution to the BBQ were savoury buns stuffed with tarragon, fermented mustard and a bit honey, a vegetable stir-fry of young fennel, onions and fermented beet root. Additionally, young baked celery which we marinated in the brine of fermented celery with quinces and a bit of salt and honey. Some of the ferments we served as antipasti with oil and herbs, and ready was our special dinner.

At the moment, we are occupied with fermenting, preserving and pickling, or dehydrating to preserve our garden’s harvest. It is pretty time consuming, but we feel more than ever how rewarding a large pantry is. When we lack the time for cooking – or the inspiration – we can easily transform a despicable dish into a culinary delight.

If you don’t have the leisure to experiment, you will find everything you need in Olaf’s shop: beet with woodruff, carrot with elderberry, horseradish mustard, sauerkraut with grand fir, celery with quince or thyme, white beet with lavender, coleslaw, chili paste, herb salt and other exciting ferments are ready for your order. Of course, we have tried almost everything and created, for example, a bean salad with white beet, hummus with fermented beet, or potato pancake with fermented red cabbage. You also find the recipes at Olaf’s. Check it out!

This year, our garden got enriched with many more plants, thus also more insects. Thanks to the uncountable blooming herbs, perennials and flowers, there is humming and buzzing in every corner. What a spectacle! Beside many species of wild bees, bumblebees and butterflies, also honeybees feast on the flowers’ nectar. This is no accident, we became beekeepers! Two bee-colonies are living in our garden this year. We dreamt about this for some time now, because bees just belong to a natural garden. We did not have the pollination or the honey in mind as much as our fascination for these creatures.

We could not get down to work completely clueless, of course. We were especially interested in alternative ways of beekeeping, and stumbled across the species-appropriate beekeeping and Mellifera e. V.. Since the middle of the 80s, the society advocates for a beekeeping which focuses on the natural needs of a bee colony. Sustainable, ecological, and species-appropriate.

The goal: “A world in tune with bee, humans and nature.” Mellifera does a lot of research work at the society owned teaching and experimental honey farm “Fischersmühle”, offers nationwide knowledge transfer, exchange via the regional Mellifera groups and also founded different initiatives like the „Netzwerk Blühende Landschaft“, „Bienen machen Schule“ or the „Bündnis zum Schutz der Bienen“. Mellifera campaigns for the bees and against a bee hostile environment.

We were really excited, so without further ado we took the course “with bees through the year” at the Berlin Princess Garden. At five dates we learned about the species-appropriate beekeeping. Of course, there was not only instructive theory, but also a lot of practical work with the colonies. After the first meeting we knew already we wanted to start with own bees the very same year, to have the possibility to ask for help if any questions occurred. But what exactly does species-appropriate mean?

Species-appropriate beekeeping is guided by the natural need of a bee colony.

Using the species-appropriate beekeeping, the bee is not seen as an individual, but all bees at the colony are viewed as one organic being. One of the important aspects, is reproduction via the natural bee swarm. This is based on a bee queen, created by the own colony, and the autonomous building of honeycombs. This way, a healthy colony life can evolve. A colony organism. Another difference of species-appropriate beekeeping in contrast to conventional beekeeping is reproduction. In conventional beekeeping the queen is fertilized artificially. The semen is taken from only one or two drones. During the natural mating flight, however, the queen collects semen from ten to twenty drones, which provides a way higher diversity and possibility of adaption of the bee. In conventional beekeeping, the bees are adjusted to the needs of the bee keeper, which means the main focus is on an as high as possible honey production. For that, specifically bred gene material is brought into the swarm, natural swarm activities are suppressed, plus you work with prefabricated wax foundation in the frames. You might think this is easier for the bees if a part of its honeycombs is already prepared.

Honeybees have been building their honeycombs since about 100 million years. They not only store the honey in them and raise new bees, but the honeycombs also work as a resonating body which carries on vibes. It is the most important communication tool for the bees, which dance on the combs to let other worker bees know, where they find nectar and pollen. A prefabricated, thick foundation complicates the whole process, of course. The colony manages to withstand this intervention. Without its enormous adaptation ability this species would not have been able to adapt to all the changes in environmental and life conditions during the last millions of years. However, humans have contributed to the bees not being able to survive on their own with their interventions, allegedly breeding optimizations and environmental destruction. What millions of years of evolution accomplished is destroyed by man within a few decades. But enough of the doom-mongering! Actually, we want to write about the beautiful and fascinating experiences we made during the past months.

Let’s start with the birth of a new bee colony and how we got to our bees. In swarming season, which is between May and June, strong bee colonies use the abundance of nectar and pollen to separate. You can recognize it already at the so called queen cells. These are cells in which new queen bees are brought up. The old queen moves out of the hive with a part of the colony before the young queens emerge.

They form a swarm which for example gathers in a cluster beneath a branch. Watching this spectacle of nature is a unique experience. During our beekeeping course, we were able to watch that spectacle even twice. Watch the bees tumbling out of the flight hole like kids out of school at the beginning of summer break. You can literally see the excitement for something new.

In the air above our heads a black cloud of small dancing bees was buzzing, finding themselves to one organism.

Even though thousands of bees rose to the sky, the queasy feeling soon was replaced by pure excitement. In this moment, the bees had neither eyes nor ears for us tiny humans. Loaded with honey for three days, prepared for looking for a new home, there was no thought wasted on attacking. What did they have to defend, anyway? Leaving the hive behind, they had everything they had – the honey – with them.

As impressive as the spectacle itself was the catching of the swarms. One was a few meters high in a tree at Prinzessinnen Gärten. With a high ladder and a rod quite a few meters long, which had a sack to catch the swarm at the end, our course tutor Heinz Risse caught the bee swarm and put it into a swarm box, so it could move into a beehives. We were also just waiting for such an opportunity. Our one-box hives by Mellifera were waiting fully prepared, painted in red and yellow, for the bees to move in. We chose this hive system because it is seemed to be the best for the start. The frame size is ideal for the natural building of honeycombs, and allows a big cohesive nidus. There, the offspring will be raised. The honey stocks will be stored at the far end from the flight hole as bees do it naturally.

Other hives are structured like this hive, as well, but in contrast to the one-box hive, they don’t give too much insight into the bee colony and its processes. We dearly wanted to observe, study and understand. For that, only the inhabitants were missing. We waited impatiently for someone to catch a swarm in our area. At Mellifera’s swarm share you can sign up as someone looking for a swarm to be noticed about swarms to be passed on. At the beginning of May the time had come: our first swarm moved into the red hive. We basically let them come into port. You read correctly. Instead of throwing them into their new home without them having a clue, we rolled out the red carpet. Well, it was white, but you get the idea. And again, we could just watch in awe, mouths agape. The first bees inspected the hive rather fast and happily started dancing to call their sisters. A few followed into the hive and finally, a whole stream of bees entered through the flight hole. If you experienced a swarm this way, you cannot think otherwise of the colony as one unit, a super organism. This mass of bees, no millimeter between them, mouths interacting with each other, small legs clinging to each other.

A bee is like a cell in a human body, the combs like the bones. The wholeness of everything is the living being.

After moving in, the decorating started straight away. After only a few days, the wooden frames were already filled partly in milky white, perfectly formed combs. The building material, small wax scales, the bees sweat from glands on their abdomen. Incredible! Such thing made by nature man cannot outmatch.

Due to lucky coincidence, we were part of catching our second bee swarm. Over the Mellifera network we got to know Helmut Lutsch who engages in beekeeping following the same principles. It was important to us to connect with someone in our region you can exchange knowledge and experiences. Since Helmut, too, does not hinder his bees from swarming, a part of one of his colonies was found at eye level at a staghorn sumac. The cluster of bees was beautiful to watch. We are incredibly thankful for him calling us to be there when he catches the swarm and handing it to us in the end.

Together, we let the bees move in, just like the first swarm. In the weeks after, our new yard inhabitants gave us a lot to think about. Especially about animal farming and man’s impact on nature.

Curiosity is just an inherent characteristic of humans. As much as we wanted the bees to be bees, as much did we want to know if everything is alright. So we glimpsed once a week into the hives. We checked if the young queen bees (both were afterswarms) already copulated, if the bee larvas can be seen in the honeycombs, how much pollen and nectar the bees already had collected.

We wanted to see how the honeycomb building proceeds, if they need more frames, and so on. Every day we were sitting on the bench next to the red hive and watched the busy drive from the outside. We saw bees with full pollen pellets rushing through the flight hole. Beside worker bees (female) we also saw drones (male), which look way more plump, but one bee we could not find: the queen bee. She must have been there since there was new breed, which meant, the wedding flight was successful and the offspring grown in the honeycombs. After four weeks, we finally saw her and the joy was overwhelming.

We quickly learned that every bee colony is as different as every human. The first colony we got, with only a few weeks ahead in the year, suddenly exploded. They built day and night, stocked pollen in every colour of the rainbow in the combs, processed nectar to golden honey, and they became more and more. The second colony still takes its time, builds leisurely, grows slowly. The bees gave us even more trust in nature. We do not understand everything they do or don’t do. There is no manual. Bees are individuals, not machines. We don’t want to direct them, don’t want to show them how to do things right. Because basically they are the only ones to know what they need. How should we humans understand? We are humans, not bees. We are the ones who can learn from them, not the other way round.

If you embark on the fascination of bees, it’s hard to let go.

At least we feel this way. It is incredible how at the peak of a colony development 40.000 individual organisms build on entity. It is almost unbelievable, what every single honey bee achieves for the group, how much one bee devotes itself! In summer, a worker bee’s life does not last longer than six weeks. After the cleaning, nursing and security duty, the worker bees start learning to fly in front of the flight hole after almost half their lifespan. Only then they emerge into the outer world to the flowers. The second half of its short life the bee is flying around and still it adds a lot to the colony. She flies out several times a day, visiting about 1000 flowers on a route of 15 kilometers in total in an area covering 50 square kilometer. For a honey glass of 500 grams bees fly a total of 120.000 kilometers. That are three circumnavigations! If you put so much work into something, you should have the right to feed on it as well. We think, the collectors have the right to their own honey. It is the food storage which provides for the hive during winter. Beside glucose and fructose, honey includes different vitamins, amino acids and minerals. 

In contrast to species-appropriate beekeeping, conventional beekeeping just exchanges the fluid gold with mere sugar water, which of course does not contain all the minerals and vitamins. Withal, bees even collect way more honey than they need. They could easily keep the stock they need for the winter and the beekeeper still would  have enough bread with honey on it. Up to 15 kilograms surplus you can gain from one colony alone, without taking the dire needed nutrition for the cold months away. 

Since our bee colonies are both afterswarms, they needed time but especially energy, and thus a huge part of the collected nectar for building new honey combs. Therefore, we won’t take any honey away before winter, but will wait until spring. We’ll be patient until the bees go on a huge flight again. Only then we can be sure not to be taking away the good so important for their survival. For the rest of the summer, we will be watching the hustle and bustle at the flight hole and hope that our bees collect enough supplies to get well through winter. 

f you are infected with the bee fever now, too, and also want to start with beekeeping, we can warmly recommend the bee course by Mellifera. But even without own bees you can help creating a bee-friendly environment for wild and honeybees. Everyone can help providing nutrition. You can plant mixed flowers in your garden or on your balcony. Also, around the lawn you can plant such a meadow for bees. Hedges and fruit plants bring additional blossoms into the garden. Insects love that and we get, thanks to pollinations from the bees, delicious fruits. Who neither has a balcony nor a garden can support the Netzwerk Blühende Landschaften (Network Blooming Landscapes) with a sponsorship.

 

But also knowledge about and an awareness for these animals can help. At the end of August, a very special conference is held in Berlin with super interesting, international bee experts. Also, you can book a Zeidlerei workshop where you can learn how to build log hives. We are looking forward to this event so much. Maybe we meet one or another of you guys there. All information about the conference you find on the website of Learning from the Bees Berlin.

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