April 04, 2013
You know the honey bees populations are declining rapidly, right?
You know how important honeybees are to our food supply, right?
But, do you realize how bad it really is and how much higher the declines were this past winter than ever before?
No? Well, get ready to be really bummed out…and maybe a bit scared as well.
Today, I read a New York Times article indicating that commercial beekeepers lost at least one third of their hive populations over the last winter.
Then, moments after I finished reading that, I watched a Dan Rather Reports show that illustrated that those numbers are quite likely even higher. Nope, it wasn’t Dan telling us this. It was the beekeepers whose families have kept bees for generations, during which time they’ve never seen declines like those happening today. More than one bee expert in the report declared that if nothing is done on the hurry-up to remedy these declines that the beekeeping industry in the U.S. is going to “implode” or simply cease to exist. And, let’s be clear. They’re saying this may happen in the next couple of years. Not decades. Not generations. Years!
So, why are the bees in decline? There still isn’t a definitive answer. Mite infestations don’t help. Pollution isn’t doing the bees any good. Driving them around the country from farm to orchard to field might not be ideal. But it is the pesticides, especially the neonicotinoids used particularly in mono-culture crops like soy and corn that are getting the most finger pointing recently, as this program and this article emphasize.
In our home garden, we have hosted Ballard Bee Company hives for several years now. Here’s the healthy one doing its job earlier this Spring, already hauling in nectar and pollen.
By hosting hives for several years, we’ve learned a lot about the bees. This past winter, 50% of our hives were lost. That’s one of two. I can’t tell you why. And the one that went down was doing great until winter. It build up beautifully and produced quite a bit of self-sustaining resource for the winter. Yet, it is gone. Assuming our beekeeper is able to get new bees (again, watch the Dan Rather program and see how grim it looks out there in the honeybee supply world), we’ll have a second hive in the next few weeks. And, we’ll do our best to ensure they survive and thrive. Sadly, our best may not be enough.
But, don’t take my word for it. Watch the Dan Rather Reports program. Read the NY Times article. Ask a beekeeper. But when you do, be sure to have your hanky handy ’cause before the rage engulfs you over what isn’t happening, it’s likely you’ll be bawling over what is happening.
And, when you’re done doing your own research, get out in your own garden and do something to be there for the bees. Lay off the ‘cides and pull your own weeds or squish your own slugs. Plant some herbs or sedums or raspberries or a maple tree to provide them some food. Call your representatives and make some noise to light a fire under their butts on this critical issue.
(Updated 5/15/2013: Consider purchasing a Bee Preserver for your garden. These inexpensive pieces of glass art not only help bees access water in your garden, but also a portion of the sale price is donated toward bee restoration efforts. Details here.)
Whatever it is you choose to do, do it now. Tomorrow might be too late.
And, don’t miss Growing a Greener World TV’s episode from season one focusing on the importance of urban beekeeping in which you’ll hear more from Garden Mentors® founder Robin on gardening with and for the honeybees in residential settings.
March 05, 2013
Nettles have a bad reputation for their nasty sting, but edible wild nettles deserve our praise. And, they’re a great reminder that what may be called an invasive weed by one is a beneficial food source to others. (Think about that as your lawn fills with edible dandelions this spring, too!)
One of the earliest perennials to emerge after the dormant season, Nettles offer our diets respite from winter’s less available fresh, local greens. They’re packed with iron and vitamin C and much more. These greens emerge from the ground in February, growing particularly well in dense woodland understory where sunlight may be minimal. And, they continue to grow and feed us abundantly into early summer when their stems toughen as they begin to flower.
To harvest Nettles, take care to handle the harvest gently. (more…)
August 23, 2012
When I played garden sitter for a friend last weekend, I was rewarded with a big harvest of veggies. If I’d left them intact, much of her garden would stop producing soon. So, I picked half a gallon of cherry tomatoes, a few green beans and a couple of enormous zucchini. That was the same day our CSA box came with zucchini and the same day our patty pan squash started coming in. So, what to do with all those extras?
Freeze them, of course!
One of our favorite ways to eat zucchini is to whip them into zucchini latkes. There are loads of recipes out there for making these; our recipe follows. What’s common to those I know is calling for shredded zucchini, so that’s how I prepped our squash for freezing.
I began by shredding the zucchini with a grating blade in the food processor. For the older, tougher fruits, I peeled them first and removed any larger seeds inside. Then, I blanched the shredded bits in boiling water for about 3 minutes. Immediately after cooking, I drained the zucchini and plunged it into ice water to stop the cooking. Then, I drained it to remove a lot of the moisture. (Next time, I plan to put the cooked bits into a clean tea towel and squeeze out even more moisture).
Because the cooked and shredded zucchini was so wet and because we only use about a cup or two at a time when cooking, I had to come up with a way to pre-freeze it in globs before vacuum sealing them for longer storage.
My solution: fill muffin tins with about a cup of the zucchini. Pop the tray in the freezer for several hours to harden. When these “freezer muffins” were hard, they easily popped out of the tray. Then, I vacuum sealed them for the deep freeze.
In winter, I’ll need to defrost the clumps and then wring them out before cooking up our new favorite latkes.
Zucchini Latkes Hagbert Style
These tasty cakes cook up quick! Serve them with a tomato side salad or bit of guacamole and salsa for a fast, delicious breakfast, brunch or even dinner.
1 garlic clove, crushed with sea salt
1 small onion, minced
1/4 cup flax seed meal
1 cup shredded zucchini (moisture removed by wringing it out in a tea towel)
salt & pepper (to taste)
olive or coconut oil
Combine onion, garlic, zucchini, eggs, flax seed meal and a bit of salt and pepper.
Warm 1 teaspoon of oil in frying pan over medium-high heat.
Scoop about 1/4 cup of mixture and add to hot oil, pressing down lightly with a spatula to spread out and create a pancake form. Fry on each side until crispy. Before removing from pan, be sure to confirm the interior is cooked through.
Add additional oil to the pan, as needed to fry additional batches.
August 22, 2012
Confession: I’m a lazy food preserver. Sure, I can a few jars of spicy, pickled beans. And, I usually put up several jars of jam each year. But, when it comes to everything else perishable, I either dehydrate them or put them by in our deep freeze.
Freezing garden-fresh tomatoes isn?t new to me. I can remember the bags and bags of tomatoes my mom sunk into our deep freeze on the farm. And, as I?ve grown older, I?ve come ?round to doing the same in our household. Yes, I know, there are off-gassing issues with plastics in the freezer. And, yes, I know that plastic itself is evil. And, yes, I know I could can the tomatoes. But, for now, I?m a self-confessed, well-fed, freezer of locally grown, seasonally picked, organic tomatoes.
We grow a number of tomatoes in our smallish, mixed ?ornamedible? Seattle garden ? usually several cool season variety slicers, one or two paste varieties and a handful of cherries. Many of the cherries are devoured fresh. For the most part, those slicers go into salads and sandwiches. And the paste tomatoes go into making, well, paste of course — though many get sent through the dehydrator. If we have a heavy yield from the garden, those extras ? along with many pounds from local, organic growers at the farmer?s market — get processed into the freezer for later in winter.
Growing up, I?d help mom wash, core and inspect the tomatoes for blemishes before we?d fill up twist-tie plastic bags and cram them into the deep freeze. We rarely peeled them — let alone chop them – before they made their way into the giant freezer on the back porch. We didn?t have a lot of money, and if zipper plastic bags existed, we really couldn?t afford them. So, we made due with bags that may not have really been ideal for freezing. Still, we made it work. True, the method of bagging up whole tomatoes into big bags with lots of air space really wasn?t very efficient ? either for storage or long-term preservation. And, when I was a kid, I hated eating winter soup with lots of curled up, make-me-gag tomato skins. So, as an adult, I took a different approach to freezing my tomatoes.
A few years ago when we bought our deep freeze, I took a note from Mom?s lessons in our country kitchen and did try cutting up tomatoes with the skin on, filling zipper bags, laying them flat in the freezer and storing them that way. It really does work fairly well. But, the tomatoes all freeze together in one big juicy lump, so you gotta use the whole batch when you pull a bag from the freezer.
Then, I decided to try my hand at getting rid of the peels. I?d set my heart on putting up large batches of marinara ? sans peel. So, I?d fill the stove with several large pots of boiling water. I?d cut an ?x? at the bottom of each cleaned fruit. I?d process them briefly in the water until the peel began to pull away. Then, I?d dunk them into bowls of icy water to stop the cooking. I?d peel, chop and again, fill up those zipper bags to freeze flat. And, with some, I?d make batches of marinara and pizza sauce to freeze separately in bags. It is a messy, time-consuming process.
Then, not long ago, my friend Theresa Loe of Growing a Greener World & Living Homegrown® made a comment on a tomato preserving post. Essentially, she said, ?Leave on the peels; they?ll melt with you cook with them later. Cut the tomatoes into wedges. Lay them flat on a baking sheet & freeze them on the sheet. Then, bag them up.? Her promise: if you only need a couple of wedges, you can pull them from the bag and reseal it.
And, yes, she?s right. Now that I?m older, I find the skins fall right off a defrosted and then cooked tomato. Perhaps the newer varieties have thinner skins than those we grew and froze whole so many years ago on the farm. Regardless, I gave her method a try, and it was so much easier than all of my past endeavors. Once the wedges were frozen solid, I was able to load them into vacuum seal bags without having them crush or mush together. By making up small, medium and large bags of frozen wedges, I set myself up for selective winter shopping from the freezer — a big bag for a large pot of marinara, a small one to supplement a winter vegetable soup or a medium size one for a hearty lamb stew.
Another great way to freeze tomatoes: just pop whole, ripe, washed and de-stemmed cherry tomatoes into a zipper bag. Use a big one and continue adding to it throughout the growing season. It’s simple to grab a handful to drop into winter soups and stews!
And just one more idea that works: After making paste, line a baking sheet with wax paper or parchment. Deposit 1 Tablespoon size globs on the sheet. Freeze the globs on the sheet. Then, vacuum seal globs into packages appropriate to your recipes. (You can do this with leftover canned paste too instead of tossing out the remaining can after making a recipe that calls for all of a tablespoon of paste!)
Thanks Tloe! You?ve made my life easier. Except that now I?ve got to get rolling on our 2012 tomato freezing foray!
March 27, 2012
Want free compost? Need an entire garden makeover? Seattle area Cedar Grove Compost is offering ways you might win both. Here’s how…
A rep from Seattle area Cedar Grove Compost just got in touch asking me to remind local readers that now through early April, Cedar Grove is giving back bags of compost — just in time to mulch your beds for Spring.
“As part of Cedar Grove?s commitment to composting Seattle?s yard waste for almost 20 years, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) and Cedar Grove have partnered to thank City of Seattle residents for diverting over 125,000 tons of food and yard waste from landfills by composting in 2011. Today, Cedar Grove and SPU are kicking off the Big Dig.
From March 26 ? April 11, Seattleites can find Corey the Compostable Apple Core at 30 different retail and community sites throughout Seattle. Clues to Corey?s location will be posted daily on Cedar Grove?s website….
Every person that finds at least one Corey will win a coupon redeemable for a free bag of Cedar Grove Compost. Additionally, all participants will be entered into a daily drawing to win a pass to participate in The Big Dig finals happening on Saturday, April 14 at Seattle Tilth?s Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands. Finalists will dig through 30 yards of compost to find $6,000 in hidden treasures, including a $3,000 yard makeover….”
Looks like with just a little bit of effort, everybody wins!