Edible Landscape • Homesteading • Backyard Chickens • Wildlife Habitat • Permaculture
It’s nearly, but not quite, Spring. The plum tree has jumped the gun a bit and is demonstrating why plums are prone to being hit by late frosts around here in the Ozarks. But isn’t she lovely in the meantime and the bees are not complaining about it either. On a lucky year without a late frost, we could be blessed with plums. We still have a bunch in the freezer from last year, one of the lucky ones, from a friend’s tree.
I’ve been so busy the past months, getting ready for the Dig In! Food & Farming Festival which happened the first weekend in March. It was a great time and a wonderful crowd! That festival is something I’m so pleased to have co-created. I hope it will go on and grow abundantly in future years, even though I’ll likely be back on the homeward side of the country by then. Our planned move back home to the Appalachians is creeping closer. It’s hard to imagine leaving the birthplace of Larrapin Garden, but we hope to find new owners who will love it and cultivate it as we have. If you know of anyone who might be looking for a place like this later this Spring, please send them this link: http://minifarm4sale.wordpress.com/
Looking around I seem to see good memories that pull at my heart from every corner of the garden and woods. Writer Stephen Levine calls this ‘the consequences of love.’ Indeed. Right beside that sadness about leaving is the excitement of a new adventure and a new landscape to fall in love with the way I have this one.
I remember standing at a farmers market in Santa Fe New Mexico in front of a table lined with jars of amber and gold honey. I was surprised at how much honey the high-desert produces, given the dry scrub covering so much the hilly terrain. The bearded beekeeper in a cowboy hat explained how nearly all of what I saw as “scrub” bloomed, and the bees flourished. He was sharing samples and the tastes were spectacular.
Like the honeys in any region, the different waves of flowers throughout the seasons created different tastes, bouquets, high and low notes, like wines. “But the very favorite honey of my customers, hands down, is autumn clematis honey.” He shook his head slightly, “You can just open the jar and you smell flowers.” He closed his eyes as he said this, as if he was inhaling the scent just now. Before I had time to speak a single word he answered my next question, “I just get it in the fall and I sell out right away, so I can’t offer you any. But people are asking me if I have any the rest of the year.” That was 2010 and I’d never even contemplated keeping bees.
Sweet Autumn Clematis blooms in September and October across the Ozarks and as I drive through town I spot the big green mounds of vines on fences covered up with so small frilly flowers it looks like a blanket of white foam. It is a weedy green vine unremarkable for most of the season. Come autumn, it explodes into a starry blanket of creamy blossoms with a delicious scent. I think back to the Santa Fe honey. That trip was in 2010, before I ever contemplated keeping bees.
These days I look for good things to plant for my bees. I looked up Autumn Clematis only to find that is not native to the US can be invasive/opportunistic in some climates and I’m not really sure if it is a problem in the Ozarks. But then there’s Virgin’s Bower (Clematis virginiana) also called woodbine, which is less showy but native. The native variety has an added bonus of being good for songbird food and nesting materials, though I’ll have to find a special spot to plant it given that it loves a moist setting…. But this is all part of the pleasant mental wrangling gardeners engage in for fun when it’s too cold or wet to dig.
But the thought of new plantings immediately runs into another, one that says I may not be here to see it. By the time it blooms I may be breaking new ground yet again on the home we hope to find when we move back to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the next year.
I once read a story about a Quaker gardener, a woman, who lived in a town about to be invaded by German troops in World War II. At least that’s the way I remember the story began. Just before she left her home to escape to a neighboring country, she was planting seeds in her vegetable garden. I don’t remember what. Neighbors thought she was crazy to be planting just before leaving and said, ‘You won’t be here to eat it!’ Her answer something like ‘Whoever lives in this house next, they will need to eat.’
Oh those beautiful Quakers. This story has stuck with me for decades, the compassion of this woman willing to plant food she would never eat. Another way I’ve heard this belief is that ‘true wisdom lies in planting trees even if you will never live long enough to sit in their shade.’ It’s very hard to remember to lift up my attention from my wants, wishes and worries and to think of this land going on into the future without me. But when I do, it feels right. And oddly, I feel better—lighter—about how long I will be here. As a hospice nurse, I can’t help but note the larger echo of that realization.
So let me plant more stuff I may or may not be here to see bloom. If only for the reason that when the wash of white frilly flowers appears in some future autumn, bees will arrive at each bloom. There will be nectar for them.Are there any quotes or stories that inspire your gardening? I’d love to hear them if you leave a comment (look above or below this post for the “comments” link – the position varies depending on how you are reading this). Also, if anyone knows the source of the Quaker gardener story, I would love to find it again. Special thanks to www.beautifulwildlifegarden.com for some of my favorite online reading. —A Larrapin Garden. Where posts may be boom or bust depending on the season, but if you subscribe by you’ll get one weekly email—usually on Wednesdays—to let you know what’s new. You are also invited to join me over at the brand new Facebook page or on Twitter.
A bed of lettuce that looks like this even after several twenty-degree nights, that’s the goal. So despite the fact I once again didn’t get a fall garden in, I’m still determined. The mythical “Next year! Yes!” is whispering in my ear. So I’m touring local winter gardens that are the stuff of my dreams to torture myself… No really, to inspire myself and others to leap into season extension just like the winter-garden god Eliot Coleman of Maine has been telling us for years we could do if, heck, he was doing it in Maine!
So today’s tour stop is my garden-guru Jen’s backyard(s). Jen and friends have three adjoining backyards they have blended into quite a farm right in the city. They’ve even done an urban CSA from these backyards! They have enviable deep, rich soil totally unlike the ozark hillside gravel here at Larrapin….don’t get me started. But every gardener has to cope with the challenges of their site and their moist soil (complete with the occasional crawdad tunnel) requires raised beds and careful attention to drainage. Jen tells me this, in a kinda comforting voice. She’s seen the soil we start with at Larrapin!
Starting in the fall, they put several hoophouses in service. Built from salvaged or inexpensive materials, they produce a gorgeous winter harvest. The hoophouses are also used in spring for early starts and in summer by removing the plastic, adding trellis, and growing squash or pole beans over the whole structure. Picking beans in the shade of a vine-covered hoophouse in July sounds really smart to me! Note the raised beds along each side above and the wire set up to hold up a second layer of winter protection in the photo below.
Inside another hoophouse (above), you can see the second layer ready to go on at night. One of Eliot Coleman’s main points is that each layer of protection moves your garden bed about one zone south. So Jen’s tall hoophouse is the first layer, and the additional blanket of plastic or row-cover placed low over the beds is the second. Heck, does that put us in Cuba?? Anyway, it works.
As mentioned last week, daytime heat can be more of a threat than consistent cold (so see Eliot, we’ve got challenges down here too…) and daytime venting such as open doors and removing the row covers in the day can be required. Hence the reason even modern urban farmers remain obsessed with weather forecasts just like their forebearers. (I have a theory you can judge how connected-to-the-land a person is by the amount of weather discussion in casual conversation…)
In this hoophouse-still-being-built, you can see the low tunnels in use before the outer covering has been added. I’ll spare you the shots of the gorgeous plants underneath in case you didn’t get your falls greens either this year… These low tunnels are held up with sections of concrete reinforcing wire (see below). Which seems sturdier than the little wire hoops yet you can still reach through the big squares to harvest those gorgeous clumps of winter produce. After several years on a tall tunnel even the fancy greenhouse plastic wears out but you can then use it a couple more years as low-tunnel cover inside the hoophouse.
In this final pic below, you can see the support wire as well as the generous spacing of transplants that gives such lovely bunches of greens. The tray shown is ready with more transplants, which they start under lights indoors. This both gets the plants to a stage they can grow on in winter. This also saves time and space in the beds while they are in the fragile seedling stage they are safe indoors.
There’s still more to see at this cool urban farm so stay tuned next time. There are clever vertical growing ideas and trellis designs for summer as well as one of my favorite things, an artistic garden gate to add to my photo collection. Are you doing a fall garden? Tell us about by leaving a comment below!
—A Larrapin Garden. Where posts may be boom or bust depending on the season, but if you subscribe by you’ll get one weekly email—usually on Wednesdays—to let you know what’s new. You are also invited to join me over at the brand new Facebook page or on Twitter. If you enjoy winter gardening, check out the part 1 post and the part 3 post.
This is the first in a series of snapshots from my friends’ fall gardens. The photo above is a clever and simple strawbale cold-frame set up. Using some discarded sliding doors, my friends D & J set up this cold frame. Around Fayetteville (and similar zones) you can grow cool-weather greens like kale all the way through winters. And even lettuce and chard will go a long way into winter this way.
Once you have something like this set up, heat is actually more of a threat than most cold nights! On a mild clear day you can easily cook your greens on the root. Not the desired effect! So on those day you will need to vent the cold frame. On super cold nights, you can toss an old blanket over the glass for extra protection.
If you do use glass, only do so if you have no kids around or even dogs who like to jump up on things, or this could be dangerous. The strawbales provide some protection, but if you are just using old windows or glass in some other set up make sure no one can accidentally trip and step or fall through the glass!
Maybe I can get something like this set up before spring to start some early spinach and greens? It would also be easy to build a plastic covered frame to go over the bales. Hmmm. Is there hope for my late garden block after all?
While I was at this lovely little garden, I noticed they had a very clever and effective deer fence too! One that is more visually pleasing than most. (Though all of us will resort to any eyesore to keep the deer out if it comes down to it!!)
It is hard to see in all the photos I took, but tucked vertically into the top of the fence are thin branches and twigs. Though you can hardly see it, it creates a pretty tall fence to deter leaping deer! D. told me that they added white plastic shopping bags as additional measures, but couldn’t stand the looks of it (though the snapping/billowing sound no doubt helped!) so they instead tied the bags into animal and bug shapes to provide a visual (and artistic!) bambi barrier too. They report the set up has been effective.
—A Larrapin Garden. Where posts may be boom or bust depending on the season, but if you subscribe by you’ll get one weekly email—usually on Wednesdays—to let you know what’s new. You are also invited to join me over at the brand new Facebook page or on Twitter. If you enjoy winter gardening, check out the part 2 post and part 3 post.
The weather may have been colder back in January 2009 when I first posted this, but this soup recipe is good anytime! Hope you enjoy. —Leigh
Amazingly, despite the really cold weather, the bed of kale is still green and doing well out in the garden. I was doing a cold-weather experiment in this uncovered bed. Those are Tyfon greens, or the remains of Tyfon greens, to the left. They pretty much vanish when the temps hit the mid-teens. The kale, as you can see, is quite perky despite multiple nights of mid-teens and no cover at all.
So I picked a batch and found a wonderful Kale & White bean soup recipe over at allrecipes.com by Jean Carper. You can click the the title below to go to the site.
SUBMITTED BY: USA WEEKEND columnist Jean Carper
* 1 tablespoon olive oil or canola oil
* 8 large garlic cloves, crushed or minced
* 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
* 4 cups chopped raw kale
* 4 cups low-fat, low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
* 2 (15 ounce) cans white beans, such as cannellini or navy, undrained
* 4 plum tomatoes, chopped
* 2 teaspoons dried Italian herb seasoning
* Salt and pepper to taste
* 1 cup chopped parsley
1. In a large pot, heat olive oil. Add garlic and onion; saute until soft. Add kale and saute, stirring, until wilted. Add 3 cups of broth, 2 cups of beans, and all of the tomato, herbs, salt and pepper. Simmer 5 minutes. In a blender or food processor, mix the remaining beans and broth until smooth. Stir into soup to thicken. Simmer 15 minutes. Ladle into bowls; sprinkle with chopped parsley.
This is what became of the kale:
And WOW it is a delicious soup. I did a couple of things differently – probably used a bit more kale than it called for, added 1 tsp. of bacon drippings (I am a real Southerner…) and instead of plum tomatoes – which aren’t in season when kale it — I used a small can of diced tomatoes. It was WONDERFUL! The parsley really adds a great green flavor. Can’t wait to make more.
Hope you all are staying warm in this cold January! Here’s to warm soups and warm hearts. —January 2009
—A Larrapin Garden. Where posts may be boom or bust depending on the season, but if you subscribe by you’ll get one weekly email—usually on Wednesdays—to let you know what’s new. You are also invited to join me over at the brand new Facebook page or on Twitter.
You bet I’ll be posting a [glowing] review of this book soon. Since the gift-giving season is soon upon us though, wanted to put this out there and say if you have a someone on your list who loves gardens, real food, and heirloom seeds then this book will be a total hit under the tree! Text from the publisher is below. You can get your copy from the publisher or from your favorite local bookstore. Enjoy!
“This is an unmatched treasure trove of information… The Seed Underground is an excellent choice for readers seeking a depiction of the current critical situation in farming all in one, easy-to-read book.”
—Gene Logsdon, author of A Sanctuary of Trees and Holy Shit
“If you haven’t heard what’s happening with seeds, let me tell you. They’re disappearing, about like every damn thing else. . . . But I’m not going to talk about anything that’s going to make us feel hopeless, or despairing, because there’s no despair in a seed.”
— from The Seed Underground
Across the country, a renaissance of local food, farming, and place-based culinary traditions is taking hold. And yet something small, critically important, and profoundly at risk is being overlooked in this local food resurgence: seeds. We are losing our seeds. Of the thousands of seed varieties available at the turn of the 20th century, 94 percent have been lost — forever.
With a signature lyricism that once prompted a New York Times writer to proclaim her the Rachel Carson of the south, Ray (Ecology of a Cracker Childhood) brings us the inspiring stories of ordinary gardeners whose aim is to save time-honored open-pollinated varieties like Old Time Tennessee muskmelon and Long County Longhorn okra—varieties that will be lost if people don’t grow, save, and swap the seeds.
From rural Maine to Oregon’s Palouse, Ray introduces readers to dozens of seed savers like the eccentric sociology professor she dubs “Tomato Man” and Maine farmer Will Bonsall, the “Noah” of seed saving who juggles hundreds of seeds, many grown by him, and him alone. And Ray tells her own story—of watching her grandmamma save squash seed; of her own first tiny garden at the edge of a junkyard; of falling in love with heirloom and local varieties as a young woman; and the one seed—Conch cowpea—that got away from her.
With a quiet urgency The Seed Underground reminds us that while our underlying health, food security, and sovereignty may be at stake as seeds disappear, so, too, are the stories, heritage, and history that passes between people as seeds are passed from hand to hand.
P.S. So you know: I love to review books here at the blog, but I only write reviews if I really enjoy the book. So if you see it here, you know I liked it. Sometimes publishers send me free copies of books, but most times—ike this time—I’m writing about my own personal copy of the book. And I love my personal copy of this book! However, if Chelsea Green wants to send me a copy...I’m happy to give one away here!
P.P.S. This just in! “Our holiday sale continues! From now until the end of the year you can save 35% on any purchase at chelseagreen.com when you use the code CGFL12 at checkout. Plus, during the sale you’ll get free shipping on any orders over $100.”
The weather report said it would be the last sunny, wind-free day in the mid sixties for at least a couple of weeks. As we headed into December, actual winter or at least what passes for it these days, was about to begin. One beehive still needed to be sized down a bit, consolidated into fewer boxes so the colony would be better able to keep the space warm through whatever cold nights and windy days we might have. I’d arranged the other hives a month ago, but West hive had been crazily overflowing with bees. I couldn’t imagine making their quarters any tighter, so I’d waited till they thinned out a bit for the season.
Bees “cluster” in the winter, form a pulsing ball of thousands of bees with the queen safely sheltered in the center. The bees vibrate their bodies to create heat. As the outermost layer of bees tire and get cold, they rotate toward the center, and their warmed-up sisters take their turn in the outermost layer. Fueled by the store of honey they worked all summer to stash, this process goes on constantly anytime temps in the hive fall much below 50F. At the center of that pulsing cluster, the queen basks in cozy 95 degree bee-generated warmth.
I put plenty of wood chips in the smoker because in the fall and winter the bees are at their most defensive. That honey stash is life or death for the whole colony and they are hellbent on protecting it even if the beekeeper is not interested in taking any honey. You can’t be too careful, the bees would say. I suited up more carefully than usual, put on the thicker dishwashing gloves rather than the thin ‘nurse’ gloves I usually use. Doublechecked my jeans tucked into my boots for bee-sized openings.
In Spring and Summer the typical lifespan of a honeybee is six weeks. But the winter bees are born for a special job and live for months in a near-nonstop vibrating process of working to keep the colony alive. You can put your ear to the hive in winter to hear and feel a low steady vibration. Over the winter these determined workers die off steadily but with full honors. On warmer days the workers muscle up funeral duty and haul the fallen to the doorstep and..toss them off. Honor sure, but duty to keep the hive clean comes first.
I began to take apart the top boxes of the hive. The most difficult part was pulling out frames of empty comb and combining frames with honey into fewer boxes. The bees glue the whole hive together with propolis, a tarry glue they make that is the honeybee equivalent of duct tape. Propolis is also sold as an antimicrobial medicinal at health-food stores. The bees use it to make their home strong, windproof and highly unlikely to come apart. In summer it’s gooey and sticky and just makes a mess. In the cooler temps, it is as hard and strong as caulk and every frame had to be pried loose with great effort. All while trying not to make the jarring, banging or jerking movements that piss bees off and sometimes crush bees which REALLY pisses off the bees. I didn’t venture into the lower boxes where most of the bees were gathered, for obvious reasons. (Photos below courtesy of my friend Marianne, from back in May.)
Winter is a critical time for a colony of honeybees. Survival depends on many only-ifs. The colony will make it through winter only if there are enough bees to create a cluster large enough to both maintain heat all winter and to have enough workers remaining to nurse their replacements to adulthood in the Spring. That’s only if the queen survives to lay the eggs to create those replacement troops. And only if they have enough food to fuel this 24/7 process. The colony is also at highter risk for the some diseases brought on by close quarters, and other illnesses brought on by the parasitic mites that have been one major factor in the decline of honeybee populations.
As I worked through the upper boxes of the hive I saw West Hive didn’t have as much honey stored as I’d hoped, but being a first year hive coming out of a drought year, that’s not too surprising. Most new hives will require supplemental feeding at first. I’ll use thick sugar-water mixed with nutritional oils to try to get them through till Spring. Sugar is better than the corn syrup used by some beekeepers but still not nearly as good as honey. Even if I could afford to buy honey to feed this colony, the risk of transmitting diseases from another bee yard would not be worth it. Hopefully as I have more hives, I can store extra frames of real honey from established hives to gift to new hives their first winter.
West Hive was gentle with me after all. They allowed me to get the boxes ready for winter while only giving me a loud buzzy warning to do it fast and don’t mess with the lower boxes. I agree. Putting the bees to bed for winter feels both warm and worrisome. I’ll keep an eye on them during mild winter days to see if they are venturing out and make sure they still have enough food. I’m cheering them to stay tough and make it through till Springtime brings the flowers and sunshine back. Till then, stay warm and safe, sweet sisters.