Thursday, March 5, 2015

Spring CSA Share: Week 1

Today marks the end of our first winter of eating exclusively local produce. We joined a CSA last summer, and I preserved the excess produce through canning and freezing. This being my first time I wasn't certain how much I should be putting away for the winter, but I did know that I was getting way more than I could consume come midsummer. However, we made it to Spring without running out of veggies. In fact, I found myself scrambling to find ways to use up what was left this week. I wanted to make sure there was room for our share in the fridge.

I boiled down what apples were left into applesauce then used it to bake apple muffins, and Mike ate a bunch straight from the stove. We ate a mostly vegetarian diet this week so our fridge is starting to look bare; but there are still a couple bags of frozen kale and several jars of salsas, pickles, and jams.

I thought it would be a fun idea to post the contents of our share each week. Now that I'm a second year CSA member I think I have a better idea of what I'm doing. It might helpful to others who have questions about CSAs to see what we get and how we use it all.

Each share lasts for a season (spring, summer, and fall) allowing members to join for all or part of the year. Last year we joined in the summer, when the variety and quantity of crops is greater. Fewer things are available in the spring as plants are just starting to emerge after winter. Every week there's a little more, and by fall I found myself regretting not going in halvsies on our share with another family. I ended up giving half away to family and friends.

I give you the contents of Spring Share, Week 1:

  • Mixed salad greens
  • Spinach
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Golden Delicious Apples
  • Rosemary

Certain foods I never or rarely cooked with before last year. I found pinterest to be a useful resource as I could type in any ingredient and find a wealth of recipes which I would never have thought of on my own. One such ingredient is beets, I've been pinning beet recipes like crazy since I know there'll be plenty of those in the weeks to come.
Salad of mixed greens, sliced apples, feta and homemade croutons with maple vinaigrette

Another great resource you may want to invest in is The Flavor Bible. It is essentially an encyclopedia of taste. Look up any ingredient and find combinations that work with it. I especially like this resource because, unlike other cookbooks recommended for CSA members, it is not meant only for vegetarians or followers of any specific diet.

With a glass of red wine this dinner was surprisingly satiating
I see some tomatoe-cream sauce in that rosemary's future, and I envision those potatoes becoming fluffy gnocchi. CSA season has provided fresh fodder for my culinary experimentation!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

March Seed Schedule

This weekend I got a start on my 2015 garden! You can't tell by the look of things outside but it's actually the perfect time to start purple onions, celery, and rosemary. In mid-March I will start peppers, sage, lavender, and pansies. By the end of the month I'll add tomatoes and yellow onions, and the others rest should be already sprouting under my heat lamps.

This weekend I helped my father set up an indoor seed starting station in his basement using a 4 ft fluorescent shop light and table. I made a mini version on my bookshelf.; making the most of our space a tiny apartment.

What are your solutions for gardening/seed starting in small spaces?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Weekly Bee Update: Products of the Hive

Yesterday was our last class, during which we had an overview of the seasonal chores of beekeeping, month-to-month. We ended the class by discussing the most exciting part of keeping bees- the products of the hive. Mead, candles, bee pollen, propolis, comb honey and honey (of course) were mentioned.


I'm most excited about beeswax and candle making. I remember making a few beeswax candles when I was little and enjoying it. Mike's cousin wants to get into mead making,but I'm not sure I have the patience for that. And of course I've been gathering recipes using honey for candies and jams. I don't anticipate having enough products to sell, but if I do a little extra income can't hurt.

Honey extracting equipment can be rather expensive, but we learned of a couple of places to rent equipment from our instructor and even some services that will extract the honey from your frames for you. It may be more affordable that way. Many people (non-beekeepers) have been suggesting the flowhive, but all the beekeepers I've spoken to are skeptical. Our instructor spent a few minutes before class last week explaining how it might work, but would be damaging to the hive and cause stress to the bees. Honestly, I want a more hand on relationship with my hive anyway.

Tonight we have a make-up class due to the fact that snow prevented us from attending the third week's class. It is the class about setting up and installing bees in a hive, so kind of crucial. I haven't ordered my hive equipment because I've been waiting to attend this part of the course first.

To those of you who keep bees, what products do you harvest from your hives the most and how are you using them?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Winter Squash and Greens Lasagna Recipe

This is a comforting meal to make on a cold day when you happen to have a little extra time on your hands to make something special. It packs in a load of veggies . . . and a load of cheese (which is what makes in so yummy). If you're lactose intolerant, like me, make sure you have the necessary supplements on hand before going through the trouble of making this.

I've made many a lasagna, but I'm just finally starting to figure out how to keep it all from becoming a goopy runny mess. If you want the layers to hold together, the eggs are a crucial ingredient, as is the shredded cheese between layers.

Winter Squash and Greens Lasagna

one small squash (I prefer butternut)
grated Parmesan
greens (Swiss chard, kale, or spinach work well)
16-24 oz ricotta
1 package shredded cheese (mozzarella, or whatever you have available)
2-3 eggs (more eggs hold the lasagna together better)
Italian seasoning
lasagna noodles, whole grain (follow directions on package to prepare)

To make Squash Sauce:
Peel and chop squash into chunks. Boil for 10 mins and strain. Return to pot and mash. Add milk until the sauce reaches a smooth consistency. Add grated Parmesan, salt and pepper to taste.

To make Cheese and Greens Filling:
Finely chop greens (this is easier if they are frozen). In a bowl, mix ricotta, shredded cheese, eggs, and chopped greens. Reserve some shredded cheese for layering/topping. Season with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning.

To Assemble:
Coat bottom of a casserole dish with 1/3 of the squash sauce, then layer the ingredients as follows.
1/2 cheese and greens filling
shredded cheese
1/3 squash sauce
1/2 cheese and greens filling
shredded cheese
1/3 squash sauce
shredded cheese

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes. Let cool before cutting. Enjoy leftovers for days! (if it lasts that long)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Weekly Bee Update: Pests, Disease, and Parasites

This week's class focused on all the things that could go wrong with beekeeping. It's almost enought to scare a new beek away. As our instructor put it, this was the "gloom and doom" portion of the course. Pests, disease, and parasites were discussed.

All hives are affected by varroa mites, except in some isolated island nations such as Australia. Until recently, mites hadn't made their way to Hawaii. Since mites can't swim, they were most likely brought in unknowingly by humans. If you've ever wondered what that question about organic material in customs is about, this is it. Nova Scotia, surprisingly, may be willing to risk mites in order to buttress their bee population with foreign supply.

American foulbrood, European foulbrood, and chalkbrood are rare in hives that are well managed by a bee keeper. The biggest risk comes from abandoned hives, which may be infected with American foulbrood spores for up to 50 years after use. Bees from a healthy hives may go out foraging, and steal from abandoned hives. If that hive was infected the new hive will be too. Unfortunately the only way to get rid of American foulbrood is to burn the hive and start over.

Have you seen any unused hives in your neighborhood? If so, you may want to contact the local bee inspector. Or, if you get permission from the landowner, destroy the hive yourself. You may be saving your neighbors a lot of grief. After all, a honeybee can travel up to 50,000 acres from it's home.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Weekly Bee Update: Population Decline

Beekeeping probably seems like an unnecessary skill for a city dweller such as myself. I've gotten a range of reactions from people when telling them my plans; spanning from offers to help to amused disbelief. Since there is no bee class this week, instead of updating you on what we learned allow me to let you in on my decision making.

The main motivation for keeping bees is an environmental concern, rather than a love of honey. If I'm being honest, I don't especially enjoy the taste of honey. Over the last century the number of bees, as well as other important pollinators, has plummeted. Unlike other pollinators, honey bees depend on humans for survival. Non-native to North America, all varieties of honey bee currently in the U.S. were brought here from the old world by early colonists (c. 1622) until they were banned from entering the country in the 1920s due to concerns over foreign diseases. Beekeeping has become less common since then due to a social shift in our society away from rural areas/agricultural lifestyle and of course a growing distrust of bees. Environmental factors such as pesticide use have impacted honey bees as much as any other pollinator, but even without factoring that in they simply can't thrive without beekeepers. The U.S. government has recently pledged to save the monarch butterfly, but no similar investment has been made by the feds in the future of the honey bee yet. It's pretty much up to us for now.

So that is why I'm determined to keep bees, even if it must be in someone else's yard, and even if they end up not producing much honey. Beekeeping isn't practical if, like me, you rent a small apartment . . . in a building with other tenants . . . in a city which does not allow beekeeping. What then can you do to make a difference? The Great Sunflower Project crowdsources data on bees from people all over the internet. All you need is a plant which attracts pollinators (such as a sunflower) and internet access. If you don't have a yard you may be able to grow a potted plant or visit a nearby park to participate. I usually don't bother with non-edible plants in my garden, but this year I'll include some flowers just for this purpose.

Wouldn't ya know, as soon as I sign up for a course in Acton, I find a class being offered in Lowell? However it's being offered by Merrimack Valley Beekeepers Association, and I overheard a student in my class telling the instructor about his poor experience with their course. He decided to retake a course elsewhere so it must not have been useful. I'm also a little surprised they would choose to hold the class here since bees aren't welcome in Lowell. I'll take this as a good sign that interest in urban agriculture is growing in my home city, and maybe that will lead to a lift of the ordinance in the future.

Now that you know about the plight of the honey bee I hope you'll do a little something to help whether it be gardening, participating in The Great Sunflower Project, or starting your own hive. How do you choose to protect our pollinators?