Friday, April 10, 2015

What's In My CSA Share?: Spring Week 6

This week we are starting to see some more diversity. Mike was able to switch out a bunch of cilantro for a second bunch of basil which is great because I don't care for cilantro. And after eating a flavorless supermarket cucumber at my parents' yesterday for dinner, I'm so excited for fresh greenhouse cucumbers.

Contents of Spring Share, Week 6:

2 bag mixed greens with edible flowers!
1 bag spinach
1 bag carrots
1 bag potatoes
5 apples
1 cucumber
2 bunches basil

This means lots of beautiful salads and margherita pizzas.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Biweekly Bee Update: The Birds and the Bees and the Apple Trees

Yesterday our bee class reunited at the instructor's home/apiary for a hive opening. We installed a new package of bees, and checked in on some of the ones who were overwintering. This past Friday was one of the first warm days of spring, and only the strongest hive had started to leave in search of food. This was a good opportunity for anyone who was still feeling squeamish around bees to get some shock therapy. I had bees in my hair, clothes, face . . . one even landed in my mouth.

The operation seemed surprisingly small for the number of bees they move from Georgia to Massachusetts every year. As I said, it is run out of our instructor's home and while we were there Nick and I were able to purchase our beehives and equipment. The garage stored not only new hives and tools, but all other honeybee paraphernalia imaginable including mead, actively fermenting.

I felt a little silly driving around with a hive in my backseat all day, but there were a lot of things I wanted to get done since I wouldn't be able to on Easter Sunday. On the bright side my car smelt heavily of honey. Someone should produce honey and cedar box scented air fresheners, I'd give them all my money.

After running errands all day I remembered I still had Easter baking to do! Due to the abundance of apples from our CSA share, and the fact that Kristine asked me to make it for her again, I decided to make apple tortes; one for my family and one for Mike's. The day's activities got me thinking about the intricately woven stories of apples and honeybees in our nation's past.

I have been reading Michael Pollan's "The Botany of Desire", a Christmas gift from my brother. Pollan spends some time in the beginning comparing the human and the honeybee due to their similarly reciprocal roles in the natural world. The first section of his book focuses on the apple, a plant which humans have painstakingly manipulated to feed their desire for sweetness.

I was aware that the first domesticated honeybees were brought over by the Puritans to Massachusetts, but what didn't occur to me was their purpose. Rather than use the bees for the products of the hives (though I'm sure that was a bonus), colonists were interested in replicating their beneficial relationship with old world plants. Honeybees followed shortly after the advent of the apple tree. However, many of the grafted varieties transported overseas were not able to survive in their new climate despite the bees' help. This, among other reasons, is what led to the prevalence of apple trees grown from seed and the popularity of cider. Occasionally a new variety of sweet eating apple was discovered in a cider orchard, entirely distinct from European varieties, and better suited to it's new home.

What I found most interesting about John Chapman, AKA Johnny Appleseed, was his opposition to grafting. He claimed it was unnatural and thought it an insult to God's design. I couldn't help but draw parallels between his way of thinking and the anti-GMO movement of today. Anyone who continues to eat sweet apples or corn today is enjoying to result of  millennia of human intervention, whether they choose to acknowledge so or not.

I have everything I need to welcome my bees home a couple of weeks. Now all that's left is to decide what color I should paint my beehive.What do you think, readers? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

What's In My CSA Share?: Spring Week 5

Contents of Spring Share, Week 5:

1 bag turnips
1 bag carrots
2 bags sweet baby greens mix
1 bag spicy baby greens mix
1 bag baby tatsoi
9 apples
1 bunch rosemary

Trapani family farm in upstate New York (Mike's cousins) where we visited during our road trip in November

Friday, March 27, 2015

What's In My CSA Share?: Spring Week 4

Contents of Spring Share, Week 4:

1 bag baby tatsoi
1 head romaine
1 bag mixed baby greens
8 apples, assorted variety
1 bag red potatoes
1 bag carrots
1 bunch cilantro

Sorry for skipping last weeks update. I've been consumed by the job hunt, with two interviews last week, and three this upcoming week. Not to mention a sea of applications. For those interested, last week was similar to this. It included:

1 bag baby tatsoi
1 bag spicy baby greens
1 bag mixed baby greens
5 apples
1 bag gold potatoes
1 bags carrot
1 bag watermelon radishes
1 bunch rosemary

I haven't been keeping up with my weekly bee updates since bee school ended. I don't have my bees yet, so there isn't much to tell. However, the class is meeting up again next week to open up some hives at the instructor's apiary. Then I will be acquiring my hive and bees in April. Expect weekly/biweekly updates starting next month.

Here's a fun little video from ASAPScience to tide you over.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What's In My CSA Share?: Spring Week 2

Contents of Spring Share, Week 2:

2 bags carrots
1 bag spinach
1 bag spicy mixed greens
1 head red cabbage
1 celery root
5 Macintosh apples
3 golden delicious apples

I'm happy to announce that one of my good friends has decided to purchase a farm share, and I'm helping her hunt one down where she lives as we speak. I like to think my blog posts had something to do with it!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Gnocchi in Rosemary Tomato-Cream Sauce Recipe

Farmer Dave gave us a ginormous bag of potatoes this week, which inspired me to try something new in the kitchen. I found this sausage, potato, and spinach soup on pinterest which I have a feeling is going to be a new standby. But even after making the soup, I have potatoes left! What to do? Finally learn how to make gnocchi!

I concocted this whole-grain version which I prefer to the gnocchi I've had at restaurants. The texture is just a little bit firmer, which is why I like it.

Whole Grain Gnocchi

1 lb. potatoes
salt and pepper
1 egg
1/4 c. white whole wheat flour

Bake the potatoes (in the microwave is fine) and then cut them open to remove the flesh. Discard the skins. Mash the potato in a bowl and flavor with freshly ground salt and pepper. Add about half an egg (I know!) and mix. Gradually add the flour, mixing and kneading as you go. It would be helpful to remember to remove any rings, and flour your hands, beforehand. (I forgot . . .)

Work in batches, taking a handful of dough and rolling it out into a 1/2 inch thick strip. Once all the dough is rolled out, cut the strips into 1 inch long bite-sized pieces. Next, if you want to get the pretty little ribbed effect, roll each piece over the back of a fork. This is time consuming and probably not necessary.

Drop the gnocchi into a pot of rapidly boiling water. When you see the gnocchi start to rise to the surface that means they will be ready in 4 minutes. Remove cooked gnocchi from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and place directly into the sauce of your choice. Toss to coat and enjoy!

Rosemary Tomato-Cream Sauce

2 Tbs. olive oil
5 cloves garlic
1 bunch rosemary (or herb of your preference!)
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
heavy cream, to taste

Heat a sauce pan with 2 Tbs. olive oil. Mince the garlic and herbs and add to pan, reserving some herbs for the end. Once the garlic softens, add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer at least 20 mins. Turn the heat all the way down and gradually add cream, stirring, until the sauce becomes pink. How much you add depends on how creamy you like your sauce. Remove from heat, and add remaining herbs just before serving.

Stop by tomorrow to find out what we get in our CSA box this week!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

What's In My CSA Share?: Spring 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 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?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Mexican-inspired Quinoa Salad

Usually I enjoy winter, but I think I've reached snow overload. Mostly I'm restless and looking forward to starting my garden. There's plenty of food in the freezer, but I decided to give sprouting a try to to satisfy the urge to see something grow.

Once in a while I miss the fresh tastes of summer. I found some corn still in the freezer so I combined that with some tomatoes and peppers I canned to create a  Mexican inspired quinoa salad. This is a dish I make often in the summer time when those crops are in season. I don't have an exact recipe. It varies each time depending on what I happen to have on hand, which is how I tend to cook. This time it included the following.

Toss together: 
1 cup cooked quinoa
chopped onion
chopped tomatoes
chopped peppers (any kind, sweet or hot)
corn kernels
feta cheese

Season with:
lime juice
chili powder

Other options are beans, sour cream, or monterey jack cheese. Let me know if you give this recipe a try.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Weekly Bee Update: Bee School

My friend, Nick , and I had been casually discussing beekeeping for a while and after a couple failed attempts we finally signed up for a beekeeping course!

The course is offered through Middlesex County Beekeepers Association, and is taught by the owner to a local honey business, Rick Reault. It consists of five two-hour classes, plus a hive visit. Unfortunately, due to the weather the class is already off schedule. So far we have attended two classes.

Here's a look at the syllabus if you're interested:

Week 1: The Bees (Queen, Workers, & Drones), Emergency, Supercedure, Swarms, Queens

Week 2: The hive setup, Location, Types, Equipment (protective clothing and tools)

Week 3: Packages, Nucs, Managing a first year hive
Week 4: Managing Pests and diseases

Week 5: Seasonal Management (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter), Products of the hive (honey, wax, pollen, propolis), & Mead making

Week 6: Hive openings

On our first day we discovered that our city is the only in the county with ordinances against beekeeping. I had my suspicions since we live in an urban area, but wanted to learn anyway. Luckily, I've already had two offers from my in-laws to let me keep bees in their yards! (Mike's parents' or his cousins') They also might be able to get some used equipment for me from their neighbors. Not everything can be reused with a new hive, but anything that can be will help. Bees are more expensive than I expected. I've already reserved a package of bees for pick-up on April 20th.

After class I spent as much time outside as possible since we have three days of snow ahead. Nick, Julie, Mike, and I all went to a farmers market and then checked out a special Valentine's Day Open Studios. It was a fun day. I got some yarn for crafting and lots of yummy food so I won't get restless/hungry during the storm. Plus I have readings on bees to keep me occupied!

I hope you'll all be doing something fun indoors tomorrow.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Seeds Have Arrived!

The seeds I ordered for Seed Savers Exchange arrived in the mail! I won't be able to start seeds for at least another month, but I wanted to share what I'll be growing. From left to right, top to bottom:

Sweet Chocolate (Pepper)
Purple Beauty (Pepper)
Stupice (Tomatoes)
Thai Basil (Herb)
Tall Utah (Celery)
Petit Gris de Rennes (Melon, Cantaloupe)
Summer Savory (Herb)
Moonflower (Flower)
Historic Pansies Mix (Edible Flowers)
Titan (Sunflower)
Four O'Clock (Flower)

Follow the links to read more about each plant. My favorite part about ordering from the seed catalogue is reading the cute anecdotes that go along with some of the plants. I especially enjoyed True Red Cranberry's story. Many of the varieties I chose are recommended for short seasons/northern climates, but I've never tried growing any of them before. 

 You'll probably notice I have three types of bell pepper. They're one of my favorite vegetables. Ordering that few took quite a bit of restraint on my part . . . There were six pages of peppers to choose from!

I've already started thinking about how I'll fit everything. I may be getting ahead of myself considering Boston just had it's snowiest 10-day period on record . . . but when the time comes to garden, I'll be ready!

Anyone else considering growing something new this spring?