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?