Spring Beekeeping Workshop

Spring Beekeeping Workshop
Demonstration Hive

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Easiest Way to Handle Blueberry Harvests

I've had a truly bumper blueberry season. The rain has swelled the fruit and kept them nice and plump and prolific. How to handle all the pickings expeditiously before they rot or go moldy is the key thing.

Making jam, pies, blueberry muffins, crumble and other delectable treats are, of course, an option, but one that may be too time-consuming when you have the picking and weeding and sorting and... well, we all know garden work is endless.

Harold McGee, writing in the New York Times, The Curious Cook column of 25 August 2009, makes it much too complicated.

Here's the quickest and most foolproof way to preserve excess berries. Sort through the berries to remove leaves, debris and stems and the occasional caterpillar that may be there. If you feel the need, rinse the berries under cold running water and spread in a single layer on a tray with a dry cloth or paper towels underneath. Leave on the kitchen counter to air dry. That step may be hastened by pointing an ordinary room fan towards the berries. When dry, or even partially dry, remove the towels and place the entire tray with berries in your freezer for a few hours. When the berries are frozen, pour them all into plastic bags or containers and return to the freezer.

The benefit of this method is that the berries will not stick together since they were frozen separated. When you want to use them, pour or scoop the desired quantity from the bag/container and use in any way you want. I've used them, frozen, to dress up a fresh fruit salad, added them, frozen, to muffins and pies and pancakes.

It's a truly no fuss way to handle the harvest. By the way, this works well with grapes, peas, other berries, you name it.

Happy harvest!

Monday, August 24, 2009

More On Blight

Blight is such an awful word, really. Conjuring up visions of plague, illness and dark clouds overhead. That's just what has continued to happen here in New England, this summer, as gardens and farms have continued to lose tomato and potato crops. Sad for home-gardeners trying to save money by growing their own vegetables. Tragic for farmers whose incomes for the year may now be decimated. We need to buy as much other produce from local farmers as possible to help them weather these losses or they may not be here next year.

On the bright side, the University of Connecticut plant pathology department is confirming that during our cold winters, the spores will not overwinter in the soil. That is good news because otherwise we could be looking at many years of infestation.

To be on the safe side, though, I am recommending not using any stored potatoes as seed potatoes next year. Why take a chance, even if they do keep well in storage. Plan on buying certified disease-free potatoes to start with. Also, I think it is best not to compost plant parts of infected tomatoes or potatoes. Although, theoretically, the heating in a compost pile should kill pathogens, why take a chance? Perhaps your compost pile is not constructed perfectly and the spores might live in the warmth of the pile through the winter, but not be killed. Bury the plants and diseased vegetables at least two feet deep in the ground or burn the whole lot.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Peach Pie Blues

It was the perfect day to make peach pie. Peaches are plentiful around here and my husband, Stuart, had just worked his way through part of a large cardboard crate of peaches by making several quarts of peach jam. With the sealed jars cooling on the counter, many more peaches in the crate, and weekend guests arriving in a few hours, peach pie seemed the obvious dessert for dinner.

I quickly made two batches of butter-based pie pastry, wrapped them in wax paper and then plastic bags and placed them in the freezer for a quick cool down. In the meantime, I boiled a large pan of water and blanched the peaches so the skins would easily slip off. Slicing 10 cups of peach flesh into a glass bowl, I then sprinkled over a cup of brown sugar.

The sky started to get dark and ominous and the radio was warning of dangerous thunderstorms in our area. Nothing to get alarmed about as we have lots of late afternoon thunderstorms during summer in our part of northwestern Connecticut. The heat and humidity builds during the day and the tension releases in violent storms as the sun starts to get lower in the sky. A typical summer day, except this storm front was influenced by the effects of Hurricane Bill out in the Atlantic. The storm clouds were impressively churning.

But peach pie was calling and I methodically continued my preparations for two pies - one to be frozen, uncooked, for later consumption and one for tonight.

Squeezing a large lemon, I scraped the pulp into the juice and poured it all over the sweetened peach slices, sprinkled with cinnamon, ground ginger, fresh ground black pepper (yes, it is my secret ingredient for all fruit pies and makes the fruit zingy and gives depth to the flavors). Tossing the whole thing together, I set aside the bowl and turned on the oven to preheat to 450 degrees. I like to start the pies off in a hot oven for 10 minutes and then turn the oven down to 350 to finish.

Everything was proceeding nicely with no hint of any trouble to come. The sky was getting black and rumblings could be heard in the distance. My cats and dog started to become restless.

I rolled out the first pastry shell, layered the fruit in the dish and covered with the top crust layer. Into the oven the pie went just as a bolt of lightening broke right over the house followed almost instantly by a crash of thunder. I'm used to this type of weather but it is a bit un-nerving when the storm is right overhead. One after another lightening bolts broke around the immediate neighborhood and three times in a row the electric current in the house gave off startling loud crackles as if the wires outside had been hit directly. Then, disaster - a loud crack of lightening, a flash of light, a popping sound and.....horrors! No electricity!

The timing could not have been worse with my pie in the oven and our guests arriving on the New York bus shortly. Torrential rain was gushing down outside and the gutters off the roof were emptying the deluge into the rain barrel on the corner of the house near the kitchen window.

I decided the best thing to do was to play it cool. After all, the oven had reached 450 degrees and if I didn't open the door it could stay hot for some time. Who knows? Perhaps the pie would cook in there even as the temperature cooled.

After about an hour I run out through the still-gushing rain to drive to the bus station to collect our friends. Taking my life in my hands, I drove through the still dangerous lightening dramatically flashing all around. I was sure a tree was going to come down on my car as I drove through tree-lined country lanes. I left Stuart at home to figure out how to cook an entire dinner on an outdoor gas grill.
The electric company had no clear idea how long the power would be off, but the estimate was at least 3 hours. Not too bad. Of course, the New York bus was delayed because of the storm and I sat in the depot lot in my steamed up car feeling frustrated, tired, and very sticky while several buses came in sans friends. I had no actual idea at that point how long the delay would be, since the depot was closed and there was no-one to ask. An hour later, friends safely in my car, we make our way home through more rain.

At home, there was still no power but the house was very pretty with candles and the Coleman camping light illuminating the kitchen counter. Stuart was heroically cooking on the gas grill - thankfully the rain had eased to a gentle misty drizzle.

The pie was still in the oven but was only about half baked. I felt half baked after the experiences of the last few hours! Nevertheless, I removed the pie from the now cool oven and looked for a place to set it. All the kitchen surfaces were covered with stuff! There was no space! I guess baking and cooking in darkness with no running water (because no power for the well-pump) leads to a lot of mess, to say the least.

I set the pie dish on top of the pan used to blanche the peaches and went on to help with the rest of the dinner preparations. All our camping experience came to the fore and we produced a lovely dinner - home-made bread made earlier in the day, marinated baked tofu - ditto, steak on the grill, potatoes dug fresh from the garden were boiled on the gas grill and smothered with chive butter, and sliced veggies cooked on the grill. Two bottles of wine, candles, music - we were actually starting to enjoy this.

After dinner, I decided to finish cooking the pie on the grill on top of a pizza stone. Lifting the dish off from the top of the water pan proved to be extremely difficult as a vapor lock had occurred fastening the pie-dish rim tightly to the top of the pan. I used the point of a knife to loosen under it and just then another disaster occurred! The pie dropped into the pan of water and was completely submerged.

Undeterred, but almost hysterical with the comedy of the event, I fished out the pie and stuck it out on the grill and closed the lid. I had no idea what to expect. I had visions of having to ditch the pastry and try to salvage the peach filling to serve over ice-cream or some such thing. But, twenty minutes later I retrieved the pie, cooked to perfection. The pastry was light and flaky and seemed completely unaffected by its arduous path through electric power outage, a dunking in a water bath and cooking on a pizza stone on an outdoor grill.

The moral of this story, seems to be that precise cooking and baking instructions are totally unncessary and one can produce delicious and picture-perfect food in any number of unorthodox ways. I highly recommend dunking uncooked pies in a water bath before cooking!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Check out the latest Greentips online from the Union of Concerned Scientists for the latest on using re-chargeable batteries. While you're at it, sign up with UCS to receive their Greentips in your own e.mail. UCS is a terrific organization that serves to educate and also lobby for the environment. You can rely on their credibility and expect to learn a lot by reading their bulletins. Simply highlight the URL address below and paste it into your browser bar.

Kick the Disposable Battery Habit
August 2009
Read this issue of Greentips online

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mid-August and summer is finally here

The temperature has hit the high numbers and the sun is shining. Gardens are soaking up the sun and plants are photosynthesizing and trying to make up for lost time. Finally, beans are podding-up, and eggplants (aubergines) are purpling. But it is time to look ahead because, even though we are all in denial, fall is actually right around the corner. Depressing as that may be for those of us who haven't really had a proper summer, it's no reason to get sad because there's months more gardening left and great food to grow and harvest.

Eating local is much easier than it used to be now that farmers' markets abound. The best way to eat local, though, is to grow it yourself. Much fresher than any other source, and much, much less expensive. For the cost of a packet of seed - around $3.25 - $4.50, you can grow literally pounds and pounds of fresh produce. With a little planning, you can freeze, dry, jar or store produce in a root cellar for all-winter eating. Last year, I harvested enough winter squash to store and eat all winter. We had one butternut or acorn squash each week until March of this year. That was a record.

So how will you plan for this? First of all, get busy now and seed some cool-weather-loving vegetables that you can grow all fall. In this category are: broccoli, spinach, kale, cabbage, carrots, beets, radishes, cauliflower, lettuce, peas. You can start the seeds indoors just as you would in the spring, or outdoors in a sheltered location. They seeds will germinate quickly at this time of year because of the warmth, but it's best not to place them where the fierce unfiltered sun strikes them because the emerging seedlings are very sensitive at that stage and may quickly dry out and whither if you are not paying attention. Once they are up and growing with at least 2 sets of leaves, move them into the full sun making sure they don't dry out. Fertilize the young seedlings with compost tea to give them a weak dose of the essential nutrients they need to grow.

My next post will detail the best way to start seeds and how to transplant them into the garden.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Inventing Cabbage Slaw

Despite the problems with warm season crops that we should be harvesting right now, but aren't, - the beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, melons, cucumbers etc. - cool season crops think this summer is just perfect. The abundance of kale, spinach, root crops, potatoes and plain old cabbage, is providing our table with lots of nutritious fresh food. But I need to do something to the plain old vegetables to brighten them up. Cabbage is a versatile vegetable and can be eaten cooked or raw. Tonight I invented a new cole slaw that I'm thrilled with. I'll share the recipe with any of you who are reading this - is anyone reading this?

Here goes:

Chop up a small head of cabbage to make about 6 cups of shredded cabbage.
Finely chop about 1 1/2 cups of celery, and if there are celery leaves, use them too.
Core and dice a green apple, leave the peel on.
Mix this all in a large bowl and dress with the following:

1 cup (8 ounces) of plain non-fat yoghurt
1 tablespoon of sour cream or plain non-fat Greek yoghurt (the thick kind)
1 tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon of honey
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 heaped tablespoon of grated fresh ginger root (I keep one in the freezer and grate it frozen - it's much easier that way and doesn't get stringy)
1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon of grated lemon rind
1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Whisk quickly but thoroughly and pour over the cabbage mixture.

Toss the whole thing and refrigerate until cold. Taste and adjust for salt and add more honey if you want it a bit sweeter. This could probably be stored in the refrigerator a couple of days if you wanted to make it ahead.

I think this would go well with a red lentil soup and new boiled potatoes and that's what I'm serving tonight!

As Julia Child would say, Bon Appetit!

More on Late Blight

I just discovered that copper formulations are acceptable for organic growers and I'm going to get some to keep on hand. So far,my other garden areas of tomatoes and potatoes do not have late blight. That's good news but I'm still not optimistic because the fungal spores can travel up to 40 miles on air currents. But at least we can hope for a harvest of some kind before the other plants keel over.

One bit of good news - I just spoke with Dr. Balogh Botond, Plant Pathologist from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, and he has assured me that the spores do not overwinter in the soil in Connecticut because of the cold winters. That means we do not have to avoid planting Solonaceous plants next year and keep the soil fallow. The only way to infect the garden again would be to plant infected potato tubers.

For those of you who don't live in the northeast United States, this will all be boring for you. I promise more interesting blogs soon. At the moment this is consuming me!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

5 August 2009


As if this gardening season hasn’t been difficult enough - what with the rain and cool temperatures , deer damage, slug damage and miscellaneous small animal damage – disaster struck today!

The Late Blight disease, which afflicts plants in the Solonaceae family (including tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, peppers), has been in the news this season as one farmer after another in the Northeast has lost their crop of tomatoes. I haven’t heard about potatoes being infected in this region, but potatoes are traditionally very susceptible to the disease too. It will only be a matter of time, in my opinion.

As an interesting historical note of how plant pathology has affected demography, the Irish Potato Famine beginning in 1845, was caused by the Late Blight fungus. Because of the extent of potato growing in Ireland and the reliance of the people on the potato as their staple food, at that time, the devastation of the potato crop caused famine and brought about the mass migration of Irish people to America. (Of course, delving further into history tells us that the famine could have been avoided but representatives of the government – Britain essentially – blocked famine relief efforts. I’m a Brit and I’m not proud of this. My family were immigrants to England in the late 1880’s so we weren’t actually there when this was happening. We were too busy being persecuted in Eastern Europe! Phew, what a relief.)

This week, after a tomato-less summer, we finally picked a couple of luscious large tomatoes and a bowlful of cherry-sized. But, today, the dreaded disease was seen on our most advanced and previously healthy plants – loaded with large ripening tomatoes.

Sadly, we had to immediately remove the plants out of the raised bed. We harvested all the healthy, unblemished green tomatoes, and burned everything else. We made a small bonfire on a wood pallet and built up the fire with sticks and split logs, dry leaves, mulch hay etc. and fed the diseased plants and tomatoes on the top, a little at a time. Everything was burned and then we turned our attention to our tools, shoes etc. Anything that may have come in contact with the infected plant parts were washed in a light bleach solution. This is mixed with 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. Clothing went straight in the washing machine with a little bleach added to the rinse cycle.

We have have garden beds in different locations, so there are other tomato plants, peppers, eggplants and potatoes elsewhere. We do not know yet if these other areas are infected and only time will tell. A nice planting of eggplants are growing in the same bed as the diseased tomatoes and, although they look healthy now, I am pessimistic about their future. This year, we have six different varieties of potatoes growing and they have been fabulously prolific so far. If the disease takes them, we should still be able to eat some of the potato tubers themselves – if they are not rotted – but storing them through the winter will probably not be possible.

To store potatoes, they need to be dug as late as possible in the season so that the skins have time to toughen-up. If we have to dig them up soon, the skins will be thin – delicious for immediate cooking but not storing. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that this part of the garden will be spared.

Late Blight manifests first as dark, wettish spots on the leaves and then streaky dark areas on the stems. The leaf spots appear dark in the middle and have a characteristic pale green halo. If left to develop, the plants will rot and smell nasty.

Typically, the only possible solution for this disease is spraying with fungicides – which I do not do in my garden since I’m an organic grower. I am going to look into the possibility of using a copper-based solution which has anti-fungal properties. It is possible that this is an acceptable material for organic growers. More information on this to come.

To read more about Late Blight, and to see photographs of the diseased plants, visit Cornell University’s Fact Sheet web site at: