Spring Beekeeping Workshop

Spring Beekeeping Workshop
Demonstration Hive

Friday, December 18, 2009

Permaculture courses kicked-off on Tuesday

This has been an exciting week with the launch of the series of Permaculture classes held here at the Center for Sustainable Living. On Tuesday, 21 people gathered in the new learning space to hear Andrew Faust talk passionately and deeply about the problems facing communities and individuals and how the system of Permaculture can help address these issues. An in-depth and provocative presentation ensued as Andrew challenged all of us to think beyond our normal specialties, beyond linear approaches to problems. Permaculture draws from all disciplines to design sustainable living systems and economies that work for people and communities and not only for anonymous corporations.

My head was spinning after the three-hour presentation and frankly, I've found it hard to sleep with all the ideas going through my mind and the excitement of new possibilities and working in networks with other people.

Andrew will be back in February to start the Permaculture Design Certification course. This is an in-depth 76 hour course spread over 4 three-day weekends - two in February and two in March. For more details - dates, cost, syllabus - go to www.connsoil.com and click on Educational Events in the header on the home page.

Blueberry netting collapses

I guess it isn't such a good idea to leave blueberry netting up all winter unless it's arced or peaked. Even then, perhaps the weight of wet snow would collapse it on to the bushes underneath as seen in the photograph here of our one-season-young blueberry enclosure.

Attractive and functional during the summer, it was a hopeless design that did not stand up to the first serious snowfall of the winter.

In our design, posts at the corners of the blueberry patch supported horizontal planks of wood above and at ground level to which blueberry netting is stapled. Even though the holes in the netting seemed to be a good size to let snowflakes pass through, about 10 inches of wet snow accumulated on top. The netting sagged, the top cross pieces of wood snapped, and the entire thing caved in.

After repairing, we plan to leave the top open and cover it only during blueberry season. Removing the top net after harvest seems like a good idea now!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sometimes I wonder if anyone, ANYONE AT ALL, is reading this!
Winter came on early, that's for sure. I guess other parts of the country have been blanketed with very deep snow. Here in our little corner of Connecticut we've had two good snowfalls adding up to about 10 inches on the ground. Not so bad for, the middle of winter, but technically, it isn't even winter yet! Also, temperatures have taken a deep plunge into the teens overnight and early morning and bitterly cold with winds during the day, too.

Fortunately, we were able to get our cold frames planted up with winter greens and quickly built another hoop tunnel over a big bed of kale that hopefully will keep producing all winter now that it is protected.

In our glass-covered cold frame we have spinach (Giant Winter Hardy), a mixture of lettuces, and some baby kale. Another frame, plastic-covered, has broccoli and arugula. The arugula seems to be holding up although it isn't really a plant I would think of as a winter cold-frame contender. We'll see how it does after this really cold snap.

I did put horse manure around all the plants in the frame to give off some extra heat under the glass or plastic.

The garlic has just started to poke up as has the Egyptian Walking Onions and shallots. I spread leaves over the latter two crops and also around my leeks to protect them from the cold, but they don't have to be in a cold frame. I planned on covering the garlic with leaves after the ground froze - usually not until a few weeks later than this. Now, though, the snow came and covered everything. If, and when it melts, I will quickly get a blanket of leaves over the bed to protect the garlic bulbs.

Everything seems to be growing nicely and we'll have lots to show at the Introduction to Permaculture class which is happening on Tuesday, December 15, here. The newly renovated classroom looks awesome with new windows and a wood-stove, and the painting is just getting finished as I type this. The class is almost full and may in fact be, by Tuesday.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Here's the recipe for the much enjoyed cranberry-apple crumb-top pie I brought to Pie Breakfast on Thanksgiving:


1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt (or a bit less if using salted butter)
1 tablespoon sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter
2-3 tablespoons ice water

Crumble Topping:
¾ c flour
¼ c light brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
½ stick butter cut in pieces
½ cup pecans coarsely chopped

Stir together flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Blend in butter with fingertips then stir in pecans. Chill.

Fruit Filling:
8 large Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
8 oz fresh cranberries
3 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon ginger
few grinds of black pepper
2 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ stick butter cut in pieces

Stir apples, cranberries, brown sugar, flour, spices, salt, and lemon juice.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Roll out the pastry and line the bottom of a large, deep pie dish. Fill the pie dish with the fruit mixture. Dot with butter. Bake at 450 for 30 minutes until apples start to droop. Spread the crumble topping over the fruit. Reduce temp to 375. Bake until crumble is browned, filling is bubbling and apples are tender. 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Place the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and process briefly to mix together. Or use a wooden spoon. Add the butter and mix with processor with short pulses, or rub with fingers until the mixture ranges in size from peas to coarse cornmeal.

Slowly pour in the water and using short pulses, incorporate it into the flour mixture. Add enough water so the dough holds together but does not form a ball.

Transfer the pastry to a large piece of waxed paper, and press it out to form a flat round about 5 inches across. Wrap it tightly in waxed paper, and refrigerate at least 1 hour or preferably overnight in plastic bag.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It is so easy to feel despair and pessimism for the future these days. So many awful things are happening on all fronts. Sometimes I go on a news blackout for a couple of days. After all, ignorance is bliss! At least, ignorance allows me some peace of mind from the barrage of bad news.

So it was quite a relief to read several positive articles in yesterday's New York Times (Monday, November 30, 2009).

Those who know me have heard me say, many times, that being outside, in nature or in the garden, working in the soil or with the plants, brings me peace. This is really where I'm most happy and feeling spiritual. So it was with delight that I read the article "After War, Finding Peace and Calm in a Garden". Veterans of America's overseas wars - from Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, the current war in Iraq, and Afghanistan, come home with traumas and injuries the rest of us can barely imagine. Not only that, in many cases, the rest of us non-serving citizens and our government don't always provide the help that these veterans need to overcome the traumas they have experienced in war. I have personally known veterans from some of these conflicts - it ain't easy for them!

At the Veterans' Affairs Medical Center in Newark, NJ, many vets are finding a kind of peace through gardening. One has even been able to put years of substance abuse behind him and has started a landscaping business using the skills he has learned at the Center's garden. He says
"... being with the plants gives me time to think and meditate, to feel the soil or clay or whatever you're working in. I talk to my plants. Maybe it's crazy, but it's given me a chance to get out, work with others, grow something and do something that's right, not just for myself, but for the whole community.

Patrick Corcoran, a former marine who served in Lebanon said of gardening " It just lowers the volume in my head. It allows me to think on a rational level".

In the same newspaper, on the front page no less, was an article entitled "Tree Harvester Offers to Save Indonesian Forest". This Indonesian forest is a major contender in the sequestering of carbon dioxide. Along with Brazilian rainforests, these areas have the capacity to reduce the pace of climate change brought about by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Asia Pacific Resources International Limited is a huge company that is critical to the health of the Indonesian economy. Nevertheless, the company recognizes the importance of the Kampar Peninsula where one of the world's largest peat bogs lies. The peat bog holds (sequesters) vast quantities of carbon dioxide. If logged and drained, the carbon retained in a stable form in the peat bog, would be released into the atmosphere contributing to global warming. Asia Pacific has proposed protecting the peninsula in exchange for receiving carbon credits under a UN program.

A vast international logging corporation volunteering to protect raw land with valuable raw materials? Unheard of! Maybe times are changing and the corporate world is waking up to how relentless search for profits may not be in the planet's best interest. If we don't protect the environment, there will be no resources for any of us, corporate or otherwise.

A little bit of fresh air (no pun intended) in the New York Times.

On another note, I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving, as I did with my family and friends. We have a terrific tradition here in Bethlehem on Thanksgiving Day. Our friends, Larry and Jen, have for about 20 years hosted a "Pie Breakfast" on Thanksgiving morning. Yes, pies - pecan pies, pumpkin, apple, you name it. It is awesome. This year my contribution was an apple-cranberry pie with a crumb topping. I used a recipe from Gourmet Magazine as a basis but, as always, I adapted it to my own taste with lots of zingy spices to pep up the fruit. It was a huge hit.

After Pie Breakfast, my family goes on to a decadent champagne brunch at Bev and Woody's house. They started this tradition many years ago too. There used to be a real foxhunt in town (thank goodness no one hunts live foxes here anymore) and there used to be a "blessing of the hounds" by the pastor of one of the local churches. A strange ritual, I always thought. After the blessing, people went back to their house for a champagne toast which has morphed into a loaded brunch table with lots of goodies.

Then, we collapse for a few hours, maybe take a walk before dinner. Our dinner was really delicious, even though I say so myself. We ate a lot of stuff from our garden - potatoes, shallots and herbs previously picked and stored; kale, fresh picked. I should have posted my vegetarian recipes BEFORE the holiday. But, stay tuned, I'll post them here in a day or two for use next year, or even for the upcoming holidays in a few weeks.

Happy post-Thanksgiving!