Spring Beekeeping Workshop

Spring Beekeeping Workshop
Demonstration Hive

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Wendell Berry's Rule #9

As always, this comes from Wendell Berry, insightful, honest and truthful writer who has inspired many Americans to work for a fairer society and thoughtful agricultural policies: "Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community".

Nowhere is it more evident how far society has moved away from a rich, thriving and interdependent community of people, than in an international airport.  I am writing this at Boston's Logan Airport while waiting for my flight to England, which has been delayed 5 hours!  If I could, I would stop flying altogether because of the carbon footprint, the need to eat, at least some, awful food produced who-knows how and who knows where, and being surrounded by harried, cross people and shops selling trashy stuff made not in my community or even, mostly, in my country.  But, in my case, having most of my family living in other countries, it would be a painful decision not to travel sometimes.  Should I not travel to visit my 94 year-old mother, at least a couple of times a year?  We don't think about these things when we are in our younger years, getting ourselves established in careers and families of our own.  Then, it is too late and we are stuck.  I hope that younger people now might think about this when striking out on their lives.  There is value in staying closer to home, working to build and improve the communities we already live in and helping to make them vibrant, economically resilient places to live where people can work to make a living and not a killing, while fostering relationships and protecting the natural systems we depend on.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Wendell Berry Rule #8

Wendell Berry's Rule #8 (taken from a poster published by Yes! Magazine www.yesmagazine.org):
"Strive to produce as much of the community's own energy as possible".

All Mr. Berry's "Rules" are so eminently sensible, why aren't we already doing these things?  Could it be that we have allowed ourselves to be entrapped by the advertizing industry that persuades us we need to let go of the old, sustainable ways in favor of buying things from big corporations?  Now, I'm not against corporations, I'm only unhappy with how some corporations do their business and what they are selling us.  We do not need, for example, processed cereals in boxes "fortified" with nutrients that were removed from the original grain during processing! Much of the western world is now addicted to these boxed cereals.  Even the box and paper bag the product is wrapped in makes no sense!  A waste of resources.

We can save money and be healthier and affect the planet in better ways by not buying these things. Why can't we start with the grain itself, cook it, soak it, grind it and then prepare delicious foods that are much better for us and have a lighter impact on the planet?

So, in this way, I think we all are aware how addicted we have become to lots of ingenious products that companies have devised, advertized to draw us in .  "Packaged energy" i.e. energy, or fuel, delivered to our homes automatically through municipal pipelines that we don't even see or think about, or delivered like liquid propane to tanks near our homes, or gasoline into our car tanks, perpetuate the illusion that energy is sort of free for the taking, harmless, in fact.

Well, most of us know now that this way of heating and moving ourselves is hugely expensive.  I'm not talking money here.  I'm talking the overall cost to the planet of even using these fuels.  Fossil fuels.

Mr. Berry's Rule #8 is admonishing us to develop fuel sources in our own communities and we can do this to a great extent.  Geographical, climatalogical, geological and hydrological characteristics of our region play a part in what mix of renewable energy sources we can use.  Solar energy is available all over the planet.  When the sun is gone, we are gone anyway. 

Communities are getting together to make plans for the energy descent that is very likely coming in this century.  That is, the fossil fuel energy most of us rely on.  Without it, where will our food come from?  Where will our heat come from?  Where will our transportation come from?  There are ways to address this but it won't work if we wait till the last minute.  In America, it seems to me, as a society we are in a rush and trying to get ahead and not making plans but reaping short term benefits instead.  Some communities like Bloomington, Indiana, for example, has made a well-thought out and comprehensive plan to prepare for the day when large amounts of inexpensive fossil fuel is no longer available.

Even if this day doesn't come in our own lifetimes, it will come because fossil fuel is finite.  Isn't it better to have a plan in place and know what to do?  Future generations will thank us for this.

To see what Bloomington, Indiana has done check out www.bloomington.in.gov/media/media and for other examples and help on this subject:  http://transitionwestmarin.wordpress.com/projects/energy-descent-plan/

I would love to know what other communities are doing or have done to prepare for the change and hope that any readers who know of towns, cities, neighborhoods or co-housing groups, addressing this issue, will let me know I can feature their progress on this blog.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wendell Berry Rule #7

Wendell Berry's Rule #7 (taken from Yes! Magazine www.yesmagazine.org)

"Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy".

What does this mean, exactly?  Gather a group of neighbors, friends, and other interested people to brainstorm small commercial ventures that could use products that are locally obtainable.  Wood products, wool, other plant based fibers, food crops etc.  The businesses don't have to be on the scale of a Ben and Jerry's, but could be viable ventures, and provide sustainable comfortable livings for one or more families.

What it doesn't mean is exploiting the forests - clear cutting, or otherwise ruining them, - or industrial agriculture that creates soil compaction and erosion, contaminates water resources and creates persistent weed and pest problems.  It means using our natural resources, our forests and agricultural areas responsibly so that the products can be harvested FOR EVER!  This is what is meant by SUSTAINABLE!

I will be exploring examples of these types of businesses, in the future.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wendell Berry Rule #6

With thanks to Yes! Magazine for publishing Wendell Berry's Rules for Sustainable Communities:

"Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of the national or global economy".

Blue Heron

While we were eating breakfast on the deck this morning, a Great Blue Heron flew in and landed at the back of our small pond and carefully made its way along the back shoreline, under overhanging trees.  This has happened before.  In honor of the event, I am sharing a poem a wrote a few years ago entitled Great Blue:


A ballerina-legged bird

often stands near our pond,

sheltered by black pussy willows.

Her body puffs out

like a fringed tutu

and plumes of stringy

hair-like feathers

fan from head and neck

with a rakish air.

A fleshless, skeletal leg

raises elegantly,

bending at the knee

as the heron steals along

stalking frogs

or fish.

Statuesque among

the pickerelweed,

she sees us

and glares with disdain

down the slender supercilious beak.

With a deep squat she unfolds

uncanny long wings and

emits a throaty, guttural

Thwack! thwack! during lift-off.

Circling over our house,

she glides through

the trees towards

the shallow water beaver pond

and a new fishing place.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Last fall I wrote about our first attempt at spreading mushroom spores and growing Winecap mushrooms and Shiitake mushrooms.  Well, I'm thrilled to say that our very first Winecaps sprouted today, May 22, 2012, after a couple of days of heavy rain and warm temperatures.  The photographs are in the sidebar. 

Winecaps are officially known as Stropharia rugosa annulata and are a very pretty mushroom, especially when young.  They feature a white stalk with a port wine colored cap and are grown at ground level outdoors on woody layers of plant material such as wood chips, hay, or straw.  Because of this, there is a possibility that other species of mushroom may appear where the Winecaps have been seeded. After all, there are a gazillion fungal species out there, just waiting for the right habitat. 

We obtained our mushroom spores from Field and Forest Products, (www.fieldforest.net) and on their website is an excellent instructional video to enable accurate identification of the Winecap so as not to accidentally harvest and eat a wild invader that may not be edible. 

These mushrooms are exceptionally easy to grow, pretty in appearance and have a delicious and delicate flavor.  This being our first harvest ever, we cooked them simply- sauteed in olive oil with sliced garlic, and topped with a little salt and pepper.  Next time I plan to try them sautted in butter. 

How thrilling it is to harvest one's own MUSHROOMS!  As a long time fruit and vegetable grower, I'm not new to eating my own harvest, but tonight, there was a real sense of accomplishment in eating these lovely little Winecaps.  The rest of the dinner consisted of a sweet potato and a mixture of fresh harvested greens - Red Russian Kale, Rapini and Cima di Rapa.  As soon as the garlic and mushrooms were done and removed from the pan, I tossed in the greens and sauteed them down to a wilted state, sprinkled a little salt and black pepper over and, voila, a wonderful home grown meal that was picked only minutes before cooking.

We're waiting for our shiitakes now but don't expect them to emerge until late summer/early fall.

Wendell Berry Rule #5

Wendell Berry's Rule #5 tells us to "Understand the unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of "labor saving" if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination".

 (Excerpted from the essay "Conserving Communities, " from "Another Turn of the Crank," by Wendell Berry 1995 and taken from the 17 Rules poster published by Yes! Magazine)

Here is a wonderful short video introducting Permaculture to the world with founder, Bill Mollisson playing himself.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_LUpWflNtk  If you can't reach the video from this link, the film is called "In Grave Danger of Falling Food" and is easily reached by googling that title.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wendell Berry Rule #4

"Always supply local needs first.  (And only then think of exporting their products, first to nearby cities, and then to others.)"

In our Transition Town initiating group, we are discussing ways to enhance our community's resilience and self-reliance.  By community, we mean our town, and then our neighbors in the surrounding towns.  What good is shipping products made here, to places far away and then shipping foreign items in?  The Transition model invites communities to explore exactly what is needed for a self-reliant community in the areas of water, food production, energy, transportation, fiber and building materials, and other necessaries.  Then, making a master plan for the community would take all producers and available resources into consideration.  Any shortfall could be enhanced by careful planning and perhaps sharing or exchanging resources with other nearby communities.  Then, if there is excess, that could be shared with the world at large.  This type of master plan is often referred to as an "Energy Descent Plant" with the expectation that the world is entering an era of less plentiful fossil fuel and that our basic life supports - food, water, fiber etc. - may have to be produced much closer to where they will be used.

In the United States, the most comprehensive "energy descent plan" of which I'm aware was prepared by the City of Bloomington, Indiana.  Try this link to access it:  http://bloomington.in.gov/media

Also, to read about other energy descent plans visit this:  http://transitionwestmarin.wordpress.com/projects/energy-descent-plan/  and above all - HAVE FUN!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Wendell Berry Rule #3

"Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors." (Wendell Berry).

To write as Wendell Berry does must take all his dedication and most of his time because I have realized, after 60 years, that creativity - writing, music, painting, any form of creative work, involves a kind of retreat from life as it goes on around us.

There's a constant choice to be made for anyone interested, as I am, in life and the marvellous activities one can fill it with.  I haven't figured out how to make these choices yet.  I am still learning.

Busy-work is so easy to do and leaves you with a sense of being important, somehow - you've probably had many instances of the "sorry, gotta go, I've got so-o-o much to do today" syndrome.  Cleanliness is next to godliness, we are told and what a bear-pit of a trap that idea is!  Keeping busy by cleaning and tending our domicile is looked upon with approval by the society we live in and, in truth, I like to live in a clean (ish), well-ordered home, even if the cost in achieving it is great.

One thinks of Buddhist and Catholic monks and nuns obediently doing their chores and being in the present moment.  I get close to this present moment thing when hanging wet laundry on the washing line that stretches from the back northeast corner of my house, across the deck and to a tree at the edge of the woods.  It is the kind of line you can pull along as you hang the clothes.  With my head tilted up to clip the clothes pegs over the washed clothes, I can see up through strong, heavy branches of the sugar maple growing straight and very sturdy next to the house.  If I'm lucky, a pair of chatting geese will honk their way up the nearby ravine, the top of which is near where I'm standing.  Or, a large sharp-shinned hawk will glide silently from a tree, swooping over the ravine to see what breakfast might be. 

This is the same territory where the barred owl caused an uproar among the smaller songbirds two evenings ago at dusk.  The ensuing fracas brought us running out to see what was happening and to see the owl, on one of those sturdy maple branches, swivelling her head to spot incoming small birds dive-bombing her, intent on driving her awy.  For a few precious seconds she rested her perfectly round, perfectly black, bottomless eyes on us in a moment of wild connection.  Species to species.  Then she flew off for a less congested neighborhood with fewer nesting songbirds intent on protecting their nests from the predator.

But, I digress from choices that must be made on a daily basis, and that, is just my point.  I can hang my laundry and do my garden and be surrounded by infinitely fascinating nature that is nothing short of thrilling.  But when other apparently necessary tasks intervene in the name of keeping a modern life, they are sometimes a burden and a distraction from achieving anything that is meaningful.

Creating something, a garden, a poem, a meal, or a handicraft, in any way that resembles art, needs my full concentration and is my life, really.  Set aside to be done in snatches of time between dealing with clients, paying bills, exercising, going to work, driving here and there, keeping up with people who mostly don't share my desire to not have to know what the daily scandal is on the network news, and what Chinese manufactured things are on sale at Target or Walmart - all these take me away from peace and serenity and the energy to create something different.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Wendell Berry's Rule #2

Rule #2:  Always include local nature - the land, the water, the air, the native creatures-within the membership of the community.

So often, we take action thinking only as far as the legal boundaries of our site of activity.  In Connecticut, where town rule is the legal entity and not county wide rule, we limit our thinking to the municipal boundaries.  Limiting our minds this way leads to actions that may adversely impact natural resources beyond those borders.  A leaking septic system may not affect our own well, but certainly will affect water quality downstream from the problem.

Also, pesticides applied to our own lawns affect the water and soil far beyond our own borders.  Likewise in agriculture, poor soil management practices and  long-term usage of huge amounts of pesticides have created a monstrous loss of topsoil from our whole continent. 

To see the results of this narrow thinking, look at satellite photos of the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico.  By googling this you will find many photographs that show the result of not including nature, local or otherwise, in our thinking.

On our own properties and in our own lives, we have many opportunities every day to consider the results and affects of our actions on our immediate environment, and ultimately the planet.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Upcoming Workshops

The Center for Sustainable Living announces the following upcoming workshops where you can learn skills to become more self-sufficient and less dependent on industrial food and chemical landscape methods:

Organic Lawn Care, 16 June 2012, 1pm-3pm,  Fee $20

Building and Using Rocket Stoves, 23 June 2012, 1pm-3pm,                      Fee $20 

Composting and Soil Health (Compost, Compost Tea, Soil Food Web)
 7 July 2012, 1pm-4pm,             Fee $25

Putting Up the Harvest (Canning, Drying, Freezing), 29 July 2012, 1pm-3pm,   Fee $20

 Edible Forest Gardens and Perennial Edibles, 4 August 2012, 1pm-4pm, Fee $25

 Edible Wild Plants, 11 August 2012, 1pm-3pm   Fee $20

Building and Using Cold Frames, 8 September 2012, 1pm-4pm,
Fee $25

Pre-registration is required for all programs.  Deadline is one week before the class.  Please visit www.connsoil.com to print out a registration form.  Please answer all questions on the form and use one form for each separate registrant.  Contact information and e.mail address can be found at the website if you wish to ask any questions about the classes.  Directions to the Center for Sustainable Living will be e.mailed during the week prior to the class.

Edible Wild Plants you can pick in Connecticut now

Many plants that are considered weeds and generally unwanted, undesirable, aggressive, invasive, alien and otherwise greatly annoy us for their ubiquitous nature and tendancy to pop up where we don't want them, ARE EDIBLE AND VERY NUTRITIOUS!

The four shown here are very much in evidence now where I live in Connecticut, and I suspect other northeast states and beyond.  According to "Edible Wild Plants" by Thomas S. Elias and Peter A. Dykeman, there are no poisonous look-alikes.

GARLIC MUSTARD (Alliaria officinalis or petiolata) is seen growing pretty much everywhere in partially shaded or shaded areas.  It is considered an invasive species in Connecticut and, indeed, does tend to take over and crowd out native wildflowers.  Pulling it out whenever you can, is probably a good idea.  It is hard to eradicate it though, so you might as well enjoy the taste and nutrition while you are trying!  To identify this plant is easy as it is one of the earliest plants to grow tall in the early spring and the leaves are very distinctive.  The stems emerge with early leaves that are rounded and scallop-edged.  As the stems grow taller and older, the leaves become distinctly heart shaped and even more triangular.  Flowers are white with four 1/4" long petals.  The leaves, when crushed, have a distinctive garlicky aroma and taste and can be eaten raw in salads, or cooked with other foods as a flavoring herb. 

DANDELION (Taraxacum officinale) is a very common plant that everyone knows for it's bright yellow flower that dots lawns.  Why anyone wants to spray poisons on their lawn to get rid of them, is a mystery to me.  Personally, I prefer to go out and dig them or pick the leaves and flowers to eat.  The leaves can be used raw like any leafy green salad ingredient.  Flower buds may be sauteed in butter or olive oil and seasoned with any herb or spice you prefer.  Flowers may be dried and added to tea mixes or dipped in batter and fried as a side dish.  A traditional soda drink was made in the British Isles from about the 13 Century onwards.  This drink, known as Dandelion and Burdock, was still very popular when I was growing up there.  Recipes may still be found on various websites.  The Burdock component is a common plant - Arctium minus - but is not the same as the dock species I describe below. For these sarsaparilla-like drinks, it is the roots of both the dandelion and burdock that are used.

 BEDSTRAW (Galium aparine) a common garden "weed" that might as well be enjoyed while you are getting it out of the garden. I find it growing in a variety of habitats, both sunny and shady, in my gardens. This plant is not overly aggressive and has weak stems often leaning on other nearby plants, or trailing along the ground.  Although I do make an attempt to weed it out of gardens where it interferes with my main annual vegetable crops, I tend to let it do it's thing in the wilder parts of my property. Leaves are narrow and pointy and arranged in groups around the stems, usually 8 together in what is known botanically as a "whorl". Cut the young stems and leaves and steam them just long enough for them to become tender and wilted.  These wilted leaves and stem combine well with the next plant, nettles.

NETTLES (Urtica dioica) this is one of several nettle species which are all edible.  These plants are widespread and especially like moist ferile soils in disturbed areas along the edges of woods and near trails, stream banks, roadsides and vacant lots.  I have it growing near my garden mixed in with the blackberries and near the edge of the woods near the barn.

 Most people know this plant from having encountered its nasty stinging hairs which leave a temporary dermatitis which can be painful but short-lived (unlike poison ivy which goes on for weeks on my skin). The stinging substance is formic acid.  If you do encounter the stinging hairs, grab the large leaves of the dock plant (Rumex spp.) described below, and rub the leaves vigorously over the stinging skin.  As kids, my friends and I knew this home-remedy and relieved the painful stinging many times when playing outside around the neighborhood.

Wearing  gloves to harvest the stems, I usually cut them and bring them into the kitchen where I use scissors to snip off the leaves right into a colander.  After washing the leaves, there are various uses for them from cooking delicious soups, steamed greens, teas, nettle pesto, and quiches, etc. to making useful products like hair rinses and tinctures.

I attended a workshop on nettles given by Mira Nussbaum at the 2011 Annual Summer NOFA Conference.  Mira had several delicious concoctions for us to taste including tea and quiche.  She also recommended nettles for salad dressing with other herbs.  She brought, also, a hair rinse she had made using apple cider vinegar as a base.  To this she adds nettle roots, sage leaves, rosemary and dock root.  These should be completely submerged in the vinegar and left to infuse for 24 hours or longer.  After straining out the plant parts, she then mixes the infusion 50/50 with water.  It is a lovely, natural hair rinse that leaves your hair clean and shiny.  For her salad dressing, she uses the exact same mixture except adds olive oil instead of water.

Mira also makes a tincture by filling a container with nettle root and pouring a grain alcohol such as vodka over the roots to submerge them.  The mixture should sit for 6 to 8 weeks.  When finished, a dropperful may be taken 2-3 times a day as a supplement. 

To make nettle tea, use dried nettle leaves.  Boil for 10-15 minutes and then let sit overnight in the refrigerator before straining.

Another interesting use for nettles is cordage.  Native peoples have used the stems of many plants to create fiber which is then used for many purposes.  Mira demonstrated how to remove the long fibers from the stems of the nettle and twist them together in her fingers to create a string, or cord.  I have never tried this and am not sure I could actually do it.  If I ever do, you all will be the first to know!

DOCK (Rumex crispus), known as sour dock, curly dock or yellow dock, these plants are common in disturbed soils and so are often found along roadsides or vacant lots.  They are large plants with large curly-edged leaves.  Young leaves are best as older ones may be too bitter.  Some people may have a sensitivity and experience a stomach upset if too much of this plant is eaten at one time.

HERE IS A RECIPE for a delicious spring salad made from Garlic Mustard, Nettles, and Dock:

Combine the leaves of the three spring greens.  Wearing rubber gloves to protect from the nettles, wash the leaves thoroughly and rub the nettle leaves to remove the stinging hairs. Drain and spin in a salad spinner and place the leaves in a large salad bowl.

To make a delicious dressing, saute a thinly sliced red onion in 1/2 cup of olive oil until just tender.  Add 6 slices of vegetarian bacon substitute, cut into small pieces, and continue to saute and stir the onion and vegetarian bacon until the onions are soft and starting to change color, about 5 minutes.  Add half a pound of crumbled tofu to the pan and stir to coat the tofu with the oil.  Remove this mixture to a bowl and add 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons of honey, salt and pepper to taste.  Mix this all together gently and pour over the leafy greens.  Toss the salad gently and top with crumbled Stilton or other blue cheese.

REFERENCES:  "Invasive Plant Identification," The Nature Conservancy, Connecticut Chapter and USDA, NRCS; "Edible Wild Plants," Thomas S. Elias and Peter A. Dykeman (www.sterlingpublishing.com); Mira Nussbaum, project_dirt@hotmail.com.

Wendell Berry, Poet, Essayist, Visionary

Wendell Berry's large body of writing is hard to read.  Hard, because he tells the truth and it can be gut wrenching.  I recently had to put down an essay because my eyes were blurred with tears.  Wendell Berry writes with personal knowledge of land and agriculture and what we, the humans of the 20th and 21st centuries, have done.  Ever since studying agriculture at the University of Connecticut in the 1970's and waking up, myself, to the destruction caused by industrial based agriculture, and corporate control of the planet's resources, I have been on a mission to change things.  All I've really accomplished has been in my own life and to influence a few friends and people who have listened to me. Even most in my own family don't really listen.  Wendell Berry has a superior gift to write and affect a large number of people.  I think people are waking up.  It's slow, but I know we are reaching a tipping point.  But is it too late for the planet?

Here is #1 of seventeen rules given by Wendell Berry, entitled "Seventeen Rules for a Sustainable Community"

Rule #1:  Always ask of any proposed change or innovation:  What will this do to our community?  How will this affect our common wealth?

Wendell Berry wrote this poem for The Progressive Magazine. Food for thought:

1. How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.

2. For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.

3. What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy.

4. In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.