Bee-check

Our Boy is home for two weeks before school starts up again. It’s wonderful to have him here for all kinds of reasons, but the most important is how good he is at documenting the crazy stuff we get up to. Here we are opening the hives on a sunny Sunday afternoon; I’m opening the hive and R. is on smoker duty so we both have our hands full, and yet we still have photos!

Opening the hives

These hives started as nucs from Abnaki Aviary in Skowhegan this spring. We brought them home at the beginning a full month of heavy rain so they got off to a slow start. Both hives have now filled out the bottom super but the top box is still untouched. You can see the start of comb beginning to expand upward.

Open hive box

I’ve been loading them up with food in the form of dry sugar cake and commercial pollen patties. Both hives ate everything and one of them actually pushed out all the leftover waxed paper. Here I’m picking out some thoroughly cleaned refuse from the other hive.

leftovers

More food! August is traditionally a thin month for bees in Maine. Summer 2013 has been very wet and the goldenrod is coming along beautifully, but my new philosophy is to feed the colony no matter what the plants are doing. Pollen patty  on the left, sugar cake on the right, bees in the middle.

pollen patties and sugar cake

Next check up will be in late September when goldenrod and aster season closes out and the days are short. I hope to find the upper boxes filled out, the comb packed with honey and beebread for winter.

Raspberry season

Everything is better fresh-picked from your own garden, but some things are at the top of that list: sweet corn, early radishes, butter lettuce, and raspberries.

raspberry variety

The yellow berries on top of the bowl are a fall-bearing variety named “Anne”. The plants have long, loose canes and the berries dangle precariously at the very ends. Summer 2013 has been one of the wettest and hottest on record here and Anne is fruiting early, way ahead of her normal September production.

raspberry-season-anneI also grow Boyne (standard red summer-bearing) and Royalty Purple (deep purple soft round berries). This 10′ x 20′ patch produces about 2 batches of jam, a dozen pies and cakes, and all we can eat fresh. I’d like to add another patch – perhaps with the same varieties because they’re so dependable – and dry them in the soon-to-be-built earth oven. Raspberry raisins?

raspberry-season-libertyWhile there are many, many laws that govern the garden as a whole, there are only a few things to know about growing an individual plant or species. Raspberry rules:

  • Plant 3 or 4 canes each in hills rather than a continuous bed. It will be easier to prune out old canes (distinguished by their papery bark) that become unproductive, and to water and mulch them.
  • Set a sturdy stake at each end of the row and run 3 levels of bailing wire between them. Tie the canes loosely to the wires and you won’t have to force your way into the briar patch. You can use string, but thin wire will last the life of the bushes.
  • Scatter bird scares through the patch over the ripening period. I tie shiny tape to the baling wire where the wind will catch it. Later I put out a few yellow plastic balloons with a “fire eye” painted on them, and some owl silhouettes. Keep ’em guessing.
  • Try the Maine Fruit Cake recipe with a little vanilla sugar on the raspberries.

Garden revolution

There are a few articles floating around out there about a garden revolution in the front yard, but somehow I feel they don’t go far enough. I understand that swapping out a lawn for raised beds is already a sea-change for many folks (and their Homeowner Associations) but I’d like to encourage us to make that extra step toward welcoming everything that lives in a garden, even the ones we can’t see. Maybe especially the things we can’t see. It’s difficult to structure a raised bed to readily welcome fungi, soil organisms, minute insect life, and opportunistic seed growth, but any old patch of dirt will prove a living welcome mat for all those things if you just leave room.

I’ve come to understand that organized garden beds are really for the humans. We like to keep inventory and we’re easily distracted so we plant what we want to keep in neat rows and discard the rest. Moving toward the idea that our choice edibles grow best when hidden from predators and mulched against extremes of weather, here’s a set of photos matched up with a list of what has been planted amidst the chaos in my yard.

Gardening front yardThis section of the front yard contains: amaranth, Kentucky Pole and Scarlet Runner beans, daylilies, witchhazel, rhubarb, peas, crabapple, tomatoes, potatoes (4 varieties), sweet corn, persimmon, pumpkins, cucumbers, winter squash, willow, sour (pie) cherry, quincy, lingonberries, cranberries, plum, comfrey, grapes, and allium.

garden inventory side yard

The side yard, and along the path to the driveway: dill, madder, strawberries, tomatoes (5 varieties), parsley, carrots, leeks, garlic, one pumpkin plant (I guess I lost track), grapes, willow, elecampne, hosta, gunnera, astilbe, blueberries, cecephalus, and just off to the right of this photo, plum, apple, tree peony.

garden inventory dooryardIn Maine parlance this is the dooryard – just down the steps from the front door: edible dandelion, calendula, columbine, mullein, anise hyssop, golden beets, Bull’s Blood beets (grown for the ruby-red foliage); yellow Australian, Red Sails, Winter Romaine, and Thom Thumb lettuces, assorted mustards, bergenia, feverfew, tatsoi, senposi, minutia, poppies, and honeysuckle.

Therefore, a manifesto to gardeners everywhere (and with apologies to Freemasons), chao ab ordo!

Maine Fruit Cake

Berry season is here and you need an easy and delicious way to use a whole quart of them at once, right? This cake is your new best friend. It requires a lot of fruit but isn’t picky about what variety: huge Honeyoe strawberries or the tiny Alpine ones; red, yellow, and purple raspberries, big high-bush blueberries or their tiny low-bush cousins. The recipe also holds up well to juicy stone fruit like peaches and plums when cut into small pieces. Conversely, I don’t like it when made with raisins, apples, and other “dry” fruit because the flour combination becomes a little too stiff and heavy without that high liquid content.

For this recipe you’ll need ployes mix, available in your local (Maine) grocery store or from www.ployes.com . Ployes is pancake mix of buckwheat flour, wheat flour, and baking powder that is extremely popular in northern Maine (especially the Madawaska region) and Canada. You can substitute plain buckwheat flour for the ployes mix in this recipe but I’ve never done it – you may want to experiment with adding a little more baking powder. The ployes mix adds enough body to support all those berries without becoming soggy. It also imparts a subtle flavor, reminiscent of nutmeg, without adding any spices.

Maine Fruit Cake

8 Tbs unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for pan (or use Crisco)

3/4 cups all-purpose flour and 3/4 cup Ployes

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (I’d use 2 tsps if using plain buckwheat flour)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar (the 1/4 cup is for sprinkling on top)

1 large egg

1/2 cup  milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 quart strawberries, hulled and halved. You may have to quarter the really huge ones.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8 x 11 cake pan, a 10″ pie pan, or a 10″ springform or cake pan. The pie plate works fine, but I like to use the rectangular pan for bake sales and office parties because it’s easier to make serving pieces.

Whisk the flours, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until light. You can use an electric mixer but it’s not necessary. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.

Strawberry Cake in progress

Pour the batter into prepared pan. Arrange berries on top of batter as closely as possible in a single layer. Don’t worry about being too precise – most of the berries are going to sink – but you want them distributed as evenly as possible. Sprinkle the 1/4 cup sugar on top.

Strawberries galore

Bake cake for about 45 minutes until golden brown and the surface springs back. A cake tester isn’t much use here because the strawberries will have transformed into goey, delicious jam all through the cake.  Let cool in pan on a rack. Cut into pieces and serve with lightly whipped cream or powdered sugar if you wish. It’s also delightful just plain (especially for breakfast) and sturdy enough for bake sales and lunch boxes.

Maine Fruit Cake, yum

Variations: Add cinnamon to the topping when using blueberries; almond extract instead of vanilla and some lemon shavings to the topping for peaches.

Garden Movie (the trailer)

Maine is an extraordinary place to garden. The seasonal extremes are right on the edge of survival for many common edible plants with a daylight range of 6.5 to nearly 18 hours and temperatures from minus 15  to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The visual evidence of the garden changes dramatically from bare ground and branches, to 3 – 5 feet of snow cover, back to brown and then an explosion of bright green starting in May. To capture some of this process I began taking a photo a day this spring, focusing on exactly the same spot from the same location. I plan to knit them together into a little animated garden movie. (The plot won’t be much but the acting is terrific.) I won’t have time for the project till winter sets in, but meanwhile – here’s the first photo from April 8, 2013

April 8, 2013And here’s the same view on Saturday, June 15. The road is now only visible when I catch a car going by.

June 15, 2013What a difference a few hours daily gain of sunlight can make!

 

May gardens be wild like jungles. . .

A Prayer for the 21st Century, by John Marsden

May the road be free for the journey,Flame azalea
May it lead where it promised it would.
May the stars that gave ancient bearings
Be seen and be understood:
May every aircraft fly safely;
May every traveler be found;
May sailors in crossing the seas,
Not hear the cries of the drowned. MayHerb: angelica
gardens be wild like jungles,
May nature never be tamed.
May dangers create of us heroes,
May fears always have names.
May the mountains stand to remind us
Of what it means to be young;
May we be outlived by our daughters,
May we be outlived by our sons.

May the bombs rust away in the bunkers,
And the doomsday clock be rewound;
May the solitary scientists, working,
Remember the holes in the ground.
May the knife remain in the holder,
May the bullet stay in the gun,
May those who live in the shadows
Be seen by those in the sun.

Mrs. Moon

Once upon a time. . .

. . .it was summer in the garden. Not today, because we’re having a raw, wet March day with snow still on the ground, but summer will be back around soon. I was going through my photo files to find a particular study of quince and wild apples and found a few images that reminded me of what the weather will bring in the coming months once March with its snowy mornings is out of the way.

Below, a steam canner full of Beta and Somerset grapes ready to put the lid on, turn up the burner, and make juice. The vines look thin and sad in the garden right now because the posts are crooked and some of the wires are down, but I’ll be able to set things right in April. I made almost 5 gallons of grape juice concentrate last year and it was wonderful – rich and sweet. More on the way for 2014 as the vines mature!

steam canner full of grapes

My pallet after painting peaches and geranium blossoms in the hoop house under the summer evening sun – light enough to work until 9 pm.

summer-misc-palette

Setting up to make tomato sauce on the Hoosier cabinet. We put up 5 gallons (in pint jars) in 2012, none in 2011 due to virus, we’ll have to see what 2014 will bring.

summer-misc