The Life of a Bee

Honey bee, testing the last of the basil flowers.

Two days after Thanksgiving, we finally had a killing freeze. We've been fortunate to have only light frosts all the month of November. Even lettuce and arugula that wasn't in the cold frame has escaped until now. We still had flowers blooming, the last of the roses, still a couple of clematis blooms and a few of the last of the season insects. I posted a few weeks "what a bee sees" (you can find it in the index of blog posts to the right of the current posts). Here are a few more, all taken from a bee's perspective.
Ants thriving on a ripe fig.
In spite of a harsh summer of heat and drought, we have had the best fig crop ever. I love figs and am always happy to have 3 or 4 to eat. We're not in "fig growing" areas but I still manage to grow 3 varieties. This fall we had more figs than we could eat, some going to waste. The trick with figs is to get them as soon as they're ripe. Wait a day too long and ants, as in the photo above, go into the little hole in the bottom of the fig and start eating. Figs are extremely sweet, ants love them as much as I do. Bees would go after the fig sweetness if they could figure out how to get inside the fruit.
Dandelion seed.
While a dandelion seed head may look flower-like to our eyes, a bee knows there's nothing to eat there.
Butterfly on radish flower.
Radishes left in the ground bloom and go to seed. This little butterfly has a longer "snout" than a bee does, so she goes after teh nectar deep in the radish flower.
Wasp on fava been stem.
If you were a bee and saw something as big in proportion to you as a box car is to a human, you'd move on, too. The red wasp is finding something tasty on the stem of the fava bean as it was ignoring the flowers completely.
Fava bean flower.
Fly on mustard flower.
While this may look like a house fly to you, it's not. I don't know my flies, but this one is a different kind and size and is a good pollinator for a lot of flowers like this mustard flower.
Cicada eating the pollen of an okra flower.
We had okra still blooming last week. I caught this cicada happily munching away on the pollen of the okra blossom. I haven't seen bees on okra although lots of other insects pollinate the plant. This is the first time I've seen a cicada on okra, but then, cicadas are like goats - they'll eat just about anything. This one watched me as I watched him but kept eating anyway.
Honeybee on the last of the allium flowers.
Our little honeybees make use of every day when they can be out of the hive. Matthew, the owner of the 5 hives here at the farm, looks after his bees throughout the year and left us with some of the best tasting honey I've ever tasted. I thought you might enjoy seeing more of what a bee sees every day, up close and personal from the bee's point of view.


The Herbs of Thanksgiving

Garden sage on the left, Biergarten sage on the right, both have the traditional flavor.

Ever wonder why we have a taste for certain flavors at different times of the year? For example, why do we look for foods like pot roast, baked turkey or boiled ham in winter? Why do foods like spicy chili, corned beef and cabbage, beef stew or chicken pot pie not appeal to us in the summer? The answer has a lot to do with our body’s metabolism. In warm weather we crave foods and flavors that help cool us. In winter, our cravings turn to foods that warm us and give us more fat - a bit like a bear before hibernating.

Or have you wondered why lots of us get a hankering for pumpkin pie, only in winter? Of course there is the issue that pumpkins aren't ready to eat until cool weather. But, the spices we traditionally use for pie making - cinnamon, ginger, allspice - are all warming herbs. In summer, those spices would make us feel hot and clammy. They're not spices that cause sweating (and thus cooling) like hot peppers do. So in winter, spice cake, pumpkin pie, spicy Indian chai tea (made with lots of warming spices) is what our bodies crave. It's the way our bodies adjust to the changing seasons.

(By the way, our late friend, Anne, left us with the best pumpkin pie recipe ever. Wayyyy better than what's on the pumpkin can. Our Anne's Pumpkin Pie Seasoning includes her recipe and it's on sale on our website. Pumpkin pie will be popular all through December. You'll love her seasoning and recipe). 
The herbs considered by many to be, traditional holidays seasonings include rosemary, thyme, savory and sage. Not surprisingly, those are all warming herbs, seasonings that not only give our body a warm feeling, but actually add a warming effect. Those seasonings were traditionally used with the heavy, fatty winter meats. Roast goose, a seriously greasy food, was traditionally seasoned with hyssop, winter savory, onion and thyme. Those herbs helped cut the greasy taste while still warming the meal.

The same holds true for pork. Back in the days when most people raised their own pigs and butchered, putting up pork loin, pork roast and bacon, all had more fat left on than you will find today. If you buy a pork roast now and it will be trimmed of most of the fat, but back in earlier days, people believed fat made flavor and left it on. Rosemary, thyme, savory, sage and hot peppers went into sausage, seasoned roasts and was used in mixes for curing the meat.

Our tradition and tastes for the traditional holiday dressing or stuffing, the seasoning in the gravy and in roast turkey, all come down to us from those olden days. Poultry seasoning, a must-have in the traditional dishes is a mixture of sage, thyme, rosemary and savory. Even though today the modern turkey isn’t fatty, our yearnings for seasoning are still there. What would a pan of baked turkey dressing be without sage? What a bland dish the turkey and gravy would be without the herb flavors.
Bed with several varieties of thyme.

Several years ago I chose to go to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. The meal was advertised as a, “traditional” family-style dinner. I love dressing, maybe as much as turkey, so imagine my surprise at my first taste of the dish. I almost spit. I don’t know where the restaurant chef was trained, but it isn’t traditional to have cilantro instead of sage in turkey dressing! I looked around the restaurant and saw that everyone else was leaving a pile of cilantro-seasoned dressing on their plate, too. No, the flavors we Ozarkers crave for the holidays is traditional sage, rosemary and thyme, just like our ancestors used.
Rosemary has a warming, robust flavor, perfect for winter dishes.


Crustless Quiche

Fresh spinach, greens and green onions from the cold frame.

Last night I looked in the cold frame for some ideas for supper. What I really wanted was turkey and dressing. That's about my favorite meal of the year, a turkey big enough to have lots and lots of leftovers. Turkey pot pie. Turkey sandwiches. Turkey hash. And finally, turkey soup from the bones.

But... it's not Thanksgiving yet and I wasn't going to cook a turkey just for supper for the 3 of us. So, back to the cold frame search. I chose a colander full of spinach, I had some ham in the refrigerator, I'd make a quiche. Barbara and Josh both like quiche.

One of my medicines (Cyclosporine), which is one of the anti-rejection drugs I have to take in order to keep my kidney, has pushed me to the border of type 2 diabetes. What that means, if you don't know about such things, is to get extra exercise and eat little or no white foods. Why white, you may wonder? White foods include bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, sugar, pastries, and yes, pie crust. I can eat a small amount, but the less I eat, the better for my health and quitting the anti-rejection drugs isn't an option. So I decided to make a no-crust quiche. I've done it before but I never write the recipe down. Maybe if I put it here, I'll remember for next time.

I started with 6 cups of fresh spinach leaves and put them in a glass bowl in the microwave. I pushed the "vegetables" button and let the microwave wilt the greens. While the microwave was doing its work I chopped a heaping tablespoon of onions and about half that amount of chives. Green onions work just as well. When the spinach was wilted, I drained the liquid and set it aside.

In a bowl I beat 4 eggs and added 1 large can of evaporated milk. I added a tablespoon of cooking sherry and about 1/4 teaspoon of hot sauce. Next I grated 1/2 cup cheddar cheese and mixed it in.

I preheated the oven to 350 degrees F. I have a favorite clay, deep dish pie pan from Hess Pottery (you may remember my earlier postings about them at the Reeds Spring Farmers Market; they've had national publicity for their perfect-baking pie pans) and sprayed it heavily with olive oi. I put a layer of already cooked and coarsely chopped bacon - 3 slices in all. On top of that I spread the wilted spinach leaves. I poured in the egg/milk and cheddar mixture and added 1 cup of diced ham and stirred in around slightly.
Tom Hess' pie plates bake perfectly on the bottom of the plate better than any others I've found.

The quiche baked for about 40 minutes then I checked to see if it was done by inserting a knife blade in the center. It needed to cook another 5 minutes, then I let it set for about 10 minutes while I got a salad ready - also from the cold frame.

And there it is, no crust quiche, easy and out of the garden. Here's the list of ingredients in case you missed them in the text:
See, it really doesn't need a crust.

No-Crust Ham and Spinach Quiche

6 cups fresh spinach, wilted and drained (or you can substitute 1 1/2 cups frozen, thawed and drained)
4 eggs
1 can evaporated milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3 slices cooked and cut up bacon
1 cup diced ham
1 tablespoon cooking sherry or brandy
1/4 teaspoon any brand hot sauce
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons green onions
Salt and pepper to taste
A pretty healthy dish. Spinach, onions and eggs, all came from right here on the farm.


Winter Cold Frames

Swiss Chard grows well in a cold frame.

I grew up reading Organic Gardening and Mother Earth News magazines. As early as the late 1950s, my mother was composting kitchen scraps and garden debris, turning it into rich soil from the directions in Organic Gardening. I remember stories in both magazines about Helen and Scott Nearing, a couple who retired and moved to the Green Mountains of Vermont in 1932 to establish their self-sufficient farmstead. In the articles they wrote, they explained how they were able to grow vegetables the year around, even in the harsh Vermont's winters by using cold frames. In 1952 they moved to Maine where they continued their back to the land experiments in gardening and self-sufficiency.

This is over a raised bed, 3 1/2 ft x 30 ft. long.
Eliot Coleman was another pioneer in the use of cold frames and wrote for the magazines I've listed. In 1968 he moved to moved to a farm in Maine, on land purchased from the Nearings. He used a simple hoop house made of bent pvc pipes, covered with 2 layers of plastic. You can see more of what Eliot promoted and his simple but effective methods here.

Over the years I have used the Nearing’s and Coleman's methods for growing winter produce by constructing simple cold frames in my own gardens. Our Ozarks climate is definitely milder than the mountains of Maine, and the methods are simple and even more productive.

The simplest cold frame I’ve used many times over the years is a rectangle built of bales of straw. One bale laid on its side makes up one end and 3 bales laid the same way make up each side, 8 bales in all. I wind up with a very basic cold frame with about 24-30 square feet of growing space. I till up the area inside with a hoe, smooth the soil and plant rows of lettuce, spinach, even onion and radish seed. (Mustard greens, kale, lots of other greens grow well, too). Then I lay down a little loose straw for mulch over the seed bed and cover the cold frame bed with an old window. Some years I use a couple of layers of clear roll plastic and hold it down with scraps of wood.
With only the sun for warmth, and ground temperatures, the hoop house produces all winter.

On sunny, warm days I open up the cold frame any time it’s above freezing. At night I pull the plastic or window cover over the top. Even in the dead of winter, when the ground is frozen and snow is piled up, I can go out to the cold frame, open it up and harvest greens and vegetables for the table. And the nice thing is, there are no bug pests in winter!

This year I’m using a somewhat different cold frame, more like Eliot Coleman's method. I used 8 ft. sections of 1 inch plastic p.v.c. pipe, bent into hoops over an existing raised bed. The bed is 3 1/2 feet across and about 30 feet long. I braced the hoops with a single pipe at the top of the peak, held in place with duct tape, then covered the whole frame with 6 mil. clear plastic. Currently I have spinach, cilantro, 3 kinds of lettuce, carrots, onions and radishes growing. Using this method you can replant and grow vegetables all winter long, like the Nearings did on their farmstead in Maine.

This simple cold frame hoop house produces food all winter.

This is a bit like Eliot Coleman's method except that I'm using a single layer of plastic rather than the double layer he used. Since I'm in the Ozarks and not in Maine, the extra insulation isn't needed. Rolled plastic has become somewhat expensive, too. I paid $68 for a roll of 100 x 16 ft plastic and about $2.50 each for the 8 ft lengths of 1 inch p.v.c. pipe.
The bent hoop in the foreground is an intentional brace for the smaller end of the tunnel.

Here's a read-made cold frame, below, that I bought last year and have used it for 2 seasons. It's too small for our use, but the nice thing is it easily comes apart and stores flat for the summer season. I can grow small amounts of greens without much work.
It just doesn't get any fresher or local than this!


What a Bee Sees

Ever wonder what a bee sees close up? Following here are a bees-eye view of what they see on their daily rounds through the garden. At the bottom of this blog post, you'll find a very brief survey. I hope you'll take my survey and let me know what you like reading here, and what you don't.
Bee on bean blossom.
Nectar from purple salvia tastes different from nectar from basil or bean flowers.
We, luckily, haven't had a killing frost yet (as of November 4) so the bees are still quite active every day. They're making up for time lost in the drought and heat of this summer when few flowers were blooming.
Up close and personal in a clematis flower.
Ever wonder if crepe myrtle flowers have a center? Just ask a bee!
If you click on this photo to enlarge it, you'll see it's almost sticky with nectar.
Obedient plant. Click it to see it up close like a bee.

I'm sure the bee moved on. This is a four-o-clock, inhabited by a spider munching on a fly. Yum.
You may not even realize that in the center of a zinna flower, are lots of little flowers. 
The tiny interior flowers of the green zinnia are less obvious and harder to see.
Tomato flowers, wonder what their nectar tastes like? 
Still, this late in the season, a cucumber beetle hides in the center of a rose.
Dew on a kale leaf. Bees see it as a drink of water.
Now for that survey I mentioned. It's quick, easy, doesn't hurt and I would greatly appreciate your answering my very simple, 5 questions about what you like to see and read here. Just click on the link and answer the quick questions. And thank you! I appreciate the feed back.