Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Mysterious Buckwheat Honey

 The honey crop was wonderfully dark and delicious this year.  We've got stacks of buckets of honey waiting to be bottled. This bee is enjoying the nectar of the borage flower  - used in our Blues Tea.
I love the fuzzy stems and leaves of borage - known as the glad herb.  For some wonderful history of the borage plant check out A Modern Herbal.  I took lots of pics of the bees in the borage patch.  One of them made it to our new series of blank greeting cards - available directly from us at markets and fairs. Coming to the website soon!

At last, we have buckwheat honey!  After trying for too many years to admit, we have finally managed to get our second ever crop of buckwheat honey.  The first one was back when we were starting out and worked purely on beginner's luck.  What we have learned over the years is that the flowers of the buckwheat don't have a lot of nectar.  So, if you put your hives on the edge of a field of buckwheat in full bloom in the dark of night and expect the bees to wake up in the morning and get right to work making honey from the strong smelling nectar, you may be disappointed.  The bees, in their infinite wisdom, will choose the best source of nectar they can find, not the closest.  This year because of the drought there was nothing better for them so they went for the buckwheat.  We are delighted to offer this pungent, dark, strong honey.  The buckwheat was grown by the good folks at Cherry Vale Organic Farm just down the road from us.

This is our second year harvesting hazelnuts from our trees.  We planted them about five years ago.  They are beautiful in their husks - like fairy hats.  I would like to make a hazelnut cake with them for Hazel's birthday this year.  They should be cured just in time for her birthday which is Christmas day.
The kids and I had such a great time at Small Pond Arts scarecrow festival.  We made this handsome fellow on a very windy fall day.  Hazel drew the face onto the cloth head before we stuffed it with straw.  You can tell by the orange mouths on the kids they were having fun.  We've enjoyed all the events we've been to at Small Pond, including making shadow puppets, watching a shadow puppet show, Stickfest, Cornography, and just going for a walk in their woods on the art path.
I just couldn't resist snapping a photo of the laundry line full of napkins and tea towels and things with the fall colours looking so beautiful.  The path into our woods is right under the laundry line so I always feel like the laundry is a kind of fluttering banner pointing the way into a magical world.
Our woods is the kind of place you can find giant marshmallows growing, I mean giant puffball mushrooms.  We told Hazel and Rowan we would sell any puffballs they found and they could keep the money.  They sure were excited the day they found about fifteen puffballs between them.  When we sold all but the very biggest ones at market the next day they were even more impressed.
I am raising money to go to Australia!  I've never been there before and when the opportunity presented itself to go to a yoga retreat with some friends I decided to go for it.  So, in order to make this happen I am selling some of my paintings.  I have several that I am willing to part with.  I keep telling myself that I can always make more.  This painting I did in Halifax many years ago in the fall.  It's oil on board, 11"x23", framed - $600.  You can contact me at honeypiehh@hotmail.com if you're interested in this painting or in seeing the other paintings.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer Delights

Summer has gone beyond full blown as we've passed through a drought and into a second flush of flowers. This is a sumac flower with a honeybee on it, taken before the drought.  The bees love the sumac flowers and we have so many of them you can hear a constant buzzing when they're working the flowers.  Now the sumac flowers have matured and turned bright red.  They are just about ready to harvest for our Tea Party Tea.
We decided to add some colour to our hives this year.  They've always been white in the past and I had painted a few flowers on some of them.  I think it looks so beautiful with all the colours mixed randomly in the field.  This is my honey man with the hives at the Prince Edward County Lavender Farm.
Here's our Hazel posing at the Lavender Farm's lavender festival.  We had a great time there trying lavender lemonade and lavender scones and seeing how lavender essential oil is made through steam distillation.
Here I am doing my thing.  This was at Vicki's Veggies spring seedling sale.  I've been doing so many sales this year but this is the only good photo from any of them.  We were also at the Midsummer Herbfest in Almonte and in Picton at the Women's Institute Craft Sale.
We're building a new solar herb dryer.  This is the beginning of the process. We put down cardboard and landscape fabric and got a load of gravel dumped on top. This is to keep the weeds from growing through the gravel.  Stay tuned for more photos of the process.  We have come up with an original design that we will share with you.
We have a wonderful new employee this summer named Katie.  Here she is uncapping a honey frame with the uncapping knife. She has done a lot of honey extracting this summer and it's not over yet.  It's hot, sticky work but she's so happy about it she wants to get her own bees!  We love you Katie!

Here's a recent shot of honey bees collecting nectar from an oregano flower.  We use this oregano in our Spicy Italian herbal seasoning.  It's so interesting to see the relationship between the herbs and the bees.

I had posted in the winter that I was ordering some new roses.  This is the new Apothecary rose with many pollinators on it.  I didn't manage to catch any honeybees on it but I think they did visit the roses.  The Madame Hardy rose I ordered wasn't available because of a crop failure.  I'll have to try again next year.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Spring Things

I've been experimenting with fermented drinks that are not alcoholic.  These are made with the whey from yogurt which you get by draining the yogurt in cheesecloth for a few hours.  From a litre of yogurt you can get over a cup of whey and you're left with a thick cream cheese like stuff that is delicious.  Here's the basic recipe:
1/4 cup of whey
1/4 cup honey
2 litres of liquid - I use herbal tea
optional - 1 cup of cooked fruit - blueberries are good, juice of a lemon, 4 tablespoons of grated ginger
Let it sit on the counter in a glass jar with a lid on for three or four days.  Strain and refrigerate and drink.
In this photo you can see I left the herbs in the tea while it fermented.  You can strain it before or after fermenting and it's fun to try both.  The jar on the right is our Catarrh tea and the one on the left is nettles with ginger and cranberries.  I didn't cook the cranberries but next time I would to get more flavour.
This lovely pink drink is made from our Tea Party Tea which is sumac, elder flowers and red clover.  It was delicious.  Other favorites include blueberry with lemon, ginger and lemon and our 5 Mint Tea.  I got my recipe from Sally Fallon's book Nourishing Traditions and I also tried her recipe for ginger beer which is a bit more complicated but delicious.  It involves making a 'ginger bug' which you feed every day for a week with ginger and sugar.  I used honey instead of sugar and it seemed to work just fine even though honey is antibacterial.  I guess at some point the wild bacteria are stronger.  Here's a great website that tells you in more detail how to do it.  I have really enjoyed the process and have plans to try all kinds of combinations this summer as more fruits are available.  I'm just about ready to try rhubarb ginger next!
The bees have been working away on all kinds of flowers.  Here's a male hazelnut flower with a honey bee on it.  See the spider on her web in the background?  The female flower of the hazelnut is a tiny bright purple hair!  There aren't any in this photo.  The pollen from the catkins blows around in the air and pollinates the female flowers which grow into hazelnuts.  Last year was our first harvest of hazelnuts and it was great fun for the kids.
The trilliums in our woods were attracting a lot of honey bees.  I lay down on the forest floor to photograph them.  The sound of bees buzzing all around me was gentle and lovely.  They were gathering lots of bright yellow pollen from the trilliums as you can see on the bee's hind leg.
You have to walk carefully through the grass when the dandelions are blooming.  The bees love dandelions and harvest a bright orange pollen from them.  We've been eating a lot of dandelion greens this year.  I add them to salad, saute with garlic, puree in soup and bake in quiche.  Dandelion helps you detox so it's a good spring cleanser.
Stinging nettles are another spring green we eat along with the dandelion greens.  When you cook them it gets rid of the stinging so don't try them in salad.  No bees on the nettles since they aren't flowering yet.  I've never noticed them on the nettle flowers before but I'll be sure to check this year.  I think the flower isn't noticeable enough for the bees to be interested though.

I tried a great recipe from Plant Healer Magazine for buckwheat pancakes.  You soak buckwheat groats overnight and drain them in the morning.  Then puree them in a food processor, add salt and thin with water until it's the consistency you want.  Cook like pancakes.  They take a bit longer to cook than traditional pancakes.  They have a wonderful flavour and if you make them thin like crepes they're good for wraps.  I tried them with yogurt cream cheese and sauteed nettles and garlic.  Wow!  For those who don't eat gluten these are gluten free.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Thinking About Herbs

I've been thinking about herbs a lot these days.  I've just placed my annual order with Richters Herbs of Goodwood, Ontario.  I buy lemon verbena and a few other herbs every year from them.  This is a picture of my lemon verbena crop last summer.  Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) is a woody shrub that overwinters in warmer climates like California but here in Ontario we have to plant seedlings each spring and harvest the leaves before frost.  You can bring a plant inside for the winter but be warned, the plant will drop all of it's leaves when you bring it in and then grow new ones.  Lemon Verbena has a wonderful lemony flavour that's fresh and light.  Medicinally it's used for digestion, headache and fever.   We use it in our Lemon Herb Tea and our Lemon Herb Pepper.
The photo below is lemon basil  (ocimum x citriodorum) which we also grow for the Lemon Herb Tea and Lemon Herb Pepper.  We get Vicki Emlaw of Vicki's Veggies to start the seeds for us in her greenhouse.  If all goes according to plan we hope to build a solar herb dryer/greenhouse this year so we may be able to start our own lemon basil as well as other seedlings this year.  It's very lemony as well but with the spiciness of basil.  I harvest the flowers every few days during the summer.  The flowers have a wonderful intense flavour and this also encourages the plant to grow bushier.

This gorgeous double rose is an old fashioned rose we ordered from Richters Herbs (their photo) called La Reine Victoria.  It's described as having a sweet fragrance and continuous blooming.  I also ordered the Apothecary Rose and the Maiden's Blush Rose.  I planted 3 Rosa Rugosa - in the photo below with lots of pollinators- last year and thought I'd try some other varieties this time.  My plan is to harvest the rose hips eventually but for now they're still not producing very many.  We use rose hips in our Catarrh Tea for their high vitamin C content. 

These are some herbal oils I made last summer.  (Photo by Lisa Kannakko).  They're made by filling a glass jar with fresh picked herbs and then covering them completely with oil - I use organic sunflower oil - and then leaving them sitting in the sun for 6-8 weeks.  This extracts the medicinal properties of the herbs into the oil.  From left to right they are plantain, St. John's Wort and Arnica.  I planted arnica for the first time last spring.  It's a perennial so I'm hoping the plants will be bigger and have more flowers this year.  I also ordered another plug tray of them from Richters Herbs so that I can produce more oil.  I had been asked to make the oil for a friend and she bought all that I made last year - which was only one jar.  This year I plan to make a salve from the oil to use on injuries, bruises and sprains.
I saw this fun idea to make an Herbarium on the Northern Ontario Plant Database website.  It is, as they say, 'a collection of pressed and dried plant specimens mounted on sturdy paper'.  It would be fun to do with kids.
I've also discovered an emagazine called Plant Healer Magazine which I've just subscribed to.  It looks full of info and beautiful artwork and photos.  I'm really excited to see how the new March issue looks.  They also have a cool looking magazine for kids called Herbal Roots Zine.