Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Warm Spell in January

On Monday I saw the first honeybees of the year. It was 10 degrees at noon and the bees were checking our the flowers at two different florists. I felt sorry for the girls because it was slim pickings for pollen and nectar. One bee had ivory pollen on her hind legs, which may have come from the heather which is blooming. The sweet box is very fragrant these days and some of the the hellebores are blooming as well.

I am well on my way to ordering seeds for the new year. I'm very excited about trying some different kinds of poppies and zinnias and I've discovered some really interesting varieties of nigella to grow. If you are into flowers, I suggest two seed companies: Beauty Beyond Belief, which is based in the States has a good variety of wild flowers. I have had good service from the company. You can subscribe to their newsletter to keep tabs on their sales. Now that the Canadian dollar has dropped, it's also good value to order seeds from companies in Canada and I'm very excited about the flower seed offerings in William Dam Seeds based in Ontario. This is also a great time to order seeds for flowers, herbs and heirloom vegetables from my personal favorite, Salt Spring Seeds. As Dan Jason grows most of the seeds this is a good time of the year to order before the gardening season begins and Dan gets busy in the fields.

Keep your eyes on those snowdrops and crocuses because they'll be up and blooming before you know it!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Permission to Dream

I have been writing this blog for a few years now, with the aim to record a seasonal diary or saijiki. As the flowers and trees begin to bloom in 2015, I am renewing my commitment to record the dates and order in which they appear. I will label these posts as time sensitive as I attempt to become even more sensitized to the passage of time as it cycles through the seasons here in Vancouver British Columbia. The hazel catkins have been out for at least a week now, and the sweet box has just begun to assert its signature sweet scent.

It has been a mild winter so far here, but strangely enough, I have had one of my worst years of experienced SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Just when I think I have licked it, and climbed above the clouds it paralyzes me with a kind of frozen numbness. It just occurred to me this morning as I lay in bed trying to use visual exercises to get dissolve the grey fug that this year, the sadness of winter has been mingled with grief over the loss of my aunt. Grief is complicated. It shines a light into the vulnerable corners of your humanity that you would rather keep hidden and protected. Just when you think it has been carefully stored away in a compartment in your psyche, their is a leak, and grief seeps into your morning tea.

I am really trying to use January to dream of gardens. As the seed catalogues come into my mailbox, I see the peas, beans and flowers rich with color, pollen and nectar that will nourish my family and our beloved bees. More than ever, I wish we could have the expansive space of my childhood garden to grow a sunflower forest like my mom did. This is the first year she will not plant a garden, since my parents have moved to an apartment, and I mourn the loss of that tradition. I find myself adopting my aunts' and cousins' gardens, sending them seed catalogues and sunflower seeds, trying to keep the dream and the sunflower forest blooming.

Today I'd also like you to check out a seed company based in Vermont called High Mowing Organic Seeds. I just got their e-newsletter in my mail, and found it lyrical and inspiring.

Here is an excerpt from their January 2015 Newsletter:

"As blustery winds sweep over the landscape and temperatures take a nosedive, we keep warm here in northern Vermont by cozying up to our woodstoves and dreaming of spring. While there is little sign of it beyond the lengthening days, there is something undeniably pleasant about the dreaming season – the weather is bitter, outdoor chores are at a minimum, and we can feel justified in running unfettered in the gardens taking shape in our minds. We wrap ourselves in expansive ideas and plans for warmer weather at a time when we are bound to the indoors by snow and cold, taking comfort in the promise that our pollinator gardens will bloom, our cover crops will nourish the soil and our vegetables will build a healthy food system from the ground up."

Please support our safe seed growers and give yourself permission to dream of bigger gardens.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Sweet New Year

Happiness is a new seed catalogue, a cup of tea and a duo of chocolate-covered caramels garnished with fleur de sel.

This is the new 2015 catalogue from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. It is gorgeous! Be sure to check out West Coast Seeds new catalogue. It's the best one ever and there are symbols beside plants that support bees. Both catalogues are committed to offering GMO-free seeds.

 Add some heat to your sweet this year by infusing honey with dried chilies. It's the hot new culinary trend.

Start a honey library with beautiful jars of local honey, like this one from Armstrong Apiaries with its vintage-inspired label.

Have a sweet, hot, salty, seedy New Year!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Happy Holidays

From our family to yours, we wish you a happy holiday and a New Year activated by your own
pursuit of happiness and joy.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cultivating Restlessness

My aunt Mary died last week. She was 90 years old and she was a woman of action. My aunt was a nurse, pilot, teacher, poet, environmentalist, musician, linguist, and a natural born raging granny.

I ask myself why so many "spiritual" traditions drive me crazy, particularly the ones that constantly tell their devotees to cultivate a calm, passive state of being. My aunt was restless. She loved adventure and travel. She saw injustice in the world and she did something about it as a nurse, educator and activist. Instead of going on retreats to take time to "work on her self", she wrote letters, made protest signs, and learned to speak French, Spanish, Portuguese and Umbundu. Instead on sitting on her meditation mat, she put prayer into action, travelling to Angola, The Congo, Zaire, Nicaragua, and northern Canada to practise as a nurse and educator, teaching people how to avoid crippling diseases and showing new midwives how to deliver babies safely. Instead of contemplating the paradoxes inherent in life that can paralyze us with indecision, she just got to work to make the world a better place. Making peaceful world takes restless people.

Cultivate your restlessness. That's what leads to true inner peace.

Photo: Mary Ethleen Pyne (nee Clark) at the G-20 Summit in Toronto, 2010. She was 86 years old.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Saving Tithonia Seeds

This year I have made a resolution to work in the garden in November. Usually at this time of the year I'm ready to stay indoors wrapped in blankets sipping hot chai and reading gardening magazines. I really have to embrace the season and get outside in spite of the rainforest weather. This Sunday we held an All Soul's event at Moberly and I went out in the rain for about fifteen minutes to cut the stems of the tithonia that were going to seed. I was hoping to get some help harvesting the seeds, but I didn't get many takers. This is the first year I've grown Mexican sunflower and it was one of the latest to bloom, attracting hummingbirds and the final bees of summer. The tithonia is still blooming in fact, but it's also going to seed. However, seed collecting weather is just about finished here because the fall rains make seed heads soggy and rotten.

"Save some of those tithonia seeds for me," various people have been requesting. This has proven difficult because once the seeds ripen the chickadees eat them or they drop onto the ground. This morning I listened to Anna Maria Tremonti on CBC radio and carefully pulled apart the seed heads, finding about 4 to 8 ripe seeds in the pods that were nearing maturity. Usually the seeds I harvest basically save themselves. I collect the pods just before the peak of ripeness, put the upside down in large paper bags and the seeds drop in the bottom of the bag and dry out. These little tithonia seeds took a lot of time to harvest. If I had to charge minimum wage for the labor of collecting them, those individual seeds would be about a buck a piece. And that doesn't include the labor of growing them. Needless to say, this is not the optimum climate for saving these seeds.

I am crazy about seeds. When the bees are tucked up in their winter beds, I turn my attention to seeds. Every morning I run my hands over the purple and black scarlet runner beans  and the white "Neckarkonigin" beans that are drying on the table, and I choose some seed pods to harvest and organize. I can't wait to start getting the e-mails that tell me the new seed catalogues are online and ready for my perusal. Seeds make great Christmas gifts. Even if it's just a few "magic beans" from your own garden.

And in trying to keep warm, beans are the perfect food to cook to warm up the heart of the house. I am looking for that perfect comfort food casserole that you can serve all steamy and sloppy with lush layers of vegetables and cheese. Tonight I made braised red cabbage with apples (Martha Stewart's recipe with a squeeze of lemon juice). I try to roast chicken and vegetables so there are always  leftovers in the refrigerator to turn into quick lunches and soups. And I bake with seeds. I've been making ginger snaps rolled in buckwheat groats or sesame seeds to snack on with that spicy chai. Some of you may not be surprised that with all the seed saving I'm doing, we've got a few mice in residence this fall. At first we had one very sweet well-behaved mouse. Since it didn't go forth and multiply, I thought it must be a male. He was so well-behaved, limiting his nibbling on a little bag of birdseed I left on a bottom shelf. I would wake early to write, listening to my favorite feminist podcasts, and the little mouse would nibble quietly in the corner, listening with me. Then mister mouse must have brought in a girlfriend because suddenly we had wee little adventurous mice jumping about and nibbling my seeds. We battened down he hatches and put out the traps. My sweet listening companion heard his final feminist podcast and ate his last nyger seed.

So until we're positive we've caught every last mouse . . . (We haven't. One just run under the couch beside my left foot), I'd better put those tithonia seeds in  a safe place.) Happy seed saving!

Anyone want to venture a guess at the species of bumblebee in the photo above?

ETA: I've just noticed how phallic the florets are in the center of the flower, which explains why I found the mature seeds in the outer edges of the seed head. Also, note the large pollen grains.