Monday, February 24, 2014

Let's Plant Dill

It snowed on Seedy Saturday. It's happened before and it will probably happen again. Spring took two steps forward and one step back. I recently read that one of the first signs of Spring in Ukraine is when you see the dill sprouting. I have never planted dill as I've heard it's difficult to grow in Vancouver and my partner hates it with a passion. I have a nostalgic fondness for dill because it is an herb in my mother's garden and reminds me of her perogies, potato salad, borscht and dill pickles. I also love fresh dill fronds on gravlax and Swedish open face sandwiches made with shrimp and creme fraiche. This year I suggest we all plant dill to mark this spring as a painful time in Ukraine's history, but also as a sign of hope for the country's future. I will be bringing dill into the classrooms and getting the children to put the seeds in pots, to watch it grow as we watch how events unfold in the news. If you have a relative or a neighbour who grows the herb, make a point of asking for some seed to grow. You may be sowing seeds that were originally grown in Poland, Germany or Ukraine.

 Dill: (Anthemum graveolens)

Dill grows well with cucumbers and onions and attracts lacewings, hoverflies and wasps. It's also used as food by the swallowtail butterfly. Sprinkle dill leaves on your cucurbits to repel squash bugs. Plant them away from tomatoes as they attract tomato hornworms.

Dill is a good example of an herb that helps us to digest and absorb the food plants we grow in our garden. The herb is used as a digestive aid, food preservative and a cure for flatulence. It has traditionally been combined with chamomile to calm children, and in Holland dill and fennel were steeped in milk as a soporific drink. The word dill means "to calm or soothe", and it is a traditional remedy for cholic. Like fennel, dill helps stimulate breast milk. Dill was used as "meetinghouse seeds" for children to chew on to curb restlessness during long and tedious church services. Gladiators were fed dill for courage, to calm the swallowtails in their stomachs. It was so popular in England during the reign of Edward I that he imposed a dill tax to pay for repairs to London Bridge. It was also once used as a cure for the hiccups.

Dill was once considered a charm against evil and an aphrodisiac. German and Belgian brides used to sew a piece of dill to their wedding dress and recite a charm:

"I have you, mustard and dill,
Husband, when I speak,
you stay still!"

In German dill is called "Gerkenkraut" which must mean "(pickled) gherkin herb". It actually originates from southwestern Asia where there is a variety grown called Indian Dill (Anthemum sowa) which is used to make a dish called dhansak. As you can deduce from many Old World recipes, dill has naturalized over much of Europe. The basic chemical components of dill essential oil are Limonene, D-Carvone, Dillapiol, Eugenol, Terpinene, Phellandrene, and Myristicin. The name graveolens means "heavy odour" which is from the carvone, which gives it the carminative effect. Limonene and Phellandrene may cause photosensitivity to the skin, so wear gloves if handling the fresh plant in the hot sun or wait until dawn or dusk and wash hands afterwards.

Dill needs to be sown after danger of frost in a sunny spot in well-drained soil. It likes to be sown directly into the garden but I am going to experiment with transplanting small seedlings started inside. It will need to be watered during dry periods. It has a similar appearance to fennel, but dill seeds have a flat edge around the ridged seed and the stems are hollow rather than pithy. Dill takes 6-10 weeks to flower. I know bees love my fennel plant so it will be interesting to compare their interest in the dill.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Honeycomb Quilt for Hives for Humanity

Jen Hiebert and her knitting circle are creating a hexagonal quilt as a fundraiser for Hives for Humanity. I met her during her lunch break at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in a gallery that has been transformed into a workshop and hang-out for textile nerds. It's the brainchild of artist Lexie Owen called The Textiles Institute. When I heard Jen's group was making a honeycomb quilt, of course I immediately thought of the old fashioned British paper piecing method of quilting, but I was mistaken. The knitters are making honeycombs from remnants of sock-weight yarn. Each piece is stuffed individually before they are stitched together to make a very funky and cosy quilt which will be auctioned off for the non-profit organization that gives people the healing benefits of working with honeybees. The pattern for the quilt was purchased from the Ravelry website, and if the group can't knit honeycomb quickly enough to meet their deadline they might put out the call for some helpers.

Jen was inspired to become a textile artist by her grandmother who taught her crocheting and cross stitch. She was lucky enough to study textiles in high school and then Capilano College. Jen creates tapestry and garments. She works in the Soft Shop at Emily Carr, a sewing room open to all students so that they can integrate techniques and materials into their work across disciplines. (There is a design class currently working on outdoor gear.) The Soft Shop houses industrial sewing machines, sergers, and a floor loom.

I also met Louise Perrone in the gallery, a accomplished jewelry artist who also happened to be working on a project involving a honeycomb pattern. She was making a necklace out of interlocking hexagons formed by stitching pieces of reclaimed satin using traditional quilting techniques. Quilting is so hot right now! She asked me where to buy beeswax (Welk's and The Honey Shoppe on Main Street). Louise plans to make little wax forms (like the star above) which needleworkers use to wax their thread so it is less likely to catch, twist, tear, or knot.

As Louise stitched and Jen knitted we did what all good slow fashionistas do; we had a lively discussion about the politics and culture of fast fashion and tried to unpack questions we had around the entangled threads that bind class, capitalism and fashion. All in a day's lunch!

Hives for Humanity is a non profit organization that enhances community through apiculture. Through mentorship based programming we create flexible opportunities for people to engage in the therapeutic culture that surrounds the bee hive; we foster connectivity to nature and to each other; we participate in local sustainable economies; and we do so with respect and joy.



Sunday, February 16, 2014

Phenology and Valentine Mnemonics

I am going through the laborious process of sorting through hundreds of digital photos on my hard drive. As part of the task I am also recording the phenology of the dates of flowers in bloom, bee sightings, and family events. Have you ever wondered how those folks managed to remember which winter was the coldest in their lifetime? Or the longest or mildest? Experiential memories get hooked together and anchored in the brain as signposts to the construction of an identity and a human with a past. There was that Vancouver winter that was so cold the rosemary died, but I can never remember which one it was. Maybe I will find the answer in my photo files. There was also that winter in my childhood in Cactus Lake Saskatchewan when the snowdrifts went up to the roofs. There will be photos in our families albums of my sister and I on the wooden toboggan.

In October 2011 we had quince ripening on our table and our son dressed as the Headless Horseman for Halloween. I had never associated quince with Oct. 31, but now the connection has been made and it will be hard to forget. On February 14, 2014 I saw the first honeybee of the year foraging in pink heather. To tell you the truth, I hardly ever see honeybees on heather, but I did see some honeybees this summer on the heather in the photo above taken in late August on Salt Spring Island, along with the moth that I think is meant to look like a splodge of bird poop. As I rode home on the bus from my bee sighting I saw heather blooming all along the route as if someone had tinted the heather plants in a black and white movie. I brought in 6 used jars at the Ernest Ice Cream shop and bought a jar of sour cherry chip ice cream for five bucks. Our teenage son just about ate the whole thing. "But it was so easy to eat, mom!" he protested. Uh huh. Those big chunks of Okanagan cherries in a custardy ice cream with chocolate chips went down much much too easily.

I encourage you to link family moments with seasonal changes. You will create a family heirloom that can be handed down through the generations and it will help you remember to plant your rosemary in a nice sheltered location.

Oleander, Oleander

Will you bloom again this spring?
I adored you
Then I ignored you
And now to me you're everything
And those white blossoms that you gave freely
Are now just twinkles in your eye
Oh behold her
Oleander grows on the inside

--Sarah Harmer

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Milkweed for Valentines Day

The David Suzuki Foundation has a good idea on how we can celebrate sustainability on Valentine's Day. If you purchase an e-card for your loved one, they will plant milkweed for monarch butterflies. Milkweed  (Asclepias spp.) also supports a variety of native bees, so it's a good plant for your garden, and the pollen morphology is very unusual.

From the David Suzuki Foundation website:

Every fall, monarchs make an astonishing, 5,000-kilometre trip from Canada to Mexico—one of the longest insect migrations on Earth.

But monarch populations have drastically declined, due to habitat loss, pesticides and severe weather. This year there are fewer monarchs overwintering in Mexico than ever before.

In late February, the survivors will start their multigenerational journey northward, arriving in Canada early summer.

Your eValentine will help us plant milkweed—the plant where monarch moms lay their eggs and the monarch caterpillars’ main source of food—to welcome them back to Canada*.

Valentine's Day is also a great day to celebrate peace and love for humanity as The Valentine Peace Project continues to create dialogue around the flower industry and other "chains of trade".

Transforming gifts of love into agents for peace involves investigation into the nature and history of brands and romance commerce.  Global Witness has worked for more than a decade to track links between corruption, war and trade.  How can we reverse these damages and create peace products, chains of trade, with sensitivity and sensibility to human rights, environmental concerns, and conflict resolution?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Has the Bee Seen Her Shadow?

 Winter aconite: Eranthis hyemalis
Buttercup family: Ranunculae

It's three days before Valentine's and the Winter Aconite is just beginning to bloom in VanDusen Gardens. Last week we had a cold snap that caught some plants by surprise. The hellebores look like they've been trampled by a herd of yaks. The snowdrops are just beginning to rally and the hardy tulips are just about to bloom. Let's face it, mid February is a a depressing time in the garden. Even the kale looks sad, and it takes a lot to deflate kale. The spots in Vandusen garden are the witch hazel and winter aconites, which are especially comforting bursts of sunshine yellow on grey foggy mornings.

Winter aconites, which look like buttercups on steroids, are a phenological indicator that spring is about to take the stage. Depending on the year, the flowers can herald the beginning of the honeybee season as the temperature warms to 15 degrees Celsius and the bees begin to take a few exploratory foraging flights. An Old World Plant from southern Europe the phenology of this winter bloomer is not meant for the life cycles north American bees. If you plant it as a bee plant here in the Pacific Northwest, you are taking a chance that the blooms will finish before the bees do any serious foraging, but it is worth cultivating near honeybee hives, particularly under trees where other things are difficult to grow including horse chestnuts, beech, oak and sycamore. The plant has toxins which make it unsuitable for a children's garden, but make it a plant deer will leave alone. The occasional early-emerging bumble bee queen will also benefit from the pollen and nectar in these flowers. It all depends on whether or not the bee has "seen her shadow."

These flowers will thrive under trees and bushes in moist soil rich with leaf litter that will get the morning sun. They will naturalize around the bases of trees, spreading by seeds and rhyzomes. They will be best buddies with scilla and bluebells, but will crowd out crocuses. Plant the tubers at the end of the blooming season when the foliage is dying down. A neighbour might be able to give you some that have been divided from their own garden. After they bloom, you must not cut the foliage, but leave it to die down and turn yellow before any intervention with clippers. Once it goes to seed, you can help it spread by collecting and scattering the seeds.

And speaking of seeds, just a reminder that Seedy Saturday is just around the corning and you know there's going to be pussy willows for sale--also manure, which makes some folks just as happy.

 It's almost Valentine's Day, and time to remind each other of the dark side of the cut flower industry: abusive labor practices, unchecked pesticide use, and excessive carbon emissions. This Valentine's Day,  show you love for the bees by giving you sweetie seasonally appropriate gifts: packets of bee garden seeds and bouquets of local pussy willows, witch hazel and (forced) forsythia. Instead of eating those traditional bland "fresh" strawberries, why not opt for seasonal treats made with beets, chocolate and blood oranges? We use use bees and roses as motifs on our valentines that say "bee my honey" and "I'm sweet on you."  I hate to break it to you honey, but baby it's too cold outside for roses. Even the brave little snowdrops are suffering after that cold snap we had. Bees love pussy willows, so let's change it up--forget the roses and show your love for an early spring plant that supports our sweet pollinators. But don't forget to leave some catkins for the bees!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Homemade Slow-Me-Down Poppyseed Buckwheat Noodles

It's always handy to have mason jars of homemade soup stock in your fridge. I also like to make sure we have some miso paste, so that even if there is a stock shortage, you can whip up a miso veggie stock a la minute. Today is a Family Day holiday in B.C., so I decided to embark on a slow food project to wind down and enjoy a day with a gentle pace. To make these homemade noodles, you have to have deep patience and a delicate touch. You just can't make them if you are rushed because it will all end in tears.

This dough is so simple it doesn't even have eggs in it. You could make it gluten free by omitting the wheat flour. I used flours from New Life Organics in Saskatchewan. My folks brought them to Vancouver when they came to visit at Christmas. (I felt guilty when I realized how heavy a suitcase of flour is to lug through the airports.) You may need to add a little bit more water to the recipe, depending on the how finely milled your flours are. These are rustic noodles with a chewy mouthfeel that are fantastic in soups. You are using buckwheat and poppy seeds, two plants that nourish bees and humans. So slow down, enjoy the process and enjoy your noodles!

1 cup organic buckwheat flour--the one I used was quite finely ground
1 scant cup coarsely ground organic whole grain flour
2 tbs olive oil
1/2 cup tepid water
1/2 tsp salt

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl, make a well and add the oil and water. Mix and knead with your hands until the dough is pliable. Divide dough in half. Roll out 1/2 the dough into a rectangle on a floured surface to 2 mm thick. Cut the dough lenthgthwise into 3 inch widths and then cut out each noodle, to between 1/4 and 1/2 inch widths. The dough shouldn't crumble, but it is delicate which is why you have to be slow. Pick up each noodle and put on a floured pan until you are ready to cook them. This also takes patience.

Set aside any noodles you'll be cooking in the soup. Just before you eat, pop the noodles in the soap and simmer until they rise to the top.

As for the noodles you won't be eating right away, cook only 1/2 the entire batch of noodles at one time. Put a pot of water on to boil with 1 tbs olive oil and 1/2 tsp salt. Put the noodles in the pot in the boiling water until they rise to the surface (about 2-3 min. or less). Drain and keep covered in the fridge. When you want to use them, just blanch to bring up to temp.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Things in Jars: A Citrus and Bee Herb Household Cleaner

My Grandma and Grandpa Clark lived in a mail order Eaton's House with a country kitchen and a big old fire-powered oven. Off to one side of the kitchen was a cool pantry with large cupboards for storing mason jars of preserves and my grandfather's own honey. As a source of never-ending sustenance, the pantry was a mysterious and magical place. A friend of mine told me when his family moved into a "previously owned" house they discovered a whole birthday cake high on a shelf in the pantry that someone had abandoned and forgotten. There's a story in that cake just begging to be told.

I have always had a fascination with things in mason jars, and so I have begun to collect recipes of things you can put in jars, forget about and then eat or use in some other practical way. When I read this blog entry from The Queen of Green, updating her cleaning recipes I read the comments with great interest. Lindsay asked for reader's cleaning tips and was flooded with replies. Several people wrote about adding citrus peels to vinegar to make a degreaser. Bingo! That sounds like a great idea! I filled a jar half full of white vinegar and added my breakfast grapefruit peels. Then I took out some dried lavender and rosemary from my storage tubs (not as romantic as a pantry) and added those. Attending the UBC Farm Symposium on Friday we were treated to Mighty Leaf teas. I chose jasmine tea and then kept the cloth tea bag and added the jasmine tea leaves to the vinegar mix. I left it infuse for four days and I decanted it this morning. So far I've used it to clean out the compost container and it works a treat. Now if I only had a pantry to line up my experiments . . . .

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Channeling the Sleepless Weather

 My friend Anakana Schofield is an insomniac weather reporter. She writes in her blog about what is happening at night. Fogs make her philosophical, high winds send her into a whirl of excited chatter. She apologizes if she fails to record weather events and they become a blur in her memory, superseded by current events and practical concerns. Her weather obsessions are highly entertaining and comforting. It is good that someone still cares about the weather, notices it, and records its effect on one's life. There's something about hooking into the weather as a current event that is intimate and beautiful. Weather news is being replaced by financial reports, sordid reportage of the increasingly shallow and exploitive media, and the ups and downs of stocks and bonds. The importance of weather in our lives is being minimized by corporate agendas. It's the yellow jacket in my bonnet.

If a flower blooms in the forest and no one is there to record it, does it still bloom? Yes. The world blooms without us. The fog rolls in and out without us. But which events we choose to record and mark and chat about make them events. Noticing the crocus is one thing, but recording it makes it an event. We need to focus on the events in the natural world to affirm their presence in our lives as something that brings us together and weaves the fabric of our culture. In this way we can become more tuned in to how the weather affects the crops that feed us and the bees that pollinate them.

We can watch the currents of predicted weather patterns rolling across the globe in real time thanks to some brilliant software. When I have insomnia, I put it on my screen like a nightlight and I am soothed by the gentle whirling of the patterns, sending out prayers to those whose weather patterns are difficult to bear.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Native Plants for Green Roofs

This video by Kevin Songer talks about using native plants on a coastal green roof. The plants he talks about are southern coastal plants suitable for Florida, but some can be used in the Pacific Northwest, ie Blanket Flower (Gaillardia). Some of the plants Songer talks about near the end of the video are suitable for bees. (This video was found on Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens.)