Showcasing Our Pollinators at “The Harvest Festival”

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My son Miles is 3 and he doesn’t just attend daycare, he attends an institution that fosters a premier learning experience, Creative Explorations in Windham. Now, I have to be honest, I am shocked that a place like this even exists in Windham, Maine. It is definitely what I would call, cutting edge, nestled in a community that doesn’t always share its practices. I could not be more delighted that I found a place where Miles can be himself, in a positive environment where the snacks are as enriching as the people who guide him through the day. It’s a special place that has really nurtured the spirit of Miles.

I have always tried to be involved with the teachers at Creative Explorations, telling them about my adventures in beekeeping, chicken raising and garden tending. So I was completely excited when they asked me to participate in the Harvest Festival on October 26th, specifically due to my involvement with my lovely bees. Now, this is my first year beekeeping and truly, I have learned so much. Watching these tiny little pollinators work this season, has been a beautiful thing. The idea of sharing how important they are to the environment, the food industry and just our lives in general makes me SO excited. Then when I heard I was going to get to set up a whole booth, I mean, the possibilities just seemed ENDLESS! So….what am I going to do???

Well: I am going to showcase some of the products that bees effect the most on both the east coast and the west coast. I am also going to do a bi-coastal honey tasting. To really blow everyone’s minds, I am going to end it with a luscious dessert that encapsulates one of the products in Maine bees effect the most as well as the end result: honey. Here are the specifics:

A) There will be your typical items that extend to an educational circuit: a smoker, bee suit, a frame of capped honey prior to extraction and a frame of honey after extraction. Since I can’t bring the bees themselves I will use some photographs from my hive, a few select reading materials and perhaps some hive components that I’m not using.

B) Bi-Coastal honey tasting w/pollinator products: I will be showcasing the honey of Bee Honey, an amazing project that runs out of Portland, Oregon. The owner of Bee Local produces micro-batch artisan honey in unique neighborhood varietals. We will be tasting 3 of his products, all from different areas in Oregon (and one from an international location). We will be comparing those to the honey harvested in my backyard this season as well as several local producers in the Portland, Maine area. These honeys will be paired with the crops in which rely the most on bees for success: almonds, apples, pears & blueberries. And of course, we’ll be utilizing local cheeses and organic crackers to bring the tasting to the next level.

C) Dessert: Education isn’t nearly as interesting unless you have something really breathtaking to keep your focus. So, I’ll be showcasing how honey can really elevate a basic dessert. I’ll be baking up Apple tarts which are “swimming in a sea of honey” with an oat crumble. Sure to make even the most discerning palettes swoon with delight.

I see this as an opportunity to really speak for the bees. Too many times people ramble on about how bees are “dangerous” or “scary”, completely oblivious to the fact that we desperately need these little creatures. We rely on them for much more than just sweet honey. They are single-handedly responsible for things like the multi million dollar almond business in California. Without them, things like that do not work. So, come on down people of Windham to the Harvest Festival on October 26th at Creative Explorations. (32 Tandberg Trail, 11-3 PM) I know at my booth you’ll learn a lot and you’ll eat well. There are also lots of other vendors showing up such as Molly’s Cupcakes N’ More. Hope to see you there in a few weeks!

Harvest Party 2013

The first annual Harvest Party was our way of introducing our newest addition (Miles) to the entire Maine family at once. We invited Josh’s family and all of our friends and we enjoyed a meal that came almost exclusively from my garden. I had labored over that garden all season long, even at nine months pregnant, keeping it perfect, in anticipation of our gathering. Family members came from hours away, friends flew in and we all joined together for a lovely meal on the deck. I came away with a quiet feeling of satisfaction and vowed to do it every year. The 2nd and 3rd years seemed to grow, and fast. We omitted family last year (they just come from so far away) and made it a strictly friends gig but we still found there were people we left out for the sake of keeping it manageable. For the 4th year, I’m looking at a list of almost 50 couples, with a few singles sprinkled in there, bringing the total to about 100. What can I say, its been a really wonderful year and I have had the pleasure of meeting so many fantastic people. To me, the best way to show affection is to feed people you love, food from the heart. So, when comprising the invite list, I found that there were so many individuals I just had to include. But I’ll admit it’s getting a little crazy. And although it breaks my heart, I think I am going to have to downsize. Otherwise, the party will lose it’s focus. I’m toying around with the idea of stripping the party down to twenty people, yes, just twenty, twenty-five max. It’s a number I feel works for an intimate dinner, centered outside, amongst my garden and with the landscape to shelter us. I want farm fresh food, freshly picked that morning, with minimal preparation so that I can entertain but also be social. The 2nd year I felt I spent too much time in the kitchen, this year my focus will be on the people, keeping the food easy to deal with. The photograph above is from a farm I absolutely adore and their dinners look absolutely majestic and delightful. I want to mimic their set-up. It just looks so alluring. So, for all my readers who are friends, I’m going to do the best I can this year but the list will be limited. You’ll know when you get the invite in the mail. I think honestly, if I let my imagination get the best of me, this party would turn into a freagin’ wedding. If I could have it my way there would be tents and a DJ but if I go down that road, Josh might give me a slight reality check. He sees the non-sense that can happen if he lets it and I think he finds himself constantly talking me out of la la land. Anyways, for those that are coming this year, I’m planting my garden this weekend with thoughts of you. I can’t wait to show you all how much my taste in food has evolved and how my backyard has changed. I absolutely can’t wait to sit and enjoy good food and good wine while discussing our lives and how far we have all come together. I can’t wait to see the babies that were not present last year. 2013 is going to be an amazing gathering. It’s late in August but my excitement is already stirring.

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The Bees are Coming!

A couple of years ago, if one had asked me about the prospect of getting bees, I would have laughed, told the person they were bat shit crazy and then done something passive aggressive like de-friend them on Facebook. As you all have heard before, I was far more urban before moving to Windham, Maine. I spent my time in the cities of Boston and Cambridge. I ate what I wanted. Didn’t ask where it came from and frankly, I didn’t care. I had heard about the bee crisis but truthfully, I thought it was a myth. It was a topic of discussion among certain intellects, most of which I wanted to punch in the face. The urban me knew nothing of organic, raw, locally grown, bla bla bla. I had my head in a huge bubble. And I’ll be totally honest, at the time, I could totally get down with a trip to Wendy’s, like without even thinking twice about it. When I moved from city to country, there was no choice to be made, I had to shift my views.

Maine forces one to take a big, wide-eyed look around because driving through the surrounding towns, farmland is everywhere. Cows grace the side of the road along with horses, roaming chickens, sheep, as well as other varieties of livestock. There are farm stands everywhere and even Hannaford Supermarkets have multiple signs in the produce department, describing the featured local produce. Instead of high-end shops, there are things like Blue Seal Feed and Tractor Supply. Farming is part of life here and people do it on both the small and the large-scale. I was amazed initially at how common keeping chickens was around my neighborhood alone. People love the practice of obtaining their own fresh eggs. But the whole bee thing, blew my mind and even though I thought it was interesting, I wanted no part of it.

The man who changed it all for me, was Damian Magista of Bee Local. Amazingly, I found him and his company in my Twitter Feed. Apparently, Twitter knows when you need to know about something. It was his little jar of honey that peaked my interest along with the fact that he was from Portland, Oregon, a place I am unnaturally in love with even though I have never been. The Bee Local website makes beekeeping appear romantic and enticing, it made me want to follow for a while, just to see what it was like. Bee Local’s completely effortless approach to beekeeping makes it sound possible for average people like myself and proves that there are more rewards in it than most think. Plus, the idea of what Damian is doing, challenges everything we know and love about honey, and makes it even sweeter. I now find myself looking at labels, at colors, at textures. Farmed honey is all the same, what Bee Local produces changes depending on where it’s “grown”, producing beautiful varieties that make the palette sing. Watching Bee Local intensely has made me curious about bees, enough so that I will become a beekeeper May 20th of this year, finally taking the plunge because Damian has made me believe it’s possible.

I’m completely and utterly excited to learn about the relationship bees have with our food. I’m not even getting them primarily for the honey but to marry my flowers and vegetable plants with the perfect spouse, thousands of little bees who will forage on what they have to offer which will make them strong as well as produce the golden stuff. And I can’t wait to see what my backyard and my neighbor’s backyards taste like. I have an array of items to offer these little creatures: grapevines, apple trees, pear trees, vegetables of all sorts, lilacs, I mean, I could go on forever. I never knew there was so much beauty in the buzzing sound. Bees are powerful little guys and we need them, way more than we want to admit.

I will keep you all updated on the progress of my hive. So far, the bees are to be picked up early on May 20th and I will install them in the hive (which is essentially just dumping 10,000 bees into a box, no big deal) the same day. My wonderful hive, which I purchased from The Honey Exchange in Portland, is all set up in my backyard, fully assembled and just about ready to go. I have my handy hive tool, a great quality smoker and a fancy fashion forward (but not really) bee suit with a truly sexy veil and of course, their feeder which will get them by with sugar syrup until they become established. I may not get honey this year, but that is totally fine, I am just looking forward to having the bees around, keeping me company in my colorful backyard.

Special thanks to Bee Local for the inspiration and to The Honey Exchange for answering all of my questions and for my beautiful hive.

Garden me please

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I am one hundred percent ready for Spring. My chickens are also, one hundred percent ready for Spring. I have slowly watched them have a melt down over the past couple of months. They hate going out in the snow under any circumstances and they refuse, I mean refuse to leave their coop when anything is wet. Perhaps I have raised little princesses. Who knows. Currently, they are pecking at one another in a horrible fashion as I think they are losing their minds. I have tried everything to distract them: fresh kale, scratch, bread, a pecking block, a light for warmth, then no light for warmth, new straw, new grit, I mean I have completely run out of ideas. I just want the ground to be clear so that I can open up their little door and let them frolic around the yard in sheer delight. Right now, it’s hard to imagine. My backyard currently resembles Alaska with my garden underneath completely sheathed in a thick blanket of snow. I am so anxious to get the season going. And truthfully, by this time last year, I was already in the planning stages and buying my seeds.

I truly have felt that I have come a long way since my first season here in Maine. I arrived here in April and immediately requested a giant raised bed garden. My husband delivered and I planted in that thing everything I could think of, even things that don’t grow in Maine. There were a few million learning experiences, many items ripped from the ground and thrown in the woods, animals scorned and threatened and of course, many many plants lost to simple mistakes. I learned most importantly, the first year, you have to start simple. Grow only the things you really love to eat in larger quantities. Less to confuse that way. My first year I concentrated just on the garden. Two years ago I chose to add my chickens which have been such an interesting experience. Scooping shit out of a coop in huge loads with like two feet of snow on the ground is not an enjoyable task, let me tell you. But they have taught me so much about where our food comes from and what happens when you are really good to an animal. They follow me around, they come back when they are lost and their eggs, are sheer bliss.

Last year entered the fruit. I planted grapevines, eight of them, in hopes of some delightful wine in 5 or 10 years, right about the time I am ready to buy a new house. I chose a varietal that could also be a table grape and one that does well in cooler climates. I have no idea if I pruned them correctly, even after reading countless books and I can say in all honesty, I am crossing my fingers that they make it out of winter alive as they were a very expensive investment. I also planted 4 apple trees and two pear trees. Same thing with the pruning. No idea. I’m a “do” type of person, very visual, so sometimes all the reading material in the world won’t get me there until I lay my fingers on it.

This year, I’m adding the bees. Yes, I’m doing it. I ordered them this morning and I’m only 56% freaked out about the prospect. Bees don’t scare me, I think they are magical creatures. Killing them scares me. I mean they are so necessary and I know they will improve my garden so much. I would hate to be the one that wipes a hive out. I’m hoping that with enough research, a good book, some prodding of beekeeping friends as well as the right equipment, I can figure it out. I am most perplexed by how one actually gets them into the hive, not so much about the process after that. It has amazed me though the fear that comes with these little creatures. When I informed my in-laws that I was doing this, they looked frightened that it might kill my children. I mean really, as long as they are far enough away, well placed and no one bothers them, it will be like they don’t exist. Bees don’t want to attack. They do it only to defend themselves. So if you leave them alone, no worries, they will leave you alone. It’s all about balance.

Once the fear of screwing up goes away I am sure I will be more than delighted. They will arrive around Mother’s Day which will be quite the present.

I continue to be amazed at life up here. It really is an amazing place. I feel connected. And it’s such a wonderful thing.

Now, if only the snow would hit the damn road.

Lot’s of great things coming this weekend by the way. Recipes. Updates. Products. I plan to be very busy.