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By Ali Clarke

With bees pollinating 90% of the world’s flowering plant species, and therefore responsible for one third of the foods in our diet, the last decade or so of declining bee numbers is a real source of concern.  In countries such as China, workforces are being employed to do the work of bees, at a huge cost to the economy. Anyone who has had the pleasure of watching bees work can imagine the scale of this operation.  Replicating this effort throughout the world is not only extremely costly, it should be simply unnecessary. Urban communities can, and must, play their part in encouraging and protecting our bees before it’s too late.

Keep up the good work

One of the most useful things urban farmers can do to protect bees is to look into beekeeping.  There are currently around 120,000 beekeepers in the US, the majority of whom are enthusiastic amateurs.  You may not have the time or space to invest in commercial beekeeping, which usually requires around 300 hives, but most farms will be able to accommodate the 25 or so hives which a hobbyist beekeeper would usually have.  Ensure that you take your beekeeping equipment seriously so that you are well protected and able to enjoy the experience.

Flower power

In cities around the world, conservation, gardening and civic groups are joining forces to plant flowers to attract and nurture bees and other pollinators.  As an owner of your own portion of land, you have the ability to contribute to the effort by planting colorful flowers which will appeal to bees.  Whether it’s lavender, wisteria or sunflowers, choose the plants which you most enjoy or which grow best in your area, and designate a little space to them.  Your premises will look brighter and cheerier for it too.

Responsible pest control

While pesticides such as nicotinoids have received some of the blame for the declining bee populations, scientists have found that it’s not that straightforward.  The insects metabolize enzymes at different rates, which affects their reaction to them. You will no doubt have come to your own view on the responsible use of pesticides; suffice to say, it’s worth checking to see how any product you use will affect bees, and minimizing risks where you can.

The declining numbers of bees are a global concern; without them, the world’s food production will soon grind to a halt. Thankfully, urban farmers are in a position to be able to help. By investing a little resource into beekeeping, planting colorful attractive flowers, and managing pesticide use responsibly, urban farmers can make a powerful difference.  Even better, it’s a joy to watch these industrious creatures work their magic.

Grandma Fields’ Pumpkin Pie

Here is an old family pumpkin pie recipe from my husband’s aunt, Betsy Stapleton.  She makes this for special events and it’s always a favorite.  Besides it tasting good, I like that it doesn’t use evaporated milk.

Recipe

Put in a frying pan:

  • One large can of pumpkin puree
  • One teaspoon ginger
  • One teaspoon salt
  • Two teaspoons cinnamon
  • One pinch nutmeg

Cook, stirring frequently, until cooked down to four cups.  Cool to room temperature.

homemade pumpkin pie

Thick and delicious

Add to pumpkin mixture:

  • Three well beaten eggs
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • One rounded tablespoon of cornstarch dissolved in half a cup of milk
  • Three and a half cups of milk

homemade pumpkin pie

Blend well

Beat with a mixer until smooth.  Pour into two large pie tins and bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until set.

 homemade pumpkin pie

Ready for baking.

Enjoy!

I wonder if I will get any pie this year?

Bean Necklaces

Every urban farmer should have at least one bean necklace for that perfect agricultural fashion accent.  Right now is a great time to harvest those end of the season beans and get crafting.

Here’s how:

Pick your beans while they are still soft.  These are scarlet runners.

Pick your beans while they are still soft. These are scarlet runners.

Many colorful varieties can be used and you can do patterns with solid color beans.

Thread a darning needle with stiff thread or a flexible wire.

Thread a darning needle with stiff thread or a flexible wire.

I like using pliers to pull the needle through the bean as it can get a little stuck at times.

Here are necklaces made with calico beans.

Here are necklaces made with calico beans.

Wait to either tie the ends or attach fasteners as the beans will shrink as they dry. It’s also a good idea to string on a few extras; it’s easy to take them off if you have too many.

 

 

 

Cool Tool to Peel Apples

I love this tool!!

Each year I just can’t resist getting a big box of apples this time of year.

It used to take me forever to carefully peel the apples, cut them up and remove the icky bits.  Last spring I went to a rummage sale and a friend handed me a weird looking contraption. “This is exactly what you need” she said with conviction.  I dutifully bought it, put it in the basement and forgot about it until this weekend.

The Peel Away is amazing!  What was even better was that my daughter and husband both found it so intriguing that they helped me; within about an hour all the apples were processed.

Here is the loooong peel that comes off.  I wonder if this is tossed over the shoulder it will still make the initial of the person one is going to marry?

Hope I toss an “A”.

Here is the apple peeled, cored and sliced.

So pretty!

Once the apple is processed making sauce or putting it in a pie is a snap!  Tonight I am going to try it on asian pears….

Ready for a pie.

 

Time to Plant Garlic

Growing garlic is very easy and is a great thing to plant if you have big summer plans that are going to keep you out of the garden.

Pick bulbs with big cloves.

Pick bulbs with big cloves.

There are softneck and hardneck varieties of garlic; the softneck grow best in a colder climate and are easy to braid.  I usually do some of both.  You can plant large cloves from last summer’s crop or you can get untreated organic garlic at the supermarket or farmer’s market.

Pull cloves apart.

Pull cloves apart.

Once you have your garlic clear out a bed, rake the soil and amend with a light dressing of compost.  Divide the bulb into individual cloves and lay them out on the soil about 6 to 8 inches apart.

Lay out 6 to 8 inches apart.

Lay out 6 to 8 inches apart.

Dig a hole, (I usually use a large spoon), about 2 inches deep and plant with the pointy end up.  Cover with soil then mulch with straw or shredded leaves.  Be sure to pull the mulch away from around the growing garlic in the spring or the darned slugs will actually chew on the stems.

Label clearly where you have planted as it's easy to overplant.

Label clearly where you have planted as it’s easy to overplant.

Dyeing with Black Walnuts

If you’ve ever handled black walnuts you know how well they can dye your hands, countertop and many other things you may not want a deep brown color.  Dark brown yarn is lovely.

Black walnuts ready to be harvested!

Black walnuts ready to be harvested!

The first step is to carefully harvest your walnuts.  I always use gloves to do this as the fruit is a bit caustic and even a little juice will stain your hands. Once you have the fruit put it in a bowl and pour boiling water over it.  Mash it a bit with a fork and let it sit for about an hour.  No mordant is needed.

Ready for the yarn.

Ready for the yarn.

Put the yarn in your dye bath and leave until a shade darker than desired is reached.  Pull the yarn out and wash in clear water.  Be careful to rinse out the dye that hasn’t fixed to the wool or it may stain your body or bleed on to other clothes.

This dye can be used for basket materials, cotton or wool.

UFH 077

Some of the brown yarns are black walnut dyed.

Have fun!

 

 

Grapevine Wreaths

It’s a wee bit early to be pruning grapes but I wanted to neaten up the front yard so trimmed off the long, ropy vines.

Using these vines to make wreaths is easy and they turn out great.

First choose the vines you want to use and trim off the side twigs. For a more rustic look, leave the tendrils on.

First choose the vines you want to use and trim off the side twigs. For a more rustic look, leave the tendrils on.

These are my favorite pruners.

These are my favorite pruners.

Wrap the vines around and twist in the ends. Trim off anything that sticks out.

Wrap the vines around and twist in the ends. Trim off anything that sticks out.

Here are three finished wreath. You can use these as is or as a base for baskets.

Here are three finished wreath. You can use these as is or as a base for baskets.

Great activity for a frosty, sunny day!

Great activity for a frosty, sunny day!

 

 

 

 

Hats!

What do all urban farmers in this brisk chilly climate need?  Warm knit hats!  It’s easy to make these using circular needles.  I like to use number 8 needles and usually cast on about 95 stitches to start for an adult hat.  Once the stitches are on I do a rib stitch with two knit to one purl stitch for about 8 to 10 rows; this will give the band some stretch.

A hat in process.

A hat in process.

 Now it’s time to use your creativity and go crazy with patterns and color using a knit stitch.  Once you have 34 rows  start decreasing to form the top of the hat.  To decrease knit together two stitches every 10 stitches for one row then knit normally for the next.  

All finished

All finished

As you get to the top of the hat knit stitches together every row then when there are a few stitches left use a darning needle to go through the remaining stitches and draw this tight.  Now tuck in your yarn ends and you are all set!

Here are some different examples.

Here are some different examples.

Making Applesauce

Fall is here and thats means apples.  Many of the apples grown west of the Cascades have scab or are infected with coddling moth.  The result is that apples that aren’t very appetizing to eat out of hand, but still can be used to make great applesauce.   You can also buy apples by the box at your local farmers’ market and these can be used straight or mixed with your homegrown apples.  I like to talk with the grower and see what breeds they like to make into sauce.  One of my favorite growers is Tonnemaker Family Orchard.  They have great produce, good prices and often have seconds boxes that are lower priced and great for canning.  Last week they suggested Gravenstein apples so I bought a box to mix with my own apples.

Here are directions on making your own applesauce:

Pick out apples that are free of mold and rot. They don’t need to be pretty but they should be wholesome.

Core your apples then cut them up into about one-inch chunks and cook them over a low heat until soft.  Then put the mixture through a food mill to separate the skins from the fruit and turn it into a sauce.

Here is a food mill I got at Fred Meyer. They can also be found sometimes at Goodwill.

If the sauce is too tart then add in a bit of brown or white sugar.  I like to put in some cinnamon as well.  Heat the sauce, while stirring constantly, to boiling and boil for one minute and pour into sterile jars.  Be careful because blobs of the hot sauce can leap out of the pot and give you a burn.

Here it is heating up with cinnamon added at the end of cooking. Once it begins to bubble it will be ready for the jars.

Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes and you’re good to go.  Applesauce can be eaten as is or can be used in many recipes.

I like lots of cinnamon so often add even more before I eat my sauce. My family varies on their degree of cinnamon adoration so I go light when canning it.

I can’t resist a living history museum so off to Camlann for a Michaelmas celebration!

A story teller with lots of sleight of hand.

 

Melting wax for candles.

Pulling the fibers into line.

Natural dyes.

A friendly source of wool.

Making flower crowns.

Ready for potage.

Caligraphy room

Ink and quills