Honey from the Neighborhood and Tips for Sourcing in Your Area
I am very lucky to have a beekeeper in my neighborhood who has been sharing her beautiful amber golden honey with those of thus in the ‘hood for many years now. A dear friend tipped me off to the flower/honey stand down the block during COVID.
Over the years the stand grew and Monica, who owns From the Hive, is also producing some gorgeous soaps, candles, candlesticks and more. Just yesterday I was buzzing down the road and saw her handwritten sign, “Local Honey.” Of course, I took that left hand turn and was pleased to find the Spring 2023 honey proudly displayed, The labeled informed that the honey was made from Fruit trees in Northwest Seattle. How Local is THAT? Yeah!
I forked over the requested amount, dropping the cash in a secure chute, and went on my way. Another knowledgeable neighbor was there buying a container and reporting to his little daughter, “There aren’t any honey sticks today.” This was clearly a bummer to the kid in the car!
According to the USDA it is estimated that there are between 139,600 and 212,000 beekeepers in the United States and many of these beekeepers are hobbyists who tend less than 25 hives.
This is an interesting fact to me because bees have to work really hard to make even the smallest amount. Apparently to make one pound of honey, honey bees have to tap two million flowers!
Here at my house, the honey from the ‘hood often gets used very simply. On a piece of breakfast toast. Perhaps in a vinaigrette with apple cider vinegar. Sometimes stirred onto a soothing cup of tea during cold and flu season. Or, drizzled over plain nonfat Greek yogurt topped with seasonal berries!
Fresh herbs are infinitely versatile and are a great way to add flavor, zing and interest to otherwise basic preparations. I have a large herb garden and the tender leaves and plants are a powerhouse of inspiration. They get used in everything from seafood dishes and savory bone broths to fresh fruit desserts and refreshing drinks.
Many folks, however, find herb preparation tedious. They tell me it’s a hassle to clean, store, and chop the leaves!
That’s usually when I suggest that they get a little herb spinner. Much like a salad spinner but smaller, herb spinners are quite handy. You can put the herbs right in the container and fill the container with cool water. You swish the herbs gently to remove any grit and you then gently lift and remove the herbs, leaving the dirty water behind. Drain the water, rinse the container, and return the herbs to the basket. Pop on the lid, give the whole thing a good spin, and you have fresh clean herbs ready for chopping and adding to a variety of dishes!
To store the whole clean herbs, wrap them in a paper towel and put them in a baggie in the fridge. They should last quite nicely for a few days.
Do you have an itchy green thumb? A thumb that wants to get down and dirty in the garden but you don’t have a lot of space or are limited to a balcony or a strip by the driveway?
Well, fear not and dig in.
As someone who has been gardening for over thirty years now, I’ve learned that lots can be grown in small pockets and in containers. Although I have a Seattle Community P Patch plot and raised vegetable beds in my yard, I remain fascinated with what can be grown in the smallest nooks and crannies.
Over the years, I have experimented with varieties bred or appropriate for mini plots. Some of these varieties are Tumbling Tom tomatoes, Astia Zucchini, and Pixie Cabbage, all of which I have grown from seed. I even have container raspberries, Raspberry Shortcake, growing abundantly in containers in a shady corner of my yard as well as in my P Patch.
If you are just getting started, the best thing you can start with are herbs, edible flowers, and tender lettuces! Many of the tender herbs, such as dill, chives, chervil, parsley, basil and cilantro, can easily be sown by seed in a pot or planter filled with potting soil. Kept relatively moist and even with only scattered sunlight, the seeds will sprout and eventually push forth enough herbaceous material to be snipped and scattered over an egg, a pasta, a homemade pizza or into a restorative soup.
This year, I am trying the Pot and Patio lettuce blend, which I ordered last week from Territorial Seed Company. The catalogue describes the mix as: “Tailored specifically for the container gardener, this lively blend of vibrant green and deep, rich burgundy lettuces will maximize your salad green production in the tiniest of spaces.” So, of course, I wanted to try the blend after reading that description!
The seed catalogues, such as Burpee, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Territorial Seed Company offer an abundance of herb seeds and they often offer specifics on which varieties are good for containers. That said, ordering seeds by mail can get pricey, so just head to the local nursery or garden center and troll the seed racks for inspiration. If sowing from seed isn’t your thing, buy starts and tuck them into the containers. (Organic violas, can be grown from seed, but they are a great option for buying as a start. Inexpensive and perky, the cheerful flowers make lovely garnishes on salads, platters or even perched on logs of goat cheese!) Starts, though not as economical as seeds, are a good way to jettison your way towards success. While shopping for starts, ask the specialists at the nursery if they carry varieties suited for containers, and look for icons on the plant labels, such as a mini container, which are indicative that the plants can thrive in small spaces.
Don’t fret too much, just do it.
In a few months time, you’ll be tending your own little homestead whether it’s on the driveway, the patio, the balcony or the backyard. Here is some inspiration from my little garden. Stay tuned for more inspiration on edibles in small spaces!
Every spring Washington’s fertile Skagit Valley, located about 60 miles north of Seattle, turns into a kaleidoscope of blooms, color, and incredible beauty when the tulip fields burst forth in April!
This year, despite a very cool and rainy spring, the tulips are as enchanting as ever.
On Easter Sunday, my husband and I took a little staycation daytrip up to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, which was started back in 1984 by the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce and was a mere two day event back then. The festival now encompasses the full month of April and offers a wide array of events, art shows, cycling tours, displays, contests and of course fields abloom in color!
Our daytrip involved leaving Seattle early in the morning, with our $15 Roozengaarde Tulip Festival tickets in hand. Each fall I order my bulbs from Roozengaarde, which is the largest bulb grower in the United States, so I love to see their display gardens and fields at this time of year.
Indeed, they were stunning when we were there. We arrived early and the crowds and traffic grew exponentially by the time we left. (Hint: get up and arrive EARLY, especially if it’s a sunny day!) The photo opportunities were massive as the colors were amazing. The brilliant blue sky with puffy white clouds was the perfect backdrop!
Thanks to the cool and rather wet weather we are having here in the Pacific Northwest, the reports are that the tulip fields will remain in full bloom through the end of the month and perhaps even into early May. So, if you are so inclined and need a dose of spring cheer, head to the picturesque Skagit Valley for a healthy dose of spring!
Think about it. They start their residency in the garden as frumpy brown orbs buried deep in the soil in October or November. They are usually planted here in Seattle on a dark rainy day and are then left to hibernate all winter. They endure snow, darkness, endless storms and in some cases marauding squirrels inclined to dig them up.
Then come mid winter, they start to peek out from the ground and slowly but surely send forth beautiful green leaves, then stalks and ultimately a burst of brilliant color! I have always loved tulips but it was during the spring of 2020, at the height of the COVID shutdowns, that I gained a renewed appreciation for them.
Clearly defying the odds, they bring so much sumptuous color and sheer joy. And, from a busy gardener’s perspective, they require very little fuss, which to me is a true mystery.
As I admire my tulip bed this year and tuck the gorgeous flowers into vases, pitchers, tea tins and jam jars around the house, I marvel at life’s littlest miracles!
Last January, I was sitting on my couch moping and wondering when things would spring back to life. The world as we knew it was shut down. The day was dark and rain was pelting the windows.
I was scrolling aimlessly through Instagram.
One simple post caught my eye. A gal in New York City (a gal who was clearly as bored as I was!) had planted a bunch of seeds in clear seltzer bottles and milk jugs and explained she was experimenting with “winter sowing.” Curious about this winter sowing thing, I went down that Instagram rabbit hole and discovered an ingenious system for sowing seeds, outside, during the winter months without the use of supplementary heat, light, or a classic greenhouse!
This was just the project I needed to push me off the couch and into action!
Developed over twenty years ago by Trudi Davidoff, a resident of Long Island, winter sowing is a system she devised when she wanted to start her plants by seed but lacked a lot of space inside. Using simple recycled materials such as translucent milk jugs, salad boxes and soda bottles, winter sowing harnesses the power of nature on many levels, and for me last year, it resulted in an incredible organic kitchen garden that brought a bountiful harvest!
At first, I was doubtful that sowing seeds in January in jugs and setting them outside in the elements would work, so rather than gambling with my expensive seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Territorial Seeds, I headed to Dollar Tree where I bought an array of packets-bachelor buttons, larkspur, kale, Parris Island Romaine lettuce, lavender and more. At 25 cents per packet, I figured my investment wasn’t huge by any means, so it was a perfect opportunity to test the task.
Wow! I planted my first seeds—Lupines, larkspur, lettuces in mid-January and by mid-February, I had growth and green sprouts coming up. Even in the midst of a massive Valentine’s Day weekend snow storm, my little plants stayed cozy enough to survive. This was the only proof I needed to go full steam ahead. Within weeks, I had sown probably more than 40 milks jugs with everything from zucchini, beans, peas, sweet peas, sunflowers, and even tomatoes!
My efforts paid off in the spring when I had tons of garden ready flowers and vegetables to plant easily from the jugs to the garden beds. Because the plants had grown outdoors, they were acclimated to the elements and didn’t need to be hardened off or coddled before going into their new homes. (A big bonus for the busy gardener!) When I transplanted them, I did make sure to cover the tender plants with the milk jugs or a clear salad box, to protect them from birds, crows and Seattle’s infamous slugs.
My garden got a huge jump start in and when the vegetables and annual flowers started appearing in the local nurseries in April and May, it was clear that I had saved myself a ton of money because the prices for basic garden vegetables had skyrocketed.
Furthermore, options were extremely limited due to the pandemic challenges at hand.
So, if you want to grow more flowers and vegetables by seed and save yourself a ton of money this spring, gear up now and get winter sowing!
The method involves harnessing supplies such as translucent one gallon milk jugs, duct tape, scissors or a sharp Exacto knife, high quality organic potting soil, a Sharpie, labels and seed packets.
I started by slitting four or five holes in the bottom of thoroughly sanitized and rinsed milk jugs, and then slicing around the milk jug equator, but leaving the milk jug intact at the handle so it can be opened up like a little cloche when weather gets warmer. The milk jug cap is discarded, as the little hole at the top will allow rain to drizzle in and maintain a moist environment. I then put about four inches of organic potting soil in the bottom of the milk jug, wet the soil thoroughly until water runs through the holes in the bottom, add a packet of seeds, label the container, and then use the duct tape to seal the equator slit. The jug is then set outside. It’s pretty much a “set it and forget it” method much like a slow cooker!
In my yard I set the jugs on a southeast side of the house where they simply hang out until they are naturally inclined to sprout. (As the season warms up, the jugs do need to be checked intermittently to make sure they don’t dry out or get too hot but that’s part of the fun and daily joy of checking the little jugs!)
I’m continually amazed by my “Milk Jugs Miracles” because they endure rain, frost, and even last year’s heavy February snow only to spring to life when the seeds are ready. This year on Martin Luther King weekend, I got started by planting leeks, Tom Thumb lettuce, Parris Island Romaine, and Marvel of Four Seasons lettuce. Incredibly, those lettuces are already springing to life! My heirloom sweet peas, planted later in the month, are now also swelling and pushing forth!
I love this simple economical method so much, I am hosting a winter sowing workshop at my Seattle P Patch in order to share the method with my fellow P Patch gardeners.
An excellent resource for further information is the Winter Sowers Facebook page, which was started by Trudi and now has over 75,000 members from all over the world.
Now that the holidays are over and the decorations are packed away, the house always seems a little less exciting. That said, last weekend I decided to take a lead from my mom and spruce up the space with some indoor flowering plants.
When I was growing up my mom always had amaryllis blooming in the house after the holidays and well into January. I missed the boat on planting amaryllis and narcissus this holiday season so on Saturday I strolled over to Seattle’s Swanson’s Nursery and was cheerfully greeted at the entrance with a sea of cyclamen! Small in size and featuring bright pink, red or white flowers, these little plants are the perfect antidote to the dreary weather we have been having here in the Emerald City. Priced at about $8 and long blooming, I figured they were a thrifty way to satisfy my antsy green thumb and bring cheer to the kitchen table!
A sea of cyclamen at Swanson’s Nursery
I bought two pink ones. At home I removed them from the four inch pots and nestled them in a small brass planter purchased the day before at the thrift store. My little flowering composition now sits at the breakfast table and indeed brightens the room. Easy to care for, they only require water every few days and a pinching off of any dead blooms. With a little TLC they will continue to bloom, and apparently, they will die off in spring but they will come back to life next year!
For me, this “kitchen garden” keeps my itchy thumb active until the seed packets come out…
As a gardener I am constantly reminded that life can often be mysterious but it always comes full circle! Now that the leaves are falling here in Seattle and the winds are howling around the neighborhood, it’s always fun to do a Garden Year in Review!
Throughout the gardening season, which starts in January for me, I take photos and try to document what I did and when I did it! This proves helpful on many levels as it acts as a prompt for the next year. While perusing my photos this morning, I was reminded how this was a particularly busy (and beautiful!) year for us in the garden!
This year we added a flock of hens, a custom chicken coop, raised beds, an herb garden, multiple miniature David Austin roses, scented geraniums from Christianson’s Nursery, and an array of trellises to grow beans. I also kept my 200 square foot community garden plot and the food bank bed going at the Haller Lake P Patch near my home.
In review, the rewards were huge both in terms of produce, herbs, and flowers harvested as well as in the personal rewards of starting many things from seed and seeing them come to maturity, both in the garden and on the dinner table!
For me, gardening isn’t a chore, it’s a creative outlet that lets me experiment and dabble, hoping it all comes to some form of fruition! Some things did great. My herb garden is booming. I harvested a ton of tomatoes, cabbage, chards, kales, and lettuces.
That said, our pole beans were more challenging and I had to replant one plot three times as some evasive and annoying critter was devouring the tendrils before they could get a grasp on life. I never solved that problem in that corner of the yard, gave up on the bean plot right there and decided to plant something else. In the end the pole beans planted elsewhere in the yard did ok so that one corner of my garden world remains a mystery!
I could certainly say a lot more about all this but for now, here’s a photo tour from my Kitchen Garden 2021!
Sometimes the simplest things in life really are the most luxurious.
I was reminded of this last week when I decided to make Lavender Honey. I have enormous lavender bushes in full bloom on my urban lot and after I made Lavender Shortbread last week, I began to mull my other options. Lavender Vinegar? Lavender Honey Mustard? Lavender Crème Chantilly?
Then, lavender honey popped into my thoughts. I had recently read an article in Mother Earth Living and had earmarked that page. Then when my friend Marissa came by with a tub of honey made by a family in the neighborhood, I HAD to make lavender honey… it doesn’t get much more local than that, right? Lavender from the yard and honey from the neighborhood!
The process is ridiculously simple. I started with a small sterilized recycled Maille mustard jar. I then added about 1 Tablespoon of lavender flowers (picked off the stem) and poured in enough honey to cover the lavender. For good measure, I added a small branch of lavender too. The article in Mother Earth Living explained that honey is hydrophilic, which means that the honey draws the water from the plants and ultimately makes the honey even runnier. The article also instructs to simply let the lavender honey sit for a few days, during which time the honey takes on the subtle delicious lavender flavor and aroma and becomes runnier.
I left my jar on the kitchen table so I could watch it and by the end of the second day, it was runnier and very aromatic. Since I could no longer resist tasting, the next morning I added about a 1/2 teaspoon of my Lavender Honey to a couple of tablespoons of water with a dash of Penzey’s dehydrated ginger. I then microwaved the mixture in a small ramekin for about 15 seconds to infuse the flavors and poured the Lavendar Honey Ginger syrup over some diced cantaloupe and sliced local organic strawberries.
The result? It was so good that frankly it almost defied logic.
Fresh, flavorful, aromatic, and healthy it was the perfect start to a summer day!
I was reminded of this recently while struggling to deal with basil starts in my garden. I love basil but it’s a bear to grow successfully here in Seattle. Our cool maritime climate makes it hard to grow the heat loving Mediterranean herb. I have tried plastic tunnel cloches over the years, and they work to some degree on the larger plants purchased at the nurseries. But this year, I am growing nearly 100% of my plants from seeds, which adds to the challenge with basil. (Slugs love the little plants, and it takes some heat to get the plants sufficiently ramped up and rolling for the season.)
However, while mulling my options last night, I popped into a thrift store to see if I could rustle up some kind of cloche, or protective cover that I could put over my basil seedlings. I trolled the storage box section and found nothing. I considered those large plastic iced tea containers for a hot minute, but the spout proved problematic and frankly, unattractive. In the glass container section, where they have the assorted glass bowls and Pyrex containers, eureka hit! I spied three dusty, yet stylish, glass salad bowls. It immediately occurred to me that they would be perfect over my basil. I turned the pedestaled bowls upside down and indeed they looked like a cloche to me! Adding to the thrill? Bric a brac was 50% off, so each bowl was $1.
At home, they got a quick clean with hot water and ammonia and in short order, they were positioned over my tender sweet basil plants in the garden. To prevent the basil from getting charred on a hot day, I set some bricks nearby so I can vent the cloche and cool the setup.
When I stepped back to survey the results, I thought they definitely have a European vintage glass cloche effect, without the hefty price tag!