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July 28, 2010

The Laundry Line

We finally managed to get the clothes line up and ready before the warm weather hit (not that I have anything against hanging laundry out when the weather is bad), and it's been seeing a lot of use, sometimes up to three loads a day when it's hot.


We dithered for a long time about what kind of line we were going to build. The original plan was to have it run off of one of the decks, but with the house being built into the hillside, that idea proved difficult as it inevitably would have been positioned in such a way that my tall husband would have literally been clotheslined every time he walked past it.

Then, I was flipping through one of my mom's gardening magazines this spring and came across the perfect solution: a free standing laundry line with a trellis on either end for growing vining flowers (you can find the plans here). This is another one of those times when delaying the start of a project left time for the perfect solution to present itself.

We don't have the trellises built on the ends yet (all of those bits and pieces really add up), but the clematises that we planted on either end aren't big enough to need support yet anyway.

Finished or not, it's still a huge improvement over last summer's drying rack.

July 26, 2010

Keeping Bees

If you've watched the news at all in the past couple of years, you undoubtedly will have heard that bee populations have been dying out for reasons unknown. I was told by a local bee keeper this spring that our area actually suffered a 100% loss among domesticated hives this year, and it wasn't a particularly harsh winter (at least not compared to last year). Statistics like that are enough to put a scare into anyone, especially when people like to quote Einstein as having said that humans would die out within four years if honey bees were to disappear.

Not long after hearing about our local situation, I started noticing an abundance of bees on the wild huckleberry bushes during my regular walks, and our rock cress was positively buzzing with these orange-bottomed beauties.


How could these guys be so prolific when the domesticated bees were faring so poorly?


I like to do what I can to help out my bee friends, but I'm certainly not an expert on the subject, so when I was asked to review a couple of new books about bees, I was keen to do so, hoping that it would give me a better understanding of these amazing insects.

The first one that I read is called Keeping the Bees, written by Laurence Packer, a Toronto based mettilologist (bee biologist).


Packer's tone is humorous and familiar, and reading his book is a little like spending an afternoon "talking bees" with a knowledgeable old friend. Some of the information is so interesting that I found myself reading excerpts aloud to my son, such as how cuckoo bees gain access to the "fortresses" of other bees, which, as Packer puts it, "reads like a lesson in ancient military strategy". How could an 11 year old obsessed with battle games not love that? The part about how the larvae of the Francisco oil beetle (about 700 of them) clump together to trick a habropoda bee into thinking it's a female bee (and thereby hitch a ride with him back to the nest where they eat the pollen stores and habropoda children) still gives me the heebee jeebies.

Packer also talks about the fact that honey bees aren't necessarily the best pollinators, but are being relied upon in conventional agriculture because there aren't usually enough wild bees on large industrial farms to effectively pollinate the plants, either because they are too far from significant wild bee habitats, or due to a lack of diversity among crops (resulting in fewer visits from the choosier bumble bees). This practice is spreading disease and ultimately compounding the problems faced by honey bees.

The other great thing about this book is Packer's ability to take a subject matter with the potential to be extremely dry and complicated, and make it accessible and entertaining even to those of us without a background in zoology. This book is a must read for those who would like to know more about wild bees and what we can do to keep them around.

The second book is called the Collins Beekeeper's Bible: Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Home Uses.


This book focuses largely on the keeping of honey bees, and is absolutely packed with information for anyone interested in setting up their own backyard hive(s). The thing I love most about this book is the abundance of color photographs and gorgeous illustrations. I'm a very visual person, so I found the images (which range from lovely styled photographs and line drawings, to historical prints and etchings) to add to and compliment the practical information perfectly.


This great tome of a book (well over 400 pages) covers the history of bees and beekeeping, includes clear instructions on setting up and maintaining a hive, as well as harvesting honey and other bee products, and has extensive lists of beneficial plants and bee friendly flowers. It also provides dozens of delicious sounding recipes, homemade beauty and cleaning products, as well as the medicinal uses for honey, and crafts using beeswax. You can rest assured that you'll be seeing some of these foods/projects in upcoming posts.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading both Keeping the Bees and The Collins Beekeeper's Bible, and feel I have a greater understanding of bees as a result. I'm sure that I will refer back to both books many times as I continue to set up my garden (and hopefully one day, bee hives). I would definitely recommend them to anyone looking to learn more about bees, wild or domesticated, and think that together they form the basis of a complete and comprehensive bee library.

July 19, 2010

I Clove Summer

Back in early October when the weather was dreary, I eagerly planted the first crop of the summer garden. Garlic may take a long time to turn from one lowly clove into a plump head packed full of them, but it's worth every minute of the time involved - there aren't many meals in this house that don't start with a clove or two.


In honor of this week's garlic harvest, the kids and I decided to celebrate by roasting some of the smaller heads to have with our dinner. My daughter whipped up a batch of Artisan Bread dough (you can find the recipe here on page 4) so we'd have some yummy bread to go with it.


The roasted garlic was so mellow and sweet that we were sucking every last morsel out of the papery skins.


Of course, an appetizer like that deserves an equally special main course, so we made one of our favorite summer meals: pasta tossed with arugula, tomatoes, feta, and yes, more garlic.This is all part of my evil plan to get the kids associating delicious food and happy tummies with manual labor (in the form of gardening).

I'm not sure where I got the original recipe, or whether I'm even using the correct measurements anymore, but it's a delicious way to use up that arugula that's going to seed in your garden. Here's roughly what I do:

Pasta with Arugula, Tomatoes, and Feta:

  • 2 tomatoes, chopped (throw juice and seeds in too)
  • 5 - 6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 - 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • one bunch arugula, rinsed and chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 of a pound of pasta
Assemble the sauce ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Cook the pasta of your choice according to package directions. When pasta is cooked, drain and add directly to the bowl with the arugula mixture (don't worry if there's a bit of water clinging to the pasta, it will loosen the sauce). Toss to combine. The heat of the pasta wilts the arugula and begins to melt the feta cheese, making everything creamy. This is an excellent, and fast, summer meal.


Meals like this are the reason we go to the trouble of keeping a garden. With our bellies full, we regularly make our way down to the beach for an evening swim. Summer is fleeting in our neck of the woods, and we have to get our fill while we can.

Before too long, it'll be time to plant the garlic again.

July 14, 2010

Me And My Hoe: A Love Story

Don't worry, I'm not going to get all Pretty Woman on you, I just have to take a minute to mention one of the most useful garden tools I've ever had. This hand forged half moon hoe has been a godsend when it comes to weeding (my least favorite chore), making routine garden maintenance a breeze.


The sharp blade slides under the soil's surface, uprooting and slicing weeds. This one is on a long handle (about 5 and 1/2 feet), so I can stand while weeding, saving my back.


You can find similar hoes for less money, but according to Steve Solomon, it's worth getting one made of forged steel because the blades are stronger and can be kept sharp with a wet stone, unlike the cheaper versions which are dull and tend to chip. There are other kinds of "scuffle hoes" with different styles of blades, and I'm sure they all do pretty much the same thing, but the key is to find one that is sharp and can be kept that way, as that will make the job easier in the long run.

I find that the hoe works best when the weather is hot and dry. I run the blade through the garden beds, exposing the weeds' roots, and let the heat of the sun finish them off.  I make sure to do this when I know I won't be watering for a day or two, as this gives the weeds less of a chance to re-root. Most things can be left in place as long as they haven't gone to seed, but anything too pernicious (such as morning glory or creeping buttercup) should be removed completely and thrown in the garbage. Repeating this process every couple of weeks has kept my garden well aerated and weed free. Apparently, if I do this regularly, I'll eventually have fewer weeds to deal with, as most of the seeds in the top layer of soil will have been sprouted and subsequently murdered.

I hope I still get at least a few.

July 11, 2010

What I Did On My Summer Vacation - 2010

A few quick photos from our holiday while I attempt to get back into writing mode.

We traditionally camp when we're on Saltspring, but this time my mom and step dad rented a beautiful old heritage home for the week. The kitchen was amazing, with custom built free standing fir cabinets and an AGA. Though I've always wanted an AGA (which is always warm and ready for use), it kind of lost its charm when we were hit with a heat wave, at which point everyone gave the kitchen a wide berth.


In addition to deer, raccoons, and rabbits, the property had a family of free ranging quail. We saw three adults and a bunch of babies, but they were almost impossible to catch on camera.


For the most part, our days were spent reading, swimming, and laying about, though we did occasionally leave the house to eat. The favored routine was to head to Saltspring Island Cheese to sample their wares (goat cheese topped with truffles is a favorite, as is the one topped with olive tapenade)...


followed by a trip to the Saltspring Island Bread Company.


The "bread lady" makes such amazing things that it's almost impossible to choose, which is why we're obligated to go back daily.


With our bags overflowing, we made our way to Ruckle Park for a picnic on the beach. While passing through the farm on the first day (the 1000 acres surrounding Ruckle farm became a provincial park in 1974), we noticed that they were busy "making hay while the sun shines".


Not having been here for three years made the reunion with our favorite place even more special.  Our bellies full, we spent the afternoons easing back into the familiar surroundings, reminiscing about summers past,  and catching up with old friends.



July 07, 2010

Kickin' Back

Just a quick note to let you know that I'm going to be away for a few more days, as we're halfway through an unexpected, last minute vacation to one of my favorite places, Salt Spring Island. It's been three years since we've had a proper holiday, so we're reveling in the R&R, taking the occasional break to eat, read, and cool off with a swim.
The only downside to the trip is that my darling hubby is stuck back in  in the city bringing home the bacon. He and I started coming here 17 years ago when we were at university in Victoria, thumbing our way to Ruckle Park, the absolute best place to camp, anywhere. We have so many memories here, it feels like a second home.
To read a bit more about this amazing place, and to see where we've  been hanging out all week, click here (scroll to the bottom to start from the beginning).
See you soon!

July 01, 2010

Happy Canada Day!


Wishing my fellow Canucks a very happy Canada Day!
July 1st is also the anniversary of the day we moved into our house, we have been living here for two years now. We'll be taking part in community celebrations, followed up with a barbeque in the rain (how west coast).
So grateful to live where I do!

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