Friday, January 23, 2015

In the Beeginning

Women made the best beekeepers 'cause they have a
special ability built into them to love creatures that sting. 
-Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

First off: 

1. Judge not my yard lest your yard be judged. Ahem.
And 2. I start beekeeping classes tomorrow!

Y'all. I've wanted to have bees and learn how to keep a hive for days and days and days. At first it was a fleeting fancy. Then it was a mild curiosity. Then it was a can-I-actually-do-this? Now it's almost a reality. I start classes tomorrow, finish my top bar hive in February, and hopefully get my bee colony buzzing by spring.

I'm such a nerd. An excited bee-almost-keeper nerd!

I'm nervous about starting classes tomorrow. Having already read stories about hives becoming Africanized (it's a term. Look it up.) and swarming their keepers, I'm cautiously optimistic. Will they swarm? Chase small children and dogs into bodies of water? Sting me until I'm unrecognizable? Actually produce enough honey for us to eat? I plan to raise my hand and earnestly ask each of these questions, carefully copying the answers into my bee notebook, without seeming like a total bee nerd noob.

Right. Wish me luck!

Anyone out there a beekeeper? If so, please say hello. Please.
UPDATE: Upon posting, I almost immediately got word from cool Kyle that the term is "bee-ks". Heck yeah! I'm hoping they let me in their club...

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Strawberries and Onions and Everything's Going to Be Okay

What good is the warmth of summer, 
without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.
-John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

I've been watching Foyle's War on Netflix sometimes. Days when it's not too heavy. The show is a British production set just as WWII is winding down, as food is still scarce and everyone's nerves are frayed. A recent episode showed the characters, amidst the chaos of war aftermath, being absolutely thrilled at the discovery of a large onion. An onion. They passed it around, smelling it...marveling... and the way they looked at that fresh onion was heartrending. Who would have thought an onion would invoke so much awe?

Guess it takes no onions to appreciate an onion again. Guess it takes winter for us to appreciate summer. After all, cold and gray days like today do make pictures of my summer strawberries look that much sweeter.

I continue to hear from ladies across the country who are going through hard times. Hard times. Lay offs and health issues and economic concerns have us all concerned and a little frayed at the edges. Personally, as a girl who makes a living in the oil and gas industry, this time is worrisome for me. I haven't been paid in 41 days and our freezer is emptying out by the day. Last night I got a little emotional about it. A friend reminded me that God will see us through... He's working a plan... and didn't we have everything we needed for today? 

This morning, I opened the freezer and found a small bag of homegrown strawberries wedged at the back. For some reason, I felt grateful for it all. I felt like I needed to rejoice, especially today. These times of not running to the store at every craving or new recipe has me discovering those sweet, forgotten strawberries. I mean, what good are times of plenty without times of want to make them sweeter? Would we have good, sweet memories if we didn't also have unpleasant ones?

If it takes these times to appreciate the other ones, I'll take it all. God is good. I'm sure of it. He is on His throne, He has not forsaken us, and a we have a glorious, sweet hope. Everything's going to be okay.

P.S. Check out these depression era recipes. Aren't they fascinating?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How I'm Growing Months of Potatoes for $3.99

I hope every American who possibly can 
will grow a victory garden this year. 
We found out last year that even the small gardens helped.
The total harvest from victory gardens was tremendous. 
It made the difference between scarcity and abundance. 

A few weeks ago, my local grocery store had 15 pounds of potatoes on sale for $3.99. You better believe a bag of those taters came home with me. But even after taking a meal to a couple who just had a baby and throwing potatoes in every soup pot I've made, the suckers were still sprouting faster than I could use them.

Perfect! I love it.

Did you know that when your potatoes- even normal ones, from the grocery store- begin to go wonky, you can thickly peel or slice them and use them as seed?

You can. You can grow months worth of potatoes from a $3.99 bag from the store. Really.

Let's be real: times are getting tough. And they're going to get tougher. This year I feel... I don't know... weighty conviction, almost, to plant all I can, put up all I can, and get ready to be generous. This would be loads easier if I had a farm, or even some land, but right now we're in a two bedroom house with an average size back yard and a landlord who doesn't want us to put in raised beds. In other words, we're resigned to using flower beds for now. Point? If I can do this, maybe you can, too. 

We can totally do this.

Okay. First, I'm going to take my sprouting potato and I'm going to cut it into chunks with at least two "eyes", or two buds that will start the growth of a new potato plant, on each piece. Some folks say not to do more than one or two, since the resulting vines could make a tangled mess and choke each other as they compete for nutrients. And then other people plant whole potatoes and are happy with that. I say at least two eyes is good, but I don't freak if there's more.

Some gardeners get really technical with this cutting and talk about invisible stems and tuber size and humidity and blah blah. Not me. I grab a knife and slice like a crazy person in a horror movie. My only rule? Cut big chunks about the size of my thumb, give or take. It's worked in the past.

Yesterday as I was cutting these, there were some potatoes that were mostly sprouting on one side. I simply peeled the other side and we ate them in soup last night. Once I was done slicing my sprouted taters, here's what I had:

Oh yeah. 

Since I was at the end of the sack of potatoes, I put my sprouting chunks- cut side up- on a paper lunch bag, and then put the paper bag on top of the original plastic potato sack. Then I moved it to an open, airy corner of the kitchen and let the chunks hang out for at least 24 hours. This process is called chitting- the cutting and hanging out period in a potato's life before it is planted and begins to produce.

I could draw so many parallels to that and real life but I won't today. Moving on...

(Again, depending on who you ask, there's a correct length of time to chit potatoes. The lady who runs our downtown community garden swears by cutting potatoes and planting them that instant. I watched in amazement last year as she cut a potato in half and then dropped each piece into the soil right then. And you know what? They got a decent potato crop! I like to err on the side of drying my potato pieces at least a day, though.)

After a day or two, my cut potato chunks have dried enough to plant. Yes, I know it's crazy early to be planting potatoes, but I live in Texas. It was 67 degrees yesterday. For the rest of the known world, you'll want to wait until it's dry and warm, about a week after the last frost.

And into the ground they go! You'll notice all the organic material in my soil there. I am a HUGE proponent of the Back to Eden style of gardening, and I have heavily mulched these beds the past two years. I can sink a spade about 10 inches down into the soil and it's rich and alive and gorgeous. In fact, let me show you. Here's a back bed that was NOT mulched Back to Eden style. (Note how sandy the soil is. I can barely dig into it with a shovel, it's such hard ground.)

And here's the "flower"bed with that gorgeous soil, now planted with potatoes, mulched in wood chips and spent tomato vines and Maggie's head:

World of difference!

Anyway. I'll continue planting potatoes through March, but I'm happy to have these in the ground now. Several months worth of potatoes from a $3.99 bag at the store that we also ate from? Yes please!

It's time for a victory garden revival.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Garden Dreaming

Growing your own food is like
printing your own money.
-Ron Finley

I don't know about you, but I'm ready to start printing.

Do you garden? What are you thinking of planting this year? I'm doing onions, cabbage, and potatoes again, along with peas and beans, tomatoes, green veggies and cucumbers. Maybe corn. Is it time to start seeds yet? I'm ready... I'm so ready.... 

I've been watching Urban Farming Guys videos lately and thinking of our town. We have a community garden that grows vegetables for the local homeless shelter, the food pantry and veterans. My family helped out a little last year, mainly with prepping the garden and planting. My Dad brought his tractor out and got the garden ready for spring. He's cool like that.

But an urban farming movement? That's impossibly cool. Sign me up. One garden is never enough!

Wonder how much help we could be to each other if everyone who could, planted?

Excuse me. Sorry. Just garden dreaming out loud... 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Quiet January Life

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, 
minding your own business and working with your hands...
-1 Thessalonians 4:11

In keeping with the whole "quiet life" thing, the plan this weekend is to make soup, knit, read, look through seed catalogs for flowers to grow this spring, and stay warm. It's the best time of year to take things slow and steady, isn't it?

Have a warm and blessed weekend. -Brin

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Mountains, Light, Heart Blinds and Rising Up

know the secrets
we need to learn.
That it might take time,
it might be hard
but if you just
hold on
long enough
you will find the strength 
to rise up. 
-Tyler Knott Gregson 


Happy new year, you!

Two things I'm already taken with in 2015: Tyler Knott Gregson's poetry, and this bread- Fast and Fabulous French Bread. Early this morning, as the sun leaked through the window blinds, I read bits of Chasers of the Light and smeared butter on my homemade bread and, in that moment, felt joy leaking through my heart blinds.

Heart blinds are a thing, in case you didn't know. They're the cheap, fiddly screens we find over our hearts when we realize, suddenly, one day, that it's darker in ourselves than it need be. That we've let fear or doubt or the dullness of life leak into our spirit and- day after day, slat after slat- hang a barrier between us and the Light that's all around us. Mountains do know the secret. Bread knows it, too: that time and endurance can raise the ordinary to extraordinary heights, if only we persevere until we find ourselves lifted up.

This new year, my prayer is that we continue to chase the Light. That we don't give up. That we keep on and keep on and keep on until we rise up, out of our shadows... out of our fear... out of our doubt, and onto the mountain top.

We'll do this, this year. See you there.  -Brin