This Means War: My Neighbor Food-Gift Arms Race

It started with lettuce. You can’t freeze the stuff, right? Or bake with it, or make lettucesauce or lettuce jam. It’s just…lettuce. And there’s only so much salad two people can eat.

So I brought a bag to the neighbors. They were grateful.

Next week I brought some more, plus some arugula. Same story. Except Neighbor Rick mentioned they were going crabbing and would bring us some if they got lucky.

For a time, they didn’t. Meanwhile, I brought them more lettuce.

Then the crabs found their way into Neighbor Rick’s pots.* He brought us two–cooked and cleaned. We dined in ecstasy. And I brought them a small bowl of raspberries.

[One of my favorite sayings is, “I don’t want a ____, I just want a friend with a _____.” In this case: boat, pot, crab license.]

Couple days later: two more crabs. “I work at a bakery,” I told Rick. “Can I bring you some treats?” But no–Rick and family are trying to stay away from those kind of temptations. Curses! Nothing for it but to bring more raspberries.

Then Neighbor Rick upped his game. “We’re gettin’ a buncha crab now, gonna make some gumbo,” he told us. “Can we bring you a little?”

We were imagining a wee side dish for our dinner, and we were excited for that. But when Rick came over with the gumbo…well.

Unfortunately, I did not think to take a picture of the beautiful domed island of white rice, sprinkled with spices, rising from a sea of okra, tomatoes, shrimp, chicken, andouille sausage, fish, with four more crab-halves dangling their claws over the edge of the dish. But here’s what the leftovers looked like the second night:

This is only about a third of the leftover crabmeat…

…which is also when Neighbor Rick dropped off the rack of “extra” baby back ribs, barbecued in a marionberry sauce. This time I remembered to take a picture.

So…full…but it still makes my mouth water!

At that point I FORCED him to take home a fresh baguette from my bakery, and a bowl of truffle balls from my freezer.

If we don’t achieve some kind of detente soon, I may forget how to cook. But I see no end in sight. And me with no zucchini!

It’s August. Anyone have a food-gifting story to share? (I still have raspberries.)

Berry Odd Life Lessons: Wisdom From the Razz Patch

My raspberries have gone crazy this year. Out of control, fill-the-fridge-wait-no-start-filling-the-freezer crazy.

I’m not bragging, understand. I’m simply gobsmacked. Because my raspberry patch’s fit of overabundance owes NOTHING to me. I’ve done diddly. Weeding? Nope. Fertilizing? Are you kidding? I didn’t even water them.

Note: this is a salad bowl, not a cereal bowl. And I’m filling it daily, and then some.

Wait, take it back–I did fight off a few salmonberry bushes a couple of weeks ago, which had insinuated themselves into the razzies–just enough to reach the good stuff. I won that little war, but the salmonberries definitely left their mark:

…and I’m not even showing you the scratches on my arms.

Point is, though–I didn’t EARN these berries. And yet I still get to enjoy them. Apparently Nature ain’t no meritocracy.

This is what benign neglect looks like.

Ironically enough, though, as I’m picking my way through this undeserved bounty, I find I’m practically killing myself to get every…last…berry…through the salmonberries, through the chain link fence the original planter of these berries put up…ooh! those ones just out of my reach look even better than the ones I just picked!

Just walk away, Gretchen.

Which tells me…what, exactly, about myself? I am perfectly happy to accept good fortune–so happy, in fact, that I unconsciously turn privilege into right and strain for the very last drop of goodness as though I had worked for it. 

Hmm. Lesson? Learn to accept the berries I cannot reach just as delightedly as those I can? Gratitude AND grace?

Workin’ on that. I’ll let you know.

Aw, They Grow Up So Fast: My Lil’ Grandgarden Turns Three

I’m gonna have to stop calling it my Grandgarden. 

Three years ago, when Son Two hacked a couple of rows out of our backyard’s over-shaded, overgrown onetime raspberry patch and stuck a few seeds in, that’s what I called it. Didn’t take any responsibility beyond watering for a few days when he went off-island.

Fast-forward three years. Son Two’s long gone to the east coast. Last year I decided I could handle the responsibility of planting and watering my own seeds. So I did…full of trepidation about getting tied down to another 20 years of garden maintenance (which I thought I’d left behind when Son Two graduated and we moved to an island full of organic farms).

So it’s MY kid garden now.

Nothing ambitious–a few rows of greens. Some broccoli and potatoes. And some strawberries, originally planted by Son Two. Sure, I can handle that. Didn’t even get too bummed when the raccoons beat me to the ripened strawberries.

This year, I cleared a little more. Still didn’t plant anything I wasn’t sure could thrive in such shady conditions.

Secret to success: low standards!

Still didn’t commit myself to fertilizing, beyond a few shovelfulls of compost, or staking. Got too much going on to spend hours out there. But regular minutes, weeding, watering, harvesting? In MY garden, once more?

Yes. And I’m not even counting on those strawberries. The raccoons are even more committed to my garden than I am.

Try not to notice how big those berries are getting…

Thanks, Son Two, for getting me re-started. And my hat’s off to all you COMMITTED gardeners. This semi-committed one is glad you’re there. Got any strawberries, just in case?

How Well Do You Know Your Farmer? Let The Bounty Project Show You How It’s Done.

I am SO blessed to live in a community where I know my farmers. Now I’m wondering: how many of you could too? The Bounty Project introduces its community to the folks who grow its food through short interviews, gorgeous photographs, and mouth-watering recipes to put all that yummy local produce and meat to use. Are you a small farmer, or a writer or photographer who cares deeply about farms and eating local? Read about The Bounty Project, then consider how you might start one in your own community.

Bounty

bounty_cover_email_3bBOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community will be released at an event at Lopez Center for Community and the Arts on Friday, Oct. 21, 5-7 PM. The beautiful BOUNTY Photo Exhibit will be on view and copies of the book will be on sale.

Join the CELEBRATION!  The photographers, the writer, and chef will be available to sign the book.  The book will also be available for purchase at the LCLT Annual Harvest Dinner the following evening, Oct. 22 and at the Lopez Bookshop.

This 124-page book combines photographs, profiles, and recipes for twenty-eight Lopez Island farms and farmers to present an intimate, behind-the-scenes view of what it takes to bring food from earth to table on Lopez Island.

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Seeing is Bee-lieving: Guest Blog by Wing Son Two

 

The Things We Do for Honey

This spring our beehive arrived, the much anticipated Kickstarted “Flow” hive that allows for low-disturbance (and low-risk) beekeeping and the ability to harvest honey from a tap. It is a beautiful wood design that was easy to set up, but one crucial piece was missing: bees.

Getting a new colony of bees is no simple process. Every colony needs one queen, and only one–a single queen can control a colony of up to 50,000 workers. What’s more, she produces a pheromone that both compels workers to care for her and stymies the development of other queen bees (they are born as female workers, the bees you see pollinating flowers). In nature, when colonies grow too large, the queen pheromone is not strong enough to effect all the drones and they will raise a new queen, and thus creating a new colony.

The queen lays upwards of 1,000 eggs a day!

When you are purchasing bees, what you generally want to get is a nucleus, or “nuc”. This is essentially a small colony: usually five frames (instead of eight or ten) filled with workers, drones, a queen, and brood. This was created by splitting an existing hive–separating a population of the hive from the queen so they allow a new one to grow.

Story time.

We bought a nuc. When I was told that I had to go pick it up, I figured I would be handed a plane ticket to North Korea, but instead was given an address in eastern Mass. It was a three hour drive, and I was told to arrive at 8am, when the bees are not yet active for the day. Okay, sure, no problem. I woke up at 5, jumped in my car and got there exactly at 8. They had a nuc waiting–a simple wooden box containing the five frames, covered with a layer of plastic mesh and a wooden lid. I was told to keep the wooden lid off so the bees would not overheat, but given no other directions. When I asked if I should put it in the trunk or backseat, the lady just shrugged. When I said that I was driving 3 hours she gave a start and frowned but still offered no guidance. There was one lone bee on the outside of the mesh–we both saw it–but since she said nothing I wasn’t going to be the pansy who asked if it was fine to have a bee loose in my car. Besides, it was just one bee.

After about ten minutes in the car, the bee left the mesh and started buzzing around the window. I figured the guy was the adventurous misfit of the hive and granted him his wish of outdoor exploration. Whoosh, out he flew. A few minutes later I glanced in the rearview and saw a bee buzzing at the back window. Hmmm…that first bee definitely was ejected, so this must be a new one. Oh well, he can just hang out back there. I took another look a couple minutes after and saw he had been joined by two other bees.

Three bees are pretty much the same as one bee in my book, nothing to be bothered about. Still, as I raced over the hills of southern New Hampshire, I could not help but keep stealing glances back. Not wanting to tear my eyes off the road for more than a second–getting in a crash with a backseat full of bees definitely would ruin a good day–I am having trouble discerning if there are now four or five bees back there. They keep buzzing around the corners of the window. After another half hour, though, it is undeniable: there are at least a dozen bees loose.

Hmmmmm…….

Well there was not a whole lot I could do about it, so I just drove a bit faster, flinching every time I hit the rumble strip because I was too distracted counting bees in my mirror. Worse yet, my fuel gauge was dangerously low and I could not shake the feeling that the obnoxiously loud low-fuel beep would be at the exact frequency that makes bees go swarming mad. By the time I was forced to pull over to get gas there were at least 40 bees buzzing at an increasingly loud and angry volume. I filled up as quick as I could, brushed off the stray explorers that had ventured up to my seat and got up to speed as quickly as I could, leaving the front windows rolled down to keep a steady blast of air holding them back.

I have no idea how many bees were loose by the time I rolled into the farm (and jumped out of my car). Maybe 60? 70? Too many. Luckily there were still hundreds more in the nuc that my cousin (wearing full bee gear) picked out of my car and deposited in our hive. Even more luckily, I did not get stung…until I was standing by watching the installation process. Then I took one on the ear and the whole side of my face swelled up like a Trump balloon-doll. But that is a small price to pay for increased farm fertility, the promise of future honey, and another chapter in my memoirs.

what do you mean we can’t harvest until next year?

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Know Your Farmer

Do you believe that eating local will save the world? If yes, read on and cheer. If no, just read on…with thanks to my friend Iris for writing this wonderful post on Lopez Island’s Bounty Project.

Iris Graville

chevreMost Sundays after Quaker Meeting, I go shopping. That means walking a few yards from the house where we gather at Sunnyfield Farm to the self-serve refrigerator at the farm’s licensed goat dairy. There I pick up a tub of chèvre. A couple of weeks ago I also found jars of feta in the fridge and chose one of those as well. To “check out,” I note my purchases in a spiral-bound notebook that sits on a nearby table and deposit cash or a check in the payment box there.

Andre and Elizabeth Entermann of Sunnyfield are among the Lopez Island farmers I know and rely on for my household’s food. Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know more about twenty-eight local farms (like Sunnyfield) that are participating in BOUNTY – Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community.

bounty-poster-fall-2015v3This weekend, more of my fellow Lopezians…

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