Blueberry Honey Lemon Tart

Berry season, guys. It’s my happy place. I typically fail at sharing evidence of the berry production on my property because I am too busy shoveling berries into my face. Often times, our berries don’t even make it into something fancy. They’re usually consumed before I make it into the house.

The struggle is real.

Blueberry Bush

These lovely blueberries were bestowed upon us by the Handyman’s coworker and fellow garden enthusiast. Who has so many berries they can give them away in droves??? I need to level up my life.

Bluebs

But I’ll just start with this tart.

I love a recipe so simple that the majority of the ingredients are in the name, don’t you? Bonus points when you don’t even have to go to the store to pick up any ingredients.

Tart Ingredients

I’m a pretty non-fussy baker… Which means I just press out a crust and call it good. I have little desire to expend energy making a perfectly pleated crust. Luckily, that is totally acceptable now, as long as you market it properly. Just add a trendy word or six to the title when you take it to dinner parties for everyone to fawn over. Example: Rustic Organic Blueberry Lemon tart with Local Honey and Artisan Whole Wheat Crust. The longer and more descriptive the name, the more  pretentious  delicious it will taste.

Let me know how that goes for you. Anyway, with no further adieu…

Blueberry Honey Lemon Tart

Blueberry Honey Lemon Tart

Crust (yields 2, freeze one for future, effortless tart making)

  • 2 1/2 cups Whole Wheat Flour
  • 16 TBS (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup ice water; more as needed

Filling

  • 3 (heaping) cups blueberries
  • 2 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 TBS corn starch
  • Dash of salt

Instructions

Crust

  1. Combine the flour and salt in food processor and pulse 2 or 3 times to combine
  2. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal
  3. Add the 1/4 cup ice water and pulse 3 or 4 times.The dough should hold together when squeezed with your fingers but should not be sticky. If it is crumbly, add more water, 1 tsp. at a time, pulsing after each addition.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and shape into two even disks
  5. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days
  6. When ready to use, roll out a disk of dough to approximately 1/8 inch thick to fit a standard 10 1/4-inch round tart pan (also works well in a cheesecake form, or pie pan… seriously, you don’t need to go buy a tart pan)
  7. Press the dough into the pan and refrigerate at least 10 minutes

Filling

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F
  2. In large bowl, whisk together lemon juice, zest, honey, salt and corn starch
  3. Toss blueberries in honey mixture
  4. Poor filling into prepared crust
  5. Bake for 30 minutes, or until crust lightly browned and filling bubbly
  6. Let cool and insert in face
Advertisements

Winter Blues… and Greens

These Winter days are the hardest. Always. Everything outside is dead and sad looking. The days are short and cold.

Unusually cold.

IMG_0443a

But not inside… It is Spring in my living room.

IMG_0388

As I sit here sipping my coffee, between trips outside in the 8°F weather to defrost water for the poultry, I can bask in the beauty of my young garden.

IMG_0402

If you haven’t already, NOW is the time to plan and plant your garden! This is especially important for plants that require long growing season like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and tomatillos, but you can also get a head start on your herbs, cabbage, kale and the like. It is recommended that you start your seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost in your area. You can find that forecasted date in your region here.

But don’t go rushing off to the big box store for those Burpee seeds just yet! You will find a wide variety of better quality seeds online. My favorite companies for rare, organic, heirloom and non-gmo seeds include Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Territorial Seed Company, TomatoFest and Potato Garden.* Baker Creek and Territorial both publish beautiful seed catalogs, so be sure to request one when you visit their websites. They will get you all kinds of inspired for Spring! I’ll give you a little sneak peak…

rareseeds.com

See!? Aren’t you inspired already? And yes. That is what I’ve been doing the last couple months – ogling seed catalogs and pinning a billion photos of ripe heirloom tomatoes.

Meanwhile, the Handy Man built this amazing contraption for all of my seedlings to reside on. It has completely revolutionized how I grow transplants. Seriously. These seedlings are 3 weeks old. More on that soon.

IMG_0484

In the mean time, I hope you can stave of these Winter Blues with some green of your own!

*I am not affiliated with or compensated in any way by any of the aforementioned companies.

Purple Honey in the Sandhills of North Carolina

The illustrious Purple Honey has made a show-stopping appearance in our hives.

We could not have been more shocked to find it there upon a small impromptu harvest yesterday and are still reeling from our discovery. Although Central North Carolina is the best known region for this rare occurrence, we had previously spoken to beekeepers that had been in the area over 30 years and had never seen purple honey in their hives; so we never really expected to find it in ours.

Interestingly, of the two side-by-side hives in our apiary, we only pulled purple honey from one of them. We had always assumed that the bees from both hives were likely foraging in the same areas. As only one hive produced purple honey, this is apparently not the case. Even more interestingly, it is not clear where this purple honey comes from.

IMG_13901

There are three prominent theories, but it is still scientifically unknown. Let that just sink in for a moment. In 2014 we do not know how this rare but well-known occurrence happens. That is completely and utterly amazing.

One theory is that the bees eat the fruit of blueberries, blackberries or elderberries, causing the purple color. To be clear, we both believe this to be the least likely cause of purple honey. First, bees occasionally, but very rarely consume the juice of fruit. It would be unlike that enough of them would do so to deeply tint several frames of honey. Secondly, those types of berries are few and far between in our hives’ foraging range and have wrapped up peek production well before the colored honey is found in the frame. Additionally, honey is produce from nectar. Although fruit juice is a similarly sugar-rich substance, it is not a direct substitute. Nectar is thicker than fruit juice, more similar to the viscosity of honey, whereas fruit juice is more similar to the viscosity of water. We also already know that the color of honey changes dependent on the source of nectar. For example, Orange Blossom Honey is very light and golden, where as Avocado Blossom Honey is dark with a greenish-brown hew. And finally, these berries are found throughout every zone in the US and most of the rest of the world. It would not make sense then that Purple Honey is predominantly found in only one region of North Carolina; albeit only rarely at that.

Another theory is that it comes from the nectar of a specific plant that grows in the forested areas of Central North Carolina. The argument is that it is a plant less-favored by bees and only foraged on dry years or when food is less plentiful. To that point, it has not been an unusually dry year in our region. I have heard mixed information as to what plant that may be, but Kudzu seems to be the most predominantly sited in the beekeeping community. This is certainly a possibility as Kudzu grows rampant throughout the Southern States, but I feel inclined to draw attention again to the wide growth range of Kudzu throughout the South, and the relatively small region that purple honey is found in.

The final theory behind purple honey revolves around varying mineral content of the soil that nourish bee-frequented crops. The Sandhills of Central North Carolina are a grower’s nightmare, full of hard-packed, acidic clay and sand. Could that be it? I really don’t know. And neither do the experts. The result of North Carolina State University’s professor, John Ambrose’s study concluded that nothing was as it seemed. “It’s one of those things that people want to believe their eyes,” Ambrose says. “The best explanation is usually the simplest, but in this case, it’s not.”

IMG_1357IMG_1360IMG_1364

IMG_1380IMG_1385

So although we can not explain our stunningly deep purple honey, we can tell you we’re lucky enough to have it for this fleeting moment. We can also tell you it’s delicious.

Two Easy, Inexpensive Organic Solutions to Pest Control

Pest control is the vein of every organic gardener’s existence.  At some point we all recognize that there is a small portion of our garden we must be willing to share with nature. Although I must admit, I am much more willing to share with the birds (please stop taking a bite out of each berry; have a whole one, on me) than I am to insects (gross).

As my poor eggplants can attest to, I have been neglecting pest control in my garden. The heavy spring rains we’ve had lately has been a big deterrent to treating the garden, but it looks like we’re in for a hot, dry week, so no more excuses! Seriously, WHAT IS EATING MY EGGPLANT?

IMG_0937sm

One of the keys to appropriate pest control is treating early… oopps. A few bites out of a well established plant is not a big deal; I would concede to consider that “sharing,” but leaves that appear laced with holes, particularly on young plants need to be dealt with immediately.

The second is to retreat as needed.

But the most important, is to apply treatments judiciously. Like “conventional” chemical pesticides or insecticides, organic pest control is unscrupulous. Any time you apply a product, organic or not, it will affect good insects as well as bad.

Often, the solution to getting rid of a pest depends on what kind of insect is eating your _____ (fill in the blank).  The problem is you and I don’t always know who the culprit is. Don’t worry. I still have a couple solutions for you.

1. COFFEE GROUNDS

Coffee is an excellent all around insect deterrent. It is also extremely cost effective – you can use the used ground from your morning brew, or you can swing by your local coffee shop and ask to take their used grounds. What is better than free?

Coffee grounds deter a wide variety of pests, including deer, cats, slugs and insects. The scent of caffeine can be detected by most insects, even at very low levels, causing them to steer clear of the treated area all together. Simply sprinkle used grounds around the base of the afflicted plant to keep pests from coming back. Avoid getting grounds on the leaves or near the flowers, as that may deter pollinators as well.

Coffee also acts as an excellent fertilizer for nitrogen loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, corn and berries! That’s a great two-for-one deal! Note that plants can get “burnt” from over fertilization, so do give the plant a health drink of water with this treatment and monitor the color or the leaves. If they start to yellow or brown you may be over doing it.

2. DIATOMACEOUS EARTH  (DE)

This is a naturally occurring siliceous rock that is crushed into a powder and can be found inexpensively at just about any farm store. We get “food grade” DE that can be mixed (in very small amounts) into our chicken’s feed, acting as an organic de-wormer. DE can also be sprinkled safely onto pets’ coats to eliminate lice, ticks, or mites.

Additionally, DE can be used to eliminate ants (indoors or out), aphids and any other insect. It works really well, but it will also harm beneficial insects! So, again, use judiciously and try to spot treat so that you’re not spreading this broad spectrum organic insecticide all over your garden or property.

To treat the afflicted area, sprinkle the powder directly on the insects, on the leaves where they are snacking or on the ground around the plant where they may be walking. DE works by creating microscopic cuts in the insects’ exoskeletons that causes them to dehydrate and die.

Top 5 Must-Have Edible Perennials

In the world of all things edible, perennials are worth their weight in gold! They require a little more planning up front, such as additional soil amendments and thoughtful placement, but are some of the most rewarding and easily cared for producers in your garden. They also make for beautiful landscape additions, leaving you more workable garden space.

Although I can often be found ignoring planting zones all together (the dead Mango tree in the compost bin will attest to that), it is important when considering some perennials and may impact variety selection. Pick a variety hardy in your zone to insure success. We linger somewhere between USDA zone 7b and 8a; these are our favorite, most productive perennials.

1. Asparagus

I could write sonnets about my love of Asparagus. They are the first thing to come on in early spring; while you’re still day dreaming of putting your started plants in the dirt, asparagus’ first steams are already reaching for the sky. It produces heavily for several months before bushing out into a beautiful fern that will shade out most weeds – which means even less work for you! Once established, they are also extremely drought tolerant and are very hardy in hot and cold temperatures.

If cared for properly, an asparagus root can be productive for over 15 years. Growing up, my grandma had roots in her garden that were nearly 30 years old and still producing year after year. This earns asparagus the number one must-have perennial spot.

IMG_9237edit

I will be eating you and a few of your friends for dinner

2. Herbs

Fresh herbs make all the difference in cooking, but are so expensive at the grocery store or farmer’s market! It may surprise you to learn how easy they are to grow at home as perennials. Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Mint, Sage and Lavender are all hardy perennials in most growing zones. In zone 8a/7b, where I live, Parsley also grows as a perennial with no extra effort, while dill and cilantro self-seed each year. Herbs do well with confinement to a pot (indoors or out), and are beautiful edible additions to traditional landscaping. The sheer fact that they will pay for themselves a thousand times over earns them the number two spot. However, their evergreen beauty through the winter months, ability to attract pollinators, ease of care and capacity for improving the flavor profile of everything in your kitchen could nudge them into first place if you’re not as obsessed with asparagus as I am.

Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano & Sage

These will make you a master chef. Clockwise from the top: Sage, Oregano Thyme and Rosemary.

3. Berries

Blueberries, Raspberries, Strawberries, Cranberries, Goji berries – all berries! Berries are expensive to buy and often soaked in a chemical soup of pesticides. You can find cultivars of most kinds of berries well suited for almost any growing zone. Although they often take a couple years to start producing heavy yields, I promise they will be worth the wait. Most berries require a little pruning to keep plants healthy and yields high, but it is very little maintenance when you consider how many non-fruit yielding trees and bushes you extend the same effort to each fall.

The strawberries are just starting to set flowers

The strawberries are just starting to set flowers

4. Walking Onions

I was gifted a few precious heirloom walking onion bulblets, and now have an entire bed full! It was certainly one of the best gifts ever. When these onions grow, they look much like green onions or scallions. You can trim the tops off and directly substitute them in any application you would use green onions. You may use the large underground bulb onion that forms at the base and also the small pearl like onions that form at the tip in place of a flower. The plant “walks” itself by sprouting bulblets on the original stalk, which then bends under the weight, setting the small onion bulb “seeds” down, allowing them to root near the parent plant. If you allow the bed to become well established (ie., don’t over harvest the first year, and allow the onion to “walk”), you will never run out of onions. That’s right – forever with onions. It’s a glorious thing.

Walking Onion

Walking Onion

5. Rhubarb

Pies. Does this need further explanation? Rhubarb is extremely difficult to find in the market here. I was told by a local gardener that Rhubarb simply does not grow well in this climate – this is where ignoring growing zones can occasionally come in handy. I was determined to grow rhubarb; committed, against all odds, to force it to grow and get my pie. As it turned out, it was beyond simple and took no extra effort short of picking up a rhubarb crown from the farm and garden shop. I planted it, and it grew. It really is just that simple… Go figure.

Rhubarb dies completely back in the late fall and returns in early spring with bright red steams and huge beautiful leaves, gracing the barren garden with color. And then you harvest the leafstalks a few at a time, compost the leaves and make it into pie. Be sure to keep little hands, mouths and beaks away from the leaves of the plant as they contain oxalic acid, which is considered toxic. Also be careful to not over harvest the first two years as it establishes itself. Never take more than half of the plant’s leafstalks away in any given harvest, so that the plant will have enough foliage to sustain itself.

Future Pie

Future Pie

Bonus: Swiss Chard & Kale

Now, I know that Swiss Chard and Kale are not technically perennials, but did you know they can often behave like one? I have two year old swiss chard and kale plants that will not stop growing. And if they want to grow year round, who am I to stop them? Their preferred growing seasons are fall, winter and early spring, during which will be the best time to sow your seeds. However, they are very hardy plants that often times survive the summer heat. Growth will be minimal during the summer months and I would discourage harvesting during this time to avoid stressing the plant. Production will pick right back up when the temperature becomes a little more bearable. To keep up growth as a perennial, it is important to make sure the plant is not depleting the soil of vital nutrients. You can do this by amending the soil with compost annually or biannually, watering with compost tea every couple of months, or adding other organic fertilizers.

2 year old Swiss Chard

Thanks for breakfast today, Chard!

So there you have it – our favorite perennial fruits and veggies. What is at the top of your must-have edible perennial list?

How lovely is the silence of growing things

Image

IMG_9139sm

Mornings on the farm are so peaceful and so full of wonder.