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
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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.

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

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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?

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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.

Landscaping a Small Urban Apiary

Update Spring 2015: Two years later our little urban apiary is as beautiful as ever! It is everyone’s favorite place to hang out and is the focal point of our yard. The ducks make their nests and hatch their young among the lavender, the chickens relax under the shade of the tree and the bees bustle about. We often sit on the retaining wall stones watching bees come and go, breathing in the sweet scent of rosemary and lavender. It is just as idyllic and well serving as I had hoped.

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The intent was to landscape a beautiful apiary for our bees so that they would have a functional and welcoming home. What we ended up with lies somewhere between apiary, herb garden and aroma therapy garden. I love when planting is multipurpose – edible, perennial, aesthetically pleasing and good at attracting pollinators – and this apiary is just that. It’s a lovely space for bee and beekeeper alike.

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Consider planting in your apiary during early morning on a cool, drizzly spring or fall day. I know these aren’t the gardener’s preferred working conditions, but neither are they the bees’, which means you are far less likely to cause a disturbance. Bees will not venture out of the hive for foraging activities until the outer temperature has risen into the mid 50’s. There may be the occasional security guard that comes out to supervise your activity, but in general, they will remain out of your way and you out of theirs.

A cherry tree, which is full of heavy blooms in the early spring to feed hungry, over-wintered bees, casts dappled shade to offer some reprieve from the Southern summer heat. Honey Bees are very particular about the temperature inside the hive, working year round to maintain 94-97°F. When you live in a climate with extreme heat, it may be necessary to help them out by creating some shade – not too much though, they’ll be wanting that sun come the cold winter months. Think of something native to your area that has sparse branching and will lose all of its foliage in the winter months.

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Lavender is a clear choice for apiary landscaping as it’s one of bees’ favorites. We included various varieties of lavender in different sizes, foliage color and flower color. There are hundreds of lavender cultivars to choose from; we recommend choosing native varieties that will flourish in your growing zone as they will require very little care once established. When planting for pollinators, consider planting in clumps or clusters, rather than a single plant. Not only do they find this more attractive, it makes it more worth their effort.

Lavender

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Rosemary is another bee (and chef) favorite. The blue blooms and highly fragrant foliage are calming for both bee and keeper. Here, rosemary acts as a slight barrier between the entrance of each hive and the boisterous activity of the backyard. Honey Bees take very serious the job of guarding the hive entrance. By planting a visual and physical barrier you’re helping them keep things around the entrance calm. This barrier should be at least a foot away, giving the bees plenty of space to come and go free of congestion.

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Heather acts an extremely low maintenance ground cover that produces droves of purple, pink or white flowers from very early spring through late fall. Meanwhile, fast growing Pampas grass will add movement and height as it matures. Remember to leave plenty of space to work in and around the hives. You don’t want to feel claustrophobic when the plants mature to full-size, so plan accordingly.

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A nicely designed apiary allows for easy foraging (like super healthy, beautiful fast-food for bees) and creates a space for all inhabitants of your urban property to share and enjoy.

Which means, while these happy ladies are busy working away…

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…we can relax with lavender-mint vodka tonic while enjoying the warm evening, aromatic garden, and gentle humming of the hive. Bliss.

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Ducks Afraid of the Water

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It would be just our luck to acquire farm animals that are overly sensitive and easily frightened by things that would be common if encountered in nature…

You see, Peanut ‘n’ Butter did not start out afraid of the water. In fact, they have had quite the love affair with water in their first two months of life. When we moved them outside to be “grown up” ducks, we installed a pond (DIY details to come), which the ducks took to instantly. From the moment there was water in their pond, they did not leave it. We had to pull them out of it each night to put them to bed in the coop and they immediately returned to it each morning.

Any time is a good time for a pool party

Any time is a good time for a pool party

Then it happened. The Handy Man and I got a good idea and ruined it all.

When we see a problem or potential problem in our manufactured habitat, we try to address it in the most natural and mutually beneficial way possible so that it functions somewhat like a realistic ecosystem. For example, with the addition of a pond, we face issues that may arise when dealing with stagnant water – increased mosquito populations. There are a few simple, organic solutions to this: plant mosquito repelling plants (check), install bat houses (check) and introduce fish to the pond.

Now, you can see how this seemed like a good idea. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in water. Fish live in water and eat mosquito eggs. Ducks swim in water and eat fish and mosquitoes. Surviving fish eat duck poop and make more poop for the organic garden. It’s the circle of life. Everyone’s happy.

So off to the pet store we went to purchase feeder fish – the tiniest, cheapest fish you can purchase. They’re typically goldfish or minnows that can live in nearly any condition and run around $0.10 a piece.

Upon returning home from the pet store, we set the bag of fish in the pond to allow the fish to acclimate to the water temperature. The ducks got out of the pond when we did this but we didn’t think much of it and went about our yard work. After an hour passed, I emptied the fish into the pond and the Handy Man and I sat back awaiting our lavish praise. But no praise came. Nothing came. As far as the ducks were concerned, we had just poisoned their pond and it would never be the same.

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The ducks were afraid. Of the fish.

I looked at them in utter disbelief. “YOU EAT FISH,” I yelled. “Do you not know that yet?” We attempted to heard them to the pond to no avail. They would rather have died than go back in that water.

They spent the rest of the day glaring at us from the opposite side of the yard. We hoped that they would go to bed and wake up a.) in a better mood and b.) with no memory of the betrayal. But we had no such luck.

The next day Peanut ‘n’ Butter decided that they were chickens, not ducks. They followed the hens around, attempting to scratch up bugs with their webbed feet and did not once even glance longingly towards the pond. It was dead to them.

Everyone in this picture, including the dog, thinks that they're a chicken.

Everyone in this picture, including the dog, thinks that they’re a chicken.

The chickens, now sensing an imbalance in the backyard hierarchy, decided that they would try out being ducks. As you can imagine, this did not work out very well. Mid-day I found Uggh unsuccessfully “swimming” in the pond, half chasing fish and half panic-stricken, trying to get out. I scooped her up and dried her off. Hopefully she has realized that although a duck may get away with acting like a chicken, a chicken cannot get away with pretending to be a duck.

Silly Uggh, you're not a duck.

Silly Uggh, you’re not a duck.

Day three was more of the same. Impatient with their lack of progress and understanding of their own nature, we tossed them in the pond, thinking it would jolt their instinctual memories. But no. They just jumped out, ran away and glared at us from a safe distance.

We tried to lure them closer by placing their food and water dish near the pond’s edge, but they refused to eat from it. Instead, they ate weeds from the yard until we moved the food further away from the water’s edge.

We'll just eat these weeds instead.

We’ll just eat these weeds instead.

Exasperated at the end of the day, we sat with them that evening, trying to rebuild the trust lost in our relationship. They noisily chatter away, expressing their deep dissatisfaction with the situation to the Handy Man. Of course, as the fish-dumper, I can no longer be held in such confidence.

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Today we got the idea to play the ducks Youtube videos of other ducks splashing and playing in the water, hoping that the excited sounds of their brethren would entice them. (The things you will do for your emotionally distraught ducklings!) We did this for over an hour as Peanut ‘n’ Butter cocked their heads back and forth in response to the familiar noises to no avail. Although they did express interest and crept closer, they never breached the barrier at which they considered a safe distance away from the poisoned pond and monstrous fish.

So here we are with ducks that are afraid of the water. We broke them and their little emotional, sensitive spirits with a bag of fish. To be a duck-out-of-water is a sad, sad plight. Here’s hoping they return to the water on their own, as they continue to grow in size and confidence, overcoming this very traumatic experience…

We'll be over here...as far away from the pond as possible.

We’ll be over here…as far away from the pond as possible.

The fish are happy, though. They’re flourishing and have at least tripled in size. Scary little suckers. I guess the circle of life isn’t always so straight forward. Who knew?