Author Archives: cindybarlowe

A New Home for the Queen

Richardbeeswarm

Richardwithbeeswarm

After a cool, slow start to this Spring, today’s above-80 degree warmth was welcome.  Just as the sunshine stirred human bodies, our bees’ activity increased.  Richard visited the farm this afternoon and noticed one hive was just about to swarm . .  quickly, he drove to a fellow beekeeper’s home, a dear friend of ours, to pick up a new hive, loaded with frames.  As he hurried back to Heart & Sole, he prayed he would not be too late to capture the swarming bees.

Just after Richard arrived, he saw some of the bees “dancing” on the porch of their packed hive.  Two Queens resided inside and only one could remain.  As Richard watched in amazement, one of the Queens exited the hive, accompanied by a mass of bees.  They flew over his head and settled in a nearby tree, thankfully, one that was very small.  Richard placed the new hive close to the swarm and called me to ask if I would bring a set of shears so he could cut the tree and move the swarm close to the hive, in hopes of enticing the Queen to take up residence there.

When I arrived at the farm, I was in awe of the beautiful, tangled mass of honeybees.  Richard and I stood very close to them and neither of us were bothered by the bees zipping by our heads and around our bodies.  Richard donned his bee suit, tried to ignore the day’s heat, and took the cutters to attempt to gently remove the swarm from the tree.

I captured on film what has to be one of the most textbook-perfect swarm “takes” ever witnessed and I was very proud of Richard’s skill, especially since he underwent minor surgery at the dermatologist’s office just hours before and had been cautioned to “not stretch, strain or pull” his back!  The bees calmly (we have such sweet bees!) settled in front of the hive and, as Richard began a rhythmic tapping on the side of the box, began to explore their new home.  When the Queen finally entered the hive, we breathed a sigh of relief. 

Honeybees are an important part of our farm’s balance and we depend upon these powerful pollinators to help produce better crop yields.  We love the bees and regard them as “working pets.”  Last year, a hive was stolen and we were distraught.  We still think of the “Brookshire Bees” and hope they are alive and well.  Each of our hives is named and today’s swarm came from “Danny’s Bees,” named after the man who called Richard last year to retrieve a swarm from his backyard.  We haven’t yet named the newest addition to our brood, but will do so in the next day or so.  If you have a suggestion, please send it along!

 

Snow White Awakens!

Since I discovered “treasures” in January, I have planted ninety of the three hundred and four tomato seeds in rich potting soil and have supplied them water, light and prayers, but so far, there is no sign of germination.  While I wait for that first tiny seedling to emerge from a thirty-year dormancy, I remain hopeful and although I realize the odds are not in favor for these seeds to become plants, I still “feel” life in them after they soak.  Perhaps that is imagination or a connection to my grandmother, but time will tell and there are two hundred and fourteen remaining chances.  Although Granny’s tomato seeds have yet to emerge, other heirloom plants are beginning to grow, continuing a life cycle I regard as miraculous.

Celebrating the first day of Spring, my son, Clark, and I planted a salad bed in the small kitchen garden at our home.  A variety of lettuces, radishes, onions and shallots will offer delicious treats that are more easily accessible than plants grown at our farm, a ten-mile drive from home.  Since the lunar calendar dictated that March 20th was also a good day to start seeds, we filled trays with potting soil and 257 seeds.  Forty types of tomatoes and twenty-eight pepper varieties are represented in our carefully labeled trays.  As we talked about the different peppers we were planting, I remembered the many strands of dried peppers hanging from a door in Granny’s home.  Mental head slap; that’s where she kept her pepper seeds!  Dried peppers could be used for cooking and the remaining ones would have been used to start the next year’s plants.  Even dried, the colors were beautiful and I wish I had kept some of those for my own garden. . .

The following day, I filled an aluminum baking tray with soil and took two of the five Sungold tomatoes from a bowl in my kitchen, where they had rested since last Fall.  Although a bit dried and a little rubbery, I could feel the juice inside and after I squeezed the tiny cherry tomatoes over the dirt, I licked my fingers and the taste of heirloom tomato, pure Summer goodness, was still there.  I then put twelve more of Granny’s precious seeds and a jalapeno pepper, dried from my garden two years ago, in small bowls, filled with lukewarm water, to soak.  The following day, I placed those seeds in the “birthing chamber.”  

On March 25th, my daily morning check of seed trays was a time of joy.  Two tiny green shoots had emerged and I lifted the interior tray to read the label.  Snow White!  Isn’t it interesting that, of all the hundreds of seeds I planted in March, the first to emerge from that state of suspended animation is none other than Snow White?  A lovely cherry tomato, Snow White was one of the most prolific producers at our farm last Summer and I am thrilled to have her rejoin us this year.  Just in the past two days, a few eggplants, numerous celery seeds and several other tomatoes have germinated, including eight Sungolds, the very ones that were planted from leftover tomatoes just four days earlier.  

Although our North Carolina days are still chilly and the nights have been downright cold, the bright green seedlings in my greenhouse and “birthing chamber” are harbingers of Spring and I welcome them with gratitude.  

Sungold tomatoes, six months after harvest.

Sungold tomatoes, six months after harvest.

Of Seeds and Weeds

Every morning I rush to the seed tray to check Granny’s special seeds for germination and, so far, I have been disappointed.  I talk to them, I mist their little cells with rain water, and I continue to pray for them.  I know the odds are not in favor of these tiny treasures, but I am hopeful.  I will continue attempts to “start” Granny’s seeds until there are no more left and, when I see that first shoot of green leaves, clasped in the hold of a seed shell, you will probably hear my shout of joy.  As I wait for the first emergence of Granny’s long-dormant seeds, I content myself with starting other heirloom seeds for my garden.

After an almost killer season last summer, (400+ tomato plants really IS too much for just two people, at our ages, to maintain!) Richard and I promised ourselves we would downsize this year.  According to the lunar calendar, March 6th and 7th were good days to start seeds, so I filled seven 72-cell trays with artichoke, eggplant, tomato, herb, and pepper seeds. A smaller tray contains celery seeds and, if those plants thrive, rather than take them to the farm, I plan to capitalize on my shady, somewhat cooler, front lawn and plant them among the hostas. Attempting to learn from past mistakes, I carefully labeled each tray and recorded the varieties and the date in my trusty gardening notebook.  

I am often asked how I decide which plants to grow and there really is no crystal-clear answer.  A spring flood and early summer heat wiped out the artichokes I started last year, but I am once again trying the small purple variety that is supposed to do well in my area.  My family loves artichokes and I hope we will be able to enjoy them, freshly cut, from our own plants.  Our favorite eggplants, Japanese Pickling, Malaysian Dark Red, White Egg, Thai Round Green and Ping Tung, are invited back to the farm and will, fingers crossed, be joined by eleven other varieties.  Several herbs, both medicinal and culinary, are represented in one tray and thirty-nine pepper varieties are planted in two trays.  Our pepper crop did not perform last year, so I am doubling my efforts to grow these this year.  Luckily, I froze a good supply from 2011 and we have enjoyed them in a variety of recipes.  One of our favorite appetizers is to remove peppers from the freezer, slice them in half and seed them, and then fill them with goat cheese.  Roasted in a hot oven (about 425 degrees, Fahrenheit) for ten to fifteen minutes, they are delicious.  We use both sweet and hot ones for this dish and love to rotate between the flavors.  One of our favorite peppers is reminiscent of a bell, but in miniature form.  Sweet Stuffing Peppers, in dark red and bright yellow, are a visual delight and a tasty treat. 

Of course, I always get carried away with tomatoes and I am sure I will be sharing “extra” plants with friends and family.  So far, there are thirty-six varieties planted, not counting Granny’s special seeds, but I am sure there will be more.  After growing, canning and cooking with white tomatoes, they will always have a special place in my summer garden and I have not yet started those seeds.  My son, a chef, hopes to open a restaurant in the near future and last Saturday evening, he hosted a dinner for people who might be interested in providing some financial assistance for his North Carolina-driven cuisine.  Along with other delicious and beautifully presented dishes, paired with Laurel Gray Vineyards’ exceptional wine, guests were served a white tomato bisque soup that received rave reviews.  In a blind taste-test, I dare say white tomato soup would prove to be a favorite with almost anyone.  If you seek to grow a tomato that is perfect for canning, Cream Sausage is my top recommendation. 

Today and tomorrow, according to the lunar calendar, are weed-killing days.  Richard absolutely HATES to weed; he will spend hours on the tractor, he will happily till garden space and he will even strap on the weed-whacker to tackle overgrown areas, but don’t ask the man to pull weeds by hand.  I have learned, over the years, to accept this fact and I usually manage to do all the meticulous hand-weeding by myself.  Today, while Richard worked at his office, I weeded my herb bed and a small kitchen garden space that hosts about fifty asparagus plants, a small warmup for tomorrow’s work.  Richard and I will join forces to kill as many weeds as possible at the farm.  He will run the weed whacker over our impossibly long asparagus rows and I will rake the debris.  While Richard uses the disc attachment on the tractor to “chop” as many field weeds as possible, I will kneel for hours as I use a hand tool to pry weed roots loose from my 650+ asparagus crowns.  We love fresh asparagus, but what could we have been thinking to plant so much a few years ago??  Thankfully, asparagus has a short season. . .

While there is no better way to enjoy asparagus than to cut it in the field and eat it raw, this recipe for asparagus rolls is definitely worth trying.  Shared with me by a former home economics teacher, I make hundreds of these while asparagus is in season and store them in plastic bags in the freezer.  Somehow, they always disappear before the first asparagus spears appear in the spring! 

Miss Mary’s Asparagus Rolls

20 slices sandwich bread, crusts removed (any sliced bread will do), 12-14 lightly steamed asparagus spears,  3 ounces cream cheese, softened,  4 ounces blue cheese crumbles, softened,  1 egg, beaten, and  3/4 cups butter, melted.  Using rolling pin, flatten bread slices.  Combine cheese and egg.  Spread cheese mixture onto read slices.  Place asparagus spear onto bread and roll tightly.  Dip rolls into melted butter and place rolls on cookie sheet, lined with parchment paper.  Place in freezer and leave until rolls are firm, but not frozen through.  Remove from freezer and slice into thirds.  Store frozen rolls in bags.  Bake in preheated, 425 degree oven, for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden.  Serve warm.

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Washington’s Birthday Seed Celebration

February 22, 2013

Here we go again!  Twenty-four of the remaining seeds in Granny’s glass container went into a water bath last night and I carefully removed them and dried them on a paper towel today.  Twenty-four soil-filled cells were labeled and prepared for the tiny treasures and they are now tucked into the “birthing chamber” to await germination.

Perhaps it is my imagination, but I honestly think there is a surging force inside these seeds that I can feel when I touch them.  After soaking, the seeds seem to swell with a living, breathing drive and I fervently hope they will germinate and live to produce their own fruit.  I can’t wait to see what fruit produces on these plants, if I should be so fortunate to be able to grow my Granny’s tomatoes.

Seed potatoes have been delivered to our home and I can’t wait to cut them into planting chunks and place them in prepared rows.  Heart & Sole Gardens has produced twenty different varieties of potatoes during the past several years, but this year, we will only grow our favorite six types.  Purple Vikings are a favorite because they have a beautiful mottled pink and purple skin, white flesh and creamy texture that makes them a perfect choice for baking or mashing.  Red Thumbs are a pink-fleshed, red-skinned fingerling variety that produces abundantly and is beautiful when included in a potato salad.  Mountain Rose potatoes are a deep-red-skinned, red-fleshed type that are delicious roasted.  French fingerlings are an early fingerling that has a pretty pink stripe inside and a rose-colored skin.  Purple Majesty potatoes have a deep purple skin and flesh and an earthy flavor.  La Ratte fingerlings are a creamy potato with a light skin and flesh and are sublime in taste, whether roasted or mashed.

As I celebrate my Granny’s seeds being placed in soil, I also anticipate the season’s planting schedule.  Spring is just around the corner and I know physical work will be necessary, but I look forward to the soul-satisfying harvest to come.

Purple Potato Man!

Purple Potato Man!

 

 

Heirloom Tomato Seeds: Day Two

After this morning's events, I had to post a sign!

After this morning’s events, I had to post a sign!

February 21, 2013

The twenty-four seeds I placed in Granny’s dish last night seemed to love their water bath.  Early this morning, I touched a few of them and I could not believe how the life seemed to swell in their tiny shells.  Some were still dry to the touch and cupped in a listless state, but others had that life force surge feeling I first noticed when I held Granny’s long-stored bean seeds.  I dare to hope these tomatoes will germinate, thrive and produce fruit that will yield seeds to save for next year’s planting.  Such is the life of a gardener: the life cycle is clarified and the end of one season means there is time to plan for the next.

After a quick survey of the soaked seeds, I made coffee for Richard and me and mentally began planting.  The seed cell tray was at the ready and, with a good sprinkle of water, hopefully, these babies would continue their living production.  I spread a coffee filter to receive the soaked seeds, in order for them to dry before placing them in potting soil.  That was when I noticed a problem.  The dish holding the seeds had been moved, splashing the water inside across the granite countertop and scattering seeds.  Panicked, I began to retrieve the seeds and slip them back into the bath.  I counted.  Seventeen.  I found a few in the kitchen sink.  Horrors!  I shook the kitchen towel hanging between the sinks and found two more seeds.  My final tally was twenty-two, which meant two seeds were lost.  Probably washed down the sink.  Since I had not shared my “soaking bath” plan with Richard, he did not understand my frantic search for escaped seeds and I berated myself for not placing the dish in a safer location.  I quickly removed the soaked seeds from the bath and put them on the coffee filter to dry.  After a few hours, they were ready to transfer to their new home.

Trays labeled for Granny's seeds.

Trays labeled for Granny’s seeds.

After trying several labeling methods, I find that duct tape is perfect for attaching to plastic trays.  I also use it on tomato cages and garden stakes.  I use a permanent Sharpie marker to write on the tape (I prefer Shurtape, manufactured right here in NC!) and the label will withstand the elemental forces of nature for an entire season.  Using my pinkie fingernail, I carefully picked up each seed and placed it in a cell, filled with potting soil and indented to receive the seed.

Using my pinkie fingernail, I carefully lift each seed to move to the potting tray cells.

Using my pinkie fingernail, I carefully lift each seed to move to the potting tray cells.

Since I prepared twenty-four cells for planting and only had twenty-two seeds, I decided to take two more from the precious bottle stored in my freezer.  I marked the two cells housing these babies with a duct tape “x” and covered all the seeds.  I gave the entire bunch a good drink and then sprayed them with a light coating of fresh water.  I prefer to use rain water with seedlings, but had to resort to tap water today, since I did not have stored rain water at the ready.

A tiny tomato seed waits to be covered with potting soil.

A tiny tomato seed waits to be covered with potting soil.

"x" marks the cells where seeds are planted that have not been soaked.

“x” marks the cells where seeds are planted that have not been soaked.

As I do with any of my grandmothers’ seeds, I prayed as I planted them today.  I asked for blessings upon these tiny seeds and help to make them germinate, thrive and produce beautiful fruit.  I asked for guidance in my work and expressed gratitude for those who saved these seeds.  As I placed the plastic covering on the tray, I decided to take advantage of bright sunshine and placed the covered tray on a picnic table on my southern-exposed deck.  After a few hours, I moved the tray to my “birthing chamber” rolling cart and turned on the grow lights.

Twenty-four seeds are ready for the next step in their life cycle: germination.

Twenty-four seeds are ready for the next step in their life cycle: germination.

Twenty-four more seeds are soaking in tonight’s bath.  Tomorrow morning, I will prepare them for planting and can’t wait to feel that life force surge in their tiny pods.

 

 

 

Preparing Heirloom Seeds for Germination

February 20, 2013

Twenty-four tiny tomato seeds soaking in Granny's dish.

Twenty-four tiny tomato seeds soaking in Granny’s dish.

Tomorrow is a BIG DAY!  Twenty-four of the three hundred and four heirloom tomato seeds I “inherited” from my grandmother will be put in potting soil.  I cleaned a tray and added organic potting mix, combined with some of my own compost, and am eagerly anticipating tucking these tiny babies into the “birthing chamber,” my metal rolling cart with the garment bag-like plastic covering that houses a couple of grow lights.  Since these tomato seeds are about thirty years old, I want to give them every possible opportunity to grow, so after consulting people I regard as “expert” seed starters, several online sources and a stack of print resources, I decided to soak the first batch of seeds.

Soaking seeds before planting can “trick” the seed into thinking it has been in soil longer than it actually has, so germination is a few days faster for seeds that have been soaked.  Too much time in the water, however, can cause the seeds to sprout and, for tomato seeds, this is undesirable, since tomato seedlings need air to breathe and soil provides a better growing environment than water, where the newly emerging plants can drown.

I remembered a small glass dish I found in Granny’s antique dresser, so I pulled that out and washed it.  After carefully filling the dish with warm (not hot) water, I counted twenty-four of the precious seeds and added them to the dish.  When I swirled the water, some of the seeds immediately sank to the bottom and I take this as a good sign.  When saving seeds from mature plants, I put seeds in large glass jars, filled with water; the seeds that sink are usually viable; ones that float will not germinate.  Perhaps this is not an indication of “live” seeds, but I hope it is.

I also spent some time today planning where spring crops will be planted.  Richard and I practice crop rotation and, with our seed potato shipment due to arrive any day, spring planting will soon begin in earnest.  Last year, we planted four hundred tomato plants and realized we overextended ourselves, so this year, we promise we will have only as many plants as we have cages to contain them.  I have promised Granny’s tomato seeds special “homes” at the farm, if they will only thrive.  Please, join me in encouraging them to do so!

This is part of one day's harvest from Heart & Sole Gardens in August, 2012.

This is part of one day’s harvest from Heart & Sole Gardens in August, 2012.

Heirloom Seeds, Inherited Treasures

Granny's handwritten recipe for homemade vegetable soup.  When I took this photo, I could actually smell the soup cooking . . .

Granny’s handwritten recipe for homemade vegetable soup. When I took this photo, I could actually smell the soup cooking . . .

Two weeks ago, I went to sleep thinking about my grandmother, Lora Bolick Minton.  Earlier that evening, I had explored the wonderful notebook of collected recipes Granny gave me before she died, in 1986.  Many of the recipes, some in her handwriting, listed fresh tomatoes as an ingredient.  Why, I wondered, when I have so many seeds saved by Granny, were there no tomatoes?  One of my earliest memories is seeing a huge galvanized tub full of Granny’s colorful tomatoes, bobbing in the water she used to wash them before taking them into her kitchen.

Around 3:00 a.m., I woke from a deep sleep with a thought in my mind:  Granny’s tomato seeds are in the old dresser.  Fully awake, I thought about the old dresser, an oak piece that, while solid, has a scarred original finish, missing drawer pulls and occupies a space in my garage.  The dresser belonged to my great-grandmother and, at Granny’s home, was stuck in a back bedroom, where it held a variety of items.  When Granny died, Richard and I moved the dresser to our house, which was under construction.  We placed it in our garage, with good intentions to restore and use it in our home.  Life became busy; with two kids to raise, jobs to do and plenty of home projects, we just never got around to doing anything with the dresser.  For twenty-seven years, the dresser has occupied a corner in our garage and still holds many of the items Granny placed in it.

As I opened the bottom drawer, my heart sank.  The drawer was completely empty.  I must have cleaned it at some point.  Working from the bottom up, I slid the second drawer out.  Stacks of greeting cards, some linens adorned with Granny’s handiwork and a couple of chipped plates were in this one.  When I opened one of the top drawers, I almost cried when I saw small glass and plastic jars and medicine bottles full of Granny’s saved seeds.  In a small jar that once held supermarket dried basil, I found tomato seeds.  Are they the same variety?  Several kinds?  Far too old to germinate?  Did I “kill” them by leaving them in a garage where seasonal temperatures can be extreme?  Why were they even still in my home?  Surely, I would have thrown them away, if I had cleaned the dresser years ago.  While sleeping, did Granny whisper to me and direct me to find these treasures?

Many questions surround these seeds.  I invite you to journey with me as I attempt to find some answers.  There are 304 tomato seeds in the container.  According to the lunar calendar, February 21st and 22nd will be good days to start seeds and I plan to do everything in my power to encourage these tiny treasures to germinate.  Since the “signs” for February 27th and 28th are in Libra, I also plan to plant seeds those days.  Granny and I share a birthday and Libra is our Astrological birth sign.  It can’t hurt, right?

Three hundred and four tiny possibilities to continue the life cycle of these heirloom tomatoes.

Three hundred and four tiny possibilities to continue the life cycle of these heirloom tomatoes.