April 2011 Archives

A Thank You to Chris Hondros

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It's regrettable that one often fails to see the impact another person has on their life until it's too late to express gratitude. A slight connection or brief encounter can have the potential to propel you towards opportunities you never thought would be available to you. You never know who will plant the seed in you for great things. It can and often does come from unexpected places. I realize now that it is our duty to see the time and attention others bestow upon us as gifts and to do all we can to avoid squandering them.

This is the way I feel about Chris Hondros, the first photographer to reach out to Neil and I about beekeeping in NYC. He had found a few Polaroids on Flickr that Neil had put up of some hivings in 2009. Chris emailed Neil about coming to photograph us for Getty Images. I didn't know what any of it meant, but I obliged as I thought it would be fun to have my picture taken for "the papers".

A few days later, Chris came to our Greenpoint apartment. I warned him that we'd have to climb a steep ladder onto the roof, a thing that most people find a little daunting. He was unmoved by it. I later found out why. Mr. Hondros had spent significant amounts of time shooting in war torn, poverty stricken countries....Kosovo, the West Bank, Iraq, Liberia, Afghanistan... this was no photojournalism student I was dealing with, he was the real deal. He had seen some intensely emotional things and documented it so that we could experience it too and perhaps feel some empathy for those suffering in those circumstances. I understood why he seemed utterly unafraid of the bees, even though he wore all black, which typically attracts unwanted attention from them. They seemed to take no notice of him, and he took no notice of them beyond the task at hand. He was completely at ease. They must have seemed as harmless as the wind to him. I was still relatively uncomfortable with my bees so I found his confidence admirable. I consider myself very fortunate that such a fearless and skilled eye would want to focus on something so tame and comparatively boring as me and some boxes of bees.

The shoot lasted perhaps a half hour. He was focused, fairly quiet, but polite in manner and in action...he didn't waste any of my time or his own. After he got the shots he needed, we went down the ladder to our apartment, had something to drink and chatted for a bit and then he was gone.




(All photos by Chris Hondros for Getty Images)

Over the course of the following few weeks, the images popped up all over publications online. I received emails from journalists and videographers wanting to give their own interpretations of my beekeeping story. More stories began to pop up with my face and name attached and from that came more opportunities for me to share my experiences and teach others to do the same. This all began because of Chris Hondros's small gift to me and I hope that where ever he is now, he can sense my gratitude to him. My encounter with him was brief, but I question whether I'd be where I am now if it weren't for him.

( Chris Hondros was a Pulitzer-prize nominated photographer who was killed last week while on assignment in Libya. Our deepest condolences goes out to all of his family and friends.

I also encourage all who read this to view his work. His photographs are intensely moving and offer an intimate glance into the lives of those struggling worldwide with hunger, war and injustice. He deserves extreme gratitude for these images, which he ultimately gave his life for. )

Forgive me for not posting for a bit. It's been a rollercoaster of a week. The boyfriend headed to Los Angeles to spend time with friends and get a break. I could not go with because of obligations here in NYC. Things fell apart shortly after he left (wah!) but I'm holding it together.

This week succeeded in bringing the big baby out of me. No sooner than I dropped my partner-in-crime off at the airport, my car totally crapped out on me. Exhaust issues, apparently? I don't know. Cars are a mystery to me, I am ashamed to admit. I managed to get it to a mechanic at the cost of many stares from Brooklynites undoubtedly questioning why anyone would be driving a car that was that effed up (and an eyesore to boot). The car was a very cheap investment so that I could get my beekeeping gear to and from various apiary sites and get to the farm during the week. So far it's been working out, but I've only had the clunker for 2 months so you can imagine that I wasn't prepared to sink a bunch of money into this thing so soon. I'm bummed out about that. Really bummed.

A little secret about me: I don't handle stress well. I get really flustered and emotional when I feel like I don't have control over every detail of my life. So between this, stressing out about writing this book, neighbor issues and being alone for a while, I felt especially out of sorts and needed a good cry fest to blow off steam...wouldn't really call it a breakdown. Only sissies have breakdowns and I'm not one of those, goddamn it! Nerves of steel, nerves of STEEL! Anyway, I had a good cry to my mommy and felt a lot better after.

The car eventually got fixed and the boyfriend did a great job of being supportive from the other side of the country so everything is cool for now. The neighbor issues seem to have simmered down so I don't have that bearing down on me at the moment. I'm broke, but it's fine. "Money comes easily and frequently" as my landlord Katrina often reminds me. Hitching a ride to Newton Farm today to spend the rest of the week/weekend mucking out barns, planting, writing, grading vegetable gardening quizzes, and hopefully spending some time with my favorite beekeeping friend in the Hudson Valley. It should be fun. Working without distraction will be a good way to shake off this week's funk.

Another note on the positive side of things: LOOK AT THIS FREAKING WARRE HIVE THAT I GET TO PUT BEES IN! The beautiful, wonderful men over at Daskam & Dworkis are making hives and I get to test out one of their first Warre prototypes. These are made of Walnut and I'm totally swooning over them. Would you just LOOK at them? They are works of art! Very much looking forward to posting videos of Warre-related bee stuff!


Until next week!
<3 M

Body Scrubs

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facial scrub.jpg Body scrubs are a prime example of something homemade which can both save money and is often better than the store-bought version. They could not be any simpler to make, and your skin is left feeling amazingly soft and smooth. There are tonnes of scrub recipes online with every imaginable variation under the sun, using ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen. They're quick and easy to make, and make a great little gift when scooped into a glass jar and given a sweet tag. These recipes are some basic ones to begin with and are really flexible - feel free to play around with the amounts of sugars and oils or to swap in ingredients that you think might work well. Have I convinced you yet?

On to the recipes!

Vanilla Brown Sugar Scrub
1 Cup Brown Sugar
1/2 cup almond oil, olive oil, or grapeseed oil
1/2-1 tsp Vanilla Extract
coffee scrub bowls.jpg Morning Coffee Scrub
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup used coffee grounds
15 drops essential oil (peppermint is invigorating)

Basic Coconut Oil Sugar Scrub
1 cup coconut oil
3/4 - 1 cup sugar
15-20 drops essential oil of your choosing

Just mix, and store in a lidded jar. I prefer small canning jars with reusable plastic lids. (These can be kept in the shower without rusting.)
coffee scrub.jpg And lastly: It's not a sugar scrub per se, but I love to gently rub a bit of crystallized honey all over my face at the beginning of my morning shower (I keep a little jar in there) and rinse it off at the end.

A few notes about ingredients:
- Solid fats (i.e. coconut oil, lard, shortening) can be used in place of liquid oils; when at room temperature those scrubs will be semi-solid, which I kind of like. Using hands to mix these works well, and feels lovely.
- If you've never worked with essential oils before, they are very potent, some are not recommended for use while pregnant, and they should be used in very limited quantities with great care. Do your research before using them.
- Any sugars or combination of sugars can be used; brown, granulated, turbinado - whatever you like. Confectioner's sugar would probably just make a slimy mess, though, so stick to the scrubby ones.

Safety notes:
It's important to keep in mind that these scrub recipes don't have any preservatives in them, so they should be made in small batches and used up relatively quickly.

One last warning: because of the great oils in them, these scrubs will leave the floor of your tub or shower a wee bit slippery. And it's worth it!

We have bees that live between the walls and brick face of our house. They've been there as long as I can remember, which is about 25+ years (I now live in the house my grandparents built in the 40s). There used to be woods around, so when they swarmed they'd find an old tree or some sort of new home immediately. Now there are condos where the woods were, so the swarms usually stop midway between our pond and the house while sending out scouts for a new home.

Yesterday we were acclimating two new pullets to our flock of hens when I spotted a swarm. I was curious about why they hadn't taken to the hive and Charlie, my husband, pulled out a piece of cardboard that was blocking the entrance. Oops! I don't perform well under pressure, so all of the potential for me messing up the exciting possibility of having bees left me better suited for taking pictures rather than capturing the swarm.


Here are a few pics of us bumbling around the swarm like new parents. All the gear is overkill for the time we found them. I think Charlie just wanted to use the equipment we have. We've got lure in the hive and wax foundations in place and moved the hive to about 2 feet from the swarm, really trying to tempt them with the hive. We both thought we'd get up this morning and brush the swarm into the hive, but the morning routine of getting the kid ready for day care and getting ourselves ready for work proved challenging enough. We'll just wait and see if they move in while we're at work. If not, there will be other swarms this summer and we'll be better prepared.

(To be continued...)

Looks like I'll be re-seeding this bed today.....


Come on out, all you beekeepers and wanna-bees!

The Honeysuckle Rosies Beekeeping Social Club be congregating at the BACK BAR of The Bedford (on Bedford and N 11th) on Tuesday, April 19th for some drinks and bee-talk. This will be a great opportunity for beekeepers in the area to share experiences from the past season and share what they are planning for this current season.

The Bedford has graciously allowed for us to gather at their fine establishment where they serve really great food and outstanding drinks at a reasonable price.

Check out our invite on Facebook to let us know you plan to come! Hope to see many of you then!

drunk-bee1.png (WHO DESIGNED THIS WONDERFUL THING!?!? Tell me so I can give them credit and beg them to make a t-shirt for me with this drunk-ass bee on it!)

Weekend Re-Cap (Pt. 1)

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The past couple of days have been really great. Lots of busy work, productivity and co-operation going on at Jewel St. Paradise. We're almost ready for the growing season, even though technically it has already begun.

On Saturday we planned to have a bunch of people over to help tear down an old raised bed, build a new one, reseed our lawn and build a chicken coop. We had more hands than we knew what to do with. My friend Trevor actually seemed a little bummed that we didn't have anything back-breaking for him to occupy himself with. Sorry, Trev! We could use a man like you up at Newton Farm!

Tim O'Neal from BoroughBees came for the donuts and stayed for the raised bed building. He took the task on of building a shallow bed to replace the random assortment of containers that uglied up the patio. My man Neil helped out by sitting on the boards as Tim cut them. It was a funny process to observe, but it turned out very nicely! Not too shabby for a bed made from scrap wooden planks. It literally cost us nothing. WOO!

raised bed.jpg

While this bed was being built, friends helped saw down the old bed, move the soil into trash bins and transfer the now overflowing compost into all of the beds. For the older beds, we added a 2" layer of compost to the soil and gently mixed it in with a balanced organic fertilizer and mycorrhizal fungi and bacteria starter. Once the new raised bed was finished, we added a balanced mixture of garden soil and compost with a layer of leaves, sticks and broken terracotta pots at the bottom for drainage. We planted bushbeans, chard and herbs in this bed, radishes, pea shoots, carrots and spinach in the larger beds with the already established raspberries and garlic.

Earlier in the morning I went to the McCarren Park Greenmarket and picked up some seed potatoes to sprout. We've got old trash bins that we are going to grow the potatoes this season since they can be re-used and can hold more soil/compost and hopefully more potatoes. Last years potatoes were really tasty, though not especially plentiful so we are hoping for a better yield this time around.

potatoes2011.jpg (Clockwise from top: Some Scandanavian potato I forgot the name of already, Peruvian Purple, Adirondack Blue and Yukon Gold)

Once we had the new beds and soil in place, it was time to level the ground and assemble our new chicken coop. We decided to move it from it's old location in a nook flush against the side of the house to a location within the yard, near our compost pile. Assembly was ridiculously easy, since it was a pre-fab kit. We learned our lesson about making our own. Our old coop is great, don't get us wrong...we just learned a lot from the experience of building and caring for the chickens so we felt it would be less stressful just to buy something this time around that was made by experienced coop builders.


There are a few flaws with this coop that will be easy to repair though: No door on the coop, a kind of tiny run. We plan on adding a 3-foot extension onto the run this Spring and attaching a door to the coop so that the girls can be closed up safely at night. I think the coop is really cute though, and the neighbors seem to agree. They were getting a little annoyed by the close proximity of the old coop. There were claims that it smelled (which I think is kind of weird since the old coop is right outside of my kitchen window and I cannot smell anything unpleasant) and of noise (which I can understand. Hens can be audibly celebratory during and after egg laying) . Rule #1 of being a successful backyard homesteader is to try to keep the neighbors happy. I think everyone will be happier with their new placement in the yard. The hens have wasted no time breaking in their home.


After the ladies were moved it, we took to breaking up our compacted lawn, mixing in soil and seeding it. I didn't take any pictures of this process, mostly because it's sort of boring and not something I'm especially excited about. Having a lawn in this neighborhood is something you feel obligated to do to keep neighbors happy since most people around here take pride in what their backyards look like...even if they barely spend any time back there. With all of the livestock and decomposing compost going on back there, we feel like we should at least attempt to keep it looking spiffy so that there are few complaints. Besides, the chickens really like eating the grass, so it's not too big a deal. Watering is a drag, but we have a rain barrel I might just set up soaker hoses to so we can keep the lawn hydrated without using up valuable fresh water.

Once everything was in it's place and dirt was swept up, we grilled and chilled...but not for long. I still had a bunch of cooking to do for BK Swappers the next day.....

(To Be Continued....)

(My seed collection, which I keep in my Grandma's old sewing box)

As with many things these days, I've been dragging my feet on prepping the garden this season. With the garden work party coming up this weekend, I need to get my act together and formulate a game-plan. I've got a handful of tomatoes and peppers started but no herbs or flowers at all. Last year they were all started around this time and showing 2nd and 3rd true leaves. Fortunately, the bulk of my crops this year can and should be direct seeded. I've got more beans and peas, lettuces, greens and cucurbits than I know where to put.

Regarding legumes in the garden this year, I find that growing things like garden peas is tricky for our small space. They don't always produce enough to make it feel worth the trouble so instead of growing them for the pod, I will grow them for their tender stems and leafstalks (a.k.a. 'shoots') this time around. They saute really nicely and have a wonderful bright green flavor, vaguely reminiscent of their round, green seeds. I'll broadcast them over a measured out portion of our beds and let 'em grow to about 8-inches in length before harvesting. This is the sort of thing that you can plant in succession. I'll likely turn the stumps and roots in to help continue to fix nitrogen in the soil and give the microbes and organisms something to munch on.

I'm opting to forgo pole beans this season (which I find take up too much space and block light from the crops around them when trellised) and will be growing mostly bush varieties instead. Romano Gold, Jacob's Cattle, Greasy Grits, Renegade, Nickel. These little squirts are gonna ensure a nice little bumper crop of tender beans for me to blanch and freeze and pickle. I'll be liberally planting these in between nitrogen hungry crops like Brassicas and Solanaceous plants. These will be turned in as well after they stop producing. If anyone in the area wants to trade for some pole varieties I have Kentucky Wonder, Violet Podded Stringless and Malibu. I could always use more Kale or Chard seed so if you've got more than you need, hook a sister up!

Lettuces, Kale, Chard and Spinach will get direct seeded liberally and thinned out as they grow. I'll make use of the thinnings in salads and soups. Radishes get tossed in anywhere they can fit. I'll sow radish seeds in smaller amounts once every 10 days or so. Carrots are getting sown this weekend too. My hope is to have a bunch of chopped, blanched carrots, spinach and kale in the fridge to use whenever I make soups, which I do often in the fall.

Micro-lettuce beds will also be placed on the new chicken coop along with some cucumber and patty pan squash. They will get lots of sun, warmth and air flow so hopefully this year we won't lose any of them to wilts and mildews! fingers crossed

Katrina bought new trash cans for the house so we are going to scrub the old ones out thoroughly and get some potatoes started in them. Our little crop of potatoes last year were really nice and it was a great way to use the cement portion of our backyard to do some growing. We'll probably be naughty and buy seed potatoes from the farmers market again, but I encourage people to buy guaranteed healthy seed potatoes from your favorite organic seed catalog. You don't want to get sullied seed and spread diseases around, you know?

Anyway, I'm mostly just working through all of this stuff as a type. I figure some of my ramblings today might be useful to a few new city gardeners out there. If anyone has any questions about growing garden crops in small places, post a comment and I'd be glad to give some insight! Look for a post soon about the garden overhaul with before and after pictures!


beesNYC.jpg (photo by Megan O'Hearn)

Now that it's official, I just wanted to announce the exciting news that Chronicle Books, the San Francisco-based publisher, is putting out my book on Urban/ Rooftop Beekeeping! I have been a big fan of the books that Chronicle has published over the years and couldn't be happier about the news.

The book itself will be a 250 page, comprehensive explanation of the ins-and-outs of apiary management and neighborly relations. While it should appeal to aspiring urban beekeepers, the information, recipes (using honey, pollen, wax and propolis) and photography should appeal to beekeepers all over the dang place!

It's going to be a little while before it hits the shelf. Look for it in early 2013 (just in time to start your Spring hives!)...putting together a book is a painstaking effort, but I promise it will be worth the wait!


I'm Confused!

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(photo by Zandy Mangold via the New York Post)

Is it a new hipster trend in NYC? Should be we laughing at their overalls and Sally Jesse Rafael glasses or should we be following their lead? Who knows, but I am confused by the tone of an article titled "Meet the New York Hillbillies" that came out this morning.

Today's New York Post article about Urban "Farming" (that I am featured in) simultaneously mocks and encourages folks who grow food and raise livestock within the city limits. I can't figure it's angle out...are they for us or against us? Inevitably, some good will come of it either way. People will see that growing your own food really is possible anywhere, and ultimately that is all I ever want to convey. This is something we all have the right to and can do it anywhere there is water, light and in most cases, soil.

I manage to sound a bit like a pompous douchebaggie at points in the article so I'd like to pontificate over this little statement before anyone calls me out for being one. (UPDATE: I've already had some unsavory, mad people posting to my comments saying I, and my kind are"the worst thing about NY" in response to the following comment...)

"I don't mean to sound arrogant, but New York needs more people like me. It doesn't need more musicians who think their band is the best . . . It needs more people who are going to bring something new to the city."

This was taken a bit out of context, though not entirely. The basic sentiment is accurate. I moved here because I wanted the direct contact to culture, good food and people but I didn't feel as though it meant I couldn't bring my love of gardening and beekeeping with me. I don't think it's fair that NYC is painted as a giant playground for 20-something artists & musicians or a Wall St. investment bankers and Upper West Side housewives paradise. I do think that New York could benefit from more backyard food growers and urban farmers, culturally. I wish there were more of us, frankly. I do, however, recognize that people have been growing food in NYC for as long as NYC has been around. People like Karen Washington have been empowering communities to grow their own food since I was a little shrimp running around in my Dukes of Hazzard PJs and pissing my bed at night. There were people before her doing it too. It's part of the history of all cities. Only until the past 50 years have people become so distanced from the source of their food that they find growing it in a backyard or empty lot or rooftop to be ridiculous. We had forgotten but we are starting to remember again.

But growing food is not ridiculous. It's fun! The food tastes better when it's harvested fresh. Growing it makes me feel strong and capable. It connects me with people and it's a way for me to show love to the people I care for. It makes me HAPPY! I know I am not the only person that feels this way. I am surrounded by people in New York that share the sentiment. Growing food is as much about community and SPIRIT as it is about anything else. Launch your snarky commentary at that if you'd like. I don't mind. If you find deriving joy from digging around in the dirt something to be worthy of mockery, then I feel a bit of sadness for you. You are missing out on an essential bit of what makes us human; a simple, tangible connection to the world. It's something to be celebrated and enjoyed and shared, not insulted for the sake of bolstering your own popularity with the legions of internet trolls. That's just mean.

Teasing or no, I'm glad the article came out and I respect a person's right to voice their opinion, no matter how misguided and off-base it is. And if Christian Lander or Erica Reitman want to come over, inspect some bee hives, eat some backyard egg sandwiches and pick some beans so that they might better understand what this is really about, they have an open invitation to my backyard anytime.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from April 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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