Raising Bees at Tarry Market

Man with BeehiveI have always been intrigued by bees.  Perhaps, it is because I have spent so much time catering to Thérèse, the Queen bee!  Several years ago, I decided to sign up for a one day class on “How to Raise Bees in your Backyard” at the Greenwich Continuing Education Center.  Let’s face it, the dogs had died and I was growing a bit weary of feeding wild birds, whose despicable eating habits simply attracted raccoons,  squirrels, possums and skunks.  Bees seemed like a great idea. At least we would have honey for breakfast.   I could easily see myself meandering about the backyard watching the bees do the heavy lifting in recycling the best that nature has to offer.  I’ve long admired British books in which one of the main protagonists raises bees or leads a sedentary life looking after sheep:  D. H. Lawrence and Patrick O’Brien spring to mind.

Thérèse was not amused.  My fallback project to build a bat shelter – to keep down the number of insects in the backyard – met similar disdain, if not outright derision.

Tarry Lodge HoneySadly, I have had to shelve my pet “pet” projects for quite a few years, but recently become quite animated when I discovered that no less of a culinary authority than Mario Batali was now harvesting honey from apiaries on top of the roof of Tarry Market in downtown Port Chester.  For those not familiar with Port Chester, it is a small town on the New York border adjacent to Greenwich. Presumably, the bees fly to Greenwich to collect their pollen, since I was not aware that Port Chester had any flowers.  (Editor’s Note:  Bees will fly “only as far as they need to” to collect pollen, but some suggest that a range of 5 to 10 miles is about the limit.)

I am not convinced that a thumbs-up from Mario will cut too much slack with Thérèse, but I am hopeful.  If fortunate enough to get the green light from Thérèse, I can envision Mario and myself putzing about the backyard in our orange clogs discussing the lives of bees, Italian cooking and other useful subjects.

Bee happy!

PS:  Thérèse didn’t say no this time, she simply sold the house.

The Swiss put the Cuckoo Clock Behind Them

One of the most memorable lines in film is Orson Welles’ impromptu farewell speech to Joseph Cotton in The Third Man:

“You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance.  In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

This quote does not reflect well on the Swiss and is even more disturbing when it appears that the cuckoo clock wasn’t even invented in Switzerland.   While I am sure that most Swiss residents barely gave a thought to this put-down, I am pleased to report that the Swiss may, in fact, change the way vegetables are grown in Big Cities:  Aquaponics


Already, somewhat of a commercial success in Switzerland, Aquaponics is described in the latest version of The Atlantic Cities as:

“Aquaponics is a method of combined fish and vegetable farming that requires no soil. The farmer cultivates freshwater fish (aquaculture) and plants (hydroponics) in a recirculating water system that exchanges nutrients between the two. Wastewater from the fish serves as organic fertilizer for the plants, while the plants clean the water of fish feces and urine. The net result: a 90 percent reduction in freshwater use compared with conventional fish farming, and a significant reduction in added nutrients such as fossil fertilizers. The system can be run without pesticides and, because the fish environment is spacious and clean, without antibiotics.”

I realize that this does not sound particularly appetizing, but imagine cutting down on the carbon footprint to bring fresh vegetables to our towns as well as reducing – if not eliminating – the ecological damage caused by pesticides and herbicides.  Lest you think this is simply a backyard garden project, think again:  a 2,700 sq. ft. Aquaponic greenhouse farm on a rooftop in Basel is expected to produce 5 tons of fresh vegetables and 1 ton of fresh fish a year.   Rooftops in major US cities are generally 4 times larger.

While I am sure there are many skeptics out there, I do believe that this new “technology” is certainly a step forward in bringing fresh vegetables to our major cities without the unwelcome ecological costs.    In fact, imagine how cool you will sound to a new love interest when you propose, “let’s go upstairs to fish.”   Certainly sounds better than “Wouldn’t you like to hear my latest poetry?”

Gardening in San Francisco: Al fresco in December

Even though people think we do not have seasons in California, we do.  The changes are just more subtle than those elsewhere.  December is a month for pruning, planting, and garden cleanup and fortunately the weather here in San Francisco has been fabulous.  But there still are plenty of things that are growing.   The last of the tomatoes are still on the vine and it is mid December!   There is plenty of lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, rhubarb, peas and herbs growing happily in the compost.

While the seasons in San Francisco may not be as dramatic as those in New England, change is evident as we finish our late Fall and early Winter gardening.  In early February, we will begin to see Mother Nature’s unfolding show of color that starts with a few bright spots here and there, and then crescendos in March and April where there is color everywhere you look.

Organic lettuce anyone?

I planted this space with patches of bright red and pink “Impression” tulips (Darwin Hybrid 24” tall – early Spring) surrounded by daffodils.   I’ll take a few pictures in the Spring and you will be able to appreciate nature’s beauty grows skyward.

Think color in Spring!

Time for a salad.  There is nothing like fresh lettuce, good olive oil, juice of one lemon picked right of the tree, and fresh herbs.  I sometimes add sliced almonds and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.  Add some fresh baguettes and you have a feast.