Thursday, December 29, 2011

December Reading: Seed Catalogs I Love

At the end of December, I think I get more excited about the first seed catalogs arriving than opening presents. It makes winter not seem so long, to think that I can already start planning the garden (as if I had not started already, I say).

So far, I have received catalogs from Baker Creek, Johnnie's, Bountiful Gardens, and Guerney's. I love receiving catalogs because I can compare easily, circle items, and make notes in the margin. However, most seed companies not only have websites but have the exact catalog available as a PDF online. In the case of insanely beautiful catalogs like Baker Creek (below), seeing the catalog is always a treat. They feature full-color, vibrant images of many of the fruits and vegetables available.

So here's my take on the catalogs so far:
  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - all heirlooms; lots of new and odd varieties; the most beautiful catalog around. I also love that they organize their tomatoes by color. Go straight to the PDF catalog here.
  • Johnny's Selected Seeds - your best option if you are planting a large space and want good seeds (including many organics and in pellet form) in bulk; good selection of cover crops; unsurpassed for selection of greens and green mixes; great options for northern gardeners (they are based in Maine). We mainly order our supplies like row covers here.
  • Bountiful Gardens - they sell heirloom, untreated, and open-pollinated varieties; their focus on sustainable agriculture is inspiring & they offer many edible perennials (like Good King Henry and Seakale) you won't find many other places; also hard-to-find edible tree and shrub seeds; grain seed in manageable amounts; great book and paper selection in the back.
  • Guerney's - an old standby, Guerney's has your classic varieties and, as my mom always points out, they have quite a few good options for norther climates. They offer quite a few plants/starts--so not just seeds--including trees and dwarf tree varieties. They also almost always have insanely good sales going on. But they don't ship potatoes to Montana!

I will likely post what seeds we actually buy soon...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Community #Gardens Rock!

I've started on a plot at a community garden this fall, so the plot will be ready next spring. Luckily, there were some vacancies this year so I could start int he fall--normally you buy the plot in February and you are stuck with what you get. Since the plot I took was empty, we get free time to plan things out.

Pics are below of our progress so far: keyhole beds, tearing out the Jerusalem artichokes that had taken over, and spreading out leaves and local sheep manure to rot over the winter.

And what's news without a good resource? The American Community Garden Association has lots of info, including how to find gardens close to you.

I've been meaning to pick up Growing a City Garden by Jeremy N. Smith & others. Has anyone read it? I must petition the local library!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Love Soup for Fall Kitchens

I love the book Love Soup: 160 All-New Vegetarian Recipes by Anna Thomas (of The Vegetarian Epicure fame--which, by the way, I was shocked to find is out of print and I feel lucky to still own a rather tattered copy). I grew up with The Vegetarian Epicure in the kitchen and inherited it from my mother--although my vegetarian-phobic grandmother's name is oddly on the inside cover. I wonder if she ever used it?

This new book (it came out in 2009) was a really great surprise. Anna Thomas explains in the section on fall and winter soups that she feels like this is a great time of year for soup--and I wholeheartedly agree. One of her main reasons is that the late-summer harvest is still in high gear, but the cooler weather puts us all in the mood for a warm bowl. Since we've been getting cool nights here in central Montana, I completely agree. We have potato leek soup (made from local farmer's market leeks and potatoes) on the stove right now. Actually, I should admit that it is not one of Love Soup's recipes I have going. But I have plans to make more soup tomorrow to take for lunch the rest of the week. Possible contenders for tomorrow's "lunch soup" include Roasted Golden Beet Soup, Green Soup with Mushrooms, or Green Soup with Ginger, all choices from the book.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Elusive Western Artichoke

I have lived in the Western United States for over seven years and this is the first season that I have gotten both artichokes and eggplant. It's so dry here, and the nights are cool. Is it the floating row covers? Or some other miracle? Amazing.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Honey Harvest Time

It is September, and that means the days are feeling obviously shorter in Montana. The sun seems lower in the sky, and the nights are definitely colder (even if the days have still been pretty darn hot!). To beekeepers, all of that together means that it is time to harvest honey before it is too cold for the bees and too cold for the honey to flow easily.

We always had top-bar hives, so I can appreciate the sentiments of this blogger on the crush and strain method. Sometimes it is laborious, and I always find myself wondering if switching to traditional Langstorth hives make more sense just for the extraction ease. I still don't think so, but many others do. For those considering what kind of hives to use in the future, compare the crush and strain method with this basic "traditional" explanation, eHow Guide to Honey Extraction.

Any thoughts from other keepers? Extraction methods that work well for you? I am still waiting for the library to call and tell me the new edition of The Beekeeper's Handbook (4th Edition, 2011) is there for me. It is getting excellent reviews, so I eagerly anticipate great improvements over the now pretty outdated 3rd Edition (1998). In particular, the absence of colony collapse in the 3rd edition makes it clear that it is missing some info.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bees on the Catnip

When we moved into our current house it helped that there were already many perennial plants in, including catnip and hollyhock all along the front yard. The bees and other pollinators have enjoyed these all summer.

I have noticed so many different pollinators, in fact, that I interlibrary loaned The Bees of the World by Charles D. Michener to try and identify the many different bees. The book, however, is 600+ pages and covers a lot of the technical aspects without necessarily helping with identification. A good book in its own right, but not what I needed for identification (however, if you are interested in classification aspects and historical development of bees I would recommend it).

Does anyone know of a good bee identification website? Here are a few of my bees on the white-flowered catnip. Click on the image for greater detail.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sharing good book lists on WorldCat

I was looking up a book on today (Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered) and I realized how much I love living in a digital age.

For those of you who don't know WorldCat, it is an online library resource that provides the "official" library record with all of the publication info and library holdings worldwide, but it also provides Web 2.0 tools for everyone--like tagging, reviews, and the ability to make reading lists. If you want to create a reading list, you can create a free account and keep track of all the books you like, want, need, or hope to use later. However, if you don't want your own, you can still see other people's lists that they have made public.

So, at the bottom of the (Small is Beautiful) record I could see all of the public lists that include the book. In particular, I was impressed by this list: "Ecominimalism" by meg2584 []. The list's owner describes it as "A messy reading-list-in-progress, for a back-burner project of mine, synthesizing works on the natural and built environments, health, (anti)consumerism, development economics, and both upper- and lower-case-m minimalism." Awesome list, currently 69 books. I have read a few of them, and heard of a lot of them. But there are many I will be seeking out (probably using WorldCat, since the list is already right there).

Monday, August 15, 2011

Speaking of Mushrooms

We are in week two of a new mushroom kit and the mushrooms have sort of tapered off--then I realized, it said 6-8 hours of indirect sunlight a day & apparently someone closed the blinds. I have been in a mushroom mood of late, leading me to explore this great, relatively new mushroom book: Mushrooming without Fear: The Beginner's Guide to Collecting Safe and Delicious MushroomsOutdoors & Nature Reference Books). I have seen some great mushroom books, but this one is the best I have had the chance to come upon. It is very colorful, very clear, and tells you when you need to be concerned that something you've found looks similar to a poisonous variety. Good read, if only to take my mind away from the indoor mushrooms we are trying so hard to grow. Perhaps in the spring we will get brave enough to go OUT and look for mushrooms.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Librarians Share Bad Teacher Traits #learntrends

This post has been moved to a new location at

The Beekeeping Librarian will continue to have posts, photos, and resources pertaining to gardening, urban homesteading, beekeeping, and cooking. Library-specific posts and things for librarians can be found at the new site.

Good Teacher Traits, According to Librarians ... #learntrends

This post has been moved to a new location at

The Beekeeping Librarian will continue to have posts, photos, and resources pertaining to gardening, urban homesteading, beekeeping, and cooking. Library-specific posts and things for librarians can be found at the new site.

Finally Trying a Mushroom Kit

We've debated about getting a mushroom kit before--mainly the debate has been that we would rather buy the plugs that you can insert into tree stumps or the spores you can mix in to straw to create a mushroom "bed" in your garden. In fact, we did just that in the fall. Perhaps mushrooms are coming up right now in the straw bed we prepared last summer. Sadly, we are 300 miles away now and have to settle for a mushroom kit in the house, since we don't have the extra bed space to devote to mushrooms. Plus, we may not even be in this house next year (we are renting). So, a kit is what we got. If we were going to cultivate non-kit, I would recommend The Mushroom Cultivator: A Practical Guide to Growing Mushrooms at Home by Paul Stamets.

We bought our kit from a local hardware, but it is from Garden City Fungi in Missoula, Montana. They are a certified organic mushroom farm and I also like that they are close to home. We just got our first Shiitakes from it last night & ate them with brown rice and broccoli raab from the Helena Farmer's Market. My only complaint is that the kit will "finish" after two or possibly three cycles, so it is not a long-term mushroom solution. I assume we will chop up the block after that and compost it. But for those of us in apartments who want to experiment and/or don't want to pay a ton for organic mushrooms (shiitakes are so expensive, organic or not!!), I would recommend it. One tip: we have the kit on a plastic tote lid (and on the tray it comes with) since it does get pretty moist under the provided humidity tent.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Year Without Posts & a Spring Without Bees

It has been a year since I last posted to this blog, in part because I had started another one during our house-building and move to a small plot of land in NW Montana. However, life took a few odd turns and, despite just finishing our little house and loving the land we were on, I was offered a really good job that I really wanted. As a result, we moved 300 miles to the middle of Montana. I am still in the library world, but some of our homesteading efforts are temporarily on hold while we work out what it means to be living in a small city instead of a tiny town. Our bees and chickens were adopted by friends since we did not have suitable living arrangements for them. However, we have made the best of it and are still brewing, growing mushrooms, making things from scratch, and growing as large a garden as we can on our small space. I am hoping to get back to having some small livestock next year. In the meantime??? I must read, read, read. I will come back to this blog and share resources as well as our slightly more urban homesteading methods.

This book is a good indicator of where we are at at the moment: