Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Solstice and Christmas

The days leading up to Christmas were really fun this year. On the Friday before, we had our first snowfall of the season in Seattle! It was barely more than a dusting and melted by late morning, but it was still beautiful and enough to give schools a late start.
Saturday was Winter Solstice. Luckily, my good friend Will was free for a few hours, and willing to help me extract honey from my backyard hives. I had already harvested the extra honey frames at the end of summer, and tucked the bees in for the winter. But the frames have just been sitting in a tupperware bin in the house until I finally got around to renting the necessary extraction equipment. I set everything up in the basement, Will opened a delicious Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale, and we set to work. The first step was to cut the "caps" off the honey comb with a hot (electric) uncapping knife.
When the honey in a cell is ready, the bees magically know that the moisture content is below 18%, and they put a wax cover or "cap" over that cell. Here you can see how the knife slices off the thin cap to expose the honey in each cell.
If parts of the comb are too recessed and don't get cut with the knife, you have to use a capping scratcher to scratch off the wax cap.
I had a 4-frame hand-crank extractor, so after uncapping 4 frames, we loaded them in. And then spun it! The centrifugal motion forces the honey onto the walls of the extractor, then it runs down the walls and out a spout at the bottom.
It was so satisfying to see enough honey extracted to start flowing out. Pure honey straight from the comb, with bits of wax still in it. And on the shortest day of the year, to reap the abundance of the longest days. In a post on Will's blog he mentions the process, and sums it up well: "It was a sticky, sticky business to be sure, and became completely hilarious when we both got a little buzzed and I dropped my phone in a puddle of honey, but dude, really, can you think of a better way to celebrate the winter solstice?"

No, no I can't.

The evening was also appropriately celebratory for the holiday, as I cooked up a Smitten Kitchen eggplant dish and headed over to the Feast of the Winter Solstice, put on annually by the Fremont Arts Council. It's the biggest potluck you'll ever go to, a true feast, with hundreds and hundreds of people bringing food. There were about 8 tables that looked like this.
There's food, art, bonfire, lots of live music, dancing, and even headdresses to borrow. 

On Monday, I went to my aunt's house and she taught me how to make lefse. It's basically a Norwegian flatbread made with mashed potatoes and flour. She was an awesome teacher with all sorts of tricks and tips that she has learned over the years in making this traditional dish for our Christmas Eve party on the Norwegian side of the family. She even had a lefse-specific electric griddle and a wooden wand, like the ones that you would use to flip a crepe.
Then she said, "While you're here, do you want me to show you krumkake too?" Krumkake is a cookie-like dessert where the batter gets cooked thin in a decorative iron, then while it's still hot gets rolled up. When it cools, it's light and crispy.
Christmas was pleasant and mellow as ever. Christmas is just one day though, and I like that there really is a "holiday season" that spreads things out. I know it's cheesy, but the beauty of being an adult is that we can celebrate this time of year how we want. For me, I did lots of cooking and eating and drinking, but also a lot of cold, misty runs around Greenlake. I saw a lot of family, but also spent time with chosen family of dear friends who were back in town. And on Christmas night when everything was over, cleaning the kitchen and putting away wrapping paper brought some wistfulness and also a small sense of relief.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Beacon Food Forest: A Year in Review

I first heard about the Beacon Food Forest sometime early last year, possibly from an article like Seattle's First Urban Food Forest on NPR's The Salt. I was intrigued by the idea and wanted to get involved. From the Beacon Food Forest website, their goal is to "design, plant, and grow an edible urban forest garden that inspires our community to gather together, grow our own food, and rehabilitate our local ecosystem." It is one of the first of its kind in the U.S., and when it is finished at 7 acres, will probably be the largest. They broke ground in September 2012 and have been steadily working to develop the site from a grassy hillside next to Jefferson Park to a forest garden. Here is a review in photos of my experience with the project in 2013.

I got involved in February this year by going to a community work party (always held on the 3rd Saturday of the month). There were about 80-100 people helping with various stages of the sheet mulching process. Since the site was all grass, the very first step was to lay down compost, cardboard or burlap, and then wood chips. This "sheet mulching" technique will kill the grass and also add organic matter to the soil.

I know there was a lot more happening, like plants being planted, but really I mostly just remember massive amounts of wood chips, and lots of sheet mulching all winter and spring. In April, this National Geographic article called Seattle's Free Food Experiment came out.
Here are some shots from the April work party. You can see from above that there are two sections being worked on, called the Lower Bench and Upper Bench, separated by a small road. The Lower Bench got focused on first, and already has a lot of sheet mulching done. This area will be more of the "forest", with trees, shrubs, perennials, and also an apiary. A lot is already planted, but these plants are young and will take years to fill in. The Upper Bench is going to be a P-Patch, basically a more traditional community garden where groups and families will grow mostly annual veggies in designated beds. It had pretty minimal development at this point, as you can see the grass and lack of terracing.
By July, there was a beautiful open air community gathering plaza built, with benches and a place to meet and have lunch.
Building the forest floor via mulching continued, and borders and paths got more defined.
The Upper Bench now had raised beds, terraced garden beds outlined, a tool shed, and the gathering plaza.
Squashes, herbs, kale, cabbage, and broccoli were planted and/or harvested.
There are many generous and enthusiastic groups who offer to do work parties, and in September Expedia employees came to help as a corporate day of service. It was wet, but a fun day and they got so much done! I love seeing an area go from grassy, weedy, and rocky....
... to get cleaned up and made beautiful.
The pumpkins were done by this point, and the P-Patch beds got a good layer of compost.
In October I came across this Alternate Map of Seattle, where the project is referred to as the "Magical Food Forest". Pretty neat to be making it onto maps! At the work party, the beds in the Upper Bench continued to be worked on, with compost added and borders defined.
Even though it was cool and damp, there was still a great turn out of volunteers. A hugelkultur bed got created, which is a bed-building method using old wood at the base and mounding materials over it. It will be fun to see what gets grown in this bed!
We also built a worm bin,
the kids carved the pumpkins,
and more plants got planted, mostly blueberries.
Here is a view from above for perspective on how much the site had changed in 6 months.
In November we worked on putting the beds to bed, using the Interbay Mulch method of mixing leaves and coffee grounds and covering everything with burlap sacks. Hopefully by spring there will be some nice, rich soil for the P-Patch gardeners!
Now it's December, and there is not work party this month, but there will be on January 18th. There is a lot more I want to say, but at least this gives an overview. There was so incredibly much happening here all the time, it's awe-inspiring. I got involved where I could, but of course my experience is but a slice of all the progress. I predict even more work, fun, and food on this site in 2014!