blueberries // Wayward Spark

Ahhh…It’s blueberry season again. I feel a little guilty, like I’m cheating on my beloved Radke’s Blueberries, but I was getting desperate for fresh fruit that the kids and I headed to Anderson’s Blues on Aboretum Road in North Corvallis. Anderson’s is a pretty huge U-pick place with many different varieties of berries from early to late, small to big. Yesterday, we worked on ‘Earliblue’ bushes that were positively loaded with fruit for super easy picking.

The thing that amazed and delighted me most about this foraging expedition was that my kids, ages 4 1/2 and 6 1/2, actually picked more berries into their buckets than into their mouths for the first time ever. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long, long time. I was talking to my mom yesterday, and we started rehashing all the U-pick trips we took together when my kids were little. We’d have to take turns doing stroller laps around the farms to keep crying babies appeased for just a little longer, and as they got a older, we’d pack bags full of toys and snacks to entertain them while we attempted to fill up our buckets. This new productive, non-whiney phase is such a welcome development. Between the two of them, they picked over five pounds in about an hour, and then they played nicely for another hour while I kept picking. We brought home about 25 pounds total, which should mostly tide us over until Radke’s opens in a couple weeks.

Even though my kids were being awesome, I had a moment of frustration when some random adult pickers failed to adhere to basic U-pick etiquette by deciding that the best place to start their harvest was five feet down the row from me when they had acres and acres of bushes to choose from. I guess some people are just never gonna get it. Otherwise, it was a great morning, so if you’re in the area, now’s the time. Happy picking!

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chard at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

I snapped a few photos of my parents huge garden/small farm on Saturday. It’s kinda fun to compare them with this post from almost exactly a year ago. My mom has almost everything planted, and my dad’s been attacking the robust, early-summer weeds. Unlike last year, I’ve barely helped out at all this spring, so I can’t take any credit for the beauty. The kids and I have, however, been taking advantage of the first ripening peas, those gorgeous heads of butter lettuce, and some plump zucchinis.

On April 7, my mom was rushing through some landscaping in a parking lot, trying to get to her volunteer shift on time when she tripped, put her hand out to break her fall on the sidewalk, and broke a small but important bone in her left hand (the scaphoid). She’s had her forearm in a cast for over two months since, and though she’ll hopefully get out of it soon, the whole experience has put quite a damper on her busy schedule. Though many of her usual activities (baking, swimming, rowing) have been off the table, she’s been making an impressively good show of gardening one-and-a-half handed. I mowed my parents’ lawn about once a week for six weeks (which takes about 3 1/2 hours to get through it all and according to the pedometer app on my phone is between 10 and 11 miles of walking), but my mom is insisting on doing it herself again now that her hand is healed enough not to hurt when jarred by the mower. She is one tough lady. That’s for sure.

Because of the break, my mom has only been present at the Corvallis Saturday Farmers’ Market sporadically in the last two months. She missed last week, but she’ll be there on Saturday with snap peas, basil starts, chard, zucchini, garlic, probably some lettuce, and maybe some of our rhubarb and eggs. It won’t be a huge display, but she doesn’t want all her customers to forget about her.

Looking ahead, there will be an awful lot of food produced in this garden for us as well as for farmers’ market customers. I sure am excited to see and eat all the bounty.

brussels sprouts at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

brussels sprouts

Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Sparkparsley and lettuce at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

parsley and lettuce

unripe blueberries at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

a few unripe blueberries on Oven and Earth’s one bush

honeysuckle at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

honeysuckle

Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Sparkstrawberry plants and lettuce at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

a few new strawberry plants and lettuce

savoy cabbage at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

savoy cabbage

celery starts at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

celery

planting leeks at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

planting leeks at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

planting leeks

broccoli at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

broccoli

broccoli at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

broccoli

corn plants at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

corn

peas at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

peas

shelling peas at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

peas

red butter lettuce at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

red butter lettuce

cucumber plants at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

cucumbers

zucchini plants at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

zucchini plants

zucchini at Oven & Earth Farm // Wayward Spark

zucchini

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Corvallis Saturday Farmers' Market // Wayward Spark

It was another beautiful market day on Saturday. It seems crazy early for cherries, raspberries, and some of the other fruits and vegetables seen on the waterfront, but I guess it’s just a crazy year (plus some local farmers have significant acreage under greenhouses). It was a morning full of colors, textures, flavors, aromas, live music (good and bad), and friendly faces.

This end-of-the-school-year hectic schedule has been really causing chaos in our house, but we’ve managed to keep weekends for doing some work, some cooking, some relaxing, and some socializing in a balanced sort of way. I hope you, too, are starting the summer in good spirits.

Corvallis Saturday Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Saturday Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Saturday Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Saturday Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Saturday Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Saturday Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Saturday Farmers' Market // Wayward Spark Corvallis Saturday Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Saturday Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Saturday Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Saturday Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Saturday Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Saturday Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Saturday Farmers' Market // Wayward Spark

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open nectar // Wayward Spark

Henry and I extracted nearly 40 gallons of honey on Sunday. The early honey varietals that the bees produced are quite different from main season flows in many ways. First off, they taste different. As you can see in the photo above, early season honey contains a significant amount of pollen that we don’t filter out of the final product. The bees have been nectaring on species such as maple, chittum, native trailing blackberry, and poison-oak plus the hives that have been out on farms for pollination purposes serviced blueberries and raspberries. The flavors and colors of our five varietals from different seasonal apiaries vary quite a bit because of the nectar resources available in each of the locations, but they are all intense and distinct. As we were working away in the extraction room, the air became thick with an earthy, herbal smell that made me feel like I was getting some kind of health benefits just by huffing the aroma. If you’re looking for real, raw honey made from the nectar (and pollen) of Pacific Northwest native plants, this is the stuff you want.

Another way that this extraction is different than the ones we did last summer and the ones we will do later this summer is in the yield. When I pulled up my post on extraction from last summer to look at, Henry and I gasped at the top photo showing a beautiful, full frame of capped honey. The frames we were working with on Sunday were only ever partially full, and much of the honey was barely done curing and not yet capped. Many beekeepers don’t even bother extracting early honey because of the extra effort it takes to boost springtime honey production and the much lower yields per frame. With each frame being only 10% to maybe 80% full, each gallon of honey probably took twice as much handling and twice as much time invested as main-season honey.

One issue that can come up when extracting early honey, particularly uncapped honey, is too high of a moisture content. Honey must be cured to 18% (or less) water or else it can spoil over time. We tested out honey with a refractometer, and it came in at 16%, so we’re good.

Our beekeeper friend Ethan Bennett, owner of Honey Tree Apiaries, was generous enough to let us use his certified extraction facility again. We went through all the same steps as last year except we only scratched off the caps instead of using the flail uncapper.

In a trade like beekeeping, it’s hard to make it on your own as an owner/operator, so it really helps to have the support of fellow beekeepers. Henry and Ethan are able to share some resources and infrastructure, go in together on bulk orders, and help each other out in the field every once in a while. Ethan is also currently borrowing one of our flatbed trucks temporarily while he gets some work done on his.

In the end, we will have just six to ten gallons of honey from each of Henry’s spring apiaries. While extracting, we did our best to keep the very small batches separate by draining the extractor between loads and being diligent about labeling the origins of frames and buckets of honey. We’ll begin bottling and selling the varietals hopefully within a month. This early honey will not be available in bulk quantities (though later honeys might be depending on our yield this year). I will be sure to make an announcement about when and where you can get your hands on this stuff. (Please be patient and refrain from emailing me with schemes about how I could sell you some early.)

 

extraction day for Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark extraction day for Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkextraction day for Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkextraction day for Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkextraction day for Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkextraction day for Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

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Corvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward Spark

My history with farmers’ markets goes way back…all the way back to the beginning. When I was a year old, my mom started selling apples and vegetables and bread at the Corvallis Wednesday Farmers’ Market (the second longest running farmers’ market in the state I believe), so basically I grew up at and around the market. When I was little, my mom would pack half her van with toys to keep my brother and I occupied. I remember making myself wake up super early and crying/begging my mom (who was trying to sneak off without me) to let me come with her to the Albany Saturday Market. (There was a doughnut store around the corner from the market, and I’m pretty sure some of my enthusiasm for the market was doughnut-related.) During my days at the market, I would mostly play around the van and occasionally help out a little by stocking up bins of greens and baskets of garlic. I loved seeing regular customers every week and listening in on adult conversations on all kinds of subjects but mostly food and families.

One time when I was eleven, my mom needed to drive my brother to Eugene (about an hour away) on a Saturday, so instead of forfeiting a week at the farmers’ market, she went to the site early in the morning, set everything up, and then left me (somewhat supervised by the neighboring vendors) to run the booth by myself for the next several hours. I remember being nervous about my responsibilities but super proud when my mom came back to collect me and the goods. I managed to dole out her wares, collect the money, and give proper change without any major mishaps.

At seventeen, I got my first real summer job working for Denison Farms. I did some general farm laboring but I also staffed their farmers’ market booth twice a week. My experience kinda sorta working for my mom had prepared me well for the job, and I also got great instruction and constructive criticism from my supervisor Doug (who still works the Denison market booth in Corvallis). From seventeen through 23, I spent nearly every Saturday of the spring, summer, and fall (and occasional Saturdays during the winter) waking up super early, setting up the booth, stocking produce, chatting with customers, collecting money, giving change, and then tearing everything down and packing it away at the end of the day. Even after my official career as a farmers’ market vendor ended around the time Levi was born, I still subbed occasionally at the Gathering Together Farm booth, and nowadays, you’ll often find me helping out my mom at the Oven & Earth table.

At this point, some of my mom’s customers have known me for thirty years. They’ve watched me grow up and have kids of my own. Some of the customers I formed relationships with as a vegetable-savvy teenager still come by to chat with me, and I’ve seen other vendors’ and coworkers’ kids enter and then graduate from high school. Though the weeks and the seasons seemed to pass in a blur, when I stop to think about it, I have so many specific farmers’ market memories that hold fast to special times and special people.

The weird thing about my relationship to the local farmers’ market is that it has very little to do with being a customer myself. Sure I’ll buy a lemonade, a loaf of bread, or a couple bunches of spring carrots on occasion, but so few of my thousands of hours in that space have been spent shopping. Even now when I want to move through the crowds, I’ll cut out to the sidewalk and zoom past the booths that don’t interest me and the leisurely strollers that are window shopping until I can cut back in at my destination. Yellow watermelon and purple cauliflower don’t awe me anymore, and I’m definitely over Gathering Together Farm‘s famous potato doughnuts. I still love the farmers’ market, but I love it as an insider not as a consumer.

For the next few weeks, I’m going to be doing some photography and social media work for the Corvallis Saturday Farmers’ Market, and just like that, I’ve found another way to move behind the scenes in a productive way after being out of the loop for a while. This past Saturday, I had a really good time trying to see the market from unbiased customers’ eyes, and I felt like having a legit job made it a lot easier to get acquainted with some of the vendors I’d never talked to before.

I usually think of late spring markets as being somewhat sparse. In the nice weather, everyone wants to be gorging on tomatoes and melons, but instead there are only tomato plants and preserves made from last summer’s fruit. That said, the berries are starting to come in, and the flowers are gorgeous, so the displays are pretty bountiful. Here’s some of what I saw…

Corvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward Spark

(Shameless self promotion for a moment because these are our eggs.)Corvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward SparkCorvallis Farmers' Market // Wayward Spark

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{this moment}

May 23, 2014 · 0 comments

girl eating a strawberry // Wayward Spark

{this moment} A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, moment. ~ Amanda Soule

**inspired by Soule Mama’s (and Erin of Floret‘s) Friday reflections

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The Greening

May 22, 2014 · 1 comment

truck in the woods // Wayward Spark

May is my favorite month, and green is my favorite color.

thimbleberry // Wayward Spark

thimbleberry

forest // Wayward Spark bigleaf maple // Wayward Spark

bigleaf maple

oceanspray and vine maple // Wayward Spark

oceanspray and vine maple

vine maple samara // Wayward Spark

vine maple samara

blackberry canes // Wayward Spark

blackberries

hazelbrush // Wayward Spark

hazelbrush

sword fern // Wayward Spark

sword fern

sword fern // Wayward Spark

sword fern

firewood // Wayward Spark horsetail // Wayward Spark

horsetail

forest // Wayward Spark willow // Wayward Spark

willow

Oregon ash // Wayward SparkOregon ash

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Love wins.

May 19, 2014 · 11 comments

honeybee on crimson clover // Wayward Spark

I don’t really know how to say this, but I’ve been feeling happy and proud and thankful and generally pretty sappy all afternoon because same-sex marriage finally became legal in the state of Oregon today. There was a part of me that wanted to go down to the county courthouse and wave an American flag or join in one of the big weddings/parties in Portland or Eugene, but instead I sanded down a pile of cutting boards, went on a long run, hugged my kids, and ate dinner with my family with a big smile on my face.

I don’t often bring my personal politics to this space. That’s partly because I want to welcome folks of all opinions and partly because there are very few contentious social or political issues on which I stand squarely and unwaveringly on one side or the other (Vaccines: PRO, Death Penalty: ANTI). Marriage equality, however, is too close to me and too obviously the right policy for society for me to ignore or keep my mouth shut on the subject. I am one of those older millennials with tons of friends and family members in the LGBT community (L, G, B, and T), and the only thing I’ve been confused about for years is why my queer people are treated any differently than all my straight friends and family members.

Today is a great day to be an Oregonian, but for those of you living in states without marriage equality (yet), know that your day is coming soon. The tide has turned, and if we all keep fighting the good fight and sharing the good news, it can’t be long before all loving partnerships and families can be legally recognized. Here’s to hoping the next generation of Americans can grow up with all this discrimination in the past.

In related news, my friend Chris Becerra, a seasoned wedding photographer (Oregon Bride’s “Best Wedding Photographer” in 2010 etc.), really wants to add a big ol’ gay wedding to his portfolio, so if you or someone you know is looking for a professional to shoot a same-sex wedding in Oregon, you should definitely get in touch with Chris. (He might even give you a discount for a non-Saturday wedding.)

Hooray for love!

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beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

For the last four years, Henry has been adding to and selecting from his pool of honeybee genetics all originating from feral, Pacific Northwest-adapted colonies. In order to propagate those genetics as well as maintain and increase his hive numbers, he started grafting his own queens last year. Grafting queens takes a lot of time, effort, skill, and bees, so it’s not really an activity for hobby beekeepers.  There are many other methods of creating new hives that work well on a smaller scale.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

To begin grafting, Henry starts his truck and lets it idle with the doors shut and the heat on full blast. When the interior air is preheated to about 90°, he selects a frame of brood with less-than-a-day-old larvae occupying the cells from a hive with preferred genetics. He gently sweeps off the adhering bees, and quickly moves the frame into the hot cab of his truck wrapped in a warm, moist towel if it’s particularly windy or cold. The larvae won’t make viable queens if they get chilled or dried out even for a brief time.

grafting honeybee queens with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

In the hot truck with the doors closed and dripping with sweat, Henry uses a Chinese grafting tool to select tiny larvae from the cells.

grafting honeybee queens with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

Good lighting is essential for this task because the larvae are tiny and translucent.

grafting honeybee queens with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

He gently but quickly scoops one up along with a bit of royal jelly that’s been left in the cell to feed the new larva.

grafting honeybee queens with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

For grafting, he uses JZ-BZ queen cups and a cell bars available here.

grafting honeybee queens with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

Then he inserts the larvae into a queen cup and quickly covers it with a warm, damp towel.

Once each queen cup contains a young larva, he attaches two full cell bars to a special frame. He then inserts the frame into middle of the top box of the prepared queenless hive. Each cell builder colony receives two frames of queen cups for a total of 60 potential grafted queen cells.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

To configure a cell builder hive, Henry selects a colony that’s swarm prepping by building lots of queen cells. These hives will accept more queen cells and provide them with ample royal jelly, which is critical to raising good queens.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

Henry goes through the hive and pulls out all the capped brood frames with adhering bees to put in the cell builder box. The cell builder hive needs an abundance of emerging bees at all times because newly hatched workers act as nurse bees. These nurse bees (less than three days old) are the only ones capable of producing a secretion called royal jelly. All larvae are fed a tiny bit of royal jelly early on, but queen cells must be packed with the stuff while the cups are being drawn out so that the queen larvae are literally floating in royal jelly. The consumption of lots of royal jelly is what physiologically differentiates queens from worker bees.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

While going through the frames, Henry is also looking for the queen in the hive, and he will destroy any queen cells he finds on the comb.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

When he finds the queen, he puts her in a queen cage and sets her aside to be added to another hive later.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

The cell builder box with many frames of capped brood and lots of adhering bees but no queen is placed on a bottom board. Because the hive is so cramped, the bees will feel an intense biological urge to reproduce, so they will readily accept a large number of queen cells and care for them well.

Each cell builder hive is fed so that there’s an excess of food resources available at all times.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

About a week after placing the queen cells in the cell builder, Henry goes through the hive and eliminates any emergency queen cells the workers may have built on the comb. You can see a little Instagram video of this here (but please excuse a brief bit of foul language as I get stung in the face).

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

Exactly 10 days after grafting, the capped queen cells are ready to be removed and placed in waiting mating nucs (small, queenless hives). The queen cells must be removed before any queens hatch or else the first virgin to emerge will destroy the other queen cells and/or fight with other hatching queens.

After pulling out a queen cell frame, he gently brushes some of the adhering bees off the queen cells.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

One at a time, he plucks the queen cells off the bar.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkgrafting honeybee queens with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

These queen cells still have an excess of unconsumed royal jelly in the top, which means the queens have been provided with an abundant quantity of food while developing.

grafting honeybee queens with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkgrafting honeybee queens with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

grafting honeybee queens with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

Raising queens in Oregon, even with really good spring weather, is iffy. Henry has had grafts where 100% of the queen cells fully developed, but the average is more like 60%.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

Before removing the queen cells, he’s already prepared queenless mating nucs to receive the queen cells. He pulls off the lids to ready them for the unhatched queen.

grafting honeybee queens with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkgrafting honeybee queens with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward SparkHe plugs the queen cell in between two frames.

The queen should hatch within a few days and then proceed on her mating flight within the next two weeks when weather allows.

Henry will check the hives that receive new queens 30 days later to ensure that they are queenright with a healthy brood pattern. For a number of reasons, some grafts will fail or the queens will fail to mate and therefore be unable to lay eggs for new worker brood. Currently, about 70% of queen cells that are placed go on to be fully functioning, mated queens. Success rates go up for queens grafted during warmer weather.

If you would like to order an Old Blue queen particularly adapted to the environs of the Pacific Northwest, email Henry at oldblueseedco@gmail.com. He has a limited quantity available for local pickup starting next week through the end of August.

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{this moment}

May 16, 2014 · 6 comments

honeybee swarm in a tangle of poison-oak // Wayward Spark

{this moment} A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, moment. ~ Amanda Soule

**inspired by Soule Mama’s (and Erin of Floret‘s) Friday reflections

{ 6 comments }