Monday, April 7, 2014

Springtime means gardens, and gardens mean...bees?

     We used to see them everywhere: gold and black striped bodies buzzing busily among flowers and blossoms, zipping here and there around gardens and picnics. Now? Not so much. Where have the bees gone? Scientists are calling it colony collapse disorder, and it is a very real threat to us and our world. Without bees, humankind has zero chance for survival. What can we do to keep our buzzing little saviors safe? Avoiding pesticides, for one. It's a fairly logical idea, really. If it's not good for them, it's probably not good for us, either. Here's some tips from about planting a bee-friendly garden:

One way to help is to increase the number of bees and other pollinators in your area by including plants that provide essential habitat. Here are 15 that can be grown in most areas of the U.S., although it’s ideal to plant native plants.

1. Lavandula spp. (Lavender)
2. Rosemarinus officinalis (Rosemary)
3. Salvia spp. (Sage)
4. Echinacea spp. (Coneflower)
5. Helianthus spp. (Sunflower)
6. Cercis spp. (Redbud)
7. Nepeta spp. (Catnip)
8. Penstemon spp. (Penstemon)
9. Stachys spp. (Lamb’s ears)
10. Verbena spp. (Verbena)
11. Phacelia spp. (Bells or Phacelia)
12. Aster spp. (Aster)
13. Rudbeckia spp. (Black-eyed Susan)
14. Origanum spp. (Oregano)
15. Achilliea millefolium (Yarrow)

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     I was delighted to see some (few) bees bumbling around my window box herb garden last year (I had planted pansies among the herbs, partly for prettiness, partly to attract buzzing friends). This year I'm going to try to plant some sunflowers behind my stairway, so I'll have a border of bee-colored lovelies looming over the steps. Rosemary, sage and oregano are staples of my herb garden; I'll add lavender for cooking and sachets. I love coneflowers, but they don't do well in pots. I'll simply appropriate part of my mother's garden for those, I guess. She won't mind. (Really! In fact, she'll probably try to plant all this stuff, because she's as much of a bee-lover as I am.) What can you do to help our buzzy friends? Don't have space for a garden? Try a pot of rosemary or sage: beautiful to look at, lovely to smell, helpful in cooking--it's an all-around win! Every little bit helps. Happy planting!

     I haven't made this glorious-sounding cake yet, but it is now on my list. Enjoy, and raise a toast to our dear honey-makers when you do.

Beekeeper's Honey Cake

2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 tablespoons canola or corn oil
3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups wildflower or other medium-colored honey
1 cup sour cream
1 cup dried cranberries or sour cherries
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Sliced almonds for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt or 10-inch tube pan, tapping out the excess flour, and set aside. 2. Sift together the flour, spices, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl. With an electric mixer, beat together the melted butter, oil, and both sugars in a large mixing bowl until well blended. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then add the honey and sour cream all and once and beat until you have a smooth batter. Beat in the flour mixture, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in the cranberries and walnuts. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. 3. Bake the cake until a cake tester inserted near the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Invert the cake onto a wire rack and let cool. As soon as the cake is cool enough to handle, press the flaked almonds into the top. Place the cooled cake in an airtight container to ripen for 2 days before serving.

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