Book Review: Plan Bee

Plan Bee by Susan Brackeny © Copyright 2009Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures on the Planet

by Susan Brackney

The book for today’s review was provided by: Perigee Books, Penguin Group (USA)

The harvest bounties, floral comforts, and kitchen creations that I share at AppleJade would none of them be possible without the bees.  This is why Susan Brackney’s book Plan Bee is one of my favorite book reads so far this year: it is fun to read, useful, and relevant.

Plan Bee tells us about the biology, history, lore, and functions of bees, emphasizing the honeybee and its place in agriculture.  Susan Brackney writes Plan Bee from her own honeycomb adventures, such as they were launched at the intersection of curiosity, love, and a fateful garage sale.

Plan Bee by Susan Brackney, Queen Bee, © Copyright 2009Brackney affords her readers the unique opportunity to learn about the art and science of beekeeping by candidly sharing the fruits of her own learning process along with a spoonful of humor.  Brackney provides meaningful scientific information including physiology, habitat, and ecology, as well as domestic beekeeping (apiary) and its history.  Although she details the nuts-and-bolts of bee workings, Brackney provides no indecipherable scientific diagrams, and no unpronounceable terminology.

Throughout Plan Bee Brackney interlaces cultural context, folklore, mythology, and the many uses and applications of bees, their activities, and their byproducts.  The reader’s focus is aligned to incorporate flowers, table honey, pollination, and agriculture.  Brackney helps attune the reader to the significance and importance of bees and their well-being for the health not only of humans, but also the environments of which we are all a part.

Plan Bee by Susan Brackney © Copyright 2009In addition to the wealth of what I learn in its pages, what I like most about Plan Bee are the little moments of recognition that I feel as I read: wild flowers that I recognize from my Pennsylvania gardens, wild bee homes that I find in my Washington gardens, and raw, local honey that I search out in farmer’s markets and local stands wherever I go.

In Brackney’s book I hear the balance of practicality and sustainability that I attempt to achieve in my own life.  Although she provides great information for aspiring apiarists, she also offers simple suggestions which everyone can try.  For example: she suggests that an easy way to help all bees might be to leave a corner of the lawn to “go wild” with weed flowers, or to raise the lawnmower blades a few inches in order to spare the violets and clover.

By helping her readers to understand Why Bees Matter, Brackney inspires us to action.  I came away from this book knowing that I’m not ready to be a beekeeper, but that I am prepared to grow more flowers, provide the trappings of wild bee homes, and offer bee-baths (located away from the existing bird-baths).  Brackney provides a measured sense of doable action with suggestions for anyone who wishes to improve – or at least not worsen – the fate and survival of bees.

In Plan Bee Brackney titles her Final Note, “Who Needs Chickens Anyway?”.  We learn at the beginning of her story that Susan Brackney ended up on the honeybee path when she first decided she was ready to try something new; a garage sale which offered a beekeeper’s gear cast the deciding vote in the toss-up between chicken-raising and beekeeping.

For this twist of fate, I feel that we are all fortunate: Susan Brackney’s Plan Bee invites its readers to re-approach the world with curiosity in order to explore, investigate, and notice.  Like a bee, Brackney gives careful attention to each subject as if humming from flower to flower, connecting insects with habitat with agriculture with humanity with choices with actions.  Plan Bee leaves its readers with a sense of wonder for, and belonging to, the natural world and all its honeyed sweetness.

 

Wild Bees and Wild Flowers, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

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Spring Plant Starts

Spring Plant Starts, © Copyright 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

A quick peek ahead at what’s to come at AppleJade: here you can see my plant starts enjoying a little sunshine outdoors thanks to this nice, warm weekend. Not pictured here are the cold frames under construction. I am preparing some step-by-step instructions to help you build your own. More soon!

Sun-Gardens

Greetings from sunny, southern California!  Blogging will be light until the autumn while I travel, but I will be sure to stop in from time to time and share garden finds and recipes.

Later this year we’ll check back in on the Kitsap garden and see what comes up!

Raw Potential

Gardening can benefit from a healthy combination of vision, creativity, and random surprise.  For me, gardening serves the dual purpose of helping me to discover things about myself while I slowly learn about the green world.  This summer I have been extracting my garden from weeds and tree sprouts.  In these pictures you can see what I’ve uncovered so far.  It may not look like much, but all I see is endless potential!

 

 

 

 

 

The strawberry harvest was excellent.  This small patch yielded about 2-3 cups of fruit for 3-4 weeks (making for some delicious, vitamin-packed margaritas!).  In a few more weeks the blackberries will begin to ripen, and I’m confident that I’ll have enough for pies and freezing.  I will relocate a few plants to increase my yields next year.

 

  

The herbs bring back a strong sense of nostalgia as they work their way back into my meals.  Certain herbs and spices remind me of places I have lived (and grown) or visited.  Lemon rosemary reminds me of Kitsap, Washington.  Greek oregano will probably always remind me of Chester County, PA.  I have already taken cuttings of the herbs so that they too can be relocated around the property.  I also found time to plant a couple tomatoes and an Anaheim chili pepper – I’ll show you what they’re doing next week.

 

While the wild plants had to be removed to make room for planted vegetables, I’ve made sure to leave many in place.  These wildflowers are an important attractant for bees and butterflies (and besides that, I like them).  The rest of the garden is slowly being cultivated into soft, open beds like the one you see here.  This is where I will be sowing seeds for cold-hearty plants which will likely survive the temperate Washington winter even outside of the coldframe.

 

 

 

 

 

And speaking of cold frames, now that we have completed new gates for the garden, cold frames are the new weekend projects.  Stay tuned for diagrams, pictures, and step-by-step instructions for you to build you own cold frame in time for autumn and winter planting!

Forest Garden

Wild Daisies, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater

Our garden in Kitsap is a forest garden by nature (no pun intended).  Despite our three year absence in Philadelphia, our vegetable garden nestled in the Kitsap forests has persisted with chives, onions, thyme, mints, rosemary, strawberries, and other assorted flowers and herbs.  Thanks to the temperate Western Washington weather, these plants have patiently grown year-round without any tending from me.

In between my work I take every chance I can find to get out in the garden and extract the “garden plants” from the “weeds.”  Here in the forest, hemlocks and alders seed themselves readily among the vegetables.  I’ve been fortunate to find that several wild herbs I like have incorporated themselves into the beds including sorrel, red clover, and dandelion.

This July I will be sharing the view from my forest garden as I revitalize my own local food source.  I am in the process of reestablishing the beds in order to sow greens, late tomato starts, and herbs.  We will be building new cold frames, which will be a great opportunity for me to show you some step-by-step instructions for how we build ours from what materials we have available.  Finally, time permitting I will be sharing some simple ideas for drying, storing, and using herbs.

Green Blogging from the Evergreen State

Pink Columbine, May 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater

Greetings from the Emerald City!  I am settling in to the Pacific Northwest after enjoying a most excellent roadtrip from Philadelphia to Seattle.  I will resume blogging in June with a post frequency of 1 – 2 times per week on each blog: AppleJade, Arboreality, and Brainripples.

At AppleJade we will be discussing healthy, happy lifestyle through attitude, gardening, cooking, and simple, green living.

At Arboreality we will be exploring the woods of Western Washington and other localities within reasonable driving distance.

At Brainripples we will be sharing methods of creative exploration, successful approaches to working independently, and unique perspectives from featured artists.

You will also find me blogging at the Pennwriters Area 6 HQ, a new blog created as a resource for writers living in and around southeastern Pennsylvania.  I will be blogging with other Pennwriters about local news, events, information, and of course – writers!

If you are a writer in the Puget Sound Area (Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Kitsap Peninsula, Bellingham) and would like to join my newly forming Seattle Pennwriters Critique Groups, please contact me for more information.

More to follow!

PS – Today’s image is of the columbine flowers still growing happily in my Washington gardens.

PPS – Please bear with me as I acclimate to the new WordPress interface, and please let me know when things don’t look *quite right*.

AppleJade Returns in June

Cherry Tomatoes, Summer 2007, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater

I am returning to Seattle this May, and AppleJade will be on vacation until June 1, 2008 while I pack and travel.

Once I am settled in Seattle you will be able to join me here at AppleJade as I create a new vegetable garden from seed to table.  Until then, have a wonderful, productive season, and feel free to stop by and consider goal-setting, attitude adjustments, and easy ways to simplify your life.

See you in June!