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

Book Review: Not Just for Vegetarians

Not Just for Vegetarians, © Copyright 2008 Geraldine Hartman

Not Just for Vegetarians: Delicious Homestyle Cooking, the Meatless Way

by Geraldine Hartman

The book for today’s review was provided by: Geraldine Hartman, Veggies, Yarns and Tails

I write AppleJade because I honor the connection between kitchen, garden, and health.  Geraldine Hartman’s cookbook Not Just for Vegetarians extends the connection between vegetables and cooking to our relationships and traditions of friends and family, and our attitudes toward our food.  Healthy living incorporates more than the mere substance of our food, and Geraldine speaks to the soul of it.

Not Just for Vegetarians reads and functions with the friendliness of a neighbor or grandmother.  Indeed, Geraldine dedicates her book to members of her family, and there is a clear influence among her recipes of friends, traditions, and memories which help to sculpt each dish.  Geraldine tells us that in her journey to a vegetarian lifestyle she has found “that the vegetarian diet can be much more varied and interesting than the conventional ‘meat and potato’ menu.”

I began experimenting with Geraldine’s book by exploring the first segment: bread.  We enter her book as we enter our grandmother’s kitchen, with a warm loaf of bread cooling on the counter and filling the house with honeyed aromas.  I am still in the learning process with breads, but I had no trouble with her “Quickie Oatmeal Bread,” and I am slowly improving with “Grandmother Sabina’s Best Bread You’ve Ever Tasted!!!”

I wander her book like I wander my pantry, seeking out unexpected treasures tucked in the corners.  I do not look in the index for refried beans under “B” for beans; instead I find them under “M” for Main Dishes – “Homemade Refried Beans”.  The result is constant experimentation.  I need only to flip through the pages until I find something that sounds interesting, and I’m off to try something new.

Thus far, my attempts at all recipes have passed “The Yucky Test” in my home.  This says a lot for Geraldine’s down-to-earth, home-comfort style: anything which is too bland, too strangely textured, or too-rabbit-food will not pass muster on our table.  Geraldine’s recipes lend themselves to spicing and modification according to taste, and she offers numerous variation suggestions of her own within the pages.

Not Just for Vegetarians is more than a simple vegetarian cookbook.  Geraldine has crafted her book to be a friendly, helpful voice to inspire creativity and experimentation with healthy food.  Books like Not Just for Vegetarians help move us away from bland, packaged foods and back into the substance and soul of our kitchens.  Regardless of whether you live a vegetarian lifestyle, Geraldine’s Not Just for Vegetarians offers recipes that will delight everyone at your table.

Book Review: The Curious Gardener’s Almanac

The Curious Gardener’s Almanac (c) Copyright Niall Edworthy 2007

The Curious Gardener’s Almanac: Centuries of Practical Gardening Wisdom

by Niall Edworthy

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

At AppleJade I like to share the joy of discovery by bringing you glimpses of the garden in my corner of the world. Niall Edworthy echoes this spirit with his new book, The Curious Gardener’s Almanac: Centuries of Practical Gardening Wisdom.

In his introduction, Edworthy attempts to wrap his arms around this book and explain the “what” and the “why” to little avail. Perhaps I can lend him a hand: this book is itself a garden.

The Curious Gardener’s Almanac is essentially a book of happenstance. As in a garden, you wander the pages and find yourself distracted by flowers of thought here, nuts of wisdom there, and all the while cognizant of the dark earth that engenders such a wealth of gardening wisdom.

Rather than chapters of how-to’s and when’s, Edworthy’s pages are filled with bits of poems, quotations, advice, facts, proverbs, and parables. Edworthy is not a condescending gardening guru, but like so many of us, he is a man with a basic curiosity about his garden, learning literally from the ground up.

As a self-taught gardener, I giggled with recognition when he explained the most unfortunate fate of his onions: rotted to death when left out to dry… in the rain. Those of us who did not grow up with gardens typically lack the innate wisdom of how to manage a thriving garden. What Edworthy shares with us is that not only is this wisdom not lost upon us, but that we can all find a spot of green on our thumbs if we just keep shoving it into the dirt.

Creating a garden is never an instant transformation – nor should it be. In Edworthy’s introduction he confesses, “The first year in the vegetable patch was a perfect disaster—I just scattered a variety of seeds over it, expecting it to turn into the Garden of Eden by the end of summer, like it does on the TV.

Therein lies the deepest wisdom of all: gardening is never a process to be finished. It is an ongoing process of learning and growth of which we gardeners, proficient and novice, are a part. Edworthy’s book includes accessible advice on gardening in each season. I found it refreshing that he includes information both contemporary (like why you don’t need to water your lawn), and traditional (like companion planting and uses for herbs).

This book is like a happy little backyard garden: tangible, unassuming, nourishing, and meaningful. The Curious Gardener’s Almanac is not a reference book—it is a book of discovery. Flip through its pages, and what you’ll find is a chorus of shovels and rakes, plucking at the earth to see what comes up.