Who said gardening wasn’t sexy?
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Our family has just had a wonderful small surprise from the garden, broccoli that we assumed had died, reappeared and was perfect for a quick stir-fry.
The broccoli, along with some celery, fell victim to a metre of snow that was suddenly dumped on our mountain garden in November. Since then we’ve had some thaws, more snow and while the snow depth has diminished, we didn’t expect to see plants anytime soon.
The celery was a loss, at the edge of the garden, but a broccoli tip reappeared this weekend and when I gently dug around it I found some beautifully fresh-frozen little heads.
My garden isn’t so much dormant as on pause.
Even after trimming off not-ripe and frost-damaged bits I had enough for a quick two-minute stir-fry. No additional flavours needed.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – There is no longer any doubt, winter is here to stay, and buried somewhere under a metre of fresh snow is my broccoli, that I was planning to stir-fry last Saturday night.
Question: by the time the snow melts down a couple feet, will my fresh-frozen but on the stalk broccoli be edible?
Probably not, but let’s see. Last year I harvested some celery that survived a dump of snow.
I woke up Saturday to what appeared to be three black-nosed sheep on the edge of my veranda.
Sheep have wandered into the garden once or twice, but given the snowfall I was surprised. I put in my contact lenses and discovered they were my geraniums in pots.
I also discovered that if, for some reason, I want to go out to the swings or the raspberry bushes at the end of the garden I will need to put on snowshoes.
For now I’m happy to just admire nature’s gift of beautiful snow in the Swiss Alps.
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – I’ll never look at my garden bees in the same way again, knowing what those queen sweat bees are up to. Researchers at the University of Lausanne have shown that queen bees limit the food their first batch of daughters receive. The first brood remains small, workers who help raise the second group, which are then well positioned to reproduce.
This division of labour is slightly spooky and reminiscent of the film “Antz” but there seems to be some logic to it.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – I’m watching the healthy bees in my mountain garden with new respect after reading a number of French media reports about the strange episode of blue honeys being produced in Alsace.
Le Monde describes the situation best, saying morale was already pretty low for beekeepers, after a rough winter followed by a very rainy spring then too-dry summer.
And then in August in Ribeauvillé a number of beekeepers noticed that their bees were making blue or green or chocolate brown honey, in large quantities.
The mystery was solved at the same time that the source of the colours noticed the problem: a small company that opened in January 2012, Agrivalor, which is methanizing garbage to produce energy products, notably a biogas.
The garbage includes waste dumped by American sweets company Mars, which produces M&Ms in nearby Haguenau. The decomposing candies may have attracted the bees, which will seek out any easy source of honey.
The biogas company was started by three farmers. Mars has talked about its environmental track record, including waste going for energy production. But now the unhappy chain that no one predicted is raising difficult and as yet unanswered questions, such as whether or not the waste may include GM traces in the food wastes, which might then be picked up by the bees, reports Le Monde.
Also read: Reuters story in English
I believe it’s called Eros blue, based on a number of photos on the site eurobutterflies by Matt Rowlings, where he notes that it is similar in appearance to the Common blue butterfly, but is a high alpine creature.
I haven’t had much time for gardening this summer, a combination of travels and an injured knee that bans work on slopes – tough one that, in the mountains! So we have lettuce and tomatoes, a handful of potatoes and onions, but none of the usual gratifying crops.
Except for Ye Olde Apple Tree here, who is having a bumper crop of a an old Valais variety. I haven’t seen so many apples since I met this tree 11 years ago, before we built a house next to it. My neighbour, then in her late 80s, remembered this tree from her childhood and we’ve calculated it is now about 110!
We have since planted four other apples trees, and if we get a total of 5 apples from them this year I will be surprised.
The problem with these old fellows is that they are unfashionable apples by today’s standards. You bite into one and it turns brown very quickly. They have a bitterness after the initial sweetness. They keep well, but only if you don’t mind wrinkles on your apples.
But I can’t fault the tree when it comes to quantity!
The weed-pulling job is getting away from me, and I can almost hear them laughing while I stand by, helpless, with two broken toes. The doctor told me to avoid steps and slopes for two weeks and since my vegetable garden is almost entirely slope, the weeds are being ignored. More or less.
The good news is that the crops are also enjoying the perfect mix of rain at night, sunshine during the day and warm but not hot temperatures, a gardener’s blessing.
The strawberries are low on the slope, so they’re easy for me to gather. A young visitor ran up to the corner and grabbed a handful of the first red currants.
I gave a knife and bowl to gardener number 2 and sent him to the lower corner of the garden, definitely off-limits for broken toes, to harvest the first rhubarb. There was enough for a pie, which was delicious, so no complaints from him about the task.
And I gathered 8 lettuce leaves to remind us what the real thing tastes like.
Out of kindness, the roses all decided to open, too. Now to sit back on the swing, foot up, and enjoy it all, reminding myself that a garden is balm to the soul, not just an excuse for building calluses. It’s the best place on Earth to bury unreasonable bosses, dishonest competitors, lazy workers and cheating lovers (don’t take that too literally, though, please).
Just as I was about to go out and plant my tomatoes, before realizing I should wait for evening, a friend sent me a NY Times article about the genetics of tomatoes. Nine years of genetic research were published this week in Nature, the journal. I burst out laughing when I came to this bit:
“The tomato, though a fruit to botanists, has been decreed a vegetable by the United States Supreme Court. The verdict is not so unreasonable given that the tomato has a close cousin that is a vegetable, namely the potato.”
It’s only unreasonable if you wonder what the US Supreme Court is doing in the tomato patch.
Those of us who have been watching the Fatca Act legislation in the US have already been asking how the US can legislate for the world, but I guess the Supreme Court has set the example with the tomato.
Fatca (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) is a US law that starting in 2014 will penalize financial institutions around the world that don’t comply by revealing the accounts of US persons to the IRS and collect tax withholdings for the IRS from them.
One juicy story leads to another!
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Summer is here, no doubt about it when you get out of the city and head for the mountains: the sun rose at 05:00 this morning in the Swiss Alps.
As the light suddenly streamed in I could hear what seemed like my newly planted geraniums singing, but it was an extraordinary chorus of birds.
The flowers, planted last night, have perked up wonderfully; geraniums and beautiful blue lobelia with the Alps is a happy marriage.
And then I heard the rest of the orchestra, tinkling bells on the young cows next door, who had started munching again, low baaas from some sheep put in a nearby field for a week or two. It takes a few minutes to shift your brain from hearing urban sounds to really listening to the mountain ones.
About the geraniums: I’ve learned that it’s worth spending more and getting bigger plants that resist our high winds and give beautiful flowerboxes quickly. We can’t plant them before 1 June at our altitude of 1,100 metres, and by then it’s hard to get 18 identical plants, so this year I’ve mixed white with pink centres and red with white centres, and the blue lobelia for contrast. I just learned that you don’t have to stretch over the balcony and deadhead the lobelia, a relief!