Local Honey and Your Allergies - Its Not What You Think

 Bee on a White Clover Blossom

Bee on a White Clover Blossom

You’re Not Gonna Want to Hear This

The I-Eat-Local-Honey-to-Relieve-My-Allergy-Symptoms reasoning is easy to understand.  In the spring and summer allergy symptoms make you miserable.  The misery happens when airborne pollen entering the body through the nose and throat triggers these symptoms (the body produces antibodies to fight off these foreign particles).   Bees gather pollen locally to make honey.  Therefore if you eat local honey from local bees you will ingest local pollen.  You will build  “resistance” to local pollen and thereby alleviate the misery.   Pretty straightforward.

Before I unfold my card table and hawk my honey as an allergy reliever, I wanted to understand the hard evidence supporting the age-old Local Honey/Allergy claim. So I did a self-guided google tour of scientific/medical literature, and talked to a few allergy docs.  Turns out the story may be more myth (or honey industry marketing strategy) than fact.  Here’s why.

A).  First and foremost, bees don’t use pollen to make honey.  Idealy honey is made from wildflower nectar, but in a pinch (e.g. a drought year) can be made from other things too - like sugar syrup and even honeydew from insects.  Pollen gets into honey strictly by accident.  This happens when pollen particles rub off the bees as they prepare the comb cells and deposit the uncured honey (nectar). See next point.

B).  Accidental pollen in honey means it is not possible to calculate an accurate pollen dose.  Pollen counts in a tablespoon of honey can vary greatly from hive to hive, and even in jars of honey collected from the same hive.  As with any medication, if an accurate and consistent dose is not possible, a predictable consistent effect is not possible either

 Stored Pollen in a Hive.

Stored Pollen in a Hive.

C).  Here’s the kicker.  For most people, allergy symptoms are caused by airborne pollen from grasses and trees.  This type of pollen is light and dusty so it can be carried by the wind.  Bees gather pollen from flowers.   Flower pollen is sticky and heavy - better suited for clinging to pollinators as they fly from flower to flower.  So the type of  pollen causing most allergy sufferers' spring and summer agony,  never makes it into local honey.

Bottom Line ...
There are plenty of good reasons - enzymes, antioxidants, flavonoids- to eat raw, unfiltered honey from local hives.  Relieving your spring and summer allergy symptoms may not be one of them.  

 

Indeterminate vs Determinate Tomatoes. So Why is this a Queston?

 

 

Determinate -  Produce one crop of tomatoes per season, then die.

Indeterminate - Produce tomatoes (in theory) all season until killed by frost.

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The normal reasons for planting (and not planting) determinate tomato varieties are easy to find. Determinate varieties tend to grow smaller, and so are better for containers and small spaces.  This also means less trellising and smaller cages.  These varieties are predictable, producing one big harvest per season (about 45 days after setting out).   

 

Then there are the determinate detractors.  Tomato purists (some of my best gardening friends) insist determinate varieties simply aren’t as tasty as their indeterminate cousins.  Reasons given range from sensible to strange.  Fewer leaves (sensible) means less nutrients are delivered to the fruit.  All determinate varieties are F1 hybrids (strange), and so could not possibly taste as good as open pollinated/heirloom varieties.  Personally, I have never found a fresh-off-the-vine determinate tomato anything but totally scrumptious.

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So much for a quick-and-dirty pros and cons review.  You can find lots more for-and-against arguments with minimal Googling.  I grow determinate tomato varieties for the usual reasons, and then some:

A).  The Summer Salsa Payload
A large crop of tomatoes ripening at about the same time means only one thing at my house -  homemade salsa Valhalla .  If only someone would develop a deterministic jalapeño.

B).  Dog Days
I live in north central Texas.  Yesterday (June 2) the high temperature was 100F degrees with an official heat index of 111F.  Things will only get worse.  Tomatoes will not produce fruit at temps higher than about 95F.  So even though indeterminate varieties theoretically produce fruit all year, in my neck of the woods, blossoms get cooked off the vine from late June to September and I am way too lazy to build a shade canopy.  If the plants make it through the summer, I find the vines are usually too stunted to produce much of a fall crop.

C).  Chemicals
I strive to stay as chemical free as possible.  Unfortunately Blight can be a big problem for small gardens - especially if the tomato plants are spaced too close for adequate air flow.  With a good determinate variety, I can usually get a decent crop before the Blight outruns my ability to cut off infected leaves.


Bottom Line -
Determinate/Indeterminate should never be an either-or choice.  I would never abandon my favorite indeterminate varieties.  Instead, my tomato strategy will be to mix the two types.  So, consider planting a few determinate plants for all the usual reasons.  But don’t stop there.  Determinate varieties provide you all the salsa you need for football season as well as buy you a little time in the race against heat, blight, and who-knows-what.

Afternotes
The determinate variety shown in the photograph is BHN1021 from Johnny’s Selected Seed.  Indeterminate varieties shown are Damsel and Jasper, also from Johnny's.  All plants were started indoors from seed in February.

Soil Test Report

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Reached in my mailbox and there it was (FINALLY) – soil test results for our new garden at The Orchards.  IMHO the report looks pretty good, especially to those of us used to fighting the black clay goo in Dallas.  My eyes went right to ‘Textural Class:  Sandy Loam”, and I said a little Thank-You-Prayer.

I see two very small concerns.  One is the pH of 7.6 – not quite acid enough.  Although this is a smidgen off for growing veggies, it shouldn’t cause concern.  As you can see, we are also a little short on nitrogen.  Adding compost to boost the nitrogen will slowly bring down the pH.  If 7.6 really bugs you, sprinkle in some sulfur.

Number two is the salinity test.  Too salty.  I guess this goes along with the story of cowboys who worked around the Brazos.  It is said each one carried a salt shaker so when they traveled on a long cattle drive they could always salt their water so it tasted like home.  ‘Conductivity’ is the key value here.  Values 0.00 to 0.75 is considered ‘Safe’ with anything over 3.0 pegged as unsafe.  Considering all the bio-diversity we have around us,  I’m pretty sure our veggies will be OK.

 

Brim Seeds

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Here’s a hidden Texas treasure – Brim Seed Company down by Waco.  We first met these fine folks a few years back at Dallas’ Fair Park during an Earth Day celebration.  I bought a pack of their Southern Zipper Peas on the spot.
 

No, they are not one of the Big Guys.  They don’t have a big fat catalogue stuffed with glossies and marketing propaganda.  Brim’s garden seed offering is solid and well rounded.  And I really like their Southern Acclimated line of seed.  These are seeds taken from plants, regionally adapted to our southern climate (think ferocious Texas summer).  Those Southern Zipper Peas I bought make a great summer crop.  And of course, they offer several varieties of Southern Acclimated Black Eyed Peas (not always easy to find).    That’s good for us because just about the only thing I’ve found that will live and produce in the middle of a Texas summer is Okra, Jalapenos, and Blackeyed peas.

Brim Seeds is part of Homestead Heritage; a Christian based community of farmers and craftsmen.   Visit the Village and see weavers, ferries, potters, and woodworkers.   Don’t miss this their mill – especially when they are handing out free cookie samples.

Roasted Jaspers

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One of our favorite things to grow is Jasper Tomato from Johnny Selected Seeds.   Don’t let looks deceive.  Even though Jaspers are elfin – I call them mini cherry – each one is bursting with hearty tomato-y flavor that will surprise you.  One of the best things to do with these tiny gems is to roast ‘em.   Here is Miss Joy’s Roasted Jasper method.


1.  Get a bunch of Jaspers.  Cut each one in half through the middle (not stem to tail).

2.  Spread them, cut side up, on a cookie sheet.

3.  Lay three or four whole garlic cloves around on the sheet.

4.  Drizzle the whole thing with olive oil.

5.  Sprinkle with Kosher salt and rosemary (fresh if you can).

6.  Bake a couple of hours at about 300 degrees.

7.  When the Jaspers are good and shriveled, scrape oil and all into a storage jar.

When the time comes, sprinkle your roasted Jaspers on soup, salads, veggies, or just eat them as is.  I guarantee they won’t last long.

 

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A word about growing Jaspers.  They are a hybrid, indeterminate variety.  As far as I know, Johnny’s is only supplier I know that sells the seeds.  I start mine around the first of February, and try to have at least two strong plants ready for transplanting when the weather starts warming up.  Being indeterminate, plants will need to be caged or staked.  Jaspers are one of the few tomato varieties I know than can endure and produce through our killer Texas summers without special protection.  In mild winters, we have been able to pick Jaspers for Christmas dinner. 

Miss Joy's Sauteed Okra Magnifique

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2 pounds fresh okra (about 4 cups sliced)
        2 cups stone-ground yellow cornmeal (Lamb’s is the best)
        ½ teaspoon sea or kosher salt
        ½ teaspoon black pepper
        ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more to taste, optional)
         5 cups peanut oil

Rinse the whole okra pods under cold water, drain, pat dry, trim tops, and cut into ¼-inch pieces on the bias. Set aside, salt lightly, and let stand at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. The salt will bring out the “goo” in the okra, allowing the cornmeal to adhere even better—making the crust just a bit crispier.

Place the cornmeal, ½ teaspoon salt, black pepper, and cayenne into a resealable zip-top plastic bag. Add the okra and shake to coat thoroughly. Return the okra to a dry colander and shake off excess cornmeal.

Add enough peanut oil to a 12-inch stainless steel sauté pan to completely cover the bottom of the pan about ⅓ inch deep. Place over medium-high heat and bring the oil to 375°F. Add the okra and fry until golden brown, turning once and replenishing oil as needed, approximately 5 minutes.

Remove the okra from the pan with a slotted spoon or spatula to paper towels to drain. Season with more salt, if desired, and allow to cool for 1 to 2 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

 

Boneset Honey

Boneset blossoms. 

Left - late summer honey.   Right - Boneset honey.

In late summer, the banks of the Bazos behind our house exploded with white Boneset blooms.   Most everything else had shriveled in the Texas heat.  Everywhere we looked,  Boneset blossoms were covered in honeybees. We had taken most of the honey just before the Boneset started blooming.  We wanted Boneset honey, but timing was important.  We needed to get the honey before Broomweed started blooming (many prople say Broomwood honey has a foul taste). We took about 12 pounds.  The Boneset honey is much darker and richer than honey from earlier harvests.  To me, the taste is herbal and fragrant.  Very, very nice.  We are calling it 'Special Reserve Dark'. 

The medicinal value of Boneset has been know for several hundred years.  Before aspirin, Boneset was used to break fevers and relieve aches.  Native Americans use Boneset to treat "Bone-Break Fever" (Dengue) as well as other fevers, colds, arthritis, and rheumatism.  One variety of Boneset is called Joe Pye Weed after a Native American (called Joe Pye) used leaves to induce profuse sweating and thus cured a New Englander of Typhus. 

 

Eggplant in Garlic Sauce

This is one of my favorite Asian restaurant dishes.  I’m told there are countless variations, and that every family has a unique recipe.  This one’s pretty good.  First the basics. 

Ichiban Asian Eggplantss

You’ll need authentic ingredients.   This calls for a trip to the Asian supermarket.  For the eggplant, I use Asian varieties, like Ichiban II or Oriental express, from my own garden.  Same for dried red chilies.  The ones in these pictures are Espelettes, dried from last years garden.  

Serves:  Not really sure.  With no rice and served as a meal-in-a-bowl with a nice Riesling on the side, this feeds two hungry people.  I can vouch for this.  Add rice and it will probably stretch to four to six.ds

For the sauce:
    •    1 tablespoon spicy bean paste
    •    1 teaspoon sesame oil
    •    1 tablespoon soy sauce
    •    2 teaspoons sugar
    •    1 tablespoon shaoxing cooking wine
    •    1 teaspoon fish sauce
    •    1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce

For the rest of the dish:
    •    2-3 medium Asian eggplants (about 6 cups)
    •    2 scallions,
    •    2 tablespoons oil (divided)
    •    4 oz. Jimmy Dean Pork Sausage (see NOTE below)
    •    2 fresh ginger
    •    10 dried red chilies
    •    4 cloves garlic
    •    1 tablespoon shaoxing wine

NOTE:  All traditional recipes you see call for straight ground pork.  I suppose you could use any ground meat you want, or simply prepare without meat. 

Getting Ready
Mix sauce ingredients and set aside.
Slice eggplant into equal size chunks.  DO NOT PEEL. You should have about six cups.
Slice the scallions in two inch pieces.
Peal the ginger and slice off a hefty flat chunk.  Make six to eight very thin slices.
If you’re a ‘Mise en Place’ person, measure and lay out everything else in its proper place.

Cooking
A wok is nice but not required.  Add 1tbsp of sesame oil to large pan, and crank up the heat to ‘High’.  When things are nice and hot, dump in half the eggplant chunks.  The secret to this dish (IMHO) is not-quite-burning the eggplant.  This takes about 5 minutes on High heat.  You know they are done when each piece has completely collapsed, and the dark purple peel is fading.  When the first batch of eggplant is done, remove it.  Pour the second tbsp of sesame oil into the pan and cook the rest of the eggplant.  Remove from the pan when done.

Turn down the heat.   Brown the sausage. When it’s nicely brown, lay the strips of ginger on the meat.  Let cook for about 3 minutes.  Add the chilis, garlic,and scallions.  Cook for a couple of minutes.

Turn the heat back up to high.  Add the sauce, eggplant, and cooking wine.  Stir fry the lot for a couple of minutes.

Done.    

The Right Light

In 2015 EYE Hortilux began manufacturing a 48 inch full spectrum fluorescent bulb specifically designed for indoor growing. These bulbs - the PowerVeg series - would deliver a a Full and Ultra Violet Spectrum (UVA and UVB) closely approximating sunlight. For last year's seed starting, I used two PowerVeg FS-UV (full spectrum, ultra violet) 48 inch bulbs in the outside slots of a four bulb lamp. I used two ‘grow light bulbs' from another company in the two inside slots. I was very surprised at the results - strong plants with good color that transplanted well into the garden.

This year EYE Hortilux expanded their PowerVeg series. They still sell the FS-UV bulbs, but their new bulbs let you build a customized visible light spectrum for your plants. Why? Good old fashioned sunlight is made up of different light spectrums. Each of these spectrums - think colors - has different effects on plants. More blue light encourages the growth of more foliage. Red light can trigger plants to bloom. Some plants respond to UV spectrum by producing more oils and germinating faster. Each of these new PowerVeg bulbs, produce selected wavelengths of the ‘sunlight spectrum’, so you can give you more control over the light colors reaching your seedlings. You can see the full line of PwerVeg bulbs HERE. along with some suggested bulb combinations.

PowerVeg Bulb Arrangement
(note cap color)

 

Like many home gardeners, I start certain veggie seeds indoors so I can move my transplants outside as early as possible. I want lots of leaves, but I don’t want my seedlings to put on blooms indoors. So this year I’ve changed my grow light configuration. I still use a 48 inch, four bulb, lamp. My two PowerVeg FS-UV bulbs are still in the outside slots, but I’ve put a PowerVeg Blue and a Violet bulb into the inside slots. This produces more blue (and a little more yellow) light. So far (two weeks after planting) I am super impressed with the results - especially with peppers and tomatoes.

Notes

  1. PowerVeg bulbs are T5s. This refers to bulb size - about the diameter of a dime. If you already have a fluorescent lamp, be sure these bulbs will fit.
  2. The dangers of UV Light to humans are well known. If you use four FS-UV bulbs, be sure to limit exposure to your skin.
  3. Buying these bulbs online is iffy. Some online vendors have lousy packing (you end up with broken bulbs) and/or send the wrong product. I would strongly recommend Flora Hydroponics. These folks do a great job packing a very fragile product, and they mail orders out quickly.
  4. No doubt about it, these bulbs are pricey - around $33.00 each. Through the years I've used cheaper grow-lights and raised OK veggie starts. I've just never ended up with seedlings this healthy this fast.
  5. Plants' use of light is a complex science. Different plants use different light spectrums in different ways. It pays to research your specific goals before configuring you grow light setup.
  6. Optimal grow-light height above seedlings is ten to twelve inches.

MIY (Mix It Yourself) My Seed Starting Mix

Starting your veggie seeds indoors? Here’s my recipe for a cheap-and-easy seed starting mix. Three things you should know. Number One. This mix gives the seedlings enough nutrients so you only have to transplant them once - into the garden. No additional fertilizer is needed. This reduces the chance of damaging tender roots. Number Two. The mix is fluffy and won’t form a surface crust. Seedlings can easily break on through to the other side. Number Three. Perlite and Vermiculite deliver a good balance of water drainage and retention.

I’ve used this recipe for a long time (admittedly with tweaks here and there over the years) and have always had good results.

The Mix
8 Cups Sifted Compost
4 Cups Sifted Peat
2 Cups Earthworm Casings
2 Cups Perlite
2 Cups Vermiculite
2 Tablespoons Azomite (provides trace minerals)

Notes.

  1. This mix is based on a recipe first published by Organic Gardening Magazine, though I can’t remember when.
  2. Always buy the highest quality peat you can.
  3. You can make a your own soil sifter out of hardware cloth (just Google), although I bought mine online here.
  4. If you can’t easily find Azomite or earthworm casings try Amazon.
  5. When you’re ready to plant: fill your containrs; pack down lightly; then soak with water. Drain well. You want the mix to be moist, but not soggy. Plant your seeds and cover lightly with dry mix. Spritz. Sit back and wait for the miracle to happen.

Three Bugs

 Leaf Footed Plant Bug
Many varieties ranging from dark brown to black.  Sometimes called stink bugs because of the foul odor produced when handled.  Kin (and often mistaken) to squash bug.  Some species partial to citrus fruit.  Cause chlorosis in leaves.  Will puncture a tomato, then inject a toxin causing the fruit to appear to be rotting from the inside out.  Difficult to control organically. Aggie-Horticulture recommends commercial sprays containing permethrin, cyfluthrin or esfenvalerate.

I found these three bugs in my garden.

 

Four Lined Plant Bug Attacks leaf crops and is especially a problem for herbs.  Mints are a favorite food.  Dark spots, often mistaken as fungus,  appear on leaves where bug has been feeding.  Leaves may eventually die.  Usually the bug disappears when hot weather arrives.  Only one generation per year.  Eggs can overwinter in perennial plant stems.  Control organically with insecticidal soaps.

 

Aphids
Extremely prolific, aphids are one of the gardens most serious threats.  Over 200 species are known.  Eggs laid in fall hatch in spring. Single aphids are tiny, but feed in mass sucking plant sap.  They target stressed plants as healthy plants have a natural immunity.  A new generation of aphids can appear every two weeks or less in warm weather.  Aphids will eventually kill a host plant by destroying leaves thus preventing photosynthesis.   Look for aphids on the underside of leaves.  Effective organic controls include strong blasts of water and oil based plant sprays.  Ladybugs are aphids' natural predator.      

Where Do Your Seeds Really Come From?

Where Do Your Seeds Really Come From?

Here’s the deal.  Those garden seeds - they don’t come from an idyllic countryside where wholesome, above average, nicely tanned young people work the earth ,  carefully cultivating, selecting, processing, and packaging the very seeds you and I lovingly plant, one by one, in our backyard rows, raised beds, and patio pots.

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