Monday, September 24, 2012

Vanilla & Blossom Salad: bees, butterflies, and their habitat

edible flower blossoms and wild flowers, clockwise from top left: calendula, cornflower (non edible), allium (onion family includes chives), nasturtiums, verbena, chamomile, borage
wildflowers, nectar rich plants, bees, butterflies, meadows and pollinators.
this gardening year for me has been focused on providing bees and butterflies with a suitable homeall through the summer. im attempting to do this by growing plants that these pollinators love: verbena, borage, chamomile, alliums, cornflowers, nasturtiums, legumes, and wildflowers. as well as staying away from chemical sprays and instecticides.

with modern agricultural methods we have systematically kicked out bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects out of the coutryside. and by planting low nectar flowers in our gardens we have pushed them even further away from our homes! in the past before massive harvesting machines and plows were around, there were many many more hedgerows blooming with wild flowers, these hedgerows teamed with pollinators. in turn they helped to pollinate crops humans were growing beside these hedgerows. now, with new machinery our hedgerows are being taken out and replaced with fencing providing little sanctuary for our friendly bees and insects. and no wild flowers.
focused on beauty rather than function in our home gardens, modern flower beds are being planted with low nectar flowers, or flowers that have double blooms that make it harder for pollinators to reach nectar sources. another, cause of food loss for pollinators is our tendancy to mow lawns to an inch of their life. leaving no time for lawn daisies or dandelions to bloom and provide food for insects.

leaves and blossoms form the garden, as well as purple french beans: which i didn't use in the recipe, but should have!

don't distress! there's a few ways we can help out our pollinating friends. we can leave space for wildness in our gardens, we can plant flowers that attract pollinators, and we can refrain from using weed killer and chemical pesticides in our gardens. i find just having flowers growing in the veg patch makes being there that much more enjoyable, adding to the sensory experience. knowing you are in a place that bees and butterflies love!

a recent trend (or mission) in gardening is creating a natural border using a wildflower meadow seed mix. these are easy to apply, and only require removing the top layer of grass and then planting directly into the soil. there are both perennial and annual mixes, the annuals bloom their first year and the perennials provide the best blooms in their second year, and keep returning. the best part about having a wildflower meadow at home is there's no mowing required! here's a quote i gathered from, this site, with a swedish study on the subject of lawn mower useage:

'A Swedish study conducted in 2001 concluded, “Air pollution from cutting grass for an hour with a gasoline powered lawn mower is about the same as that from a 100-mile automobile ride.” Meanwhile, the 54 million Americans mowing their lawns each weekend with gas-powered mowers may be contributing as much as five percent of the nation’s air pollution, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). '
that's alot of pollution.

so we know, our bees and butterflies are dissapearing. i think it was darwin who predicted: once bees went extinct humans had three years to go till they to went extict. scary! so much of our planets livelyhood rests on these little guys to support life for humans and animals. but they also need us to help em a bit. i could go on and on about this subject. there are tons of sources on the web with great info and ideas heres a few :

    • sarah raven, food writer and educator, recently made a three part documentary on the subject, she is passionate and inspirational on bringing back pollinator habitats. if you watch the documentaries, you'll be putting in your own wildflower meadow anywhere you can.

    • for an irish wildflower website dedicated to the cause click, here

    • there's also an artist's collective in the states that springs to mind, as well. The Beehive Collective, they make massive intricate murals on environamental/globalization issues, focusing on the lil honey bees that are becoming scarce across the globe: check them out here.
    enough of this super depressing downer stuff! since im a little worried summer has past us in a wet rainy slump, im celebrating our edible flowers that have survived - in one last horrah - with this recipe: adapted from Around My French Table, by Dorrie Greenspan. a favourite cookbook of mine with tons and tons of easy, delicious and inspiring recipes. i could dedicate a whole blog to the book if i wanted, and never get bored. i've taken her recipe and included the additon of edible blossoms, and leaves, and tweaked the dressing a tad. the flower blossoms pair perfectly with the floral flavour of vanilla in this simple salad dressing. using vanilla is a surprise in savoury food and one we should all try in our home kitchens. i've even seen it used with seafood and lobster in a buttery sauce! enjoy.


    Vanilla and Blossom Salad w/ Courgette and Carrot Slivers
    2 nice servings

    1 carrot (if you can get red or purple carrots use them!)
    1/2 yellow courgette
    1/2 green courgette (or use one of either)
    handful of nasturtium leaves and red lettuce leaves (for colour)
    handful of edible flower blossoms: violas (pansies), chive (picked apart), nasturtiums, chamomile, calendula (seperate petals) and borage all work well

    2 tablespoons rapeseed oil (or EV olive oil)
    1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar (or lemon juice)
    1/4 teaspoon good vanilla extract (use the dark brown stuff, not the clear syrup)
    salt and pepper

    • using a vegetable peeler, peel carrots and courgettes into long slivers. place in bowl
    • in a seperate bowl place leaves and blossoms, reserving a few for garnish.
    • using a clean jam jar, or small mixing bowl with wisk, place all ingredients and shake, or wisk together. taste, add more salt, pepper or vanilla if desired.
    • toss leaves and blossoms with some of the dressing, and scatter on a nice big plate.
    • toss remaining dressing into the carrot and courgette slivers, and pile on middle of serving plate. garnish with reserved blossoms
    note: you may want to serve this salad on individual salad plates, go for it!

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