Archive | August, 2013

Even Our Small Garden Can Help Native Bees!

25 Aug

Veteran gardener (and tart maker) Deb  has blessed me with all kinds of wisdom over the past couple of years.  Most recently, she educated me about bees.  We had noticed some bizarrely round holes cut into the small persimmon tree we got from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden at its plant give-away in May, and we wondered what new “pest” had started visiting our garden and how we would deal with it.

Well, it turns out it’s not a pest at all, but almost certainly a leaf cutter bee (see its handiwork from a few years back in Brooklyn).  According to our Bushwick expert, leaf cutter bees are native and important pollinators.  They  cut the leaf bits out and use them to form “net cells” (whatever those are) — usually, with no permanent damage to the host plant.

Bee on Squash Blossom

Learning we had this odd species of bee in our garden made me wonder what other species we might be hosting.  Evidence points to most being the common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens), but apparently more than 50 bee species have been documented in NYC community gardens, including 5 species of bumble bee (as discussed in this paper at page 2).  The bees are essential to pollination of our squash and pumpkins (so I was glad to see one — pictured here — digging into one of our squash blossoms!).

They’re also of great importance to cucumbers, modest importance to strawberries, and little importance to tomatoes and beans (as noted in this paper at Table 1 on page 6).  Perhaps why we have such great luck with our cucumbers?  But they also seem to like our tomato blossoms, and the strawberries and beans are doing wonderfully, too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


The BBG’s Chocolate Beet Cake

20 Aug

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My kids have been part of a wonderful summer class/camp at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for the last five years (in my son’s case; this was my daughter’s third year).  Among other things they do there, the kids sometimes cook what they harvest.  My son brought home this recipe for chocolate beet cake a few years back and it’s become a summer staple in our home.  If all goes well, I’ll bring some down tonight to share (made with three beets just harvested from our garden and some more from our CSA share).

People have asked for the recipe, so I’ve copied it as I got it from the BBG below.  I always wind up changing something (I never seem to have dark brown sugar, so I use light brown, I’ve mixed in whole wheat flour, and I generally try to cut down on the butter and sugar), but  I figured I’d pass along the standard.

Update:  The slideshow above shows the chocolate beet cake (in this version, I substituted cocoa power for the semisweet squares, per the directions on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa box) and a little of the fun we have at our weekly summer pizza nights!

Update #2:  Thanks to our own Fred Dexheimer, master sommelier (!), we had a lovely port to pair with the chocolate beet cake.  That certainly makes for a lovely evening.  Thanks, Fred!


  • 1 cup butter or margarine, softened, divided
  • 1.5 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 (1-ounce) squares semisweet chocolate
  • 2-3 cups cooked beets
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt


In a mixing bowl, cream 3/4 cup butter and brown sugar. Add eggs, mix well. Melt chocolate with remaining butter; stir until smooth.  Cool slightly.

Blend chocolate mixture, beets, and vanilla into the creamed mixture.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt; add to the creamed mixture and mix well. our into a greased and floured pan.

Bake at 375 degrees for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool in a pan 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack.  Cool completely.  Share and enjoy!

Recommended Reading from the Children & Nature Network

12 Aug

On Friday, CNN posted this list of books devoted to the children and nature movement in honor of book lover’s day.   Check it out…

Recommended Reading

The number of titles devoted to the children and nature movement, like the movement itself, continues to grow. C&NN has compiled a list of reading recommendations that includes recent and not-so-recent contributions.

The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder

by Richard Louv.
In his new book published in May 2011, Richard Louv makes a convincing case that through a nature-balanced existence—driven by sound economic, social, and environmental solutions—the human race can and will thrive. This timely, inspiring, and important work will give readers renewed hope while challenging them to rethink the way we live.


Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

by Richard Louv.
This expanded and updated edition includes new research, a progress report on the Leave No Child Inside movement, an added Field Guide with 100 actions for families and communities, and 35 discussion points for book groups, classrooms, families and communities.

Find the rest at


Back again!

4 Aug

Back again!

I spotted two more caterpillar friends in the parsley window box this morning – they are a bit camouflaged but they are there!

%d bloggers like this: