Although winter continues to make its presence felt on its way out the door, the transition to spring has indeed begun here at Bella Luna Farms: The witch hazel trees are in bloom, the animals are starting to venture out into their outdoor paddocks and the sweet little crocuses and daffodils are peeping up out of the soil. After months of squirreling away seeds in anticipation of the last thaw, these signs encourage us that it’s finally time to roll up our sleeves and get our hands back into the soil.
Thus, the pace has picked up in the gardens as the plots begin to awaken from their winter slumber: Those aforementioned seeds are going in the ground and the new lettuce and kale starts have already taken root, as have the onion sets and leeks. Later into the spring the spring peas will be planted and we will begin harvesting our second crops of flavorful spring greens from the hoop house. Soon, if it is warm enough for new growth, we should also see the first signs of watercress and perhaps even begin scouting for young rhubarb!
Here at the farm, we often enjoy an extra early crop of those bright pink beauties as we grow our rhubarb starts under forcing jars. This technique, in which the rhubarb is grown in darkness under the warm cover of a bell-shaped pot, produces pale, smooth stalks that are less bitter than their later-season counterparts; these are excellent in jams, jellies, breads, cakes and more. We’re already salivating over utilizing our first harvest in such as favorite recipes as red-wine poached or roasted rhubarb—and really, nothing will mark the true beginning of spring quite like the smell of our first rhubarb crisp baking away in the farmhouse kitchen.
With the arrival of beautiful blooms and warmer temperatures, our native pollinators—Orchard Mason bees and honey bees—are now busy, busy, busy collecting pollen and nectar. Here at the farm we help foster these bee communities in two separate ways:
First up, Mason Bees make their homes in tiny holes in tree trunks, reeds, natural small nooks, or in man-made structures like our new specialized Orchard Mason bee houses which were recently installed by Dave and Beth Richards of Woodinville’s Johnny Applebees in sunny, south-facing spots here at the farm to help with crop pollination. These handmade cedar houses are filled with reed tubes that mimic the bees’ natural nesting spots. These busy, non-stinging bees are considered nature’s ‘super’ pollinators – pollinating up to more than eighty times as many flowers as honeybees do as they can work in cooler temperatures and start flying earlier in the spring, and are a welcome addition to the farm!
Then, the honey bees in our dedicated apiary are also abuzz with activity this spring, traveling from flower to flower to make honey to feed the brood in the hives. Honey bees form large organized colonies, or hives, usually in hollow tree trunks in the wild, which can contain as many as seventy-five thousand bees. The wooden bee hives we keep in the apiary usually contain around forty- to fifty-thousand female worker bees, and a single queen who lays all of the eggs to produce the young. These hives would look mighty familiar, as they are the same wood boxes that we use for our weekly deliveries! Stacked on top of each other, each two-box hive holds ten frames hanging from the inside lip of the box. This is where the bees make wax comb, store honey and pollen, and raise their young. In the spring we add extra shallower boxes to the tops of the hives, called supers, which is where the bees will store extra honey for winter; this is the honey that we can harvest from the hives.
Working from dawn to dusk, our honey bees are true ‘sun-seekers’, unable to fly in the rain, or if it’s too cold. However, on nice days, they might travel as far as five miles to collect food. Here in Western Washington their main food sources for pollen and nectar are Bigleaf maple flowers, dandelions and salmon berry flowers in the spring, and then fireweed and blackberries in late summer.
We love seeing the busy Mason and honey bees buzzing on by—they are vital to the life cycle of the gardens and orchard, and to the food they help produce!
From New York to Chicago, there are countless variations on the classic pizza pie, rich with hearty tomato sauce and melty cheese. In our minds though, nothing quite beats the original version, wood-fired in an oven in the Italian style, with cracker-crisp crust, charred, bubbly edges and select farm-fresh toppings.
Thus, after years of wishing, hoping and hankering, we completed a new addition to the Bella Luna grounds: an outdoor, wood-burning oven imported from Italy. Set just across the lawn from the Grape House, the Mugnaini oven is housed in a custom-built stone surround, flanked by two small buffets for prep work. Founded by Italian Andrea Mugnaini in 1989, the Mugnaini brand is renowned worldwide for their impeccable residential and commercial ovens made in—and imported from—the Motherland. Locally, restaurants Pizzeria Pulcinella, Delancey and The Whale Wins all boast a Mugnaini.
Like all Mugnaini models, our wood-fired oven is crafted with an Italian firebrick floor to evenly distribute heat and a dual-density modular dome. To prep the oven for baking or roasting, we light the apple wood from Eastern Washington several hours before cook time. The oven is heated to anywhere between 650-700 degrees when baking pizza (and will maintain an interior temperature of 350 degrees until the next morning!). In addition to making pizza, we have been testing out other culinary fare and have produced many a delicious experiment—crispy flatbreads topped with our own herbs and sea salt, hearth-cooked breads with crackly crust and beautiful roasted chicken and vegetables.
We hope to share a wood fired slice on your next visit to the farm, but in the meantime, we’ll try to fulfill (what we are sure are now) serious cravings with Mugnaini’s own pizza dough recipe for you to make at home:
Small-Batch Pizza Dough
Courtesy Andrea Mugnaini
Pizza Yield: 4-5 pizzas (7 oz. ball)
1½ cups warm water, divided
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
4 cups ‘00’ pizza flour
1 teaspoon salt
Drizzle olive oil
1. Place flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add yeast mixture and remaining water, stirring while pressing the back of the spoon against the sides of the bowl.
2. Mix until dough takes on a “shaggy” look, then drizzle with oil. Stir to incorporate oil, pulling dough into a ball, and then turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead for 5 minutes, dusting with flour if necessary. If dough feels dry and difficult to knead, cover and let rest for 10 minutes; resume kneading. If the dough feels too wet and builds up on your hands, add flour 1 tablespoon at a time and continue kneading. The dough should feel moist but not sticky.
3. After the initial 5 minutes of kneading, cover dough and let rest 20 minutes, then knead for 3–5 minutes more to complete. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside at room temperature for 2½ hours. It will double in size. Dough may be used immediately.