Garden Fresh Arugula Salad

Garden Fresh Arugula Salad

I love this salad, especially this time of year when the arugula and herbs are fresh from the garden.  It is a simple salad to put together and is enhanced by a lemon balsamic dressing and Parmesan. It is healthy and ready in minutes. 

Servings: 6 servings


For the arugula salad:

  • 5  ounces arugula  (roughly 5 cups) 
  • 1 – 2 ounces french sorrel (roughly 2 cups)
  • 4 medium carrots shaved into ribbons or 1 cup grated carrots 
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes (cut into halves) 
  • 1/3 cup large Parmesan shavings —don’t skip this; I like to shave mine right off of the block with a vegetable peeler.
  • 3 tablespoons  chopped sunflower seeds or chopped nuts of choice (toasted and chopped walnuts, pecans, pistachios, sliced almonds, or pine nuts are great options)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mild fresh herbs of choice (chives, parsley, tarragon)

For the dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 medium lemon) 
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
French Sorrel
  1. Place the arugula, carrots, and tomatoes in a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the dressing ingredients: lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt. (Alternatively, you can shake them all together in a mason jar with a tight-fitting lid.) 
  3. Drizzle enough over the arugula to moisten it, then toss to combine.
  4. Sprinkle Parmesan and any desired nuts or herbs over the top. Serve immediately with a drizzle of extra dressing as desired.
Chef Yvonne Dwyer

Recipe compliments of OPL Naturalist and Home Chef Yvonne Dwyer

OPL Plant-rich Recipes

Eating more fruits and vegetables is good for you and the planet.  Find more delicious OPL-recommended plant-rich recipes here.

There’s a lot to know about Bees on World Bee Day

There’s a lot to know about Bees on World Bee Day

In 2014, the Slovenia BeeKeepers proposed to the United Nations that May 20th be designated as world bee day —  a day to celebrate bees and beekeeping, and bring awareness to just how important bees are.  

Bees provide so much more to us than honey. “In addition to being one of the major pollinators, thus ensuring food and food security, sustainable agriculture and biodiversity, bees significantly contribute to the mitigation of climate change and environmental conservation. In the long-term, the protection of bees and the beekeeping sector can help reduce poverty and hunger, as well as preserve a healthy environment and biodiversity.”

The best time for bees to pollinate plants is throughout the growing seasons.

Many people know that the best time for bees to pollinate plants (a time when bees gather nectar and at the same time fertilize flowering plants) is throughout the growing seasons.  While visiting the Bedillion Bee Farm in Western Pennsylvania, I learned that bees in the United States are most active in the spring and fall.  In the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom, bees love dandelions and, surprisingly, sugar maple trees — perhaps it’s the sugar water that attracts them.  In the fall, bees are active once again when the fall wildflowers including asters and ragweed are in bloom.

Bedillion Honey Farm

Rob and Chelsea McFarland are beekeepers who educate and inspire urban folks around the world to become beekeepers. They are also authors of Save the Bees with Natural Backyard Hives and have a website called Their perception is that if they get enough people interested in bees and educate them, it will make a difference in saving our bees as well as benefit humans, ecology, agriculture — and create empowerment by people taking a stand in their own backyards. They state, “The advantage for humans is obvious: bees allow us to grow food closer to where we live, and provide us with delicious honey. In exchange, bees get access to some of the best habitats for their hives.” McFarland continues on by saying, “Our urban environments often provide the cleanest and most abundant forage for honey bees.”

When it comes to learning more about nature, conservation, agro-ecology, and our environment, I try to listen to podcasts that are informative, authentic, and inspirational.

Recently I found a podcast, Bees with Ben. Ben Moore’s interest in bees began with a book he purchased around the age of 12. Ben has been a beekeeper for over 25 years.  He comments, “One of the best aspects of my job is getting out and about with local people, sharing the knowledge I have about bees, the environment, produce, gardening, and healthy living.”  Ben’s podcast is produced in Victoria, Australia and it makes me think of how cool it is that he interviews bee experts and beekeepers from all over the world. His talks are very enlightening and informative.

I found Podcast Episode 37, Ben Moore’s 99 Astonishing Bee Facts, quite interesting

Here are some of the fun facts:

  • Worldwide, bees have an estimated value of over $170 billion in pollination services, not including the sale of honey, products made from honey, beekeeping cost, or upkeep on bees.  As a side note, according to Science Daily, “Honey bees contribute more than $20 billion in pollination services to agriculture in the United States and generate another $300 million annually in honey production for U.S. beekeepers, noted the study’s lead author, Martina Calovi, postdoctoral researcher in the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.”
  • There are around 25,000 species of bees with so many differences and unique responsibilities; most of them are solitary bees.
  • Honey bees collect nectar to produce honey and store it as food; it provides the energy for bees’ flight muscles.
  • For one kilogram (2.20 pounds) of honey it takes up to 145,000 kilometers (90,099 miles) of flying.
  • A worker bee can visit up to 2,000 flowers per day.
  • It takes 12 bees to produce 1 teaspoon of honey.
  • As bees fly through the air, they build up a small positive electrical charge; flowers on the other hand have a slight negative charge enabling the spread of pollen more easily.
  • Honeybees can be trained to detect explosives.
  • There has been so much use of pesticides in parts of China that there is no longer a choice but to hand pollinate crops like pears and apples.
  • Beekeeping is the second oldest profession in the world.
  • There can be between 20 – 60,000 pollen grains on one bee making them very important pollinators.
Bumblebees are fascinating to watch.

In the spring, I love collecting violets to make violet jelly. One morning as I was picking violets, I started watching a bumble bee buzzing from one Bugleweed plant to another.  I quickly noticed that there were several bees in the air, deciding which plant to land on next.  Unafraid, I stopped picking the violets as I became entranced contemplating the show that was going on before me. I quickly went inside my house to get my iPhone so that I could take pictures and record a video of this interesting experience.  As I watched the bees hover, It became apparent to me that I should wait awhile before mowing the grass.   In this particular area there was a field of beautiful purple and white flowers that the bees were thoroughly enjoying.  It is interesting that bees see a spectrum of colors with the exception of red and have a preference for white, blue, purple, yellow, and pink.

What could we do for our bees individually and collectively to show just how much we appreciate them? 

Here are some suggestions:

  • We could plant native plants, annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees.  Check out to see what to plant in your area. The space provided could be as simple as a flower box, a pot filled with colorful flowers, or a garden encompassing vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers.  Seeds of Change sell pollinator varieties of flowers that provide nectar and pollen to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
  • Bees get thirsty with all the flying around that they do going from one plant to another; leave a shallow dish with fresh water and surround it with marbles or stones so that bees have somewhere to rest and prevent them from drowning in the water.
  • Support your local beekeepers by purchasing honey, creamed honey, honeycomb, beeswax candles, books, and other beekeeping supplies.
  • Volunteer and help educate, support, advocate, and promote forums regarding bees.
  • If you have a grassy area mixed with dandelions, white clover, or other perennial ground cover like Bugleweed, delay mowing so that bees can collect nectar and pollinate plants.
  • In place of pesticides, corn gluten meal is an organic option used for controlling weeds as it suppresses weed seeds from forming roots after development and acts as a fertilizer providing nutrients at the same time.  Using mulch to control weeds is another alternative.
  • Create a wildlife habitat in your backyard.  The National Wildlife Federation has information and tips on how to get started: They have an interesting program called “Help Build on the Million Pollinator Garden Movement.”  There is even a link to register your garden to be counted.
  • Check out the National Pollinator Garden Network (NPGN).  It focuses on inspiring individuals and community groups, institutions, and the garden industry to create more pollinator habitats through sustainable gardening practices, habitat conservation,  and the tools to be successful.

Special Note:  Earlier in the blog, I mentioned that I had visited Bedillion Honey Farm.  For the past 7 years, beekeepers Sara and Mark have made it their business to share their passion, and education on the relevance and life of bees, beekeeping and honey.  It was so fascinating!  Stay tuned for my next blog which will be about my “sweet” visit and what I learned from them.



OPL Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer

This experience was shared by OPL Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer.

Learn more about Yvonne.

An Easy Guide to Backyard Composting

An Easy Guide to Backyard Composting

Backyard composting makes me feel really good. I use nourishing compostable materials to benefit my garden and know that I am making a difference in reducing the amount of trash in  our landfills.  Backyard composting may seem like a small joyful change, but if we all joined together to reduce our compostable trash, think of how much we can reduce the trash in our landfills and the amazing flowers and gardens we can produce for all to enjoy. Here is an easy guide to backyard composting to help you on your journey to live more sustainably.

Food scraps and yard waste make up more than 30 percent of what we throw away, and could be composted instead.

According to, “Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.” Peelings from vegetables and fruit, coffee grounds, leaves and grass — plus water — makes a wonderful concoction that replenishes the soil; it’s economical and so easy to do.

To learn more about how our trash is handled, read our blog, Let’s Start Really Thinking About Our Trash.

What is composting?

Composting is the process of recycling decomposing (rotting, decaying, disintegrated) matter back into soil — in other words breaking down dried leaves, grass, discarded plant-based and cellulose fiber materials into nutrient rich dirt.  Composting speeds up the process by helping to grow the bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms as well as earthworms and insects that do the decomposing work.  As Janine M. Benyus writes in The Field Guide to Wildlife Habitats of the Eastern United States, “There are entire worlds to explore in every teaspoon of soil.”  Once the cycle is complete you will have what gardeners call “black gold.”

All that is required to transform compost into a nutrient-rich humus is nitrogen, carbon, water, and air. 

Composting is very beneficial in breaking down matter into a nutrient-rich soil that smells incredibly good. You may have noticed when taking a hike in the woods an earthy/woodsy smell; what you are smelling is the breakdown of organic material which becomes humus.  Seeds, root fragments, and plants thrive in this material.

The benefits of composting:
  • energy savings
  • pollution reduction
  • reduction of  the ultimate volume of waste requiring disposal in landfills and Waste to Energy (WTE) facilities
  • the fostering of an environmental ethic among citizens
  • increased carbon sequestration of natural resources
How composting started. 

According to Stu Campbell, decomposition is at least as old as the soil itself and long before people were around to observe it as it has been going on in every forest, meadow, swamp, bog, prairie, and grasslands around our planet.  He acknowledges poet Walt Whitman in stating, ‘The earth itself is something of a compost pile. It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.”  Citizens of old civilizations were the true discoveries of organic gardening writes Campbell.  “Only by trial and error were they able to learn what worked when it came to making synthetic manure. They didn’t have anyone to guide them or give them good advice because there was nobody around who knew very much.”

My experience with composting.

I have been composting since 1988 when my husband and I purchased our first home in Central New York.  We had about 1.25 acres of land with fields and forests beyond our property line.  We inherited an asparagus and strawberry patch on the property which really piqued my interest in gardening.  Composting is something that I did all year long but did not realize or quite understand how nutrient- rich and beneficial it was besides eliminating trash from our garbage that was disposed of and picked up by waste management on a weekly basis then emptied into a landfill.  In that same year of 1988, the New York State Legislature established our State Solid Waste Management Policy which enlightened me more about the benefits of reducing our own solid waste materials.

My backyard compost pile.

In my early days of home ownership, my backyard compost pile certainly did heat up and sadly enough the only ones to use that compost pile were the reptiles who loved to bask in the warmth on top of it.  I did not realize then that black gold, the by-product of all of those carbon and nitrogen-rich materials, was filled with so many beneficial nutrients and would have been such a great addition to my garden’s soil and to the vegetables, fruit, and herbs that I had planted.

One day, I was  invited to visit an organic farm,  and I was hooked.  I learned how to mix different types of soil amendments along with composting to boost my garden without the use of pesticides and herbicides.  As I planted several garden beds over the years, each time I would have to dig down into the shale rock and clay.  It was hard work but I enjoyed it.  Composting is a great way of organically helping to break up the clay matter as it helps to drain and aerate.  

The formula for a successful compost is to mix two parts green to one part brown material:

Nitrogen (N)-rich plants (green) such as grass clippings, fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, and ground up rinsed egg shells, 

Carbon ©-rich plants (brown) such as small twigs, dried leaves, and shredded newspaper/brown paper bags

Potassium (K)-rich organic sources such as coffee grounds and  potash (which are wood ashes from leftover wood fires from a fireplace or stove); ashes from banana skins, lemon skins, cucumbers, and cocoa shells are also good sources.  I usually just chop them up and add without burning.  Potassium is also a component in fertilizer.

There are a couple of choices with these materials as you can layer them periodically or chop them up together with a lawn mower which will help the material decompose quicker.

You may find that you will need to adjust this formula if your compost is smelling or attracting flies.  If it is not decomposing quickly, simply add more green material.  If your compost looks mucky or has a bad odor, add more brown material. 

Never add bones, dog/cat waste, cooked kitchen scraps, dairy products, diseased plants, treated grass clippings, weeds with seeds, or meat to your compost pile. This spells disaster especially with meat and dairy products as they will attract animals like mice to your compost.

There are several ways to compost depending on how involved you want to be:
  • FoodCycler electric composter
  • At-home composting using the Bokashi composting, worm composting, garden compost, and chickens to use up all of our food scraps and eventually return those nutrients to the soil.
  • Compost rotary bins
  • Mixing municipal pick up and a compost bin at home
  • Composting on a small urban garden plot
  • Community compost pick up programs
I personally use several composting methods. 

I have a small stainless steel countertop container which is filled with kitchen plant-based scraps, ground coffee, and crushed egg shells mixed with a little water. Once it is filled, the scraps are taken to two to four pallet bins in the backyard, in a partially sunny area that is out of the way where the compost can heat up. The left side of the first pallet has the old compost ready to go into the garden while the second one has the newer material that needs to break down.  These are rotated as I use them.  I try to make sure that the compost is moist but not saturated — and aerated by tossing it occasionally with a pitch fork.  This “pile up” or “lasagna” method was how I first began composting without knowing it.  It takes a while to decompose when left on its own as it takes longer to heat up because of the size.

For Mother’s Day one year, I received a composting rotary bin from my son. Similar to a garbage barrel, this tumbler is really convenient as you can move it around, placing it in an area that is easily accessed. It’s as simple as adding collected raw materials into the bin and aerating them by placing the top and screw in place. Then you just turn the tumbler and the ingredients are mixed.

If your interest has piqued, I would highly recommend, Let It Rot, The Gardener’s Guide to Composting by Stu Campbell.  It is a delightful book on all aspects of composting.

An easy way to start composting is by using a service near you. Explore our  OPL Insight map to find composting services in a city near you.

OPL Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer

This experience was shared by OPL Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer.

Learn more about Yvonne.

Chinese-Inspired Orange Cauliflower

Chinese-Inspired Orange Cauliflower

This is a dish you will crave!  Take a lovely orange cauliflower (I love trying vegetables of all colors) and combine with orange sauce and rice!  Voila! A combination of savory and sweet. Recipe is one by Nora Taylor. Below is her recipe with my adaptations for a quick dinner recently. 

Serves: 3-4



For Cooking Cauliflower:

 1 head orange cauliflower

1 cup water

¾ cup flour

1 tablespoon garlic powder (or fresh minced garlic)

¼ teaspoon salt

2 cups panko breadcrumbs


For Orange Sauce:

1 cup orange juice

½ cup granulated sugar

2-3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

2 garlic cloves minced

2-3 drops of hot sauce or ¼ teaspoons of dried pepper flakes

2 tablespoons cornstarch

¼ cup water


For Serving:

White rice

Green onion or chives chopped 

Orange Cauliflower

To Crisp the Cauliflower

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Wash and cut the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the water, flour, garlic powder, and salt. Whisk together.
  • Place panko bread crumbs in a medium bowl and set next to wet batter.
  • Dip the cauliflower into the wet mixture, then toss in panko breadcrumbs and place on the baking sheet. Make sure the cauliflower pieces are not touching each other so they crisp up nicely.
  • Bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown and crispy. Remove from the oven.


  • In a large pan (that will fit all the cauliflower and sauce), add the orange juice, sugar, soy sauce, garlic, and hot sauce.  Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Mix the cornstarch and water together in a small bowl.  Add to the orange sauce.  Stir over medium heat constantly for a couple of minutes until it thickens.
  • Turn off heat and then add the cauliflower to the sauce and stir to coat.

To Serve

  • Cook white rice as per package instructions.
  • Serve over rice and top with green onions.
Lorie Buckingham Home Chef

OPL Founder & Wayfinder Lorie Buckingham shares a favorite recipe.

OPL Plant-rich Recipes

Eating more fruits and vegetables is good for you and the planet.  Find more delicious OPL-recommended plant-rich recipes here.

My Octopus Teacher is Mesmerizing

My Octopus Teacher is Mesmerizing

My Octopus Teacher By Pippa Ehrlich & James Reed

2020, Netflix original documentary

How can an octopus be a teacher? While it might not seem possible, relax and let this gentle documentary change your mind.  During a year of diving, filmmaker Craig Foster forged a life-changing bond with a wild common octopus in the South African kelp forest. It starts as Craig enters the cold water and glides past the kelp quietly observing. As you get drawn in, time gets suspended and it becomes clear you are witnessing something amazing. Craig learns about this liquid world of lives and especially a solitary octopus. It is a story of two lives bonding and healing from their wounds. Day after day, he went into the water without a wetsuit and mingled in this special natural place. Over time he met his octopus teacher and they developed a connection. For a year, Craig became a part of the natural world and was no longer a visitor.

My Octopus Teacher is a deeply personal documentary that flows over you. In awe, you remember that wild places are special. We have so much to learn. We need to save wild places. In wild places, we are calm and alive.

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