Jenna Butler lives on a northern Alberta Farm with her husband in an 800 sq. ft. off the grid house.
And bees.
The hives are so close to the house that she can hear them in season. Jenna wrote a short book titled Revery, A Year of Bees, in which she talks about her life with them.
About her work with honeybees she reflects, “It is hard to focus in on one thing without seeing how it plays into everything else. It deepens your sense of responsibility to place.” Among other things, Jenna’s focus on honeybees has expanded her interest and understanding of the native bee population, of which there are over 600 different species in Canada and over 200 species in Ontario alone, just saying.

Beekeepers tell us that managing bees is a profoundly social experience, each hive harbouring up to 35,000 of the little darlings.

Heather, Mark’s daughter and Ben’s sister, is the family beekeeper and she tells us that keeping bees has taught her, “The more that I learn, the more I realize that I have a lot more to learn.” Funny, her parents tried telling her that as they pushed her out the door to school. There are some things better communicated by bees, we suppose.
Recently, Ben shared his story in our bi-weekly podcast The Green File, about starting an organic, locally grown bean business where the purchaser of a can of red, black, white beans or Cullen’s Foods chickpeas can put the product code into their website and meet the farmer who grew his beans.

“Shake the hand of the farmer who grows your food.” says author and foodie Michael Pollan. You can’t get much closer to doing just that until you get to the Farmers Market this spring and buy your rutabaga from the grower.
Ben’s experience of selling beans to independent and chain grocers has taught him a lot about the reality of being a wholesaler. For one, you cannot imagine how competitive it is out there until you jump in the ring and try it.

Much like the Olympians who will do the same on the ski hills and trails of Beijing next week, watching it unfold on TV is hardly the same thing as being an Olympian.
Creating a new company and selling beans during a pandemic require Olympian qualities, at least that is what Ben’s proud father says. During the recording of the podcast Mark learned a few things about Ben’s business. You would think that he was in on the details of the thing, talking every day, as they tend to do.
Mark spends a lot of his time these days, “melting winter away” as he says, in his woodworking shop. His experience with wood reminds him daily of the effort that each tree makes to sequester carbon as it grows into a substance that is functional and beautiful.
He wonders, as he sands his work to a fine, silky-smooth finish, “is this wood mine, just because I bought it? Or does it still belong to nature, where some faceless lumberjack removed it?”  
He peruses wood working magazines and books when he is not “working” with Ben or in the shop. He expands his mind and his world, and he sees more clearly “how it plays into everything else.” And deepens his sense of responsibility to place.
How bout you? How do you make your winter melt away?

As gardeners, we slowly turn our attention to the activities in the “off” season that will ensure some measure of success this coming year. We peruse the seed sellers’ offerings and order a new crop of veggie and flower seeds.
We drop into the garden centre and look for the new summer flowering bulbs, which should arrive soon, supply-chain issues hopefully not being an issue.

We connect to garden clubs and horticultural societies online: evening zoom calls where everyone gets caught up and we challenge and stimulate one another to try different things this year.
We listen, ask questions, and learn. After all, this is the season when gardeners gird their loins to the season ahead.

Enjoy February, Valentines Day, flowers in late winter and whatever focus you enjoy this time of year. May the experience deepen your sense of responsibility to your place, wherever that may be.

Mark and Ben Cullen
Merchants of Beauty and Beans.
Buy dahlia bulbs. They will arrive at your local garden retailer any day soon and you should get them while the selection is at its best. Plant in one-gallon sized containers in March.

Start petunia seeds in February. Most others wait until March or April. Stay tuned!

Feed the birds. Use a quality seed mix so that it does not get wasted and you attract quality birds. 

Buy seeds. Whether you choose to shop the seed catalogues or peruse the seed racks at your local garden centre, be sure to do it soon. First, you are only going to get busier as the gardening season approaches.  Secondly, the selection is at its best.
In this week’s Green File, Ben and Mark talk SOIL. Specifically, Mark’s challenges establishing a new garden in Markham’s notorious clay. A worthy listen for anybody dealing with soil health challenges.

Tune in - on Apple, Spotify and wherever you get your podcasts. 
We write a weekly column for the New In Homes & Condos section of the Saturday Toronto Star.
In case you missed it, these are the exciting gardening/environment columns we wrote in January.
Help Birds by counting the ones in your backyard or community
By: Jody Allair
Participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count Feb 18-21

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a fantastic opportunity for you to enjoy the outdoors and contribute to Citizen Science. You can count birds at home, in a local park or greenspace, or even while travelling abroad. The Great Backyard Bird Count is a 4 day annual event that provides a snap shot of where birds are around the world. Last year more than 300,000 people observed a total of 6,436 species and submitted an astonishing 379,726 checklists! This year the count is taking place 18-21 February, 2022
We’ve lost 1 in 4 birds in North America since the 1970s – but people can help by participating in bird counts like the Great Backyard Bird Count to help monitor birds. We ask people to count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count and enter their sightings at The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers helps track changes in bird populations on a massive scale.

Free Webinar
Join our experts on February 16 as we brush up on bird ID, unlock the mystery of bird songs, and practice counting birds – no matter how large the flock or how busy the feeder. This webinar is designed for birders of all ages and experience. You’ll leave feeling confident and ready to be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count! Learn more and register here.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an inter-organizational effort between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Birds Canada. Visit to learn more about how to participate and please share the information with anyone else who may enjoy participating.

Good birding!

Jody Allair
Director, Community Engagement
Connect with me on Twitter at: @JodyAllair
7 Cold Weather Comfort Soups

Here’s our coziest soup recipes to nourish your soul and your stomach. From chicken noodle soup and chicken pot pie soup to butternut squash soup, Thai pumpkin soup, egg drop soup and more, Harrowsmith has the best soups to simmer up any day of the week. Find the recipes here:
Don’t miss an issue of Harrowsmith’s gardening, cooking, sustainable living and DIY tips. Our spring issue features recipes made from magnolia flowers, off-grid energy knowhow, nature crafts, the Ultimate Guide to Growing Your Food Organically from Mark and Ben Cullen & so much more! Subscribe now at