Apricot Bread

Apricot Bread

2 sticks of butter, melted and cooled
1 C granulated sugar
½ C brown sugar, packed
4 eggs
3 C flour, all purpose
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 C almonds, sliced
8 oz dried whole apricots
1 TBSP lemon juice
2 tsp almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease 2 9×3 loaf pans.

Chop the dried apricots into very small bits. Place in a small saucepan and cover with water. Add lemon juice. Simmer slowly until apricots well-hydrated, tender and most of the water has been absorbed or evaporated. Add the almond extract and stir. Cool completely.

Mix the butter and sugars well. Add the eggs and beat until well combined. Add the dry ingredients, including the almonds. Fold in the apricots.

Divide batter between the two pans. Bake for 55-60 minutes or until testing confirms the center is completely cooked.


Biddan Bees

It’s 97F today. It’s April 30th and it’s 97F. Luckily, there was a brisk breeze, but the wind stirs up the bees. I had to check the hives. I did not plan on having three hives. I wanted two. My original hive was thriving and robust, in February I finally had undeniable evidence of a laying queen: lots of brood and stores of pollen. The honey had started flowing.

I bought a package of bees that was delivered to my local post office. I installed that package wrong and they flew away. I then hastily purchased what I thought was a Nuk box of bees. What arrived – delivered persoanlly – was a cut out colony in a super box on foundationless frames. Cut-out bees are feral bees they have take over a wall, attic, tree trunk or the underside of a trailer. They are like feral cats: unpredictable, aggressive and defensive. But they are also scrappy and resilient. They cut out colony became my Hive #2. Then the original hive swarmed. Viola! Hive #3.

So today, I had to check the original hive to determine if I had a new queen or a queenless hive. I did not find a queen. I also did not find any capped brood but I did find a bunch of foundation cells packed with pollen. I want to think those cells have newly laid eggs. I did find an open supercedural queen cell. So, I want to believe that Hive #1 has a queen.
Hive #2 was docile, calm, tidy and compact. I think that they should be in a five frame Nuk box. A ten frame brood box is too big, by I am currently painting my Nuk box, so, a relocation must wait. Their queen is not marked but she is easy to spot.

Hive #3 is a whole different ball of wax. The colony is concentrated in the “super”. There is brood and pollen and honey in abundance. There was some bridging burr comb that I took apart. I have been slowly replacing foundationless frames with wax foundation frames and they have started building comb. But they are fiesty. Or neurotic. Like a box full of Jack Russell terriers and chihuahuas. Yapping and buzzing and slamming into my veil.

Smoke would have helped but the smoker is the most finicky part of keeping bees. 73% of the time, I can’t keep it lit. So, I work without it. But in 97F weather, it is brutally hot. I am thankful that my hive stands are in the shade.


Mysterious times

As spring arrived – after the late March refreeze that killed my pear blossoms, fig leaves, orange stems and fooled the usually infallible pecan trees – these strange stalks pushed up. I must have planted SOMETHING in this bed. I have irises, crinum lilies, gloriosa lilies, stokesias and agapanthas in this bed. And now I have these odd, unidentified bulbs. They appear to be a walking variety. I like them very much. They are strange, unique and uncommon.

My bee hive has gone from a feeble, anemic cluster of bees occupying a brood box but lacking brood cells, larvae, pollen stores and honey. As last summer closed, I was uncertain if the hive would survive. But, I relocated them to a smaller box – and I fed them. A lot. And they rebounded. The colony is quite robust and active. I added a second super for honey storage and a green drone frame to try and mitigate varroa mite reproduction. And today, it is possible that the hive split and part of the colony swarmed away.

They didn’t go far. As I walked out to check on the newer, feral, cut-out colony I installed Saturday, I kept hearing bees zinging past me is all directions. I looked down and found a puddle of bees on the ground.

I was determined to catch this swarm and relocate them into a new box. I had just bought a Nuk. It’s not yet painted . I swabbed the inside with lemongrass extract and swept the bees into the hive. They marched right in.

I found the queen in a ball of attendants still in the grass and dropped her in the top of the box. Now I have three hives. And the honey is starting to flow. Time to upgrade to deep brood boxes. Dadant is going to get all my extra money this month.


Monday Rewards

Monday night is the perfect night for cookies. A new twist on an old favorite. I stopped using Crisco years ago but I must admit Crisco was the standard base for the Sanders Family cookie. I use Trader Joe’s BGH free unsalted butter that I but eight pounds at a time. Bustelo coffee gives it a undeniable snap and a insider’s nod the city of my birth: Miami. The added pecans count as protein and justify these as semi-healthy. Unbaked cookie

Baked cookie

Coffee Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies
¾ c butter
½ c white sugar
½ c dark brown sugar
2 T Turbinado sugar
1 egg
1 tsp Vanilla extract
1 T Bustelo Coffee grinds
1 ½ c white all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ cup chopped pecans
½ c chopped dark chocolate
Preheat oven 350F. Mix butter and sugars well. Add egg, vanilla and Bustelo. Add dry ingredients. Once well mixed, add the pecans and chocolate.  Bake 13 minutes.



Gardening is applied optimism. Maybe that is why my yard and gardens are in such disarray. It drags on me. Truly. I want to have flower beds all tidy and weed free. I want margins and edges clearly delineated and precise. I want lush shrubs and robust berry canes and bushes.

Instead, the wild blackberries refused to fruit — probably because the previous lawn man weed whacked them down when they had the flush of barely opening white blooms. The destiny of fruit lost to the plastic guillotine. I must make it another year on the stocks of seedless blackberry jam made last summer. The blueberries produces enough fruit for a batch of jam. Of this I am proud. Next year, I will not need to pick at another purveyors field. The raspberry canes are not thriving. They barely survive this heat despite being rated to Zone 9. The loquat grows and seems hearty but bares no fruit. The pecans has a few bundles of webworm that require dispatching today. The voracious caterpillars could strip my fledgling trees. I’ve been told the birds will eat the worms if you open the web pods. The pears thankfully, have fruit and today will become conserve.

But how to be optimistic about well, anything, when the grass grows so fast and the weeds overtake you if your stride is not swift enough? Stand still for a moment and the swamp vine shall ensnare you in it delicate, sticky fern-like tendrils. And attempts to rid the beds of weeds only seems to spread the love, propagating the seeds of the offenders, giving them purchase and new territory.

I must accept my rewards when they arrive, give thanks for the beauty amidst the fury and chaos, through no effort of my own and by sheer chance of random rain and abundant sun, the gloriosa lilies arrived. Their maiden season, debutantes of the blasted lands, interwoven with their delicateness is a suggestion of something dangerous. The entirety of the Flame Lily is poisonous and deadly. Such beauty and death rolled into one spectacle.
red gloriosa lily gloriosa lily, hydrid



Beating summer heat

Summer at Biddan Ridge is a whole lot of dang heat! Too much heat and not enough rain. And when it rains, it is preceded by an hour of lightening strikes which invariably costs me a few light bulbs – usually in the entryway ceiling fixture that requires two people and two ladders to change. Minor design hassle that you do not and cannot foresee when you plan a house and select fixtures.
thunderheadandlightening I75thunderhead I don’t do much gardening (or weeding) during the summer. I can’t stand the heat or the fire ants. So, we camp out inside, watch Netflix or some other binge-worthy show and cook good, fresh food and chill in our A/C. Avoiding turning on the oven, especially for anything other than baking cookies, seems unnecessary. High protein salad with buttermilk Bleu cheese dressing hits the summer spot.
wedgiesaladAnd you have to finish it off with some of the best ice cream EVER. Southern Craft Creamery won the Garden&Gun magazine’s Best of the South award a few years ago and we order it online. I was super happy to find it for sale locally at Lucky’s Market. Lucky is right! We did a little taste test to rate and compare. Both were winners!



Winter is over

I like to pretend I have a farm. I plan for a future when I have a small but prolific orchard of fruit and nut trees. The pecan trees have finally leafed out which means we’ve had our last freeze for this winter.

The pear trees that cross pollinate actually bloomed at the same time two weeks ago and that means we might have pears on both of those trees. Can you see that they are different species by their blooms?

I added another line of blueberries, too.