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Serenity

It’s early January and we have yet to have any significant winter. There has been no frost. Night-time temperatures have barely reached 40F and then warms towards 70F during the daytime. The trees are confused. I saw a loquat tree downtown filled to bursting with buttery yellow fruits. My own pear trees have put out blossoms. My pecan trees dropped all their leaves and sit as if we are int he dead of a freezing cold winter. The lawn – which should fall dormant and not need cutting – is is dire need of a hacking. And yet, with such mild weather, I am loathe to go outside and work in the yard. There is plenty of stuff I COULD be doing.

Instead, I painted my office. It feels very serene and tranquil. It has made me happy. Delighted even.

Office painted

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I am in no way expert but I am an enthusiastic backyard beekeeper. I know I am supposed to rob the hive. The whole point is to collect honey but I often think of them like a pasture of cows or goats. I just want them to have a happy home and range to make a healthy hive. I worry that robbing the hive stresses them and causes them to be at risk of pests and disease. Maybe that is why, in some Freudian way, I am ill prepared to rob the hive. I do not have any standard frames in my freezer to replace the honey packed frames I found in the hive this morning.

 

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Serenity

With the building of this house, it is the first time in my life I’ve had a pretty bathroom. I have a sumptuous bathroom with a truly divine tub. I designed the tub and asked that the back wall be smooth finished so that I could add a large stencil to the wall. I had been looking at stencil on this Etsy site. I’ve had a large chrysanthemum rolled up in a tub for three years. Two weekends ago I painted the bathroom. I’ve had the paint chip [Carolina skies] taped to the wall for more than two years. I was very pleased with the paint – so pleased that I intend to paint the whole bedroom the same color.  It is serene and peaceful. Today, I added the stencil in a shimmery silver metallic paint by Benjamin Moore.

before painting after painting

taped stencil painted stencil

Finished stencil

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Fall is here

Fall has arrived bringing a cool, foggy, sunless morning. This is my fourth fall season at Biddan Ridge and I slowly find a rhythm. For many months, I get up on Saturday mornings and go to a two-hour yoga class. This morning instead, I baked a large Honey Crisp apple tossed with dried cherries and topped with an oatmeal pecan topping. As it cools, I brew a pot of coffee – my favorite blend from the Kitchen & Spice store: Highlander Grogg. I opened all the windows in the house to capture the soft, steady breeze and set myself up to write. If only my wild turkeys would arrive as they did that first foggy fall morning.

The Hawks' Ridge gaggle of wild turkeys, DEC2012

The Hawks’ Ridge gaggle of wild turkeys, DEC2012

 

Instead I hear children in the house across the street. I have neighbors. I’ve made friends. I can lend a cup of sugar or borrow a ladder. Someone else occasionally gets a piece of my mail. I can share my honey or jams. It is home.

Baked applesBaked apples

Recipe: 1 apple peeled and sliced, 2 T dried cherries. Toss together and put in a oven safe dish. Topping: 3T brown sugar, 1/4 c quick cooking oats, 2 T flour, 1/4 c chopped pecans, 2 T melted butter or coconut oil.  Spread on the top of the apples. Cover with tin foil. Bake @ 375F for 25min, uncover and bake another 10 min. 1-2 servings depending on your generosity.

 

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Fig jam

The frost and then the yard man’s weed wacker have hindered my fig production. Honestly, it reduced the number of fig bushes from six to two and those two are limping along. So, I tried to barter honey from my summer robbing for figs. I asked my fellow local gardeners through Facebook but I missed the summer figs by a few weeks. The I walked into Publix and they had black Mission and brown Turkey figs BOGO. Wining!

Fresh figs

So I stemmed and quartered thirty figs, I added two cups of white sugar and one whole vanilla bean, split. I put it all in a heavy LIDDED Le Creuset Dutch oven and cooked it on very low heat until all the figs were soft and brown. I used a pastry knife to chop any remaining pieces into smaller chunks. I removed the vanilla bean and scraped out the bean paste, returning it to the slow boiled jam.

Cooked vanilla fig jamThe outcome was six half pint jars and a small quarter pint remnant that goes into the fridge for me to eat now on toast or with cheddar cheese on crackers.

Fig jam in jars

 

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All’s Pear in Love

Yesterday morning it was cool by July standards and foggy. A good time to attend to the pear trees. This is their second fruit season and I am blessed with an abundance of fruit on such small trees. Calling them trees exaggerates, embellishes. The Biscamp pear, a self-pollinating variety bore the most fruit; its reed thin branches heavy laden with large man-fist sized fruits.

Biscamp pear

The Pineapple and the Sug variety, more old-fashioned sand pears are meant to cross pollinate. It is unclear if these two trees even like each other. They had some kind of tree-sex because they each had one pear. One. Their fecundity is yet to be determined.

Sug pear Pineapple pear

I had hoped that planting the pears close to the Carolina Redbuds, the bees would work the five trees indiscriminately. I will have to consider better protecting these trees and their early spring buds from late freezes.

The pear trees needed a spa day. I shoveled a ring around each base, hand troweled the grass runners crisscrossing the ground and stealing the trees’ vital nutrients. I added six double hand-scoops of Black Kow manure to the base and worked it all in.

Weedy pear Neat pear

I then re-attached biodegradable twine and staked the branches wide to open up the inside of the trees. It is not meant to be a true espalier.

Biscamp staked Sug staked Pineapple staked

Then it was time to make my Granny’s conserve. By my Granny’s definition, a conserve was two (or more) fresh fruits cooked with sugar. The traditional culinary definition is cooking dried fruits and nuts which I think of more as a chutney. A conserve is slow cooked, chunky, sweet and has no added pectin. The literature on the Biscamp, the majority of the fruit I have to make my conserve, is said to be a “soft eating pear” supposedly like a Bartlett. After peeling and slicing…that is a liberal assertion. And thank God for it. I didn’t want a soft, fine grained eating pear. I wanted SAND pears.The Biscamp is as gritty as coarse sand paper but it is very juicy, even with still-green skins.

I have an Apple-Mate 3 that attaches to my kitchen counter and peels the pear skins. These pear skins have a tannin in them and hand peeling turns your fingers and nails brown for days. Plus the skins are TOUGH and attached to the flesh of the fruit. The Apple-Mate scratches the peels off perfectly. Final touches are made with a very sharp paring knife before chopping off the core and mincing in a Cuisinart. I am all about the gadgetry.

Peels20150719_091212In the pot

I embellish my Granny’s recipe which used canned pineapple, sand pears and sugar. Instead, I use fresh pineapple, sand pears, sugar, a split vanilla bean and a stick of cinnamon. The outcome is a conserve perfect on English muffin, bagel, sour dough toast, warmed and poured over ice cream, served over warm gingerbread cake or bread pudding or in a spoon: plain and simply perfect.

Eight jars

Jeweled pearfection

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Drip line irrigation

Macaroni projectWhen the house was built, an irrigation system was placed but like most sprinklers, the focus was on keeping a green lawn. I honestly don’t care about a green lawn. My gardening philosophy is benign neglect and my lawn – such that it is – is bahia grass, a native species and it either endures the frost in the winter and the drough in the summer or it gets replaced by wild “flowers” and weeds. The bees are more please with the weeds and their many flowers than the grass anyways.

So, when I inquired with an irrigation company – an independent guy – about reworking my Rainbird zones, he quoted me an impressive number. Being the determined (re: hardheaded) person I am, I set about finding my own solution.

Back in the winter, we made a drip irrigation system using flexible tubing but it laid upon the ground and was a constant target for the lawn mowers. Then we got a dog and Ginger thought the tubing was her giant chew toy. She effectively destroyed that system, which worked reasonably well.

Back to the drawing board.

I had leftover PVC pipe in the garage from the original install. A repurpose/reuser project beckoned. And hence, this irrigation system was born. It is not complete. It is a two weekend project but you get the idea.

 

 

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Fairy Tales

Rain lilies with bee buttAfter a few days of heavy rain, especially if their is dense lightening strikes, we are blessed with the emergence of Rain Lilies, sometimes called Fairy Lilies. These small pale pink flowers spring up overnight along roadsides. They are the Zephyanthes and they belong to the amaryllis family. The flowers are hardy down to Zone 11 and supposedly come in white, pinks, yellows. I remember them all along the front of Cutler Ridge pool and they were always only pink. They are a flower of my childhood. The stem is thick like those of bulbs. The flowers do not last long, their spray of fairy tale pink along the swale beside the road is brief. They are considered native and they self-propagate. These are mine.

Pink rain lilies Rain lily Rain lily - close up

Rain Lilies

 

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Organizing

My butlers’ pantry is one of the absolute high points of this home. It allows me to store almost everything regarding the house with the exception of the Christmas tree and the ornaments. It allows me to keep clean and clear kitchen counters. It also allows me to reach items that I use frequently with out having to get down into the bottom turnstile cabinets. I still have storage space int he kitchen but I feel the empty cabinets in the kitchen are for things I will use rarely, fo to get into them, I need a step ladder. The pantry affords easy reach and easy return.
Pantry door

Pantry leftPantry right

Pantry canning Pantry appliances Pantry glassware

Pantry food Pantry crafts

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Listen to the Bees

It is very simple. If there is honey, especially if there is honey flowing in your backyard, then life is good. Honeybees are the backbone of every food system whether you are foraging, gardening or big agribusiness. If the honeybees do not have an abundant food source, then they do not pollinate all of the other plants. Just how critical the honeybees role is for an ecosystem is often diminished or overlooked until it is on the brink of collapsing a whole ecosystem. Watch this video: