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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.

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Glorious

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

 

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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.

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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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Leeks

My approach to gardening is benign neglect. The outcome of such loving disregard is that sometimes things behave in an unexpected and undocumented manner. Leeks, apparently, are not supposed to self-propagate.
Leeks
I bought perennial leeks from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in November 2012. Those original leeks self-propagated and I replanted those pups. This past fall, I planted the now THIRD generation of those original bulbs. Yesterday, I harvested the remainder of the leeks and pulled away many of the pups.
Leek pupsI replanted some for myself. I had such an abundance, I shared with two people in the Grow Gainseville! Facebook group. The leek lives on. I spent a fair amount of yesterday harvesting, trimming, cleaning and cutting leeks in preparation for freezing.
100_1714
I love my Seal-a-Meal contraption.
Leeks for the freezer
I also took the chopped off root structure and suspended them in mason jars to see if I could regrow leeks from those roots in the way we all regrew carrots from cut off carrot greens.
Leek roots

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Raspberry dreams

My sister says, “I like to plant and grow what I like to eat.” I agree. I like to eat raspberries. When a 1/4 pint is $4 at the market, growing my own seems ideal. Growing my own also means raspberry jam: berries, sugar and pectin. That is winning. Unlike blackberries, at least my wild variety of blackberries, that grow in mounded, throny meanness, raspberries need to grow vertically. I found a great image on Pinterest for a raspberry trellis and was determined to make my own.
Pinterest raspberry
So, last March, I single-handedly built my own raspberry trellis. I did a great job if I do say so. All level and sturdy.
Biddan berry trellis
I even bought some raspberry canes at Lowe’s but they were not ideal for my zone and failed. So I waited patiently, an ordered (in August 2014) raspberry canes from Nourse Farms.
Raspberry roots
They sold a variety cultivated especially for my zone. Again, winning! They even offer planting guidance through their videos.


I feel very confident I will have raspberries in the fall.

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Carrot muffins

Romance carrots
The pelleted Romance carrots I planted in the fall weathered the days of freezing tempatures unscathed. I prefer the pelleted seeds because they space perfectly and grow perfectly. I developed a new recipe to follow my clean eating goals.

Carrot muffin ingredients
Soft white wheat berries
Carrot muffins
Muffins and eggs
 
Carrot Muffins

1 cup sugar
1 cup coconut oil, melted
3 eggs, beaten
2 cups finely shredded carrots
1 small can crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup pecans, chopped
½ cup shredded coconut
¼ cup dried cherries
¼ cup chopped dates
1 T ginger chips
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups fresh milled soft white wheat

Mix sugar and oil. Add eggs, carrots, coconut, pineapple, pecans, dried fruits, vanilla and mix. Add all dry ingredients. And mix. Scoop into greased muffin tins and bake 25 minutes at 350F. Makes 24 small muffins.

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Time Flies

I last posted in July. July. J.U.L.Y.! Shameful. So much has been going on. I realized that gardening, specifically a food garden, in the summer is impossible. Insane. After returning from our trip to London, with a swift jaunt out to a well-known ring of ancient stones, work and life got crazy-busy. The Oldest went off to college. The Younger started high school. The Oldest disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle of Freshman year and the Younger has joined the JV football team. Practice every day until 6:30PM. He has been exceptionally committed, surprising me a great deal. He has earned so much respect from me, watching him commit to the game and the team. It has made me think about what we pass on to our children. My children have learned tenacity and are both stubbornly determined. I like that. Few things beat determination. Maybe dumbass luck. Maybe a silver spoon. But determination beats genius almost every day of the week. It beat privilege and entitlement, too. I wonder where they learned it?  Here are some of the new happenings at Biddan Ridge.

The Bees at Biddan Ridge are quite happy and productive.Capped frames Sep 2014

The gardens are replanted and also content. The fourth bed is covered in 6 mil black plastic and composting for the early spring plantings.100_1378

The new pecan tree is settling in nicely, having replaced the Lost One. All the trees and roses have been fertilized. The blackberry ribbon has gotten weeded and will get mulched soon. It’s time to order a cord of firewood and make fire starters…..as soon as the pine cones drop. I ordered raspberry canes that will arrive in January that are hearty to Zone 10. Whoop! And fall has arrived.