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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am hoping tonight is the last night of cold. We’ll have frost in the morning. I hope it’s the end of the frost. I’ve checked my pecan trees every afternoon, looking for the first leaves to shoot. Pecans are wise and knowledgeable. They do not set leaves until the winter frosts have ended. While I have the brilliant shock of fuchsia on my redbuds and the pears have leaves and blossoms, the pecans stubbornly stand bare and leafless. It feels like the other five are standing vigil over the 6th because they know their comrade ain’t coming back this spring. He made a single strain at a life once transplanted, but lost all his leave to webworms and then died. I think. Like I said, I won’t know until the trees set leaves.
Luckily, I’ll pick my last two heads of cabbage for St. Patrick’s day and then the gardens will be bare with the exceptions of the leeks and sweet onions. There is always a silver lining to gardening. You cna always plant more seeds. If something fails, it gets composted and replaced. Crops rotate, seasons change and I get to try new stuff.
I spent several hours of combined time sitting in my car with the engine running this week, listening to the radio, playing solitaire on my smart phone and waiting for the deluge of rain to stop or at least slow down long enough for me to wade into the building, house of store. We are soaked. There have been flash flood warnings all week but as of yet the rivers have not crested. It takes a while for the water to make its way out of the cypress and swamp to the basin. The floods will arrive over the weekend.
It’s been a long week, several long weeks. Eager day, I am eager to return home to Biddan Ridge. It feels like riding across and then raising a drawbridge. This is my castle, my refuge, my fortress. The yard has the damp, verdant heaviness and the lawn is uncut. The “pepper grass” has sprouted through the pine straw mulch in all the beds. I call it “pepper grass” because it smells like fresh cracked pepper when it’s pulled up. I hope to get a respite from the rain so I can plant the tray of monkey grass and the last 6 bales of straw. Tomorrow I have plans for some seedless Thomcord grapes but tonight I made homemade Kit Kat bars.
The seasons feel like they are shifting, if just a small fraction. It was 73F this morning and foggy. While it climbed into the mid 90’s by mid afternoon, there was a breeze. Fall is coming and I look forward to the fall yard and garden.
My fall seeds arrived from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I picked a few things I know we can add to the Thanksgiving table: pole and snap beans, carrots, and lettuces. I will pull down the last of the spring garden, even though there are still tomatoes growing. I need to make small soil amendments and prepare for planting. I paid $10 for University of Florida IFAS Extension Office to do a soil evaluation and I am really pleased. Like I said, I only need to make small amendments. What I really need to to do better at controlling pests and I think that may be more related to me planting too densely. After I pull up the basil tomorrow, I will saves seeds and make pesto and herb cubes.
My youngest and I drove to Thomasville Georgia today to take a class at Sweetgrass Dairy farms on how to make mozzarella cheese. I like learning new skills and making fresh mozzarella, ricotta and feta will be cool. Southern Georgia is chock a block full of pecan orchards and cotton farms. Evan challenges me saying, “We could grow our own cotton and make our own clothes.” I am not that ambitious but I am super thankful that my 21st century child knows how his clothes are made and that they are GROWN, like his food….although he thought pineapples grew on trees. We’re still working on some of this stuff.
Getting the boys to eat homemade bread has as much to do with the taste as how the loaf looks. The solution: a pullman pan from USA pans. This is a lidded, heavy gauge cast aluminum pan that allows you to bake a SQUARE loaf of bread. I sifted through the internet for recipes for the Pain de Mie bread, the customary bread baked in the pullman pan. I made some final adjustments and I will likely continue to tweak the recipe to get it just right. The original recipe is here. The Biddan Ridge version is this:
1 1/3 cup hard white wheat ground
1 cup soft white wheat
Grind the flours to end with 3 1/2 cups of flour
2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp yeast
2 Tbsp Biddan Ridge honey or other local honey
1/4 c dry milk powder
1 cup milk heated to 95-105F
6 Tbps butter cut into small pieces
Whisk 1/2 c warm milk, honey and yeast in mixing bowl until frothy. Add flour, salt, remaining milk and mix until shaggy. Add eggs. Then add butter pieces one at a time until incorporated. If dough doesn’t pull together and away from the sides of the bowl, add 1 spoon full of flour at a time until it does. I added 10 additional spoons of flour. Run mixer for 10 minutes on low. Scrap down sides of bowl and let dough rise until doubled (approximately 1 hour). On a floured surface, roll out dough, knead a few times and shape into a 9×13 sheet. Roll up and place in a buttered Pullman pan.
Remember to butter inside of lid. Let dough rise until almost to the top of the pan. Slide on the lid and bake at 350F for 35 minute. Take off lid and bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until thermometer registered 190F.
Today, our gopher turtle returned. We had to make special accommodations for Mr. Gopher (Tortoise) last summer during construction because the gopher tortoise is endangered. His burrow has looked active but he is a stealthy little critter. Today he came marching across the back yard as if he had a mission. We’ve assumed the turtle is a “he” for some reason. We debated picking him up but he hissed at us. We figured that the minute we picked him up the Florida wildlife ranger would drive by and it would look as if we were planning cooter stew. Eventually he set off south towards the beehive and an underbrush exit into the blackberry brambles in the adjacent lot.
Say hello to our little friend, Quilligan McGillacuddy.
If you take the James Island Bridge out of downtown Charleston, you can pick up Maybank Highway. It will leap frog to Johns Island and if you follow Maybank to Bohicket Road, you come to a sharp switchback of a dirt road. The road is thick with clay and rutted in areas but a quarter mile of fish tailing and sliding and you come to a magnificent, majestic and ancient live oak call The Angel Oak. I visited this ancient tree this weekend.
I have been in Muir woods among the sequoias. I have canoed down the Suwanee River among the cypress. But this live oak is something wholly different. The way its ancient limbs touch the earth and root again, like an elbow set upon a table’s edge.
biddan (v.) Olde English to petition, pray, ask and entreat unceasingly