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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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Taking Stock

It is finally sunny with a perfect spring temperature of 82F. After 5 straight days of sunlessness, raining and cold with temps rarely above 55F and in the 30F at night – which for Florida is exceptionally rare and annoying – the weather is a greatly welcomed respite. I walked the property taking stock. We’d had a warming spell about a month ago and I was (too) bold and planted my seed starts that I had been nurturing since late December. I transplanted four varieties of cucumbers in my search for the perfect pickle. I planted my pasting tomatoes with the goal of my own canned tomato paste and sauce. I planted peppers and cabbage and basil. I even planted my bush beans.

All of it is dead. A harsh eight hour frost last Wednesday night/Thursday morning killed everything. Tomorrow, I will simply sow seeds right into the ground and start anew. Given that this is my second gardening season, I must accept the learning curve.

The olives fared this winter much better and there are only a few browned leaves as opposed to extensive browned branches last year. One of the six pecan trees planted last February has officially died or rather, I am declaring the death official. I’ve long suspected it had died when it stopped leaving. I will need to get a replacement tree. All three pears, which are all different varieties are leafing and the sand pear has flowers. I am excited since that is the only pear I have designs for use in my conserve. The peach is also flowering but it is a lopsided tree after having lost its main left side of branches last year to frost damage. The chickasaw plum has leaf buds but no flowers yet. That tree is going to be fun to watch and if I get fruit, to make plum jam. The blueberries are on the verge of exploding into green and much to my surprise and pleasure, the raspberry canes appear to have taken root and are growing. Yippee. I won’t expect any fruit from them until next fall. Also, thebirds have discovered the trellis and the bird feeders and they are quite content.

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Garden plans

An inaugural year but not enough to yet designate me a gardener. I planted a garden. Initially I planted seeds. I was ambitious or rather, I planned for contingencies. I planned for a sizable percentage of failure. Instead, everything sprouted and I was looking at having enough seedlings for a acre garden.

seeds for tomatoes, basil, lettuces, onions, carrots, and cucumbers

seeds for tomatoes, basil, lettuces, onions, carrots, and cucumbers

I didn’t plan for a hard freeze killing everything.

Frost covered Genovese basilPredictably, I restarted and replanted but I only had the lesser preferred seeds. I planted things too close and the crowding led to pests. I didn’t spray for the pests quickly enough and so I lost much of what grew to aphids. Then the rains started and I lost much to cracking and splitting. The white cucumbers were prolific but I lost all the green miniature cukes. I made lime pickles with what I grew and they’re tasty.

Sealed jarsI planted calliope eggplants and I’ve had a nice outcome. They’re still producing. Next year I think six plants will be enough. I even ate the eggplant, which was a first. I’ve always declined eggplant because of the texture, but finely chopped baby eggplants are indiscernible when added to spaghetti sauce. As I watch and learn from the local gardeners, they are all pulling down their gardens. I still have tons of tomatoes on my bushes, so I delay. But, thoughts shift to the fall and what and when I should start seeds for the fall. What can I grow? I should get my soil tested and see what amendments need to be made.

I’ll fertilize the fruit trees and wait to see if the figs yield enough for a small batch of pure Biddan Ridge jam. I am thinking mostly about flowers and my bees. What flowers shall I plant and where so as to maximize their happiness and honey production? They seem to like the cosmos, zinnias and the oregano that has bolted. I want to trim it back, but the bees and butterflies are having a hay day. I have two large seed packets of dill, which I’ll plant just to please the swallowtail caterpillars. And I’ll spend the off season relocating and trying to domesticate the blackberry volunteers that keep returning to my flower bed around the river birches. I promised to ship some of my blackberries to a friend in Texas so she can give them a try in her yard. She has a much greener thumb than I have; I’m sure she’ll do well. I must admit that summer gardening is hard due to the heat. I weeded a flower bed this morning between 9 and 12 in full shade and I sweat like a prize fighter. But the bed is cleared and the irrigation fixed and all the drip lines are functioning. All that’s left to deep weed is the back daylily bed and the river birches. I’ll tackle them this week while I am off. Keep the body busy to keep the mind distracted.

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Mr. McGillacuddy

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.Gopher tortoise

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The Angel Oak

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.

The Angel Oak

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.