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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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Thanksgiving table

Back in the heat of the summer, I arranged to foster a turkey at Laughing Chicken Farms. Robin Popp is at the Alachua County farmers’ market on Saturdays with chickens and eggs. I made my down payment for my Thanksgiving feast. Two nights before Thanksgiving, I drove out to Trenton. The Laughing Chicken Farms is straight west about 13 miles. On Tuesday night it was storming and a squall was coming off the Gulf into Cedar Key. There were tornado warnings. I drove in my little sports cars down limerock roads in pitch darkness to get our turkey.

It was a very good turkey. Freshly slaughtered the night before. 22 lbs. We put it in a brine with apple cider vinegar, garlic, onions, fresh sage, clementine orange rinds, pepper and a stick of cinnamon. I wanted to set a table with as much fresh, local or nearby foods. I bought my yams at the farmers’ market along with peppers. I pulled my own carrots from my garden about an hour before we sat down for dinner. Garlic honey carrots

We made sweet potato biscuits with the yams and flour freshly milled from grains I bought from Breadbeckers in Woodstock, GA. I use honey collected last spring from my own hives. I use pure Vermont maple syrup I recanned from a gallon I was gifted by a patient last year. I ordered cheeses from Nature’s Harmony Farms in Georgia and their Georgia Gold (cheddar) was excellent. The Fortsonia was also yummy, like a hard Swiss. I will order from them again. My niece brought a fresh bottle of Richland Rum, distilled from sorghum grown in Richland, Georgia.

Richland RumEverything set upon the table was made from scratch (except the pie crusts…we cheated on the crusts). I believe in slow food, scratch made food, simplified and real. Real butter. Real cheese. Wheat flour. Farm eggs. Hand made. Home made. Yes, it takes more time. Yes, it cost more money. But….it’s real. It’s fresh. It’s live (or very recently was alive). I believe that these things matter.

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Returning home

Being away from home is hard because home is so truly awesome and amazing. I planned it that way. I planned it to be my little castle; a place I can retreat to, pull up the drawbridge and unwind, relax and be at ease. But, sometimes one must leave town and last week I truly felt the need to bolt like a jack rabbit. I wanted to run away. I NEEDED to run away. I had a “boutique” runaway planned: hotel reservations, giant home decor and antique festival, a populated Google map with foodie sites bookmarked and cash to spend. This was a no credit weekend. All prepaid.

But, after a couple of days and two no so comfortable nights in a hotel with mediocre pillows and no late night access to chocolate and peanut butter, I elected to go home. Home is awesome. Home is my refuge and my happy place.

I came home with a rented Chevy Suburban chock-a-block full of stuff I bought, plus a new coat and “market bag”. I came home to a garden abundant with beans and lettuces. I had purchased locavore vinegars and oils and killer Ikea salad bowls. After a run to The Fresh Market and the aquisition of shallots, an aged cheese and ciabatta rolls…..(along with Hollandaise sauce, sweet sausage and puff pastry intended for breakfast tomorrow) I spent less money than had I eaten the next 2 meals in Atlanta. Dinner was two hours out of the soil, uber fresh, very healthy and all cleaned up. Plus I ate it in my comfy clothes while watching a DVR episode of Elementary.

Garden picks for today

Cold bean saladThe beans were blanched and then chilled. A shallot was thin sliced and sauteed with walnut oil, capers and fresh cracked pepper. The salad was finished with fig balsamic.

Bibb saladThe salad was one head of butter cos bibb lettuce with a slice boiled egg and shaved aged cheese with a simple dressing of avocado oil, peach balsamic, dijon, mashed garlic and fresh cracked pepper.

Rum CocktailAdd a cocktail (or two): 1 3/4 oz rum, 3/4 oz lemon juice, 1/4 oz grenadine in a shaker filled with ice cubes. Serve in a cocktail glass.

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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.