Homegrown Pomegranates

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , on November 19, 2012 by PickMeYard

Pomegranates (Punica granatum)  have become popular lately.  The juice can now be found in almost any supermarket.  That’s a wonderful thing because it’s delicious and loaded with antioxidants.  However, do you actually buy the fruit when they’re available or do you just admire them and walk past them?

I think most people don’t buy the fresh fruit because they know the seeds can pop and spray you with red juice when you try to open them.  They seem like a complicated fruit but they’re not. There are lots of tips on how to cut a pomegranate  such as cutting them in a bowl of water.  My tip is to throw on an apron or old t-shirt and just dig in.  I cut mine in half with a sharp knife and then tear into it from there.  If you’ve never had a fresh pomegranate, you’ve got to try it.

Pomegranate seeds are better than candy to my kids…that means they’re really good.  I have a couple of really picky eaters.  They love walking around the yard while digging into a pomegranate.  Pomegranate seeds have lots of fiber.  I’ve always been told that eating pomegranate seeds will expel parasites too.  That’s an added bonus.  Well, we do live in Florida and run around barefoot all year.

Nope, no shoes.

We’ve been growing pomegranates in our yard for several years.  The trees are small and actually look more like a tall bush.  My trees never look healthy, but I don’t give them any care at all.  Okay, I do put goat manure around the base of the tree but that’s it.  I don’t recommend neglecting your trees this way.  However, even with all my neglect, our trees give us some glorious tasting pomegranates.  They look horribly ugly, but they taste deeelicious.

That’s a pomegranate from the grocery store on the left and our ugly (but super sweet) homegrown pomegranate on the right.

There are many varieties of pomegranate.  Click here  and here for some great information on growing pomegranates in Florida. They can take the humidity, but they prefer hot, dry summers.  If you have a deer problem, take note that deer love to eat pomegranate trees.  Also, they do have thorns.

Our neglected pomegranate tree.

A plate of homegrown pomegranates… strange looking.

 

My favorite recipe for pomegranate seeds is persian rice with pistachios.  I enjoyed this dish at a Persian restaurant several years ago and have been making it at home ever since.  Check out this blog called My Persian Kitchen for the recipe and some fantastic ideas for Thanksgiving dinner.

The seeds sparkle like precious gems and taste like sweet candy.  Eat more pomegranate.

Come grow with us!

 

 

Lionfish on the Menu

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on August 23, 2012 by PickMeYard

Have you seen a lionfish?  I’m sure you have.  They’re beautiful and graceful with their wistful and feathery fins.  Their venomous spines make them even more seductive to me.  I could stare at an aquarium and watch them for hours.

This is my fake lionfish on a stand.

So are they lethal if you’re stung?  It seems to depend on several factors such as how bad the sting is and the victims reaction to it.  If the victim is allergic to the venom then it could be lethal.  However, according to the FWC, a sting isn’t usually deadly.  Check out MyFWC.com for some excellent facts on the lionfish (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles).

Lionfish are indigenous to the Indo-Pacific region. Unfortunately they were let go in our South Florida waters (probably from the aquarium trade) and are increasing in numbers at a rate never seen before.  They will rapidly destroy our marine ecosystem because they have a HUGE appetite for our native fish such as baby grouper and snapper. They’ll soon devastate our fish populations which will affect our algae growth balance.  This is a serious problem.

Please click here  for an amazing slide show with maps on the progression of the lionfish invasion.

They have no predators in U.S. and Caribbean waters… except man.  And the good news is that they taste super delicious!  I highly recommend The Lionfish Cookbook by Tricia Ferguson and Lad Akins.  The book is full of easy recipes, great information and loaded with tons of pictures.  The book also gives detailed instructions on catching, handling, cutting the spines off with scissors, spearing and of course… the preparation from start to finish with pictures. I bought my copy at Guy Harvey’s flagship store in Grand Cayman, where the lionfish are also a terrible problem.

In Grand Cayman, they are trying to assemble teams to hunt down these fish.  I’ve noticed lionfish on the menu more and more.  They’re being really proactive.

This young man in Grand Cayman hunted these fish with help from his father. I watched them from shore as they emerged with a bag of lionfish and their spears. Awesome!

How do we get rid of them in our waters?  There’s no recreational fishing license needed when using a pole spear and no limit to the amount you can catch in Florida (at least through August 2013).  It’s always open season for lionfish.  If there was a big demand for lionfish meat, then maybe there would be some chance to eradicate them… because there’s no other solution.  So go get a spear or find a restaurant with lionfish on the menu.

Speared lionfish for dinner.

More speared lionfish.

Come grow with us!

A Garden for the Goats

Posted in Solutions with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2012 by PickMeYard

You’re probably wondering who would grow a garden for their goats.  We are those odd people who do this, but it’s not just for the goats.

Her name is Violet and this is her Garden of Eden.

Over the past several years I’ve struggled with my gardens during the summer in SW Florida.  The weeds, the insects and the humidity are so extreme by July and August that I can barely stand to go outside.  I don’t want to pull weeds in the summer and I’ve had enough of the fire ants.

One summer I let the weeds take over and it was back-breaking work to reclaim my garden in the fall.  Another year I spread black plastic over everything.  I was hoping it would prevent all weed growth.  The weeds still managed to survive somehow and the black plastic disintegrated quickly. It didn’t look good and I had to send a bunch of plastic to the landfill.  I felt terrible about it. Last summer I put down weed mat fabric so the water could still get through but the weeds wouldn’t get the light they needed.  This worked, but it still wasn’t my solution.  The fabric shredded easily and had to be staked down everywhere to stay in place.  I found it difficult to plant around it and I wasn’t happy.  These methods might work great for many others, but they weren’t working for me.

This summer I tried something new and it is the answer I have been searching for.  Our dairy goats love to waste hay.  They are messy eaters and once the hay hits the ground they won’t touch it.  I have been collecting all their wasted hay (it’s a lot) and putting it on my gardens.  This has kept the moisture in the soil and provided awesome insulation against the heat.  I planted sweet potato and tropical calabaza pumpkin vines which quickly covered the ground.  The weeds are much more manageable now because there is only a small patch here and there.  I also planted some heat-loving sunflowers and pigeon pea bushes.  It looks like a jungle, but it’s a jungle of food instead of weeds.  When I’m ready to mow it down to plant vegetables in the fall, I’ll let the goats finish it off.  This has worked out so well that I’m hoping to do it every summer.

Tropical pumpkin vine spreading everywhere and keeping the weeds down. It thrives in the heat and humidity. It has some insects but doesn’t seem too bothered.

A friend told me she had trouble with this method because she ended up with some treated hay that prevented growth of any kind in her garden.  I was afraid to use my hay for a long time because I didn’t want this to happen to me.  Another reason I was told not to use hay was because it might come with weeds in it that would germinate.  My garden has never been weed free, so I was willing to take the risk.  Ideally, the hay should be composted first, but I’m just not going to do it.  I’m happy to report that I’ve been using my hay as mulch for over a year now and it has done wonders for my gardens in every season.

Sweet potato vine and Indian gongurra.

I still need to pull weeds this summer in some of my garden beds that don’t have much planted in them.  The past few weeks have been so hot and humid that I’ve resorted to throwing the hay on top of the weeds to smother them instead of pulling them out.  There are probably lots of reasons not to do this, but it’s working out great for me.  It’s keeping the beds looking tidy.  I’ll deal with the weeds when the threat of heat stroke goes away.

I’ve kept my basil from frying to death this summer by planting them under my kaffir lime tree. They’re doing really well with the protection.

Which one is not like the others?

We walk our goats to their garden several times a week to help them get some exercise.  These dairy goats have been such a win-win for us.  There’s no going back to life without them.

Come grow with us!

Florida Blueberries

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2012 by PickMeYard

We don’t grow blueberries in our yard.  I’ve always been told that Southwest Florida isn’t a good place to even try.  It looks like that might be changing though.  We visited a local blueberry u-pick farm this week that had us singing and dancing with buckets of dee-licous blueberries.  Yay… we don’t have to go to Georgia to have fresh blueberries!

We never knew picking blueberries was so much fun! My kids love to pick stuff off plants.

My 5-year-old took this photo. I asked them to hold the camera for one minute…

Blueberries are perfect for little hands to pick!

I have a local friend that grows her blueberries in containers so she can control the ph.   She uses a 50/50 mixture of peat and perlite in her containers.  Her backyard plants give her family lots of berries every year.  Ideally, blueberry bushes like acidic soil with a ph of around 5 and most of our soil has a ph of 8-9.  However, the hundreds of blueberry bushes we saw at our local u-pick were planted in the ground and loaded with berries.   I’m not sure what varieties they’re growing, but we love the flavor.  Click here for a list of blueberry varieties suggested for Florida by the University of Florida.  Click here  for an excellent slide show by UF on growing blueberries in South Florida.

Our local blueberries are only around for a short time in April and May.   Check out Patty’s Patch if you’re in Southwest Florida and want to pick some fresh, local blueberries.

Patty’s Patch Blueberry Farm (U-Pick) in Southwest Florida.

This was just the beginning. We filled two buckets. I have big plans for our blueberries.

Heavenly Florida blueberries in our bucket.

Come grow with us!

Loring’s Lei

Posted in Edible Flowers with tags , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2012 by PickMeYard

Loring has been asking me to make a necklace out of flowers with her for quite some time.  I always promise, but don’t follow through.  Yesterday I dropped what I was doing and said, “Let’s make that lei”.

We collected a bowl full of our edible jasmine flowers.  They have a perfect little hole in them when they’re picked.  I threaded a needle for Loring and let her do the rest.  She had no trouble sewing the flowers into a necklace all by herself.

Check out the Crafting Chicks blog for an adorable lei project that can be done with straws and paper with kids.

The jasminum sambac flowers are perfect for stringing a homemade lei. This is the ‘Maid of Orleans’ variety of jasmine.

Loring is sewing her lei and singing gleefully.  Although, she was really concentrating when I took the photo.

Loring and her homemade Lei.

Sometimes we really do need to stop and smell the flowers!

Come grow with us!

Super Sweet Potatoes

Posted in edible leaves with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2012 by PickMeYard

We grew a crop of sweet potatoes this year that really surprised us.  I had no expectations for the sweet potatoes and thought to myself that I’d figure it out as I went.  I tend to learn by ‘doing’ when it comes to our garden.  I make mistakes but I also learn to think outside the box.  It’s nice to not always follow the leader.

did do what I was told in regard to buying the sweet potato plants and not rooting the tuber from the supermarket.  A tuber from the store is easy to root, but apparently it can carry disease into your soil.  I’m certain this can happen any time you buy a little plant at the hardware store and plant it in your garden (especially with tomatoes).  I chose not to take the risk with potatoes and purchased some little plants from a local edible nursery.  The sweet potato starts were inexpensive but really tough to find.

I started with a variety called ‘Boniato‘ several years ago.  Now I’ve added several other varieties such as ‘Beauregard’ and ‘Tainung’.  To be honest, I’m not sure which variety is growing where in our yard.  Those labels are long gone.  This isn’t a problem for our us though because our sweet potatoes are for our table not a market.

Hydroponincally grown sweet potatoes at The Land in Epcot, Disney World.

I harvested a huge amount of sweet potatoes this year and it was back-breaking work.  These tubers were heavy and I had to dig and dig to find them.  I learned the hard way that I should never throw the potatoes.  They bruise easily and the bruise will turn into a rotten area.  I tossed a few a little too hard, but didn’t do too much damage.  Some of the tubers were gigantic.  I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing and worried that I waited too long to harvest them (maybe way too long).  My good friend Dr. Nune assured me that a larger sweet potato doesn’t mean it’s not tasty, just more of it to cook.  A farmer friend told me that the larger potatoes are more difficult to sell at the market.

Pick Me Yard's backyard sweet potato harvest.

This huge sweet potato was growing in the middle of the crop. Grayson named the potato "It" after the brain in "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeline L'Engle.

I was careful to keep my sweet potatoes from sitting in the sun while I was digging.  After I harvested my huge potatoes, I dragged the full and heavy wagon into my garage.  I left them to cure for a few weeks.  Then, I gave a bunch to Dr. Nune to be the taste tester.  She called me a few days later and said, “have you given any of those sweet potatoes away?”  I replied with a worried answer that I had not.  “Good”, she said.  “Let’s keep them only for us.  They are the best sweet potatoes I’ve ever had in my life”.  She was right… they were.

We had a endless supply of sweet potatoes to fill this basket for months.

I thought I found every last tuber in the ground when I harvested.  I worked really hard to get them all.  Well, that was several months ago and I missed many, many tubers.  The area has completely grown back again with sweet potato vines.  This is a no-no in the gardening world because it invites the dreaded sweet potato pests and diseases.  Click here  for the latest on growing sweet potatoes in Southwest Florida as told by the University of Florida IFAS office.  I’m going to harvest most of the greens in this patch for my goats.  We’ll save a few for ourselves.

Our 5-year-old was so excited that a garden was growing in our garage. These will all be replanted. They're the left-overs.

The sweet potato leaves are a delicious edible for the dinner table.  Our friend Mama Do told us that steamed sweet potato leaves are a favorite in Vietnamese cuisine.  One evening I was making dinner and realized I needed a vegetable.  I remembered what Mama Do told us and I sent the kids out to cut a bowl of leaves.  I steamed them on top of the chicken I was cooking and we have been huge fans of the leaves ever since!  Even the kids loved them… probably because they picked them.

Edible and yummy sweet potato leaves. These are heart-shaped.

This year I have planted sweet potatoes all over our yard.  There are patches everywhere and probably look like crop circles from an airplane.  They grow great in our yard because of our sandy, Florida soil.  I never water them and it hasn’t been a problem.  They tend to crowd out most of the weeds and I just weed-wack around the edges of the big circle.  They’re almost maintenance free in our yard.   They also thrive in our hot, humid, sweltering summer.

I’ve tried something new this summer and have planted some in an area with pigeon peas, sunflowers and calabaza pumpkins.  I’m hoping it turns into a crazy mess of vines and little pigeon pea trees that crowd out all the weeds.  It could be great or it could be a disaster.  Either way, it’s an experiment and I’m growing most of this to feed to our lovely goats anyway.  It’s our goat garden and I can either cut it for them or put their leashes on and lead them to it to clear it out.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

This will continue to grow and fill in. By weed wacking the edges, it turns into a big circle.

This is just a small section of the goat's garden. It will be interesting.

Come grow with us!

Stressed

Posted in Meet our Family with tags , , on April 25, 2012 by PickMeYard

There’s a lot of talk about healthy garden foods on this blog.  However, we do eat cake.  Sometimes we eat it for breakfast.

Did you know that stressed spelled backwards is desserts? That’s a funny coincidence.

My mother came over the other day with the sole purpose of making a cake with her grandchildren.  It wasn’t a holiday or a birthday.  No stress, just taking some time to smell the roses  eat some cake.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

We love our garden food but cake makes us happy too.  We wanted to share that with you.

Come grow with us!

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