Archive for March, 2010

Update: Don’t Worry, Bee Happy

Posted in Bees & Hummingbirds with tags , , , on March 31, 2010 by PickMeYard

We couldn’t believe our eyes today.   Loring and I were outside having a picnic lunch  in our newly planted butterfly garden when we heard a loud buzzing noise.  We noticed a massive swarm of bees that looked like a black tornado swirling around over the top of our empty bee box.  The bees that were  in this box died suddenly a few weeks ago and the box has been sitting empty. (I never got around to moving it).  The swarm of bees swirled and swirled over the box until every single one of them was in the box.  It was amazing!  I had my camera sitting right next to me but I decided to  grab-up my 3-year-old and watch from a safer distance instead.  However, the swarm probably would have been harmless because the honeybees would be full of honey and looking for a new home.  Usually they won’t sting when they don’t have a home to defend. 

This picture was taken just minutes after a swarm of thousands of bees moved into this empty bee box in our yard.

 

Within just a couple of minutes, every bee in the massive swarm was in this box.  I believe they have found their new home.  I immediately called a beekeeper friend and he told me this was great news.  He said if they are still around in a week, then they will probably stay for good.  He also said there is a good chance that the new bees are European honeybees   (Apis mellifera) and not Africanized honeybees (Apis mellifera scutellata).   The new bees might have a strong queen that is a survivor.  We’ll leave them alone for about a month and then we will open up the box to find the queen and investigate (to see if she is laying eggs).  

My beekeeper friend told me that beekeepers usually keep an empty bee box in their yard with high hopes that a swarm will move in.  He said it is fairly common for a swarm to do this.  

A great place for information about honeybees and related events for Southwest Florida is the beekeepers association of southwest florida website.    

Most gardeners are seeing less and less bees in their garden due to the huge decrease in the honeybee population. We are so excited about our new colony of honeybees.  We hope they stay. 

Come grow with us! 

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Update: The Mariposa Garden

Posted in Butterflies with tags , , , , , on March 30, 2010 by PickMeYard

"After" Picture of Our Butterfly Garden

This is our butterfly garden after all the plants have been planted.  Most of these plants will grow to their full potential after one growing season and the garden will look full.  The trees in the garden will take longer than the vines and shrubs to fill out, however, it is only a short wait.  There are two small mimosa plants that will act as a low groundcover and sprawl quickly.  Actually, will try to take over. It isn’t necessary to plant more than two in this space.  The dune sunflowers, blanket flowers and tickseed will re-seed and spread too.  I have about 16 firecracker plants around one edge that will each grow to about 3 feet high and 3 feet wide and create a nice, soft hedge.  The vines that I set loose on the chain link sides of the tennis court will grow extremely fast.  Our “mariposa garden” will hardly be recognizable as the same garden in about 6 months. 

Grayson and I did tons of research on the plants as we designed our garden together.  We wanted to know the size each of our plants would be when they are mature so that we would plant them in the right spot.  We considered the color of the blooms too. We will just have to be patient and enjoy the different stages of growth.   The butterflies are already visiting.

The Tennis Court will Soon Be Covered in Vines, Fruits, Flowers, and Butterflies

  Come grow with us!

The Mariposa Garden

Posted in Butterflies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2010 by PickMeYard

My three-year-old refers to butterflies as “mariposas”.  “Mariposa” means “butterfly” in spanish.  Yesterday she noticed that our gulf fritillary chyrsalides turned into butterflies in our kitchen butterfly habitat and she gleefully yelled, “Mariposa’s awake!”  We let the butterflies dry their wings and then we let them go into our newly planted “mariposa garden”. 

Mariposa's Awake!

 

 

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

 

Our butterfly garden is finally finished.  It didn’t happen in one afternoon.  We spread it out over a couple of weeks.  First the sod had to be taken up and then the weed mat was put down.  We used landscaping staples around the edges to keep it in place. We used scissors to cut X’s in the weed mat where we planted our collection of butterfly host and nectar plants.  After we planted everything, we put down the mulch.  Gulf Coast Palm and Tree Landscape Nursery was a huge help to us.   

"Before" Butterfly Garden

 

"After" Butterfly Garden

 

We’ve planted lots of host and nectar plants for many types of butterflies that are found in Southwest Florida.  The “after” picture looks a little sparse, but these plants will grow big quickly.  The tree is a macadamia nut tree that the bees love.  It gives us more macadamia nuts than we can eat.  We are able to store them for the entire year.  

Powderpuff Tree in the Butterfly Garden

 

Most butterfly plants prefer full sun.  However, the zebra longwing, prefers shade.  The zebra longwing is the Florida state butterfly. We planted several passionfruit vines, which is their host plant.  We put some of the passionfruit vines in  full sun and a couple in the shade.  The gulf fritillary also uses the passionfruit vine as their host plant, but they like it in full sun.  A host plant is a type of plant that a butterfly will search out to deposit their eggs.  Each butterfly species will have their own host plant.  A nectar plant will be the plant that attracts, feeds and provides energy to the butterfly.  Our butterfly garden borders our tennis court.  We planted many, many vines on the court’s fencing to protect the butterflies from rain and wind.  Hopefully the vines will provide some shade for the tennis court too.  

 

We’ve planted a dutchman’s pipevine, several different types of passionvines, scarlet milkweeds , tropical salviasnecklace pods, a white and pink powderpuff tree, dune sunflowers, lots of firecrackers, firespikes, a Bahama cassia tree, a wild lime tree, several lion’s tails, a sweet almond bush, native wild petunias, a golden dewdrop tree, a sky vine, a Mexican flamevine, several Florida flamevines, coonties, blue-eyed grassmimosasgreen-eyed susans, tall red pentas (dwarfs don’t have nectar), tickseeds, and two coral honeysuckles.  Whew…that’s a list.  The butterfly garden won’t look sparse for long.  We purchased all our butterfly plants from a local nursery called “Riverland Nursery“.  They are extremely knowledgeable about butterfly plants for our area and specialize in providing them.  They also hold free classes on the weekends for just about everything garden related.  

A Tiny Monarch Caterpillar on Our Scarlet Milkweed

 

I believe this baby caterpillar is a direct result of the monarch butterflies we released into the garden last week.  It’s important to never use herbicides or insecticides on a butterfly garden.  This caterpillar will eat the leaves of the scarlet milkweed which is its host plant.  Scarlet milkweeds get red aphids on them.  Their purpose is to control the milkweed population.  I just squish them because I don’t want them around.  Another solution would be to bring some ladybugs into your garden.  Make sure you get baby ladybugs because adult ladybug’s will just fly away.  They tickle when you release them.  When the monarch caterpillars eat all the leaves off the scarlet milkweed it can be trimmed way back.  It will sprout new leaves right away and get bushy just in time for the caterpillars to devour it again.  The young caterpillars need the young, tender leaves to eat. 

Grayson & Loring Releasing Thousands of Ladybugs into the Garden Last Summer

We are looking forward to watching our butterfly garden turn into a mature, full landscape.  We plan on labeling our plants with our aluminum tags tomorrow.  We’re going to add a few stepping-stones, a few Adirondack chairs and a picnic table to complete our project.  Our plan is to spend the summer having a daily tea party and a picnic in our “mariposa garden” while we wait for our flying visitors. 

Come grow with us!

Dangling the Golden Carrot

Posted in Edible Roots with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2010 by PickMeYard

Our Yummy Garden Carrots

Carrots are originally from Central Asia and the Near East.  They were introduced to the American colonies in the 17th century and they were purple.  The Dutch developed the orange carrot.  Thomas Jefferson grew several varieties of carrot in his Monticello garden.

Cinderella Picking Carrots from Our Garden

I have yet to meet a kid that won’t eat a  fresh carrot they picked with their own hands.  My kids won’t touch them after they’ve been cooked though.  My favorite way to cook them is with honey, ginger, butter and kumquat rind.  There are many varieties of carrots.  They come in different sizes and colors.  We’re growing short and long ones.  Did you know the baby carrots in the bag at the grocery store are not really baby carrots?  I just recently learned they are full-sized carrots that are cut to look like baby carrots.  Apparently, the public demand is greater for the baby carrots.

Carrot Plants, Orange Roots are Underground

California grows 80 % of the carrots in the U.S.  They are an excellent source of beta-carotene and fiber. The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A and this helps to reduce certain types of cancers. 

Carrots Ready for Slaughter

Carrots are usually ready to be picked at 65-75 days.  Heat and humidity makes them turn bitter. They can be stored for 30 days in the refrigerator when fresh, but it is best to eat them as soon as you can to get the most vitamins.  We grew lots of carrots last year.  I would harvest a few and put them in the refrigerator.  The next day I would find them limp and yucky.  I wondered how the supermarkets keep carrots fresh in the bag for such long periods of time.  The key is to cut the green tops off them.  The tops draw the water out of the carrot and they wilt.  This year I cut all the tops off immediately after I harvested them.  It’s sufficient to just cut the green part off and not the entire top of the carrot for storage.

The Result From Not Thinning the Seedlings

Carrots seedlings are supposed to be thinned out after they have grown about an inch of leafy green.  If you don’t thin them out , you will end up with a bunch of tiny carrots that didn’t grow because they were all trying to grow in the same space.  Thinning them allows the carrots roots to develop properly.  I know I am supposed to thin them out and I still have trouble doing it.  The picture above shows what can happen when they are not thinned out.  One little carrot is growing around the other.

Today's Harvest

Today's Harvest with the Tops Cut Off

Most backyard gardeners don’t harvest all their carrots at the same time like I did today. I decided to pull them and blanch them for storage.  I’ll save some for eating fresh.  Carrots can store up to 9 months in a regular freezer. They will store up to 14 months if kept in deep freeze.  However, if you’re going to freeze them you must blanche them first.  To blanche them you will need a pot of boiling water and a bowl filled with ice water.  Cut the carrots up or leave them whole (if they’re small).  Boil them for 2-5 minutes, drain them and then put them in the bowl of ice water to hastily stop the cooking process.  Now they’re ready to be stored in the freezer in a ziplock freezer bag.

My family adores carrot juice.  The pile of carrots in the picture above won’t last long around here.  I usually make carrot juice the Jamaican way.  I juice the carrots with a juicer and I give the pulp to the chickens, worms and bunnies.  I add a little water, condensed milk, vanilla and nutmeg to the carrot juice.  There is a recipe at Jamaican-recipes.com for the specifics.  I don’t measure ingredients. I just add a little of this and that.  Jamaicans usually make this juice with a blender, not a juicer.  They use a strainer to separate the pulp from the juice. 

Our Easter Bunnies Enjoying A Carrot Top

Come grow with us!

The Water Chestnut

Posted in Edible Rhizomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2010 by PickMeYard

Freshly Harvested Water Chestnuts

Most people in the U.S. have only tried water chestnuts from a can. I never thought much of them until I tried a fresh one.   They are a common Chinese vegetable that keep their crunchy texture and sweet flavor when cooked.  They’re fat-free and have lots of potassium and fiber. We are lucky in Florida to be able to grow them and enjoy them fresh.  The water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis) is quite easy for the backyard gardener to grow , but they need seven months of frost-free weather for their growing  season.

Water Chestnuts Growing in a "Concrete Mixer" Container

The water chestnut is an aquatic vegetable.  I always keep an inch or two of water in the containers I grow them in.  My chestnuts are growing in inexpensive concrete mixing containers I purchased at Home Depot.  I dug the ground out a little so the containers would sit in the ground.  I let duckweed grow around the plants which makes the containers look pretty.  It does splash out of the container when it rains, but then it seems to grow back overnight.  Did you know that duckweed is edible too?  I would have to be really hungry to try it. Maybe that is a culinary experience that should be left to the domestic animals and fish. 

Water Chestnuts at the Start of the Growing Season

The water chestnut plants spread easily.  It is only necessary to start with a small plant in each of these containers.  The one plant will produce many more and give you a large harvest of fresh water chestnuts.  The plants are mature after six weeks of planting them.  The green tops will turn brown and die off.  They are to be left in the water with the brown tops for two to three weeks and then harvested.  To harvest the corms (tubers), you have to dig your hands in the muck and feel around for the round corms (water chestnuts).  We actually had a really fun time doing this.  It’s a good idea to leave one or two of the corms in the muck for the next growing season.  I found my water chestnut starts from a place called TaDeGe in Ft. Lauderdale. We have visited this place several times and ordered stuff from the website.  The guy that runs this business has introduced us to so many cool plants and fish.  We’ve bought monster snails, wakin, gorgeous lotus, tiny shrimp, water lilies, and water chestnuts from him.  His website is educational, full of humor and just plain fun to look at.

In the late 1980’s, Florida researched the possibility of making the water chestnut into a viable Florida industry.  It didn’t work out because the corms are hand-harvested which made the cost of labor too high.  The water chestnut was introduced into the U.S. in the 1930’s.  In 1988, the U.S. imported 25,000,000 of them.

To prepare the fresh water chestnuts, the paper-like brown skin has to be peeled like a potato.  There are many recipes for them, but the most common way to eat them is in stir-fry.  We just peel them and devour.  They haven’t made it to the frying pan in our household yet.  They are sweet, crispy, and fresh with a fruity flavor. I think they taste like a coconut.  My kids love them too.

With all the freezing weather we had in our zone 9b this year, I wasn’t sure what to expect of our water chestnuts.  I never let the containers dry out through the winter and I found lots of sprouts today. I did a little happy dance.  They made it. 

Come grow with us!

Buckets of Love

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2010 by PickMeYard

There’s no doubt that Disney has glorious gardens.  I am so inspired by their containers. I want my containers to look like these.  Buckets of love.

Kumquat Tree

Fig Tree

Edible Nasturtiums

I have collected quite a few plastic nursery pots that I use for my containers.  They are large and the black color keeps them warmer in the winter, but they aren’t very attractive.  I’ve decided to spray paint my pots a natural moss color.  I believe they will blend in nicely with our garden. I’ll let the kids paint some of their designs on them too. I thought about wrapping them in burlap, but it would get soggy outside in the weather.  I love creative containers that are used for planting, but I also love the look of classic pots.

The Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival has breathtaking displays this year.  They have a booth called “Ask the Experts” with Master Gardeners from Orange County that are waiting to answer questions.  Grayson had several questions and Master Gardener Katherine spent lots of time with him.  We wanted to stay and talk to her all day, but a line was forming.  We will definitely look for her next year. 

Succulent Garden in a Hanging File Holder for Office Paper

Sugarcane and Nasturtiums

Mediterranean Container Garden

 Can you almost smell the flowers? 

Flowers are beautiful when planted with a fruit tree, vegetable plant, herbs, legumes… or just about anything.  We used to have our minds set on edibles. If we couldn’t eat it then we didn’t want to waste the fertilizer on it.  Our minds have changed.  We love our edible landscaping, but flowers make us happy.  We’re going to plant more of them.

Come grow with us!

I’m Gonna Go Eat Worms

Posted in Worms with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2010 by PickMeYard

Can-O-Worms

 

This container houses our worms.  Red Wigglers (Eisenia fetida) to be exact.  The worms eat our garbage and turn it into black gold.  I used to buy the worm castings (for compost) in bags and I paid a pretty penny for them.  When I realized I could easily keep my own worms and have my own castings, I ordered a Can-O-Worms.  I couldn’t get it fast enough, even though I had no idea what  to expect from keeping my own worms.  

Red wigglers are kept in a bin because they need soil that is extremely high in organic matter, unlike most gardens and lawns.  It is not likely that the worms would survive unless your garden is very rich in organic matter.  There are hundreds of different species of earthworm, but the Eisenia is an excellent choice for vermicomposting

I’ve had my worm bin filled with worms for two years now.  I haven’t had a single problem and  I’ve found them to be extremely easy to take care of.   I take our kitchen scraps such as  paper,coffee grounds, tea bags, old rice, pasta, melon rinds, pizza crusts, crushed eggshells, old bread and feed it to the worms. I place the scraps under a thin cover of newspaper under the top lid on the bin.  Sometimes I don’t feed them for 2-3 weeks, but they always have something in there to eat.  They take longer to consume some scraps that I put in the bin.  It is recommended that you chop up the scraps.  I admit that I rarely do that.  They have no trouble eating their way through the larger stuff.  They absolutely adore watermelon rind.  I just set the whole rind flesh side down and every worm in the bin will hastily go right to it.  They won’t leave that rind until it is gone. 

Inside the Worm Bin

 

I ordered the Can-O-Worms because it was the easiest for me at the time and I really like the design, especially the spigot at the bottom.  I keep the spigot open and I get worm tea daily.  However, any container can be turned into a worm bin. It must conserve moisture and provide total darkness for the worms.  Some people even keep their worm bins inside their homes.  My husband politely asked me to put ours outside. 

5 Gallon Bucket Worm Bin

 

Plastic Bin Used as a Worm Bin

 

A Concrete Worm Bin with Cover

 

Trash Can Worm Bin (no drainage, is kept outdoors & sealed)

 

Worm castings  are considered “black gold” because it’s superior over ordinary compost.  The nutrients in the castings have a time-release quality that is stable and available to plants for over five years when added to the soil. It will not burn your plants so it can be added to the soil any way you choose.   The castings can act as a hormone to give your plants a boost. 

Our Worm Bin Today

 

If you were to get really hungry, earthworms are nutritious.  I have a book that has quite a few recipes for cooking with earthworms.  This book, called “The Worm Book” by Loren Nancarrow and Janet Hogan Taylor is the best book I have found for all the information needed to set up and keep worms.   The book also goes in-depth about worm biology, the different types of worms, starting and maintaining a bin, troubleshooting problems, cool facts, and of course…the recipes.  Another good book is “Worms Eat My Garbage” by Mary Appelhof.  There is a great blog on worms called “Monster Worms“. 

We enjoy our worms and we’re always proud to show them off.  They have been a very educational experience for my children.  They are safe for the children to handle and have no smell.  We love that the worms recycle our garbage into wonderful, nutrient dense compost.  Recycle…garbage…landfills.  I believe these worms are going to play a huge part in our planet’s future. 

Come grow with us!