Archive for March, 2010

Mariposa, The Flying Flower

Posted in Butterflies with tags , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2010 by PickMeYard

We have lots of beautiful flowers blooming in our garden and plenty of veggies to harvest, but we have butterflies on our minds.  We’ve been collecting butterfly host and nectar plants to put into our newly designed garden. 

We’ve been to the library, book stores, and searched online for ideas on how other people have designed their gardens.  We went to the local University of Florida agricultural extension office to check out their bird and butterfly garden.  We wanted to see what it will look like when the plants have matured and been through many nights of freezing temperatures.  We visited the Butterfly Estates in downtown Ft. Myers to explore their atrium. It was beautiful and the staff spent an hour with my son explaining all the different plants and butterflies.  We wanted more. 

In our quest for more information we drove to Butterfly World  in Coconut Creek (Pompano, Florida).  The picture above shows what you could expect immediately upon entering their atrium.  You’re not supposed to touch the butterflies, but what if they touch you?  This one landed on my daughter’s finger and then on her head.

Butterfly World was worth the trip.  We  enjoyed flirting with butterflies from all over the world in the beautiful and huge atrium.  It was full of rainforest fauna, water features and of course…exquisite butterflies.  The hummingbirds whiz by your head.  You can get close enough to the hummingbirds to almost touch them.  The gardens are lovely too.  There are so many different types of  passion fruit vine growing that it is difficult to keep track of them all.  They are all marked so that you know what you’re looking at and you learn a bit about them.

They have quite a few other things to do while you’re there as well, and their gift shop is huge.  You can buy seeds from them that cannot be obtained anywhere else.  They also have a small potted plant selection of some very unique butterfly and hummingbird plants.  We left there with lots of seed packets, a sky vine plant (thunbergia grandiflora), and some adorable garden sculptures to add to our garden. 

We also bought a luna moth cocoon.  They told us to pin it somewhere that we can keep a constant eye on it so we don’t miss it coming out.  We have it pinned to a curtain with a piece of paper towel behind it.  

My kids have learned so much about butterflies and their life cycles with this latest gardening adventure.  We can’t wait to see what kinds of little critters our garden will attract.  We’ll be out there soon with our magnifying glasses and notebooks. 

 Come grow with us!

 

ECHO…fighting world hunger

Posted in Solutions with tags , , , , , on March 6, 2010 by PickMeYard

This is a picture of callaloo growing in our garden.  I will do a future post on callaloo because it requires special attention. It is such an awesome food source.  I obtained these callaloo seeds from a place named ECHO.  I was elated to find them.

ECHO is a non-profit, Christian organization that is dedicated to fighting world hunger.  They help families in developing countries to grow food under difficult conditions.  They tell them what  food will grow where they live and they teach them how to grow it.  Not only do they teach them about agricultural techniques, but about animals as well.  They teach the poor farmer to use their rooftops, concrete surfaces and how to use clever containers to grow their food.

ECHO trains interns and missionaries  in tropical agriculture and animal husbandry and they grow seeds for their seed bank.  We are lucky enough here in Southwest Florida to have public access to their global village where they do all this training and provide tours.  They have a wonderful book store that sells a wide array of books, cards, neem products and of course…seeds.  The best part is the nursery that is located across the street from the book store.  They have a wealth of rare and unusual fruit trees, herbs, and vegetables (sales tax-free too).  I have bought so many splendid edibles from them over the years.  I don’t think I have ever left the nursery empty-handed. 

One of my favorite purchases from them was an Indian pepper bush that produced hundreds of peppers non-stop for two years… until a hard freeze finally got it this year.  They don’t always keep a certain plant in stock.  If you  see something you want, I would recommend buying it then.  They might not ever get it again.  I haven’t seen my Indian pepper for sale there since I bought it two years ago.  I did save my seeds though and I hope to germinate them when it warms up this year. 

The staff that work in the nursery are interns who are always full of information and very helpful.  If they can’t answer your question they will radio someone who can. 

They are having their 19th Annual Farm Day on March 13, 2010 from 9 a.m to 3 p.m.  I have missed it every year but will definitely be attending this year.  They have more information about this event on their website.

The ECHO website is worth a visit.  Click on the agriculture tab at the top of their home page. Click  on agricultural information and then click on ‘book, amaranth to zai holes’.  You’ll find an enormous amount of information.  Their blog is great too.  My kids love to visit ECHO. They are always excited about what treasure we will find to take home to add to our garden.

Come grow with us!

Jasminum Sambac…The “King of Flowers”

Posted in Edible Flowers with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2010 by PickMeYard

 

The fragrance from this flower makes me swoon from intoxication.  It smells so wonderful you might wish you could eat it…and you can.  This flower is the glorious jasmine.  It has been highly sought after and prized for many centuries.  Once you’ve held it in your hand, you will want it in your garden as well.  It blooms profusely and will even do so in filtered light.  It doesn’t mind short periods of drought and is easy to care for.  Since it is a tropical, it grows in zones 9-10.  But, if you don’t live in the tropics, don’t give up on it.  It can be grown indoors!  It would need to be kept in an area that has quite a lot of  sunlight, but not so much that it burns the plant leaves.  When the weather warms up over 50 degrees  it can be taken outside.  We had many nights here in zone 9b that were in the low 20’s this year and my jasmines are fine.  I keep some in pots and some in the ground.  They do grow great in pots.

The ‘Grand Duke of Tuscany’ jasmine is my favorite.  That’s a flower in the picture above.  It is very slow-growing.  I am also growing ‘Maid of Orleans’, which grows quickly and vines.  This is the variety that is used to make jasmine tea.  There are several other varieties that I have been looking for.  I know I’ll find them eventually…’Arabian Nights’, ‘Mysore Mulli’, ‘Belle of India’ and the elusive ‘Mali Chat’.

My favorite way to enjoy these beauties is to pick a few flowers and add them to a pitcher of ice water.  That’s it. Voila! Jasmine Water.  You could let it sit for 24 hours or just enjoy it immediately.  I find that these flowers don’t need to sit for long to flavor your entire pitcher with a light floral flavor.  Refreshing and yummy.  I add sugar for the kids, but I prefer mine without.  My kids ask for this everyday when it’s blooming.  Since I usually have more flowers than I know what to do with, I usually just let some float in a pretty bowl on the counter to fill the air with the scent of jasmine. 

I think we are all a little happier when the house smells like jasmine. There are endless possibilities to the culinary delights that could be created with these flowers.  A sugary syrup would be exotic and irresistable.  It can be  poured over fruits, ice cream, iced teas , rice, etc.  However, I want to add a warning here:  the jasmine that you are likely to encounter growing in parking lots and in most people’s yards is highly poisonous!  It is not Jasminum sambac, it just smells similar.

If you’re hooked now and want one too, they can be purchased through Top Tropicals plant nursery.  They have a great website that is full of information on many kinds of plants.  I’ve always had good luck with them.  Actually, now I’m going to see if that ‘Mali Chat’ is available through them.  

 Come grow with us!

If you plant it…they will come, Part II

Posted in Bees & Hummingbirds with tags , , , , , on March 3, 2010 by PickMeYard

This is Florida’s beloved firespike plant (odontonema strictum).  It is one of my favorite plants. It isn’t edible for people, but it sure feeds the hummingbirds.  They really, really love it.  We  had a hummingbird hanging out at this plant all day, every day,  for many months.  I have this planted in front of all our windows.  My son does his homeschooling at a table in front of a huge window with this plant as his view.  He watches the hummingbird while he works.  My son said a new hummingbird appeared yesterday while he was working. 

I  tell everyone I know to plant this if they want hummingbirds in their yard.  I  planted this at a house we used to live in that was completely covered under an oak hammock.  The entire yard was in dense shade.  This firespike plant still bloomed profusely most of the year and the hummingbirds were all over it all the time.  When we moved from that house I dug up some small seedlings and carried them with me to the new house.  When the firespike bloomed, the hummingbirds arrived. 

We’ve had many nights of freezing temperatures in zone 9b this year.  My firespike isn’t as green as it usually is, but it hardly looks damaged.  I believe the overhang on the side of the house protected it.  If it does freeze back to the ground, it will usually grow back.  In the ten years I’ve  grown this plant in my yard I have never seen it harbor any pests.  Firespike grows to a height of about six feet.  There are many other plants that attract hummingbirds, but this one is a must have for a Florida yard.

Come grow with us!

Behold the Beauty of Nature…

Posted in Butterflies with tags , , , , , on March 2, 2010 by PickMeYard

The Great Southern White butterflies emerged from their chrysalides this morning.  After they emerge they just hang around and dry their wings for a while.  When they start getting restless and flapping their wings it’s time to take them outside and let them go.  My daughter has been carrying them around the house in the container and studying them. 

The Great Southern White butterfly has  blue-tipped antennae.  It looks really cool and a little alien.  This butterfly is common across southern Florida.  They lay their eggs on saltwort leaves.  The pupa of this butterfly is camoflauged…it looks like a bird dropping.  In the caterpillar stage they eat pepper-grass and saltwort.

We bought the container in the above picture from a vendor at a lovely farmer’s market in Winter Park, just outside of Orlando.  This was a beautiful market that we will go out of our way to visit again.  I paid $24 for this butterfly container because it came fully furnished with everything, including caterpillars.  We had to have it.  We will reuse it again and again.   You can’t see it in my picture, but the top is a screw top with a wire mesh screen built into it for ventilation.  We did build our own butterfly habitat with a soda bottle and an empty butter container in about five minutes (see yesterday’s post).  However, we can never have too many.  The kids are able to study the butterflies and their cycles by using these containers.

Come grow with us!

If you plant it…they will come.

Posted in Butterflies with tags , , , , , on March 1, 2010 by PickMeYard

Both areas of dirt is where the butterfly garden will be planted!

This is a project that got out of control…quickly.  Grayson and I planned for a butterfly garden around our bee boxes.  It started as a small garden to attract the flying critters we love and turned into a monster project. We have been collecting lots of butterfly, bee and hummingbird plants and decided we need a lot more space.  

A local nursery named Gulf Coast Palm & Tree came in and helped us big time.  They are truly the nicest people in the world. They took up all the sod and they’re coming back to put down the weed mat and  plant 450 feet of gulf muhly grass, sandcord grass and simpson stopper trees along our fence line. While they’re working on that, Grayson and I will put the butterfly plants into the ground.  I’ll post a picture of the transformation.  (We’re in zone 9b.) 

We picked up some monarch caterpillars over the weekend at a burrowing owl festival.  We made a habitat for them out of a plastic soda bottle and an empty butter container. We filled the butter container with water and poked a hole in the middle of the cap to insert a scarlet milkweed cutting.  We cut the plastic bottle along the bottom edge and used some tape to attach the two containers together. I covered the top with some cheesecloth and a rubber band. 

One of the caterpillars turned into a chrysalis almost immediately after moving into his new home.  We watched in amazement…caterpillar t.v.

 Come grow with us!