Archive for May, 2010

There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills!

Posted in Bees & Hummingbirds with tags , , , , , , , on May 28, 2010 by PickMeYard

Yosemite Sam struck gold in the hills, but we’ve found gold in our own yard!  We finally harvested our first batch of honey today…liquid gold.  It was really exciting for us.  It didn’t come easy which made us appreciate it even more.

Grayson is suited up and ready to rob the bees.

We harvested about 15 gallons of orange blossom honey out of our honey super.  It’s not as much as I had hoped for but it’s enough to make us really happy.  They say that food you grow yourself always tastes better than store-bought. 

Honey Harvesting House.

Grayson and I took the super off the top of our bee hive yesterday.  We gently brushed the bees away and brought the super of honey into our house to store it overnight.  Early this morning we took the super to a friend’s honey house where he keeps his honey extractor.  He is very generous to let us use it because a honey extractor costs more money than I’d like to invest.  Dadant sells a hand powered extractor for over four hundred dollars.  A hand-cranked extractor is a lot of work.  Dadant sells an electronic extractor for over a thousand dollars.  A motor driven extractor is much easier. 

Harvesting Honey.

Each frame of honey has capped honey cells on it before it’s put into the extractor.  We used an electronic knife which gets really hot and cuts off the top of the capped honey with ease.

The electric knife is used to cut the caps off the honey comb so the honey can be extracted.

This is honey comb on the frame after the caps have been cut off.

The frames are put inside the extractor and the extractor spins the honey out of the frames.

The honey comes out of a spigot at the bottom of the extractor.

Our honey.

After we harvested the honey from the frames, we put the frames back into the super and back onto the bee hive.  There is still honey in the frames for the bees to eat and they still have comb on them.  The bees will use them again.  We put the wax from today’s harvest out by the bee hive when we got home.  The bees cleaned the wax up for us.  I’ll use the wax to make stuff like candles, lotions, and lip gloss. 

I filtered the honey again before I bottled it.  We gave our first bottle to my mom.  It was a great feeling to take her fresh honey and eggs from our own yard.  Grayson said we need a couple of goats so we can have fresh milk too.  That would be the icing on the cake for our little backyard.

This small & delicate spider watched us closely in the honey house.

I included this picture of a black widow spider  just in case you’ve never seen one.  They are relatively small spiders but can be deadly.  We had three of them within inches of where we had our hands today in the honey house.  They have a distinctive red hour-glass on the underside of their body.  We had just found a dead black widow at the front door of our house last night and put it in a jar to study it.  Our house is a long way from where we found the other three widows today.  We were talking about the black widow we had found at our home when we discovered the spiders just inches from where we were working.  We thought that was a real coincidence.  There seem to be a lot of them in Southwest Florida lately so I’m just reminding you not to stick your hands into any dark places.

Grayson doesn’t think this post will encourage anyone to keep their own bees because of the cost associated with the honey extracting equipment.  This is why we believe it is good to have friends that enjoy the same hobbies.  Our local beekeeping association (BASF) has a great group of people.  They’re all so much fun and so helpful.  We were warned that keeping bees isn’t a cheap hobby.   It hasn’t deterred us so far.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Come grow with us!

Lotus…An Exotic Treasure: Part II

Posted in Edible Rhizomes, Seeds with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2010 by PickMeYard

We’ve decided that it isn’t such a big deal that our three ducks are eating our lotus.  I have extra lotus growing in pots, so we’re not going to worry about it.   The lotus spreads fast and easily… and we kinda like our little Indian Runner ducks.  They are playful, amusing and ooooh so entertaining.

Our three ducks feasting on our lotus.

They dive down to get to the roots. Duck butts in the air is a frequent sight around here.

The lotus flower blooms for several days after which the petals fall off  leaving a seed pod for new growth.  The seed pod is frequently dried and used in dried or fresh flower arrangements. 

Our lotus flower in bloom.This is the lotus flower after the petals have fallen off. The lotus seeds are inside.

The round, raised areas have seeds inside.

These are green, unripe lotus seeds that have a rubbery texture.

The seeds can easily be dug out with your fingers when they are ripe.  They are tough to dig out when they are still green. My Vietnamese friend said that in Vietnam they eat them fresh as a snack when they are ripe. She dug the seeds out of one of the pods in my pond to show me.  It wasn’t a green pod like in the picture above, but it wasn’t a completely dried pod either.  It was “in-between”. She was able to easily pull the seeds out.  She didn’t chew up the seeds, she just sucked on the jelly that surrounded the seed. 
We tossed the seeds back in the pond to see if they’ll germinate.  The lotus seeds are a common food in Asian cuisine.  There are a lot more uses than what I’ve described.  Grayson and I plan to learn more about the uses of this ooooh so cool seed.

Pickled Indian lotus root.

Grayson and I couldn’t wait to try some lotus root (it’s actually a rhizome).  We just had to know what it tasted like.  We bought a  jar of pickled lotus root at a nearby Indian market.  When we took a bite, we both noticed that it had long “hairs”  in it.  At first I thought somebody’s stray hair got into the jar, but Grayson quickly realized that is what the lotus root is made of… hair-like strings.  It didn’t have any flavor.  I think it’s one of those foods that has to be cooked with insider knowledge to taste good, like tofu. 
I would love to try it again sometime, but next time I want to try it fresh, not pickled.  Fresh lotus root would be much larger than the pickled root that we bought.  I found a great website called Just Hungry that has  more information and a good recipe.  I also found a blog called Albany Eats that has some great pictures of fresh lotus root.

Pickled lotus root.

 The leaves of the lotus are edible as well.  In Asia, the leaves are picked when young.  They are boiled and eaten as a vegetable.

Lotus leaf with a water droplet. I took this picture at dusk. It really moved me.

Lotus turns brown and dies back in the cooler months.  It goes dormant and then pops up in the spring and summer when it’s warm.  It doesn’t require any removal when it turns brown unless you want to remove it completely. If you want to keep your lotus, I find that it’s best just to let it be when it starts to turn brown. 
 
American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) is  native to Florida  and grows wild in many places.  The rhizomes were a source of food for the American Indians.  It is another species of lotus and is different from the Asian lotus (Nelumbo nucifera).  However, the whole plant of both species is edible.
Pickers used to harvest and sell the American lotus from Lake Okeechobee. An article from The Palm Beach Post in July, 1987 said that pickers would get $35 for a bin full of pods.  A pod that was dried as an ornament in a flower arrangement would get 50 cents each.  In Lake Okeechobee, the lotus shades out and kills the noxious hydrilla weed and it doesn’t jam boat propellers.  It also provides a ton of fish habitat. The plant that gives and… gives.
 
We love our beautiful lotus in our backyard water garden. 
 
Come grow with us!
 
 

Lotus…An Exotic Treasure: Part I

Posted in Edible Flowers, Edible Roots with tags , , , , , on May 24, 2010 by PickMeYard

We purchased a small cutting of a beautiful lotus for our water garden last year.  I hadn’t even thought of growing them until I visited Tadege in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  He has the most gorgeous lotus plants growing all over his backyard oasis.  I assumed they would be too tropical for Southwest Florida and I assumed I needed a huge pond to grow them in.  I was soooo wrong.  

A lotus flower growing in our small pond.

 

I now have several pots of lotus growing in our small, backyard pond.  Since we had such a cold winter last year, I took them out of the pond over the winter and put them in a few pots of water to keep them wet.  The lotus were dormant and the pots looked like there was nothing in them but soil and  rocks. (I cover the tops of the pots with rocks to keep the soil from floating  to the surface of the pond).  I didn’t pay them much attention to them over the winter.  They even dried out a couple of times.   

When the weather warmed up this year, the lotus came back to life. I was so happy to see them as I absolutely adore these plants!  I found a great website called Winter Care Lotus with lots of  information about how to over-winter lotus.  

This is about three weeks of growth of the lotus in our pond.

 

 I put the pots with the emerging lotus back into our pond. They are surprising us with flower after flower.  

A lotus bloom.

 

A lotus bud that is just about to open.

 

The flower is opening...

 

It's open!

 

This flower is several days old. The leaves will soon fall off and a seed pod will remain on the stem.

 

 The lotus grows well in pots used for water gardens.  It stands to reason that the bigger, the better for the pot size that is used.  I think that a 3o gallon pot is sufficient.   TaDeGe says a 15 gallon pot is sufficient.  I have  lotus growing in several of my pots that I use as water gardens.  The lotus that is growing in our small pond is being decimated by our three ducks.  I have to come up with a solution to this problem.   

A lotus leaf.

 

One of our water gardens. This one has lotus and several varieties of lilies growing in it.

 

The tall bud sticking out is a lotus bud that will flower soon. The lotus bud starts out small and gets bigger and bigger until it pops open.

 

I bought my original lotus from TaDeGe in Ft. Lauderdale, but he sells it as a “pick up only”.  I found a website, aboutthelotus.com, that has a list of places all over the U.S. to buy lotus.  You can grow lotus from seed but it is better to start it from a cutting.   

Did you know that lotus is edible?  It’s a staple of the Asian diet.  Grayson and I couldn’t wait to try some lotus root.  My next post is going to tell you all about our experience eating lotus.  

Come grow with us!

A Storybook Garden: Part II

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , on May 21, 2010 by PickMeYard

GiGi’s yard has such a classic storybook feel to it.  Visiting her yard is like taking a step back in time.

"Chateau GiGi" as the sun sets

GiGi's surinam cherry tree produces more cherries than humanly possible to consume. The wildlife can barely put a dent in the amount the trees produce.

Grayson picking cherries.

A momma and baby owl looking down at us from GiGi's tree.

Inside the kid's playhouse.

Entrance to the playhouse.

Tea time in the playhouse.

The fairy princess cleaning up after her "tea party".

Climbing playground made from... yes, the Banyan tree. She is having a commemorative plaque made to place here to honor the tree. Do you see the footprint slices?

Wooden footprints.

Standing on wooden footprints.

A picnic area. Doesn't this beat the usual plastic white chairs?

Servants quarters (the birds & bees house). This is the trunk of a Royal Palm tree from which Hurricane Wilma blew off the heart of the tree. It is now hose clamped together and provides many homes for wildlife... thanks to the condo city that the woodpeckers developed.

Guardians of the Castle.

GiGi isn't the only noctural creature in this yard. Do you see the owl in the middle?

There is so much wildlife in her yard…we are never alone.  The Great Horned Owls always watch us from the trees and the bees buzz over our heads as they fly to their house. The list of critters I could name would be practically endless.  I kick myself  whenever I forget to bring my camera.  The backyard was just a lawn with some beautiful trees when she bought the house.   She’s put her heart and soul into her yard and now it is her own personal paradise (not to mention a grandchild’s dreamland) and private retreat.  Her gardens inspire me to create more outdoor spaces, plant more and use more garden art in our own yard.

Come grow with us!

A Storybook Garden: Part I

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , on May 19, 2010 by PickMeYard

Chateau GiGi

Gigi’s house is in the middle of Florida, but looks like it’s in the middle of Europe.  The house is French Normandy architecture and was built in 1928. (Her small city was incorporated in 1925).   The house is registered with the National Register of Historic Places .  The National Preservation Act of 1966 is a national program to identify, preserve and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.

Guest house with 150' Kapok tree behind. Photo captured a magic moment of light.

GiGi's Kapok Tree. Can you see her at the base?

Patio at the base of the Kapok tree

The Kapok tree has secret "rooms" created by the root growth.

The children's playground "before" picture.

The children's playground now. It's not an "after" picture because it isn't finished.

Stairs to playground made out of a cut-up trunk from an invasive Banyan/Strangler Fig tree that was removed from the yard.

A Side View

 She has a fence to provide privacy and keep out the alligators (dinosaurs). The fence is not quite finished in these photos.

A horse swing made from a tire. GiGi uses a scarf as a seat belt.

Footprints in the concrete made using a slice of a trunk from the Banyan tree to make the impressions in the concrete.

Jewels in the footprints

Over the bridge, through the ferns to the pineapple patch.

A side table in one of her outdoor living rooms. You guessed it, more of the Banyan tree.

GiGi’s yard has something new every time we visit.  She has so many clever and unique ideas everywhere.  Both of my kids cry every time we leave.  Her gardens make us feel so close to nature and provide a constant reminder of how important it is to stay connected with the outdoors.  We especially love the Great Horned Owls that call her yard home and watch every move we make.  I think they might like us too.

Come grow with us!

A Tropical Apple

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , , on May 17, 2010 by PickMeYard

A Florida Pineapple

It’s not really an apple. It’s a bromeliad with a fruit…a pineapple.  Explorers gave the pineapple its name in 1664 because they thought it looked like a pine cone.  The pineapple (Ananas comosus) grows on a thick stem and has really sharp edges on its leaves.  I find weeding around them to be perilous and I dread doing it.  I feel like I’ve been bitten when a spiky edge gets me. The pain is worth it though because there is nothing better than a fresh, homegrown pineapple. To me, it has a pina colada flavor.   I have seen the plants with their leaves cut off to prevent them from biting.  I think it looks a little weird but I’m sure it’s practical when growing thousands of them for the market. 

 

The pineapple is easy to grow in warm, sunny areas.  It can easily grow in a pot too.  The next time you buy a pineapple at the grocery store and cut it up to eat, make sure you save the top.  Just trim the meat off the top (under the leaves) and stick it into the soil where you decide you want your plant to grow.  It really is that easy.  My grandmother told me that I have to cut the meat off the top and root it in water before I plant it in the soil.  To be honest, I just slice off the top and stick it into the ground…meat and all.  I’ve never lost a single plant.  We’ve devoured about fifty of our own homegrown pineapples.    

Pineapple in a pot on a patio.

To grow a pineapple at home takes patience.  The plant can take up to 3 years to produce a fruit that is ready to harvest.  I have read that it will fruit in two years but it takes three  in my yard (in Southwest Florida).  If patience isn’t one of your virtues, the fruiting process can be induced artificially.  You Grow Girl  gives a good suggestion for inducing the fruit at home. 

One of my young pineapples.

Pineapple is high in vitamin C and contains an enzyme called bromelain which is known to break down protein.  Raw pineapple should not be eaten by people with liver or kidney problems, nor should it be eaten by hemophiliacs because it can interfere with platelet function. 

A pineapple garden in front of Morocco at Epcot, Disney World.

A young "dwarf pineapple" in a pot. The fruit is just as yummy, but less of it.

This path leads to my mom's pineapple patch on the left.

If you cut the top off the fruit and plant it each time you buy a pineapple at the supermarket, you will have plants that will give you fruit at different times.  Wouldn’t that be a wonderful surprise from your landscaping?  We love edible landscaping in our yard.  Another plus… your dog will probably stay out of this landscaping. 

Come grow with us! 

A Garden Flower Shower

Posted in Solutions with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2010 by PickMeYard

Our garden changes every week and sometimes every day.  We pulled out the collards that had gotten big and yucky and pulled out all the cilantro.  A bunch of tomato plants grew up in the flower bed from the compost we had put in.  The heat in Southwest Florida is starting to take its toll on our garden.  We’re now planting crops that like extreme heat for the summer time.  The black-eyed pea plants are loving the 95 degree temperatures and so is the okra and callaloo.  We’ve trying to grow several unique varieties of watermelon this year and many, many unusual passionfruits.  The sunflowers love the heat too and a few of them are well over 6 feet tall right now.  

A surprise harvest of tomatoes.

This tomato has so much personality that we gave her a name. We haven't eaten her yet.

My favorite addition to the garden this year is our garden flower shower.  It’s handmade from copper and has a valve to turn it on and off.  It also has a spigot that provides a wonderful footwash. I’ve got it set up right next to our back door where we come in from the garden. It’s nice  to have a quick footwash before we go into the house.  My daughter loves to play in the shower and the ducks watch with envy in their eyes. 

Flower shower head.

The copper flower shower is 7 feet tall.

This is the spigot at the bottom of the shower. It makes the perfect footwash.

Foot wash.

The valve to turn the shower on and off.

The shower is used as a fountain in this picture. The base of the shower is in concrete and it is plumbed into a small pump and the pump is placed into the galvanized bucket.

A flower shower fountain.

I gave one of these to my mom for mother’s day.  The company has lots of flower colors to choose from…it’s tough to make a choice.  The footwash is an addition to the shower and costs a little extra, but it’s worth it.  The shower can be ordered from Crafty and Copper Creations.  It was a bit of a splurge for us but it is handmade from copper and we use it every day.  It has been a great solution to stop the huge amount of dirt that was traveling into the house from outside.  We love it. 

Come grow with us!