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,, 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!

Queen of the World: Part II

Posted in Bees & Hummingbirds with tags , , , , , , on May 11, 2010 by PickMeYard

Will mankind really perish if the honeybee perishes?  I’ve done some research to try to get to the bottom of this.  


The honeybee populations have declined 80% in some areas of the United States and Europe.  One of the main causes of this is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  However, the bees don’t usually die in the hive from colony collapse disorder.  Studies show that they lose their orientation and cannot return home.  The bees that remain in the hive show signs that their immune systems have collapsed.  Environmental organizations believe that stress is a factor, but they really don’t know.  They have focused their studies on environmental stress, bee management stress, parasites, pathogens  and fungus as possible reasons for CCD.  I believe they need to take a much closer look at the genetically modified crops. 

Professor Hans-Heinrich Kaatz, at the University of Halle in East Germany, found that a certain genetically modified corn has a bacterial toxin that alters the surface of the honeybees intestines.  Apparently his funding was taken away before he could investigate it any further. 

The best thing we can do for the bees in our yards is avoid pesticides.  My bees in the above picture are dead and I think it was because they got into poison somewhere in my neighborhood.   

Bee Boxes on a Table.


There is a quote floating around from Albert Einstein that states, “if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe man would only have four years of life left.  No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man”.  I am unable to find proof that Einstein actually said this.  

I don’t know if humans would cease to exist without honeybees because I can’t wrap my mind around that concept.  I’m not very good at writing science fiction.  However, I do believe it would be an epic ecological disaster and would probably have a negative impact on the human population.  I can’t help but play out a Mad Max scene in my head.  


Bees do play a vital role in keeping our ecosystem in balance and are absolutely necessary for our food supply. Would humans be able to find food without them? 

There are many risks to humans and planet earth. Check out Wikipedia’s Risks to Civilization  website for all the ways civilization could meet its demise.  For now, I just hope that we can raise our youth with the tools they will need to find the solutions to the challenges that are ahead. 

Come grow with us!

To Eat or Not to Eat, That is the Question

Posted in Edible Flowers with tags , , , , , on May 10, 2010 by PickMeYard

Our morning harvest of fresh picked jasmine flowers.

Whenever we talk about Jasmine in our yard, we are referring to Jasminum sambac…the edible jasmines.  There are many gorgeous varieties.  We have two of them in our garden and they are blooming profusely right now.  The more flowers we pick off them, the more the plant gives us.  So every day we pick all the flowers and bring them in the house.  The smell of jasmine floats through our house daily like a summer dream.

That's a 'Grand Duke of Tuscany' flower on the top left and two 'Maid of Orleans' flowers on the bottom.

The ‘Maid of Orleans’ variety is used to make jasmine tea.  The blooms are added to the tea to give it a light scent.  I’m thinking that a jasmine creme brulee would be the cat’s meow.

Grand Duke of Tuscany variety of jasmine

The  ‘Grand Duke of Tuscany’ looks like a small rose.  The petals don’t fall off this flower when it ages, they just turn brown.

'Grand Duke of Tuscany' about to bloom.

The obviously intoxicating aroma of jasmine.

Smells so good you'll want to eat it...and you can!

The edible jasmines are a lovely addition to our garden.  I’m still hunting for the ‘Mali Chat’ and ‘Mysore Mulli’ varieties.  The hunt will continue until I find them.  Isn’t the hunt part of the fun? I regularly check  TopTropicals to see what they have in stock. 

Remember that there are many varieties of jasmine that are highly poisonous.

Come grow with us!

Queen of the World: Part I

Posted in Bees & Hummingbirds with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2010 by PickMeYard

The honey bee (Apis mellifera) is not native to the Western hemisphere.  Stingless bees are native and do produce small amounts of honey.  They also pollinate,  however are not prolific pollinators like the honeybee. In 1622, the Apis mellifera were shipped into Virginia from England.  From that point on they were distributed to many other states. 

A honey bee on a hibiscus flower.

Early beekeepers used to kill their bees when they harvested their honey.  In 1852, a man named L.L. Langstroth designed the bee hive that we still use today.  He is considered the “father of modern beekeeping”.  There doesn’t seem to be a reason to change the standard bee box that all serious beekeepers use…it works. 

Wood that is cut and being used to build bee hives.

In the mid 1800’s a market developed for purchasing queen bees.  After all, it is the queen bee of the colony that determines what type of genetics your bees will have.  She can be a productive mating machine or… not so productive.  It is a learning curve for the new beekeeper to determine when to re-queen a bee hive.  Queen bees can be bought from various companies and are sent through the mail. 

They’ve been sending queen bees through the mail since 1886. You can order a gentle  blond (Cordovan) queen, a Hawaiian queen, a Georgia Purvis brothers queenRussian queens bred to Carniolan “yugo” drones  in California and many, many more.  I always find out where my local beekeeping association  are getting their queens. I’ve got a Purvis queen, two Hawaiian queens, and a wild queen in my boxes right now.  The breeding of bees is a broad topic, but there is no question that a quality-bred queen is the most desirable. 

A box of bees sent through the mail.

A box of queen bees ordered through the mail. Each queen comes in a little plastic container with several attendant bees and some peppermint candy for her to eat.

Keith Councell is clipping this queen's wings so she won't fly away. This does not hurt her in any way.

The dimensions of bee hives and frames are the same throughout the world.  The standard 10-frame box is used for brood (the bottom box where they keep their babies and food).  The box that is stacked on top of the main brood chamber is called a “super”.  The super holds the honey that we harvest from the bees. There is a wire mesh piece that goes between the bottom brood box and the super to keep the queen from laying eggs in the super.  It is appropriately named a “queen excluder”.   

It’s important to always leave the bees enough honey for them to sustain themselves and not take it all from them.  I’ve seen brood boxes with eight supers stacked on top of them.  That ‘s a lot of honey.  

A swarm of bees will move themselves into any container they find suitable as a home.  Bird houses are their favorite.  A beekeeper can’t tend the bees when they’re in a bird house though (such as re-queening the colony).  When bees become wild (feral), they eventually become Africanized in Florida.  When a beekeeper re-queens a colony, it prevents the Africanization of the colony and keeps them gentle.  Africanized bees are spreading through several states.  

Keith Councell (president of our local bee association) did a radio broadcast this week that is worth a listen.  It’s very interesting and the discussion is easy to follow.  He discusses what you need to do to set up and maintain your own beehive in your own backyard in Southwest Florida.  Keith said the bees will not bother your neighbors.  To listen to his broadcast on WGCU National Public Radio, click here.

A colony of bees living on and in the exterior wall of my mom's house. Watching them through the window was fascinating and very addictive.

These bees were relatively gentle bees. An Africanized bee has a "hot" sting and tends to bump against you and hit you. When Africanized bees get angry, they stay angry for days.

Come grow with us!

The Land of Milk and Honey: Part III

Posted in Bees & Hummingbirds with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2010 by PickMeYard

Bees have been producing honey for 150 million years.  They have found cave drawings in the Cave of the Spider in Spain that depict a figure taking honey from a hive.  The drawing is estimated to be 15,000 years old.  The Romans accepted honey as payment for taxes.  The Mayans held honey sacred.  The Egyptians used honey as a wound treatment and it was discovered in the tomb of King Tut. It was still edible because honey doesn’t spoil.   The Land of Milk and Honey (Northern Israel) has recently found bee hives kept by a beekeeper that are three thousand years old.   It is clear that  Honey  has been used for a very long time.

Yes, honey is sugar.  It is also a medicine. The medical profession is now taking a closer look at honey because of all the problems we are having with antibiotic resistance.  

Studies show that honey quickly sterilizes Staphylococcus aureus on wounds.  Honey actually cleans the wound and “activates the immune system response to the infection”… Tropical Doctor 1980; 10(2):91.   A biochemist named Peter Molan found that Manuka honey (Leptospermum scoparium) is effective in killing staphylococcus aureus.  Apparently, the honey has a phytochemical compound in it.

Manuka honey from New Zealand.

The Australian Therapeutic Goods Admininstration approved honey as a medicine in Australia in 1999. 

There is a company called Medihoney that sells medical honey specifically for wounds.  They say that it provides a protective barrier, releases hydrogen peroxide while killing germs,  reduces inflammation and speeds healing.  Medihoney is standardized for medical use. 

Children under the age of one should never be given honey orally because there is a risk of botulism.  However, it is still safe to use it externally on their scrapes and scratches.

Medical treatment with honey , bee venom and other honeybee products is called apitherapy.    Some of the afflictions that are treated with apitherapy are multiple sclerosis, arthritis, pain, gout, shingles, burns, tendonitis and infections.

There are more than 300 honeys available in the United States. (Did you know there is a poison ivy honey?)  There are 10 top producing states that produce 75% of the honey each year in the U.S.  2009 was the worst year for honey production in history.  Let’s hope that 2010 is a better year.

It is believed that honey has a calming effect on the body, promotes sleep and aids digestion. 

My favorite local honey supplier. There's a slot to put your money into when you pick your honey. Gee, we don't see this system much anymore.

Come grow with us!

The Land of Milk and Honey: Part II

Posted in Bees & Hummingbirds with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2010 by PickMeYard

I’ve noticed a lot of talk about honey lately… it worries me.  If everybody finds out how good it is, there won’t be enough to go around.  Then again, that might convince more people to keep their own bees and that would be a great thing.  I just can’t fathom the thought of a world without honey…or bees.

Grayson and I love honey.  We know that it never spoils, so we continue to collect different kinds.  Our honey collection makes us proud.  We love to try honey from different places.  We usually reserve our local honey for everyday use and keep the “foreign” honey for tasting.  Honey does not need to be stored in the refrigerator.

Local Honey

One of our local BASF  members, Tom Allen, is an entymologist that has dedicated his life to preserving wildlife.  Not only is his honey delicious (honey on the left in the above picture),  but his wildlife artwork makes my jaw hit the ground.  Check out his website to see for yourself.

Honey from bees that were removed from our neighbors house...10 years ago.

Manuka honey from New Zealand. It has antibacterial properties. It has an acquired taste.

Creamed German mountain flower honey, organic creamed honey, and royal jelly.

Honey with added lime flavor made by Tortuga Rum Company in the Cayman Islands.

Local mangrove honey from Sanibel Island in Southwest Florida.

My mom's honey from the bees that took up residence in an exterior wall of her house, "Chateau GiGi".

Creamed Hawaiian Honey...OMG it's good!

This organic Hawaiian honey comes from a company called The Volcano Island Honey Company.  I’ve ordered all their honey products. I used a miniature spatula to get every bit out of the jar.  The organic white honey with Hawaiian lilikoi is my favorite.

The label says it's homemade Italian honey.

This one won't be in the collection long... it's almost gone.

Organic honey from the Zambezi River in Zambia, Africa. The honey on the top is a "raw" honey with a piece of the comb inside (it tastes like creamed honey).

Local honey comb . Grayson and I try to hide this from each other.

Seagrape honey from Sanibel Island.

The honey in the above picture is in a bowl with water.  It creates a moat to keep the ants out of the honey.  It doesn’t bother me too much that the ants want it.  I’ve decided to use the ants as a gauge to decide if a sweetener is good for us.  My experience is that the ants will not go near apartame, saccharin, xylitol, sucralose, or stevia.  The ants go to great lengths to get to the honey though.  I’m sticking with them.  Maybe they know something we don’t. 

The honey that is clearly missing from the pictures is tupelo honey.  It is the best tasting honey on the planet.  I have ordered it from L.L. Lanier & Sons  for the past 10 years.  It doesn’t stay in the house long… it’s that good.  Tupelo honey  is a very unique honey from the tupelo gum tree.  It has a low sucrose percentage which has allowed some diabetics to have it.

Chinese honey is probably the only honey we won’t knowingly buy or eat.  China is the world’s top honey producer. They use sneaky ways to undercut the U.S. honey market.  They use chemicals that keep their bees healthy , but those chemicals end up in the honey.  These chemicals have been banned for use with bees in the U.S. and Europe.

A great book for learning more about bees and honey (and a great read) is Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey–The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World, by Holley Bishop.  Some  bee books for kids  are The Life and Times of the Honey Bee by Charles Micucci, The Lifecycle of the Honeybee and Hooray for Beekeeping by Bobbie Kalman.

NOVA has a great website about bees with some incredibly interesting and fun facts.

Many commercial beekeepers don’t keep bees for honey these days.  They would never be able to make ends meet in the honey business.  Most commercial beekeepers keep their bees to pollinate crops.  We have a local beekeeper with over 10,000 hives. He trucks thousands of his hives from Florida to California each year to pollinate almond trees. 

Come grow with us!

The Land of Milk and Honey: Part I

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

I became a backyard beekeeper because of my love for honey.  I remained a backyard beekeeper because of my love for the bees.  If you told me a year ago that beekeeping was in my future, I would have answered that you were crazy.  Look at us now.  There is something incredibly wonderful and addictive with these honeybees.  They have a magnetism that can’t be explained. 

We only had 2 bee boxes a couple of months ago and one of them died.

A swarm of bees moved into our empty bee box. We bought 2 boxes of bees from a fellow beekeeper. Now we have 4 hives.

Grayson and I added a "super" on top of 2 of the hives. This is a good thing and means our bees are making lots of honey.

Grayson and I are beginners in the world of honeybees.  We got into beekeeping from an advertisement in our local paper.  Our local beekeeping association offered a beginning class for beekeeping at our agricultural extension agency.  They close  the registration at thirty people.  Grayson and I were the last ones to get in, we felt very lucky.  We took the class… we LOVED  it.  They will be offering another class in the summer of  2010.  Check their website at for their announcement. 

Grayson with a box of bees at the "field day" for the beginning beekeeping class. No fear.

The class gave us tons of information about bees. The first three weeks were mostly in a classroom.  By the fourth week, we had learned enough in our classroom setting to go into the field with live bees.  However, I think most of the class was apprehensive about actually going into a real hive.  I was nervous.  Grayson says he wasn’t, but I think he was too. It didn’t take long for us to be completely comfortable with bees buzzing all around us.  This single experience opened up a whole new world for us.  It was instant love… we both fell hard for these amazing creatures. 

Grayson in the honey house at the monastery.

One of our class trips included a visit to Keith Councell’s bee farm at a monastery.  Keith is our local bee association   president. He comes from a long line of beekeepers in his family (4th generation).  I call him the bee whisperer.  His knowledge of bees and keeping them in Florida is mind-blowing.  His phone rings all day long… non-stop. 

Shelves stacked with beeswax.

That is beeswax covering everything.

Making candles with beeswax.

Beeswax before it's melted and molded.

Beeswax candles.

Grayson at the monastery learning more about bees from Sister Amanda.

The class was fun but it isn’t the only starting point to becoming a beekeeper.  Though it was nice being in a group to help us gather the nerve to walk into a cloud of thousands of flying insects for the first time .  In my opinion, it is most helpful for a beginning beekeeper to join their local bee club.  There you will make great friends and learn what others are doing with their bees.  Our local bee association has many members that don’t even have their own hives, they just enjoy being a part of the association.  Volunteering to help a local beekeeper with their bees is an excellent way to learn with hands-on experience. 

By the way, Haagen-Dazs  is helping with the honey bee crisis.  Their website is definitely worth visiting.  Don’t skip the videos, they are hilarious. 

Needless to say, Grayson and I love our bees.  We are really looking forward to our honey harvest this year.  (Okay, that’s an understatement).  Our bees, our honey… what a concept.  We will continue to learn how to best tend to our girls and keep them healthy, year after year.  There will never come a point where we will feel that we know everything there is to know about bees.  It will truly be a lifetime journey. 


Come grow with us! 

Happiness Grows Where Seeds of Love are Sown

Posted in Seeds, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2010 by PickMeYard

Grayson planted lots of sunflowers this year.  We just harvested the seeds out of one of the flower heads.  We dehydrated them and we’have them in a bowl on the counter for everybody to munch on.

Sunflower seeds from our garden for snacking

There are many varieties of sunflower (Helianthus annuus).  We thought we had a favorite but we’ve decided that we love them all.

Loring is trying to communicate with the sunflower by showing it a "baby yellow flower".

Did you know that the faces of most sunflowers turn to the sun and follow it during the course of the day from east to west?  At night they return toward the east direction.  It’s called heliotropismThere is a flexible segment of the stem that is just below the bud.  When the bud stage comes to an end, the stem stiffens and the flower blooms.  When they bloom they lose their heliotrophic activity and freeze in an eastward orientation.  Isn’t that amazing?

Sunflowers need full sun to grow and are easy to grow.  Some varieties grow to heights of 12 feet.  There is a report of one growing to 26 feet in Northern Italy.  After the Chernobyl radiation disaster, sunflowers were planted to extract uranium, cesium 137, and strontium from the soil.  They are also planted to remove lead and arsenic from soil.

Standing at attention, facing East

Sunflowers should not be planted in the same place each year as this helps to control problems with pests and diseases.

A sunflower growing a flower bud

The same sunflower as in the picture above

The sunflower is forming seeds in this picture. The petals have fallen off.

The sunflower seeds are now ready to be picked.

The sunflower seeds are mature and ready to be picked when the backs of the heads are yellow.  The sunflower head takes a long time to dry… patience.  They can spoil easily in warm weather.  The seeds will have black and white stripes and are easily picked out when they are ready to harvest.

The kids are picking the seeds.

Grayson is proud of his harvest.

We soaked our seeds in water and salt for a few hours and then dehydrated them in our dehydrator.  I left them in the dehydrator overnight at 105 degrees.  They are best stored in the refrigerator.  If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can place them in the oven on a cookie sheet and roast them for about 4 hours at 150 degrees.  I recommend getting a dehydrator if you don’t have one.  They are inexpensive at Wal-mart and Amazon.  They use a very minimal amount of electricity and you can make some of the yummiest food ever in them.  I have never used mine to make beef jerky, although many people do.

Do you have to soak the seeds first?  Nuts and seeds contain enzyme inhibitors.  When they are soaked, it releases the toxic inhibitors and removes bitter flavors.  It is important to discard the water after soaking nuts or seeds and rinse them well. We have all eaten plenty of nuts and seeds that haven’t been soaked and that’s okay, but they are more digestible and taste better when they have been soaked and dehydrated.  If you were going to make a spread with the sunflower seeds, they could just be soaked (skip the dehydrating) and easily blended.

Sunflower seeds are high in potassium, calcium, and phosphorus.  They contain 24% protein, 20% carbohydrates, and 40% fat.  They also contain zinc, magnesium, and vitamin E.  The shells are also edible and high in fiber. 

There is even a National Sunflower Association and a magazine called” The Sunflower“.

Come grow with us!