Archive for September, 2010

An Ode to Old Florida

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , on September 30, 2010 by PickMeYard

If you want a visual that will make you feel good, then you’ve got to see this.

Click here.

It’s from the incredible perspective of a Florida paleontologist named Mark Renz.

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Planting Lettuce for the Entire Season

Posted in edible leaves with tags , , on September 29, 2010 by PickMeYard

When I wrote the post on growing lettuce  in pots, I forgot to mention something very important… it can and should be grown in succession.  We made the mistake of not doing this the first time we grew lettuce.  We planted many, many pots of leaf lettuce all at the same time.  Thus, they were ready to be harvested all at the same time.  We quickly realized that we’d made a mistake.

The correct way to cut the leaf lettuce is to cut outer leaves first. We let the kids cut it any way they want... it's lettuce.

So, now we pace ourselves and grow a few big pots of lettuce at a time.  We just toss some seeds in another pot a few weeks after we’ve planted the first ones.  We’ll pull out and re-plant the cut-and-come-again lettuce after it’s been cut a couple of times.  It tends to lose its flavor the more it’s cut.  Don’t be afraid to start cutting on your lettuce when it’s growing.  Baby lettuce is delicious and the seeds are cheap.  

We don’t have an exact planting schedule because we wouldn’t be able to adhere to it.  However, we have decided that we are going to try the Farmer’s Almanac’s suggested planting times  for all our plantings this year. 

For a fantastic post about the different varieties of lettuce and how to grow them, check out Steve’s Garden Blog

 Come grow with us!

Fresh lettuce that melts in your mouth!

Backyard Nigerian Dwarf Goats

Posted in Goats with tags , , , , , , on September 28, 2010 by PickMeYard

Chloe, a Nigerian dwarf goat.

I have a few friends that have goat farms nearby.  I’ve always wanted my own goats… and so did the rest of my family.  My friends and husband would always tell me that if I want a goat, then I should get a goat.  I knew I was capable.  I was raised with horses.  But still, I was apprehensive about goats.  Would it be too much work?  Would I regret it?  

Grayson bottle feeding his Nigerian dwarf goat, Mary Quite Contrary.

We’re absolutely elated to have two little Nigerian dwarf goats.  Not only do we not regret getting them, but now we want a whole herd.  We looove them!  We love taking care of them too and race each other to get to them first with our bottles in hand.   They have such adorable personalities.  Mary is sweet and not contrary at all.  Chloe is feisty but loves to be picked up and hugged.  Actually, they both live to be hugged.  Their size makes it very easy to stay in control of them.

Chloe & Mary.

4-H has started this year and both my children are going to show their goat.  Our club is going to teach the kids all about beekeeping, gardening and goats.  Grayson is so excited to learn everything he can about goat husbandry.  We’ve got some incredible teachers in our group to learn from.  The Nigerian dwarf breed is known to be an excellent dairy goat and we will be milking ours. 

Grayson is milking a friend's goat for a 4-H event.

The goat barn under construction.

Why do these things always get built in the dark?  Because I kept changing the plan, not because my hubby is a ferocious procrastinator.  I’m not complaining… I think he added some really clever details.  He built our little portable barn to keep our goats dry at all times.  Goats do not like to get wet and it can be detrimental to their health.  

Goats doing what goats do.

Our goat shelter has ventilation at the top and can be placed on bricks for more ventilation at the bottom.  We’re going to place it on top of a pallet with some fresh hay for bedding.  Greg made the roof of the barn so that it can easily be taken off  if we need to move it a considerable distance in the yard.  It has poles that go through the entire structure so that two people can carry it with ease. It looks heavy, but it’s not.  We learned our lesson with our chicken tractor.  It ended up being way too heavy to move easily. 

My husband made a little window on each side  for the food and water buckets.  He designed the buckets to be on the inside or the outside.  If the bucket is on the outside, the goat has to reach her head out the window to get to it.  It keeps her from pooping in the water or food.  For now, we keep the buckets inside at night so we can shut the window over the bucket.  It keeps the barn completely secure against predators.  We usually switch the buckets to the outside in the morning.  The inside of the structure is high and we plan to build a platform that is up, off the ground.  The front door locks securely.  Our goal was to provide our goats with a totally secure and completely dry house to sleep in at night (and shelter during the day). 

This is the children's favorite part of every project.

The finished project... a portable barn... for Nigerian dwarf goats.

Mary peeking out from under her playground.

Their entire area is fenced in.  We have another area fenced off as well so we can rotate them.  Goats are extremely prone to parasites and rotating their pastures helps to keep the parasites under control. 

They have a gorgeous playground and fun stuff to jump on.  Goats have invisible wings.  We set up chairs to watch them play because they make us laugh hysterically.  They do actually slide down the slide… over and over.  

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Mulch or No Mulch?

Posted in Gardening Experiments with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2010 by PickMeYard

To mulch or not to mulch is a question that drives me crazy every gardening season.  I lose the war against the weeds every year in the summertime when it’s hot and rainy.    

Two years ago, we expanded our vegetable gardening area.  We had a friend with a machine that scraped up the sod for us.   I used a newly purchased roto-tiller to till the area.  I mixed up a fabulous COF  (complete organic fertilizer)  fertilizer recipe created by the gardening guru, Steve Solomon.  Then, I planted tons of  black-eyed peas as a cover-crop  for the summer.  They seemed to grow up overnight… and so did the weeds.  It was a nightmare.  I had created a huge garden area that seemed impossible to keep up with.  It quickly turned into a huge patch of weeds to my knees.  The theory that the black-eyed pea plants would shade out the weeds did not work.  I’m sure the snakes were thrilled.  I remember lots of spiders  moved in.  However, we did have several bountiful harvests of black-eyed peas.

The black-eyed peas were young plants in this picture. The weeds had already won.

After a month or so of looking at our forest of weeds, my husband weed-whacked it all down for me.  I roto-tilled it again.  Then, I covered the entire area with a thick layer of newspaper.  I topped the newspaper with a thick layer of chipped-wood mulch.  This mulched area was weed-free for about a month… maximum.  The weeds came back with a vengeance.  That’s when I marched down to my local hardware store and bought the black plastic.  To be honest, it was a life-saver back-saver.  I don’t care what the organic, sustainable gardening police say… this method is what has allowed me to keep my sanity. 

The black-eyed peas after they'd been weed-whacked.

Clear plastic was our choice as a summer time mulch this year.

The problem with the plastic is that it breaks down.  It disintegrates into dust and must be replaced.  Plastic is an inorganic mulch and ends up in a landfill.  It’s definitely not the ideal mulch, but it keeps me from being overburdened and giving up.  It keeps the weeds arrested and detained. 

A mess of black plastic destined for the landfill.

Any mulch you use in your garden, whether organic or inorganic, is a good thing.  It not only keeps weeds at bay, but it conserves water and helps you grow bigger, better crops.  It acts as insulation by keeping the soil cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.  Your garden will survive without mulch, but there is a noticeable difference when it is used.  I mulch my potted plants too.

Sweet potato vine mulched with chipped-wood.

Organic mulch breaks down in your garden soil and helps to provide nutrients.  Some people use grass clippings from their lawn as mulch.  It adds a lot of nitrogen to your garden, but sometimes it’s too much.  I know quite a few people who use pine needles, but it is very acidic.  It can cause an imbalance in your garden soil.  Oak tree leaves can do the same thing.  However, I think it would take an excessive amount for this to happen.

When I used chipped wood in my veggie beds, I found that it didn’t want to break down into the soil easily. It ended up becoming a burden to me because the chips got in the way.  However, the chipped wood did wonders for all my fruit trees and looks beautiful.  

Papaya tree mulched with chipped-wood.

I still love the idea of finding a sustainable, organic mulch that will actually keep the weeds manageable.  But, I also want it to look nice in our yard.  My husband and I keep looking at all the spilled hay that our goats spread around their area.  Goats won’t eat hay once it falls to the ground, so it becomes bedding.  I think we could let a few bales of hay sit outside for a while and weather, then use them as mulch.  I’m going to give this experiment a try on a few of our garden beds for our fall vegetable garden.  I’ll let you know how it goes. 

Gardening is not an exact science and I believe the saying, “different strokes for different folks” definitely holds true when it comes to a family garden.   I prefer the saying, “just do it”. 

Come grow with us!

Growing Lettuce in Pots

Posted in edible leaves with tags , , , , , , , on September 23, 2010 by PickMeYard

When I look through the bagged lettuce at the supermarket, I have a really hard time finding one that looks good enough to eat.  We’ve been spoiled because we know what homegrown lettuce tastes like.  Oh yeah, it’s that different!  Tastes like buttah.  We just go outside to the pot that it’s growing in with our scissors in hand.  Usually it’s at night with a flashlight too.  We cut enough to fit in the bowl that’s brought out  to the garden.  It’s so fresh and wonderful that it’s turned my kids into salad eaters.   This kind of lettuce is called “cut-and-come-again” lettuce.  You cut the outer leaves and it keeps growing so that you can go back for more.  It doesn’t take much of it to fill a huge kitchen bowl.

Flame lettuce growing in a pot. It requires cooler temperatures.

The problem with growing lettuce in Southwest Florida is that it’s too warm for half the year.  Lettuce prefers cooler weather.  So, we’re without fresh, homegrown lettuce from about May through November (depending on the weather).  At the end of September, I have my kids toss a bunch of lettuce seeds in a big pot and some in a garden bed.  It’s usually ready to start cutting around 6 weeks later.  We’re just absolutely desperate for our fresh lettuce by then.  The wait really makes us appreciate it more.

I don't remember what kind of lettuce I was growing here. We always buy many different kinds to try.

We put styrofoam pieces in the bottom of our pots when we’re growing lettuce in them.  This keeps the pot light and allows for good drainage. Lettuce doesn’t have a deep root system.  I use a good potting soil, never soil dug out of the yard.  I have been trying to come up with a clever lettuce growing container to use this year.  They don’t need to be too deep.   The leaf lettuces are so super easy to grow and so rewarding with flavor. 

Merveille des quatre saisons (Marvel of four seasons)... our favorite variety!

There are so many kinds of  lettuces to grow.  We like to grow the leaf lettuce over the head lettuce  because we like the cut-and-come-again thing.  Both are easy and have a short growing period.  I tend to start harvesting mine when it’s really young.  It’s so tender.  The leaf lettuce in the above picture was grown from seed that I bought from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  I bought the seed from them last year and again this year.  I’ve been dreaming about it.  

Lettuce seed packets are easy to find at just about any hardware store though and even some grocery stores.  However, I’ve found that there is a huge array of flavors with all the different lettuce varieties.  Just because one is tough or spicy doesn’t mean they all are.  I don’t really care for the mesclun blends or the baby arugula, but that’s just my preference.  I like my lettuce to be sweet and buttery.  The different varieties can have a big difference in texture and flavor.

A local farmer told me that the red-leafed lettuces are a good choice for Florida because they tend to be somewhat heat tolerant.  Lettuce doesn’t like heat and when it gets too warm… it bolts.  Bolting  is when it sends out a thin shoot from the middle of the plant and it goes to seed.  This makes the lettuce taste bad.  So, when it bolts, it’s time to send it to the compost bin.  Lettuce can be grown in the shade of other plants to help with the heat.  It needs a few hours of morning sun though and should be watered every day.

More leaf lettuce.

A variety of leaf lettuces.

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Garden of Weeden

Posted in Problems with tags , , , , , , , on September 23, 2010 by PickMeYard

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I refuse to use glyphosate (Roundup) to kill my weeds for many reasons. (That’s a topic for another blog.)   So, I do all my weed-pulling the old-fashioned way… by hand.  It’s an over-whelming task for a Florida gardener in the summertime.  Ideally, I would go outside and  pull weeds everyday to stay on top of the situation, but that just ain’t gonna happen.  The weeds in the above picture took over my garden bed when I blinked.  The seeds on the tops of those weeds will make the problem even worse because they will re-seed all over the place.  It’s not the end of my gardening world though and it doesn’t take me long to pull the weeds out.  They’re going to grow where I don’t want them no matter what I do.  The bright side is that they won’t germinate as much in the winter, so I do get a much-needed break. 

Loring picks the weed "flowers" and makes a bouquet with them.

I just recently put the clear plastic down to help suppress the weeds.  As you can tell by the picture, the weeds laughed at me.  They will grow through a pin prick in the plastic.  The picture is embarrassing to me because it looks so untidy, but it is reality.  I needed a break from the gardening beds during the hot, rainy months so I used the plastic.  Many gardeners are against using plastic in the garden because it isn’t sustainable.  I’ve learned that I have to do what works for us.  I can clean up the garden bed in the above picture in a jiffy.  It looks worse than it is.  You should have seen my kitchen 30 minutes ago. 

My chickens love the weeded garden.

My chickens love to hover underneath me when I’m weeding the garden.  It all looks so tidy for about 5 minutes when I finish, then the girls spread the fresh dirt everywhere.  It’s okay with me… they’re getting the bugs. 

Yikes.

I don’t try to weed the entire garden in one day.  It hurts my hands pretty bad to do that.  Most people use machines to make their lives easier when it comes to these tasks, but I am stubbornly old-fashioned with my garden.  It usually takes me about a week to get the weeds under control again.  I don’t do too much at one time.  

We’re getting our garden ready for our fall season vegetable garden.  Grayson’s really excited to grow purple carrots and purple tomatoes.  The purple tomatoes are from seeds that have been passed down from the Cherokee indians.  We’re making a teepee out of pole beans as well.  The teepee structure is up and we’re just waiting for some bean vines to grow on it.   

We’re growing our lettuce a little different this year.  We always grew it in big pots and it was so wonderful.  We would cut it for the table and it would grow again.   It was not funny at all to find that the chickens had demolished every last scrap of lettuce one afternoon.  They didn’t bother it for 2 months.  Then, all of a sudden…  gone.  We’re growing our lettuce inside the pool cage this year.  I think we may have outsmarted them.  The tomato bed is getting a temporary fence around it this season. 

That's better.

  Come grow with us!

Summer Critters

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2010 by PickMeYard

Gardens sure do attract the critters.  I can go out to my garden armed with my camera (any time of the day or night) and get lots of fun shots.  My kids do love all the wildlife.  They especially love the hunt to find them.  When one is pointed out, they come running.  “Let me see, let me see!”

Our favorite critter books of all time are the Florida’s Fabulous Insects and Florida’s Fabulous SpidersThere’s an entire series of these books (mammals, birds, waterfowl, butterflies, reptiles & amphibians).  They’re loaded with colorful photos and tons of information.  We have the series and they’re used over and over again. 

A giant tiger moth caterpillar.

The caterpillar of the Isabella Tiger Moth is called a woolly bear.  We’ve seen several other moth caterpillars this summer too.  They’re just too cool.  Some of the moths that these caterpillars turn into are gorgeous creatures of the night! 

A tiger moth caterpillar playing dead.

An Io moth caterpillar... don't touch!

The Io moth caterpillar has stinging spines which can cause you pain if you touch them.  We were so enthralled with the one we found.  We are always afraid to touch a spiny caterpillar… so we just don’t.  To see a website with some fantastic photos of moth caterpillars, click here.

This is an adult antlion.

We had no idea what this critter was when we found it.  I took a picture and we looked it up in our Florida’s Fabulous Insects book.  The antlion eats ants and is nocturnal.

The Lubber Grasshopper.

An outgrown suit of armor (exoskeleton) from a singing cicada.

This baby tree frog was the size of my pinky fingernail. That's a stink bug to the left of him.

Beetles eating our sunflower.

A yellow rat snake. They can bite, but they're not venomous.

A bull frog that needs to join a band... somewhere else.

This bull frog has gotten so used to us that he lets me get right in his face with my camera to take his picture.  I think that now he actually poses for the shots.   I’ve taken so many pictures of him, he must think he’s a star.

Come grow with us!