Archive for November, 2010

The Florida Hydrangea

Posted in Flowers with tags , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2010 by PickMeYard

I’ve seen beautiful hydrangeas growing in the mountains of Jamaica (the weather is very cool).  Unfortunately,  it’s not a plant I would try to grow in Southwest Florida.   Hydrangea’s like it colder than Southwest Florida can give them.  However, we have a wonderful substitute.

Mayer from Riverland Nursery  turned me onto a plant called the Seminole dombeya.  It’s also called the Florida hydrangea.  Mayer is passionate about plants and knows what to to grow in Southwest Florida.  He told me I would love this plant.  I bought two of them last year from him and planted them right away. 

The honeybees sure love it.

The bees can't get enough of these flowers.


The entire plant is buzzing with excitement. The bees bump into each other and frantically dart around.

The butterflies love it too.

A gulf fritillary butterfly on my Seminole dombeya.

I’ve also heard this plant referred to as a tropical rose hydrangea.  It’s flowers do have a delicate, rose-like aroma.  It has the most beautiful and prolific display of  hot pink flowers and blooms from November to June.  The Seminole dombeya’s a warm weather plant though.  One of my plants suffered frost damage last winter but recovered quickly.  It was a small plant and last year was an unusually cold winter for Southwest Florida.  The plants have grown quite large this year and I’m sure they will be able to handle our winters just fine from now on. 

Mayer was right, we do love this plant.   My kids visit it daily to study all the honeybees on it and to see what else will show up.  It has some pretty interesting visitors.  It is very alive with an assortment of excited (and a little intoxicated) bugs that are diligently working.  We’re enjoying this plant so much that we’ve decided we need more of them.  We’re going to try our hand at grafting it.  

I don’t recommend planting the Seminole dombeya by an entrance.  There are an enormous amount of bees, butterflies, skippers and (other bugs I can’t identify) all over the plant.  This is one of the sole reasons we love this plant so much, but I wouldn’t want to continually dodge them while trying to enter an area.  

A full shot of the Seminole dombeya.

Also called... the Florida hydrangea.

Come grow with us!

A Unique Centerpiece for the Family Table

Posted in Butterflies with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2010 by PickMeYard

We’ve been really groovin’ on the caterpillars in a container as the centerpiece for our dining table.  I realize this might be strange to some people but it’s normal for us.  There’s something wonderful about watching the caterpillars eat their meal as we eat ours.  The container doesn’t always have munching caterpillars though.  Sometimes it’s still and quiet with hanging chyrsalides.

We  released the last butterfly that emerged from its chrysalis in our other container.  So, we went on a hunt in our yard for new ones.

The kids discovered some butterfly eggs on a couple of passion fruit vine leaves.  Grayson thinks they’re gulf fritillary eggs.  I thought they might be  zebra longwings, but we learned they lay their eggs in clusters.  The gulf fritillary will only lay a single egg.  We will find out soon enough.  It’ll be a nice surprise.

They’re in our cycle of life centerpiece on the family table.  When the eggs hatch, we’ll keep adding fresh passion fruit vine  leaves and flowers for them to eat.  We always add a stick with no leaves into the container for them to form a chrysalis on when they’re ready. 

A gulf fritillary egg on a passion fruit vine leaf. It's a very tiny yellow dot.

The centerpiece at our family table.

 The jar and lid in the picture is usually used for sprouting seeds.  It’s not ideal to keep caterpillars in though because they can easily escape.  An airtight lid is fine to use for a while because they have plenty of oxygen at this early stage.  When the eggs hatch, we will move the caterpillars into our favorite plastic container that has a mesh top.  Butterflies and caterpillars breathe through holes in the sides of their abdomens that deliver oxygen through a system of tracheae.

We’re keeping our eyes peeled for a swallowtail caterpillar. 

Come grow with us!

Making a Homemade Worm Bin with Kids

Posted in Worms with tags , , , , , , , on November 22, 2010 by PickMeYard
A red wiggler worm. He’s smiling.

I have owned a worm bin for several years that I bought from Can-O-Worms.  I like my Can-O-Worms, but it was expensive.  I am honestly surprised at how great our homemade worm bins came out and I like them better! 

My red worms (Eisenia foetida)  have done a wonderful job of eating our garbage and we get lots of extra worms because they’re happy.  I  might have as many as 20,000 red worms in my bin.  My son decided that he wanted his own worm bin so I figured we might as well make more than one.  We invited our 4-H group over and all the kids made their own worm bins.

A homemade red wiggler, worm bin.

We used 10-gallon sized Rubbermaid bins.  I like these because they have a handle at each end that keeps the bins from sitting too tightly together when they’re stacked on top of each other.  Dark colors are best because the worms need darkness.  Bins that let light through won’t work.  

Two finished homemade worm bins.

I printed out instructions from  I won’t go into all the details because you can click on the link to and see them.  We did a few things differently though.  We used a drill with a 1/4  bit to make holes in the lid, upper sides and the bottom of the top bin.  The holes are small enough to allow air in and moisture out without letting worms escape.  We put the bin inside a separate bin that we didn’t drill any holes into.  This allows the liquid from the worms to drain into the lower bin and be contained.  That liquid is great stuff to put on plants and shouldn’t be wasted.  We placed the lid from the second bin underneath them.  If ants are a problem, water can be put into the lid and it will create a moat that the ants won’t be able to cross to get inside the bin.

The styrofoam blocks allow the top bin to sit on them. The liquid has already started to drain into the bottom bin.

We put a couple of styrofoam blocks in the bottom bin to keep some distance between the two bins.  There’s already a little bit of liquid from the worms accumulating in the bottom bin.

The top bin stacks into the bottom bin. The worms stay in the top bin. The liquid drains into the bottom bin.

The red wiggler worms stay in the top bin.  The liquid drains into the bottom bin.  Worms need moisture, but not too much.  They don’t like to be soaking wet all the time, although damp is good.  They do like to be covered with a damp newspaper or damp cardboard.  Think of it as their cozy blanket.  The damp newspaper keeps them from overheating in the summer and helps them stay warmer in the winter.  They love to be 70 degrees.  This isn’t always possible, (I’d love to be in 70 degrees all the time too), but there are ways to keep them happy.

Never let them be in the direct sun.  They should be in a shady spot that doesn’t overheat them.  They shouldn’t be left out in the rain either or left to freeze to death.  We had many nights of 20 degree weather last year and I never moved my worm bin.  However, they had lots of castings and garbage/food that provided warmth and they were covered in several layers of newspaper.  The fact that we’re in Florida helps too.  A worm bin in a cold climate should probably be brought into a garage or wrapped with some insulation.

Entire books have been written on how to take care of red wiggler worms.  A great one is Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.

There was nothing difficult about making this bin.  The hardest part was having to go into Wal-Mart to get the supplies.

The inside of the worm bin.

We purchased some coconut coir (fiber) from the garden department and let it sit in a 5-gallon bucket of water for a couple of hours.  This softened it up so we could shred it to pieces.  The kids were great at this.  (I did the soaking before everybody arrived).  This is the best bedding for the worms to start their new home in.  I took some of the red wigglers out of my established worm bin.  I threw in some of their worm castings as well.  We dampened some newspaper and cardboard to cover them up with.  Then we put the lid on.

A cozy blanket of damp newspaper and cardboard.

We didn’t add food right away.  On the second day we gave them some apple.  I threw in some grit for them as well.  They need it for digestion.  Dirt will serve as grit for them.


Grayson's very own red wiggler bin full of pet worms.

Nothing makes my kids happier than digging in the dirt and finding worms … it keeps me young too.

Come grow with us!

A Special Salad

Posted in edible leaves with tags , , on November 19, 2010 by PickMeYard

We have been growing many varieties of leaf lettuces lately.  They’re too easy to grow in pots.  I think everybody should do it.  I’ve said it before and I’m sayin’ it again… bagged lettuce from the grocery store is yuk.  It’s no wonder salad has such a bad rap.  Fresh lettuce harvested at home gives non-salad eaters a new perspective (my kids, for example). 

Harvesting dinner.

My 3-year-old has taken the new position of being the household salad cutter.  When she hears the word “salad” mentioned, she starts yelling, “I’ll do it, I’ll do it, let me do it”!  I don’t let her do it alone, of course.  She always chirps about cutting lettuce to make “a special salad”.

She always eats her dinner when she's allowed to help prepare it.

I grew a Siamese dragon stir-fry mix of seeds that I bought from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  There’s not much left of them because I stir-fried them all.  I’m definitely getting more of these seeds.  They went into several large meals. 

A “before” photo would have been much nicer but I always went out to the pots armed with scissors instead of a camera.

The big pots that my lettuces are growing in are complete overkill.  Lettuce can be grown in a shallow container, probably 4-6 inches of depth are necessary.  A wide container is ideal because more seeds can be grown at the same time.

Delicious leaf lettuce.

I couldn’t  think of anything to make for dinner the other night and ended up throwing together a Cobb salad.  It was my own version of a Cobb salad.  My 9-year-old son has now decided that he likes gorgonzola cheese because the salad was so delicious.  The calories this salad contained was definitely not for the rabbits.

More delectable lettuce.

Different kinds of leaf lettuces.

A Special Salad.

Come grow with us!

The Last Monarch Butterfly

Posted in Butterflies with tags , , , , , on November 17, 2010 by PickMeYard

The last monarch butterfly hatched from its chrysalis and Loring took it outside to let it go.  The butterfly took a long time to warm up so she was able to really study it… and she did.  Beautiful creatures.  They’ve really touched our lives.

A monarch butterfly getting ready to emerge from its chrysalis.

It’s drying off and warming up.

Did you know that fabric softeners cause a halo that butterflies (and other insects) can see?  They won’t come near you.  I wonder if it works for mosquitos.

Loring studying her mariposa. She calls herself "sleeping Loring" in this outfit. Her own design.

Loring's prince is always around. It's a daily thing for her to go find him.

We’re going on a hunt in our yard tomorrow to find some more caterpillars to start our cycle of life container again.  We’re hoping to find a swallowtail.

Come grow with us!

Please Pass the Pigeon Peas

Posted in Seeds, Trees with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2010 by PickMeYard

I ate the exact same lunch every day of my senior year in highschool… a Jamaican gungo pea patty.  I lived in the Cayman Islands then.  Recently, I found out that my beloved gungo peas are also called pigeon peas.  I’ve been growing them in my yard over the past year and have become extremely fond of this little tree. 

I had no idea that the tiny little pea I planted in my garden was going to turn into a small tree.  I knew it was a legume and would fix the nitrogen in my soil, but…a tree?  It’s not what I expected, but I adore my pigeon pea tree and have been planning where I’m going to plant more of them in my yard. 

A young pigeon pea plant.

A teenage pigeon pea plant.

A mature pigeon pea plant with lots of pods all over it.

I noticed that Epcot had quite a few of them growing in pots at their Flower & Garden Festival this year.  I tried growing one in a large pot too.  It looked healthy for a while and then went into a steady decline.  I didn’t worry about it too much though because the one I planted in the ground was thriving.

A young pigeon pea plant in a pot.

Pigeon peas (Cajanus cajan) grow in warm climates and will not tolerate frost.  They can be grown as a perennial in warm areas and will live from 2 to 5 years.  In my zone 9b, I have to grow them during the warm part of the year.  This isn’t a problem in SW Florida. If I time it right, I can get plenty of frost-free growing time and get a prolific crop of pigeon peas… and I did this year. 

My kids don’t like them cooked.  They like to stand at the tree and eat them fresh out of the pod when they’re green.  The goats do too.  They break out of their pen just to go stand at the pigeon pea tree and eat as fast as they can before they get caught.  I always break off a branch to give them.  This might be why the chickens chose this tree to hang out under too.

My tree has pods all over it.   Some of the pods have dried peas in them and some have green peas.  The green peas can be eaten fresh off the tree.  My kids and I find them to be delicious this way.  They’re extremely nutritious when they’re green too. The dried peas need to be soaked and cooked or saved to plant again.  My kids might not like them cooked, but my husband and I do.  Jamaican rice and peas are delectable.

Pigeon pea pods on the tree.

Dried pigeon peas in the pod.

Dried pigeon peas with some green ones thrown in.

A closer look.

Pigeon pea leaves and branches make great  fodder for animals.  They’re very nutritious.  The leaves are edible for people too, but I think they taste bad.  I tried stir-frying some real quick to see if it tasted better and it didn’t.  The leaves also make an awesome mulch for the garden.  Click here for a really great article on the pigeon pea plant  and its uses in  permaculture (in warm areas).  The variety I have has taken 7  months to develop peas, but it’s been a gorgeous plant and I’ve enjoyed all it’s stages of growth.  The honeybees love it too.

Pigeon pea leaves.

There was a stage where the tree was red with young blooms. Lovely!

Come grow with us!

Water Kefir

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2010 by PickMeYard

Water kefir is our latest obsession.  We love it!  I  recently heard about it for the first time and I had to get some.  I wonder where it’s been all my life.

I find water kefir to be very, very interesting.  Some refer to it as “grains” and some call it “crystals” because that’s what they look like.  The water kefir culture is a mixture of friendly bacteria, yeast and water in a cute little compound.

Water kefir grains… really, really good-for-you bacteria.

The water kefir grains are  loaded with millions and millions of probiotics.  Probiotics kill off bad bacteria and are proven to be beneficial to your health.  A lot of people pay a lot of money to buy probiotic supplements in the stores.  They lose their effectiveness each day that they sit on a store shelf.  Water kefir grains are a fresh source of probiotics.

I researched for hours to find out where water kefir originates.  I’ve found stories about it coming from Mexico, the Caucasus Mountains, Tibet and England.  I’m not sure what to believe.  I do believe that it has been around for centuries… maybe even dating back 1,ooo years.

Are you wondering what to do with them?  The water kefir grains are added to water and sugar.  The grains eat the sugar and create a delicious, carbonated, lacto-fermented drink.  It’s basically a homemade soda.  If we add vanilla, it turns into a cream soda.  Our favorite flavor is ginger-ale made with our backyard-grown ginger.  We also really enjoy it when it’s fermented with dried prunes.  Sometimes, we like to add a slice of Meyer lemon from our tree (we know there are no pesticides on it which would kill the kefir grains.)  

This brew was fermented with dried prunes, dried currants, dried cranberries and dried raisins. The color varies depending on what is in it.

Water kefir grains require maintenance.  They need non-chlorinated water and sugar about every 2 days.  I try to filter my grains out of my current brew and add them to a fresh batch of water and sugar every day.   They always stay at room temperature on my counter, not in the refrigerator.  The grains need oxygen to grow, so the top of the container should only be covered with a paper-towel or cheese cloth and secured with a rubber band.

Jars with fermenting water kefir grains, sugar, dried fruit and water in them. They’re covered with cheese cloth so they can breathe. They are placed in pans with water to keep out ants…just in case.

Once the grains are filtered out of the beverage, then it can be put in the refrigerator.  It’s really refreshing when it’s cold.  If we want to make a really bubbly drink out of it, we leave it at room temperature in an air-tight container for about 1-2 days.  (The kefir grains have been strained out of it at this point and will be used to start a new brew).  I’ve had it produce so much carbon dioxide that the bottle popped like champagne when I opened it.  The fizz hit the ceiling.  My family laughed, but I wasn’t laughing with them.  I had to clean it up,  though it did taste yummy. 

The water kefir grains  grow and mulitply like crazy.  My son has already started a science experiment with his share.  I’ve given some of my extra grains to friends and family and I’m starting to do my own experiments with it. 

My grains love dried fruit.  I make sure it’s unsulphured (sulphur is anti-bacterial) and preservative-free.  We never ferment the grains with honey either.  Honey is an anti-bacterial.  The honey could be added to the drink when the grains have been removed.  I try to use sugar that is made from dried sugar cane juice.  The grains love that too.  I’ve recently started adding a few drops of trace minerals and a smidge of liquid coral calcium to my brew.  This has to be one nutritious drink!

Almost every website that mentions water kefir on the internet says that it shouldn’t come into contact with metal.  That means no metal spoons, containers or filters.  However, Dom’s Kefir website says that he can find no evidence that metal damages the grains.  Dom’s website has a wealth of information on kefir… it’s my favorite. 

I’ve found several recipes for making water kefir.  I’ve been sticking to 4 cups (1 quart) of non-chlorinated water and 1/3 cup of sugar.  I don’t measure my grains, but I’m probably adding about a 1/4 cup of them.  The grains feed off the sugar to produce lactic acid, alcohol (ethanol) and carbon dioxide.  The grains look like they’re alive as they move around the container.  The CO2 gets trapped in the grain and they float.  When the bubble escapes, the grains fall to the bottom.  The longer the kefir ferments, the more folic acid it will have… and alcohol.  It can have from .5% – 2% alcohol depending on how it’s made.  Increasing the sugar, dried fruit and fermentation time will increase the alcohol content.  Brewing it in an air-tight container will also increase the alcohol content. 

I ordered my first batch of water kefir grains from Marilyn Kefirlady.  She also sells the dairy kefir grains, which are an entirely different culture.  I paid $15, plus $5 shipping.  It’s been worth every penny to us.

The best part is… the grains last forever.

Come grow with us!

*Note to Lynne – please contact me again.

Butterfly Release: Part II

Posted in Butterflies with tags , , , , on November 9, 2010 by PickMeYard

Two more butterflies emerged from their chrysalides this morning inside our container.  We were able to watch it happen from start to finish.  First, the butterfly cracked open its cocoon and poked its head out.  Then, it flipped its body out.  The wings were still all folded up, crumpled and wet.  It gently rocked back and forth, probably to help dry its wings.  We watched as it slowly unfolded.  Amazing!  We will never get tired of watching this cycle of life. 

My absolute favorite butterfly book is the Family Butterfly Book by Rick MikulaI have used this book many, many times over the years.  It has some great container ideas that are super easy to do.

Our cycle of life container.

Chyrsalides and butterfly on the inside of the lid.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis on the lid.

Empty chrysalides on lid.

Empty chrysalides on the stick that was inside the container.

Time to free them.

I wonder which princess will show up to do tomorrow's butterfly release?

Come grow with us!

Butterfly Release

Posted in Butterflies with tags , , , on November 8, 2010 by PickMeYard

I’ve taken a forced vacation from my blog for a couple of weeks due to computer problems.  We haven’t left our yard much though and we’ve been busy with our animals, gardening and lots of homeschooling. 

The kids collected 8 monarch caterpillars last week and put them in a container with lots of scarlet milkweed.  The caterpillars chomped right through the milkweed quickly, so we just kept adding fresh plants every day.  We added a stick with no leaves inside the container so the caterpillars would have a place to form their chrysalides.  They did and we’ve had 2 butterflies emerge so far.  Our 3-year-old keeps a constant watch over the container which sits on our kitchen table as a centerpiece.  She yells out, “Mariposa’s awake!” whenever a butterfly breaks out of its chyrsalis.  She’s always the first one to notice.  

Fly away little butterfly.

The garden fairy and the butterfly.

Good-bye Mariposa.

Don’t these photos make you want to go out and find some caterpillars?  It’s been a great centerpiece for our kitchen table.

Come grow with us!