Archive for the Fruits of our labor Category

Homegrown Pomegranates

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , on November 19, 2012 by PickMeYard

Pomegranates (Punica granatum)  have become popular lately.  The juice can now be found in almost any supermarket.  That’s a wonderful thing because it’s delicious and loaded with antioxidants.  However, do you actually buy the fruit when they’re available or do you just admire them and walk past them?

I think most people don’t buy the fresh fruit because they know the seeds can pop and spray you with red juice when you try to open them.  They seem like a complicated fruit but they’re not. There are lots of tips on how to cut a pomegranate  such as cutting them in a bowl of water.  My tip is to throw on an apron or old t-shirt and just dig in.  I cut mine in half with a sharp knife and then tear into it from there.  If you’ve never had a fresh pomegranate, you’ve got to try it.

Pomegranate seeds are better than candy to my kids…that means they’re really good.  I have a couple of really picky eaters.  They love walking around the yard while digging into a pomegranate.  Pomegranate seeds have lots of fiber.  I’ve always been told that eating pomegranate seeds will expel parasites too.  That’s an added bonus.  Well, we do live in Florida and run around barefoot all year.

Nope, no shoes.

We’ve been growing pomegranates in our yard for several years.  The trees are small and actually look more like a tall bush.  My trees never look healthy, but I don’t give them any care at all.  Okay, I do put goat manure around the base of the tree but that’s it.  I don’t recommend neglecting your trees this way.  However, even with all my neglect, our trees give us some glorious tasting pomegranates.  They look horribly ugly, but they taste deeelicious.

That’s a pomegranate from the grocery store on the left and our ugly (but super sweet) homegrown pomegranate on the right.

There are many varieties of pomegranate.  Click here  and here for some great information on growing pomegranates in Florida. They can take the humidity, but they prefer hot, dry summers.  If you have a deer problem, take note that deer love to eat pomegranate trees.  Also, they do have thorns.

Our neglected pomegranate tree.

A plate of homegrown pomegranates… strange looking.

 

My favorite recipe for pomegranate seeds is persian rice with pistachios.  I enjoyed this dish at a Persian restaurant several years ago and have been making it at home ever since.  Check out this blog called My Persian Kitchen for the recipe and some fantastic ideas for Thanksgiving dinner.

The seeds sparkle like precious gems and taste like sweet candy.  Eat more pomegranate.

Come grow with us!

 

 

Florida Blueberries

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2012 by PickMeYard

We don’t grow blueberries in our yard.  I’ve always been told that Southwest Florida isn’t a good place to even try.  It looks like that might be changing though.  We visited a local blueberry u-pick farm this week that had us singing and dancing with buckets of dee-licous blueberries.  Yay… we don’t have to go to Georgia to have fresh blueberries!

We never knew picking blueberries was so much fun! My kids love to pick stuff off plants.

My 5-year-old took this photo. I asked them to hold the camera for one minute…

Blueberries are perfect for little hands to pick!

I have a local friend that grows her blueberries in containers so she can control the ph.   She uses a 50/50 mixture of peat and perlite in her containers.  Her backyard plants give her family lots of berries every year.  Ideally, blueberry bushes like acidic soil with a ph of around 5 and most of our soil has a ph of 8-9.  However, the hundreds of blueberry bushes we saw at our local u-pick were planted in the ground and loaded with berries.   I’m not sure what varieties they’re growing, but we love the flavor.  Click here for a list of blueberry varieties suggested for Florida by the University of Florida.  Click here  for an excellent slide show by UF on growing blueberries in South Florida.

Our local blueberries are only around for a short time in April and May.   Check out Patty’s Patch if you’re in Southwest Florida and want to pick some fresh, local blueberries.

Patty’s Patch Blueberry Farm (U-Pick) in Southwest Florida.

This was just the beginning. We filled two buckets. I have big plans for our blueberries.

Heavenly Florida blueberries in our bucket.

Come grow with us!

Suyo Long Cucumber

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2012 by PickMeYard

We’re always on the lookout for vegetables that can stand up to our brutal Southwest Florida summers.  This summer we’re experimenting with an Everglades tomato bush that we were thrilled to find.  It’s doing great in the heat so far and setting fruit like a champion, but it’s not summer yet.  Extreme heat usually prevents tomato plants from setting fruit.  The true test for the Everglades tomato plant will be in July and August.  This special tomato deserves its own post.  I’ll be writing one soon.

I want to tell you about another heat-resistant vegetable… the Suyo Long cucumber (Cucumis sativus).  Okay, it’s not really a vegetable, it’s a fruit. We’ve been growing this cucumber for several seasons now and the results have been so rewarding.  It doesn’t mind the heat at all.

This is a Suyo Long cucumber growing up our fence. I threw a rotted cucumber by the fence and look what grew. I love it when that happens.

The cucumber package says the Suyo Long originally comes from China and is a sweet-flavored, tender, crispy, ribbed fruit that can grow up to 15′ long.   It’s a burpless, non-bitter and excellent for salads or bread and butter pickles.  We found this description to be completely accurate.  This cucumber is delicious!

Hello? Sorry, we can't come to the phone right now.

We purchased our Suyo Long cucumber seeds from SustainableSeedCo. com.  They’re heirloom seeds and definitely worth growing.  It’s very important to note that this plant must be watered every day.  If it dries out, it’s done.  The plants I had in the ground did much, much better than the plants I grew in containers.  Sometimes my plants don’t get watered and the ones in the ground always stand a better chance of survival in our garden.

The mustard greens in the photo above are wilted but I was growing them for the chickens.  They were loaded with eggs and caterpillars from the Great Southern White butterfly (Ascia monuste).  The girls went crazy when they spotted me coming toward them with my arms full of these.

An heirloom, Suyo Long cucumber that is ready to be picked.

Click here  for a good article on when to harvest a cucumber.  I can’t give advice on harvesting cucumbers because I don’t count the days from planting.  We just pick it and eat it around here.  However, I do know that it’s best to let the cucumber turn yellow if you plan on saving the seeds . We do practice this and it works for us.

Cucumber seeds from the Suyo Long variety.

This is damage from pests. I started spraying them with garden neem oil and it prevented it from happening again.

I’ve been using Theraneem Organix Neem Oil for the Garden and I’ve learned to love this product.  I spot spray it early in the morning before the honeybees wake up.  (Researchers say neem oil is non-toxic to spiders and pollinating insects). I also use this product around our dairy goats.  I mix some essential oils in it for them… rosemary, lavender, geranium and peppermint, in a base of distilled water.  The goats actually walk into the mist instead of running away.

Quick… how many Suyo Long cucumber jokes can you tell in 30 seconds?  Laughing is the best medicine!

Come grow with us!

Wonderful Watermelons

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , on September 3, 2011 by PickMeYard

We just harvested watermelons from our yard for the first time.  We’ve never grown them before.  For some reason, I avoided it and I’m not sure why.  We found them easy to grow and oh, so rewarding.

Our watermelon vine taking over.

I started a watermelon plant from a seed.  I did it on a whim and had no expectations for the poor plant.  The seedling grew, I hardened it off and transplanted it smack in the middle of one of my garden beds.  I had some good sized cherry tomato and basil plants in the same bed.  I truly didn’t believe the young watermelon plant would survive.  I gave the seedling sunshine and water, then ignored it.  It seemed stunted to me at first and I wasn’t surprised.  I kept thinking I should just throw the little plant out, but didn’t get around to it.  The next time I checked on it, it was growing wildly in every direction.

The die off can be seen in this photo.

I figured I’d just end up with a ton of vine to pull and no fruit.  The summer weather was really heating up with temps in the 90’s, lots of rain and 80 degree nights.  Watermelons like 80 degree daytime temperatures and 60 degree nights.  They prefer it hot and humid.  Even though watermelon plants need lots of water, too much wet weather can cause all kinds of problems. Our vine had millions of stink bugs on it.  We don’t grow ours for profit so we didn’t even try to fight them.

Can you see the watermelons?

The kids started noticing baby watermelons all over the vine.  They’re really cute.  I let them grow to maturity.  I wasn’t sure when to harvest them so I studied up.  I read that the stems should turn brown and wither and the bottoms of the melon should have a yellowish patch.  The stems never changed from their green color and the the vine started to die off, probably from blight.  I had healthy-looking and enormous watermelons all over the place and they were screaming “pick me”.  I figured I’d better harvest them whether they were ready or not. They looked pretty, but I still didn’t hold out much hope for them. I’ve bought plenty of watermelons at the supermarket that looked beautiful but were completely void of flavor.  

A baby watermelon. Awww...

I let Grayson be the taste-tester.  As we cut into them they burst open with a big pop. “Well, what does it taste like?”, I asked with eagerness.  He replied with gusto that it was the best watermelon he’d ever tasted in his life.  He’s a watermelon lover, so I trust his review.

Homegrown watermelon.

I harvested all the melons at once and ended up with lots of watermelons to give away.   I was asking everybody I knew if they wanted a watermelon.  We gave our goats lots of watermelon too and they went crazy over it.  Now there’s watermelon vines growing where we were leaving the fruit for them.  Good thing we have lots of honeybees!

So, how do you grow a seedless watermelon?  It’s quite interesting.  The seedless watermelon is called a triploid and it is grown next to a seeded variety called a diploid.  Click here for the rest of the story on growing seedless varieties.  We’ll stick to the heirloom varieties in our yard.

My grandmother used to cut up her watermelon and freeze it, then make smoothies with it.  Fresh watermelon juice with mint and salt is one of my all-time favorites.  Check out Mom-a-licious for a watermelon margarita recipe. Don’t forget about watermelon gazpacho.

Sweet melons!

Growing watermelons has now been added to our list of “must grow in our yard”.  We’re going to try some different varieties this time.  We’ll use crop rotation and grow them in a different area of a garden.

Come grow with us!

Happy Gardener

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , on February 7, 2011 by PickMeYard

We now have more food than we could possibly eat growing in our garden and that makes me a happy gardener.  I added lots and lots of manure to our garden this year and it has made the soil so wonderful.  I found some friends that shared their manure and I took as much as I could get.  I ended up with horse, goat, chicken and rabbit poop.  Great stuff!  We have our own animals so we have manure for our garden, but I wanted a truckload full to jump-start our garden over our winter growing season.

Rabbit manure can be added straight to a garden without having to compost it.  Plants love rabbit poop.  The other manures need to be dried out for a while before they’re added to the garden.  There are some good reasons to compost it.  Do I do that?  Ummm… yeah, sure. 

The weather in Southwest Florida has been wonderful and heavenly.  We were the warmest spot in the nation last week.  It all works out fair in the end though… we get hurricanes.  For now, we have bragging rights.  I’ve found it difficult to sit at my computer to compose a post for my blog because I’ve spent every moment outside.  We’ve been picking gobs of strawberries,  romaine lettuce,  peppers,  tomatoes, nasturtiums,  collards,  napa cabbage,  beets,  onions and turnips.  I’m picking up a tray of ‘Florida 47’ tomatoes today to plant more before it gets too hot. 

Our beautiful hens have been giving us fresh, delicious eggs.  We have a doe (on loan) that is giving us 4 cups of milk a day and our bees are loaded with honey to be harvested.  The ‘to-do’ list is long, our business is overwhelming and we are tired, but we are enjoying and appreciating every minute of every day together.  We’ll sleep when we’re dead.  (I’m probably repeating myself here, but I have to keep telling myself this).

Our family garden.

A honeybee on our potted Persian lime bush. The bush variety is meant to be grown in a container.

This is a strawberry that is being grown in a pot. It's a plant left over from last winter. Most of them perished in our intense heat last summer.

These are newly planted strawberry plants. I planted 250 this year. This summer, I will find a way to protect them. They're the 'Sweet Charlie' variety.

This is a 'Cosmic Carrot' from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They're really delicious and definitely very pretty. The kids think they're awesome.

A young cauliflower that is maturing.

Brussel sprouts forming. They're super-duper delicious stir-fried!

Young kohlrabi. This is my first time growing this.

Lots of carrot tops. The cat in the background is guarding his catnip.

Romaine lettuce, some cabbage, heirloom tomatoes and dandelion.

Yummy nasturtiums. I've planted them everywhere this year.

Johnny-jump-ups are jumping up everywhere. I love that!

Enjoying the fresh air...

... and the warm dirt.

C'mon cat, this is a family blog. He's our 'farm cat'. He keeps all the animals safe from the lizards.

 Come grow with us! 

Soap Nuts

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , on December 8, 2010 by PickMeYard

A friend of mine  told me how wonderful her hair would feel after she washed it when she was a child in India.  She explained to me that her entire family would wash everything, including their bodies, hair, clothes and house with one thing… soap nuts.  I practically jumped out of my chair as she described them.  Why have I never heard of them?  They sound so incredible and I’ve never even heard of them.

I don’t like the crazy ingredients that are in modern shampoos, but I sure like the way they make my hair feel.  Natural shampoos strip my hair color and make it feel like straw.  It’s a terrible feeling to me.  However, it doesn’t stop me from always trying the latest shampoo that doesn’t use the endless list of chemicals.  I was really hoping that soap nuts (Sapindus) were the shampoo I’ve been waiting for all my life.

Turns out, soap nuts can be used to wash our faces, bodies, hair and especially clothing.  They can be used in modern washing machines.  All this without a single weird chemical or additives of any kind.  It seemed too good to be true.  I ordered some.  Okay, I ordered a lot.  I had a good feeling about them.

A bag of soap nuts from Greener Living.

The back of the soap nut bag.

I’ve been using them  for a while now.  They don’t work well on my hair.  They turn my hair into the horrible straw hair that I dislike.  However, I have permanently damaged, fine hair.  If I had thick, uncolored and undamaged hair, it might be a different story.  I didn’t love them as a skin detergent either… too drying.  I really like the way they smell though.  Although, I’ve read their aroma is offensive to some.  I don’t understand that.   

The easiest way to use soap nuts is to tie them in a bag.

A handful of soap nuts.

They hit the sweet spot with our laundry.  To be honest, I didn’t use them on my clothing for a long time.  I felt unsure about using them in the washing machine even though I’d read it was perfectly fine.  It took being out of  laundry detergent for me to give them a try.  I’m so glad I did.   Our clothes feel so clean and strangely soft.  I didn’t think they would work well on my husband’s dirty work clothes, but they proved me wrong.  For another perspective on soap nuts in the laundry, click here.

I wish we were tropical enough to grow one of these trees.  They’re actually a fruit even though they’re called nuts.  You’ve got to admit they’re pretty cool.

A close-up.

Inside a soap nut.

Come grow with us!

Sea Grapes: Part I

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2010 by PickMeYard

The seagrape tree (Coccoloba uviferai) is an old Florida favorite.  It’s so versatile.  They can grow huge and make an awesome noise barrier or can be kept small as a hedge.  My mom has pruned hers into a gorgeous shade tree (in the Caribbean).  It survived the ferocious hurricane Ivan when very few other trees on the island did. 

Lunch under G.G.'s sea grape tree in Grand Cayman.

Seagrape leaves.

Seagrape trees are native to Florida and grow well in the warmer parts.  Freezing temperatures can kill young plants that haven’t been established.  Older, larger plants would fare better in a serious Florida freeze. They also grow in many other parts of the world.  My son loves the seagrape tree and says it’s one of his favorites.  Whenever we see one, he’ll usually break off a leaf and just carry it around with him.  New trees can easily be started by cuttings from mature trees. 

We recently purchased two of our own trees from Riverland, our favorite local nursery.  We planted them in a spot along our riverbank where we desperately need shade.  They were inexpensive… $8 for a good-sized little tree.  We hope that we get grapes from them, but only the female seagrape plant will produce grapes.  We’re not sure if we have male or female trees because it’s too early to tell.  The male tree will show dead flower stalks. 

This is a seapgrape tree in Grand Cayman that was loaded down with grapes. It also had a honeybee yard next to it which helps.

Unripe seagrapes. The grapes do not ripen at the same time and can usually be seen with ripe, purple grapes among the green ones.

My great-grandmother used to make a seagrape jelly that everyone in the family went crazy over.  Her recipe has been lost or I would share it.  However, I have seen quite a few published recipes that look great.  If I had enough seagrapes, I would try the recipe from the Caloosa Rare Fruit Exchange Club because they are known to share their family recipes.  They have an easy seagrape marmalade recipe in their cookbook of favorite tropical recipes.  I didn’t get permission from them to reproduce the recipe, so you’ll have to buy the cookbook ($25).  However, here’s a link to a recipe from another blog.  The author gives a family recipe for seagrapes that was passed down in her family… click here.  This recipe is almost identical to the Caloosa cookbook recipe.  

Sanibel Island in Ft. Myers, Florida has honeybees that make the most sumptuous seagrape honey.  It’s harvested and sold by Curtis Honey.  I buy it by the gallon. (They sell mangrove honey too).  Some years have good seagrape honey harvests and other years hardly have any.  I never waste a drop. 

Come grow with us!