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!

Mi Gone Coconuts, Part II

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2010 by PickMeYard

The coconut has so many uses… it’s awesome.  When the coconut matures, the white meat inside hardens.  My friend, Roxanne, has been visiting us from Jamaica and showed us how to make coconut milk and coconut oil.  I feel confident that we could now survive on a deserted, tropical island if necessary. 

Mature, brown coconuts ready to be cracked open.

Greg poked a hole in the top of the coconut with a knife to drain the liquid out. This isn't the hard part.

We drained the liquid out of the coconut before we cracked it open.

Greg took the coconuts outside and cracked them open with a screwdriver and hammer.

The shelled coconut meat.

It’s difficult to separate the coconut meat from the hard coconut shell.  There is a learning curve to figure it out, but once you do, it gets easier.  It takes a little practice.  Roxanne uses a knife to pry the meat away from the shell.   It  was tedious at first, but I found my groove.  Roxanne showed me how to put my thumb right up at the tip of the knife. 

This is how Roxanne holds the knife when she separates the hard coconut meat from the shell.

Chopped up coconut meat, ready to go in the pot to cook down.

In Jamaica, they use a grater made from a piece of aluminum zinc that is made by piercing it with an ice pick.  I don’t have one, but I am definitely getting one.  It’s a very useful device.  Since I don’t have one right now, we cut the coconut meat into small bits.   We then blended it in the blender with a little water just to soften it and make it juicy so we could squeeze and strain it out. 

This is the blended coconut meat before it is strained and squeezed.Roxanne squeezing out the coconut milk.

The squeezed coconut. Notice the finger marks.

We then strained out the milk from the blended coconut meat.  We squeezed the blended coconut meat some more with our hands to get out all the milk. 

Delicious and fresh coconut milk.

The coconut milk is so incredibly delicious, I could not believe it.  I always buy and use canned coconut milk and I thought that was good.  The fresh milk knocked my socks off.  We cooked the coconut milk  in a big pot over the stove on medium to high.  We cooked it for a couple of hours and stirred it every once in a while to make sure it didn’t burn.  Roxanne said the cooking time depends on how many coconuts are used.   After awhile, the coconut oil separated from the milk and rose to the top.  A coconut custard developed underneath.  We drained off the coconut oil and put it in a container to cook with.  It can be used anytime for anything.  It has a long shelf life and does not go rancid easily.  We cooked scrambled eggs with some of it the next morning.  It gives your food such a wonderful flavor and there is research that suggests coconut oil is extremely good for your health. 

Homemade coconut oil.

The custard that formed at the bottom of the pot is a whole different story.  I think I would climb mountains and cross seas for this stuff.  OMG!  We were all trying to hide it from each other in the fridge.  It didn’t need any sugar or any other ingredients added to it.  It was just incredible. 

The coconut custard.

Roxanne is from Portland, Jamaica.  She has plenty of ripe coconuts at her disposal to make whatever she wants, but she doesn’t make it very often.  It can easily be  an all-day process.  If you’re going to use one coconut, you might as well use ten.  We rubbed the coconut oil on our skin as a lotion and I put it on the ends of my hair.  We rubbed some on our lips too.  Good stuff!  I doubt I will be making my own coconut milk very often either and I will continue to buy canned coconut milk.  I always look for the canned coconut milk that does not have any preservatives such at the Thai Kitchen and Whole Foods 365 brands.  I mix a can of coconut milk with two cans of water, a little salt and honey to keep in the refrigerator.  We use it instead of cow’s milk for almost everything. 

This is Roxanne with a Michelia champaca flower in her hair.

 The next time you see a can of coconut milk, you’ll know what had to be done to make it.  I have a whole new appreciation for it.

Come grow with us!

Eureka! Elderberries!

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2010 by PickMeYard

“Your mother was a hamster and your father wreaked of elderberries”- Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  This line has been going through my mind all day as I harvested my elderberries.  We’ve been watching and patiently waiting for our elderberries to ripen and they’re finally ripe… you wreak-a

Our beautiful elderberries are finally ripe in our yard.

This is the first time I’ve ever had the opportunity to pick elderberries(Sambucus canadensis) and make something with them.  In the past I always bought the Sambucal elderberry syrup at the health food store as a  flu and cold remedy.  I decided rather quickly that  I didn’t want to spend money on something I can easily grow myself.  About 2 years ago I planted 2 small elderberry plants that I bought from a local, native nursery.  Then I bought a “York” and a “Nova” variety of elderberry from Gurneys.  The Gurney’s elderberries came as two small sticks, so I’ll be waiting another year for elderberries from those.  However, my beautiful native elderberry bushes have given us lots and lots of berries this year. 

These are the two elderberry bushes I bought at the native nursery.

Elderberry bushes grow easily in zones 3-11.  They are drought tolerant and yet they don’t mind having “wet feet”. Pollination requires two plants.  They do need plenty of room because they send up suckers that spread easily.  I’ve read that they will grow 10-15 feet wide.  I plan to keep mine under control with pruning, although I’m looking forward to letting them go a little. We have the American elder growing all over Florida.  

Our chickens love the dense, cool shade under the elderberry bushes.

The elderberry flowers smell soooo good! They make a fabulous tea with health benefits as an added plus.

The elderberry flowers have risen to the top of my list as one of my absolute favorite flowers.  I found myself taking constant breaks to go out and smell them.  The blossoms can be dried in a dehydrator and stored in a bottle.  When you feel for elderberry blossom tea, you just add some of the dried blossoms to boiling water.  The blossoms can be used fresh too.  I prefer them fresh, but there is a short window of opportunity to enjoy them this way.  

The elderberry flowers fall off and are soon replaced by green berries which ripen to a deep purplish black berry.

Lots of ripe elderberries on our bush.

The ripe berries are so tempting to try fresh.  They smell good and look like they would be so sumptuously sweet… but they’re not.  I had to try a fresh one before it was cooked…  just had to.  I’m over it now.  They say some people get nauseous when they eat them raw, but I didn’t.  Maybe it would take more than one.  The raw berries contain alkaloids.  These alkaloids are destroyed when the berries are cooked. 

This is a wild elderberry growing on the side of a Florida road in Punta Gorda.

If you use wild elderberries, make sure you identify them correctly.  If the berries are red… stay away from them because they’re poisonous.  If you see thorns… run the other way.  Wild, edible elderberry bushes will not have thorns on them. 

A bag of ripe elderberries.

Picking elderberries off the stems.

Almost ready to cook... just a little more picking. We don't want any green ones in there.

I found a great recipe for elderberry syrup on YouTube from the Rose Mountain Herb Company .  I used it today to make my own elderberry syrups.  I made a small batch at first and followed his instructions exactly.  I wasn’t sure I was going to like it and I didn’t want to waste all my elderberries on a recipe I wasn’t sure of.  Well… we ended up going crazy over how good it was so I decided to make a huge batch of the syrup to keep in the fridge.  It will be so easy to make the kids a quick elderberry soda just by adding a bit of the syrup to some seltzer water.  I think  the syrup would be great over my homemade yogurt too. 

A bowl of ripe elderberries. I've always had it in my mind that I would make elderberry wine when I finally got my fresh berries. I realized today that it wouldn't be fair to my kids, so we made elderberry syrup. We can all enjoy the elderberries!

I always kept an elderberry concentrate in my fridge that I used constantly to jazz up my plain water.  I would just add a little bit to my glass.  This concentrate was usually hard to find and expensive.  I’m so glad I know how to make my own now.   I’m going to freeze some of the syrup in ice-cube trays. 

My very own, precious elderberry syrup.

We filled a cookie sheet with the fresh elderberries and dried them in the oven at 110 degrees.  They looked like mini raisins when they were done.  I’ll save these to add to some gluten-free muffins or make more syrup if I run out. 

My little helper put the elderberries on a cookie sheet so we could dry them in the oven at 110 degrees.

A cool glass of elderberry water flavored with ginger, cloves, cinnamon bark and honey. Delicious!

Come grow with us!

Lychee, The Divine Fruit

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 7, 2010 by PickMeYard

I think angels eat lychees in heaven.  If you haven’t ever tried a fresh lychee, don’t turn it down at your next opportunity.  It’s lychee (Litchi chinensis) season in Southwest Florida and we are stuffing ourselves with them while we can.  When lychees are ripe, you have about 2 weeks to pick them off the tree.  The good news is that they freeze really well.  If you don’t peel them or break the skin and you put them in a freezer bag, they will taste just as good in 3 months as they do now.

A bunch of fresh lychee fruit.

The peeling easily comes off a lychee fruit.

A peeled lychee.

There are many different varieties of lychee.  The best tasting is a variety called “No Mai Tze”, but it only fruits every 4-5 years.  Most other varieties will give you fruit year after year if the tree is mature.  The younger trees are not as reliable.  There are several mature lychee trees growing in Immokalee, Florida that are about 60 years old and are loaded with fruit year after year. 

The best way to tell if the fruit is ripe is to taste it.  If it’s really sweet, it’s ripe.  That may sound silly, but color isn’t always indicative of ripeness.  There’s a variety that stays green when ripe.

Grayson had never tasted a fresh lychee before and could hardly wait to try one.  Our little lychee tree in our yard is too young to give us fruit so I took him to the home of the best lychees in America… Pine Island, Florida. 

Bokeelia on Pine Island, Florida.

The Treehouse Nursery on Pine Island has over 20 different varieties of lychees (and 80 different types of mangos).  The nursery has a small team of experts that have extensive and unsurpassed knowledge about growing lychee and mango.  If you’re ever in the area, be sure to check out their exotic fruit stand.  It’s open on the weekends during the summer season. We tasted 5 different types of their lychees. 

The Emperor lychee is huge and the tree has a high productivity.

The Ohia lychee is a medium size fruit. The productivity is high on this one too.

The Brewster lychee is a medium size fruit with a large seed.

The Bosworth lychee, also called Kwai Mia "Pink".

The Sweet Cliff is a cross between the lychee and the longan. It is a smaller fruit with a very high productivity.

A lychee tree that is planted from seed will take about 10-20 years to give you fruit.  Most of the trees at The Treehouse Nursery are air-layered by expert grafters.  This is the best way to start a backyard lychee tree. 

A lychee tree with fruit... the Sweetheart variety.

A lychee tree can provide a huge harvest of fruit in a season.

Lychee trees need quite a bit of water for the fruit to ripen.  When you see flowers, make sure it gets plenty of irrigation until after the fruit is all picked.  The tree doesn’t need as much water after that, but still needs it.  It isn’t drought tolerant.  They also need fertilizer on a monthly basis when growing the tree to the desired height.  Once the height is achieved, the tree should be fertilized monthly from the day you see flowers on it until the last fruit is picked.  After that, you can stop feeding it until you see flowers again. 

A lychee tree is best kept pruned at the desired height, which is usually about twelve feet.  The more you prune it, the less brittle the branches become.  It is also important to add about 6-7 inches of mulch around the base of the tree.  This insulates the surface roots.  Don’t put the mulch right up against the trunk though because it could harm the tree.

Great news about growing lychee in Florida… they’re not affected by nematodes.  The nematodes in Florida are a huge problem for growers.

Lots of lychee trees. I wish this were my yard. We're working on it.

If you do happen to make it to Pine Island, make sure you visit “Great Licks Ice Cream Shop”.  They’re right on Pine Island Road (in Matlacha) and they have the best homemade ice cream ever!  They’re open seven days a week until 8 p.m.  The fresh lychee shouldn’t be hard to find, they seem to be everywhere on Pine Island this time of year. 

Come grow with us!

Passiflora, A fruit with Passion: Part I

Posted in Fruits of our labor, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on June 15, 2010 by PickMeYard

Our passion fruit vine last year.


Our passion fruit vine this year.

Passion fruit is an exquisite fruit.  When the fruit is ripe, I just cut it open and scoop out the seeds and pulp with a spoon and eat it all.  Some people don’t like the seeds and go to great lengths to separate them from the pulp.  We really like the seeds. 

The pulp and seeds are so yummy when they're blended into a milkshake.

There are many different varieties of the passion vine (Passiflora).  The variety in the above picture is called “bounty” because it gives a bounty of fruit.  We could barely contain our excitement when we finally had a ripe fruit to taste off our vine.  It was deliciously tart with a hint of a floral flavor. 

This bud will open into a passion flower.

This passion flower will close and a fruit will form. The flower has a lovely smell.


The passion flower closes and the fruit will soon form.


This is my husband's big hand holding a passion fruit. I'm just sayin'... that's a big passion fruit.


This fruit is in a much smaller hand.


When the passion fruit is ripe, it will turn purplish and will wrinkle up.


It's delicious!


There is so much to learn about the gorgeous Passiflora.  It comes in so many varieties.  We’re growing many different kinds of our own and can’t wait to see what they turn into.  

Did you know that the passion fruit acts like a sedative?  We always sleep well after we scoop it onto our vanilla ice cream before bed.  We’ve got lots more to share with you on this amazing plant.  Check back with us for part II on the Passiflora

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! 

So Berry Good: Part II

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2010 by PickMeYard

There are many varieties of papaya .   The kamiah papaya is a genetically modified variety from Hawaii.  The Mexican red is very sweet and larger than the Hawaiian varieties.  The Mexican yellow has a firmer texture than the Mexican red and is not as sweet. 

The Solo is the most common variety of papaya and is bisexual (not kinky in the plant kingdom.)  The solo papaya plant will not produce any male trees so each plant will provide fruit.  However, much of the solo variety is from Hawaii.  It seems that most papaya from Hawaii is now genetically modified due to cross-contamination

Our Papaya Tree

Our papaya tree produced prolifically for us over the past two years, but… we want to plant more.  The papaya tree peaks in the second year and usually declines after that.  We have two red maradols (Caribbean red) and a Hawaiian sunrise planted for this year.  We obtained our Hawaiian sunrise variety from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co.  They only sell organic and non-GMO seeds. We bought  two young red maradols from Echo Nursery in N. Ft. Myers, Florida that are bisexual.

We will be able to plant the seeds from these and there is a high probability that the seeds will be bisexual too.  These red maradols are not supposed to be genetically modified , but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.  They are, however,  a hybrid,  which is different from being genetically modified

Young Papaya Plants

Papaya is usually grown from seed.  The plant will reach about 10-15 feet in height and should give you fruit (a berry) within the first year of planting because it grows quickly.  The papaya tree has high water requirements and shallow roots.  It  must have warmth throughout the year and needs at least 10 months of heat to set fruit.  They grow well in a container.  

Some papaya plants have only short-stemmed female flowers.  Other papaya plants may have only male flowers on long stalks.  Some plants have both male and female plants (bisexual).  Sometimes the plant will change from male to female after being beheaded (garden language – don’t be scared.)  Pollination is usually necessary for fruit set and is done so at night by moths (and you thought all they did was fly around light bulbs.)   

Male Papaya Tree

Only female plants produce fruit.  One male plant is needed for every 15-25 females (bulls, roosters and papayas… every man’s dream life.)  If you have a bisexual papaya plant (solo variety),  it will act as its own pollen source for its flowers and nearby female flowers and will give you fruit. 

The non-GMO Hawaiian sunrise seeds that we germinated will be an assortment of male and female plants.  We are germinating all of them.  When they start to flower, we will compost all the males except for one (the dream ends here.)  We don’t have to do that with our red maradols.  Only one plant is needed to produce fruit. 

There are many pests that attack papayas in each region they grow.  In Florida they are susceptible to webworms, papaya fruit and white flies.  Florida also has a problem with nematodes in the soil that cause damage to the roots.  Mulching helps with the nematode problem.  Fungal and viral diseases can also be  problems.

I expected to have difficulties when we started growing papaya because we lots of pests and nematodes.  So far we have had no problems and a bountiful harvest. 

The orange-ish yellow fruit is ready to be harvested when the tip turns yellow.  I like my papayas to be really ripe, so I wait until they don’t look so picture-perfect on the tree anymore.  They bruise easily when they are ripe so they must be handled with care. 

A Ripe Papaya

Now… don’t you feel berry educated about this fabulous fruit?

Come grow with us!

So Berry Good: Part I

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2010 by PickMeYard

Technically, the papaya (Carica papaya) is a berry… and, it’s my favorite.  I wasn’t always a fan of papaya. My grandmother used to grow it in her yard when I was a kid.  I couldn’t stand the flavor.  When I was eleven-years-old I decided to give it another try. 

We were in Jamaica where the papaya was so beautifully presented on the plate that I couldn’t resist.  It had fresh lime squeezed all over it and the lime slices were also used as a garnish.  One bite and I was hooked for life.  The turning point for me was the fresh lime.  Whenever somebody tells me they don’t like papaya, I suggest they try it with fresh lime juice… they become converts.


In the West Indies, the leaves are cooked and eaten like spinach.  They are also applied topically to cuts and bruises.  The papaya is a healthy fruit with vitamin C, potassium, carotenoids, phosphorus, folate and fiber.  It has an enzyme, called papain, that has the power of digesting 300 times its own volume of protein.  It has a soothing effect on the stomach and aids the digestion of food.


The papaya’s seeds are rich in laetrile and also contain the papain enzyme.  The seeds of any fruit, except citrus, have laetrile that occurs naturally.  Papaya’s seeds are very spicy tasting… like pepper, and are commonly used as a pepper substitute. 

To prepare the seeds as a pepper substitute, soak the seeds overnight and then bake them at 150 degrees in the oven for about 5 hours.  I like to dehydrate my seeds in my dehydrator and then add a few of them to my pepper grinder along with pimento berries  and peppercorns.  My mom told me that she always eats a few fresh seeds when she is cutting a papaya.  I live by the motto, everything in moderation.  We consume the seeds in moderation due to the laetrile in them.  

Fresh Papaya Seeds

Dehydrated Papaya Seeds

The papaya is really easy to cut and prepare.  The fruit and outer peeling is soft like butter.  It can be sliced right down the middle and cut in half.  Then, gently scoop the seeds out with a spoon, fork or even your fingers. I simply slice fresh papaya for my family to enjoy. 

Sometimes I use the de-seeded halved papaya as a bowl for salsa or cooked shrimp.  When I’m making it for myself I skip the preparation.  I scoop the seeds out, douse it with squeezed  lime and dig in with a spoon (a grapefruit spoon is a handy papaya eating utensil.).  

Sweet Papaya "Berry" from our Yard

Scientists are researching papaya and its cancer fighting properties.  I’ve been told a hundred times in Jamaica that papaya  (“paw-paw” as they call it in Jamaica) “scare deh cancer”.  Jamaicans have always used food as medicine. 

 How long has it been since you tried some papaya?  “Ya mon, yuh muss try dem.”

Come grow with us.

Our Family Garden: Part I

Posted in Fruits of our labor, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2010 by PickMeYard

Our yard was beautiful before we started our garden.  It was simple.  I started noticing that we weren’t going outside much.  We would go outside to play a game or two, but even that happened less and less. 

Our yard before we started a garden

I started a small vegetable garden and realized that we were going outside all the time to look at the garden.  It wasn’t long before we turned the small vegetable garden into a large garden…and every year we make it larger.  We go outside every single day now.  Sometimes we spend the entire day outside enjoying our yard. 

Our Yard Now

Fenced-In Toddler Play Area

Last summer we fenced in a large area with chain-link for our toddler.  We wanted her to be able to play outside while we worked in the garden.  We are able to keep an eye on her and know she is safe, yet we are still be able to pull weeds.  Now that she is a little older, she is helping us pull weeds. 

Our Barbeque Pit

Last summer I also made a barbeque pit.  I envisioned the family sitting around it while I cooked our dinner over the fire.  My husband was irritated that I sacrificed one of our garden beds for the barbeque pit when I made it.  He got over it when he realized how much we used it over the past winter. We cooked a ton of marshmallows, hot dogs, and beans over the fire while we told stories.  The kids love it. 

Cooking over the barbeque pit

I do a lot of gardening in containers.  The black pots in the picture below are my favorite.  They are big but they don’t get too heavy.  They are made of plastic which is light and retains moisture.  I can move them around easier than heavy ceramic pots and the black color keeps the soil warmer in the winter.  However, I’ve decided that I don’t like the look of the black plastic and I am currently working on a new look. I’m going to paint them a natural green to blend in better with the surroundings and not stand out so much.  I tend to move them around a lot and “re-decorate”. 

Containers with Lettuce in Our Garden

Loring Working in Our Garden

Our Garden Beds

 Our garden has transformed over the course of many years.  It is always changing and we are always learning. 

Our Outdoor Chess Board

We love to play chess here.  I had Grayson help me build the chess board with concrete pavers and paint.  We collected the chess pieces from various discount stores.  I taught Grayson how to play chess and now I rarely win a game against him. 

Our Ship Playground

 This ship playground has brought my children many, many hours of sheer joy.  We added solar lights all over it that look like antique lanterns.  It looks like a Disney World pirate ship at night.  We’ve got solar lights in the garden beds that flicker to look like candles.  The effect is very pleasing.  There are several other assorted solar lights to up-light some small trees and light up the walkways.

Everybody Loves the Outdoor Couches

We find it difficult to leave our yard now.  We would rather stay home than go anywhere else.  Our perfect weekend is when we don’t have to go anywhere and we can just go outside to play in our yard with our animals and enjoy our garden. 

Our Ever Changing Garden

Come grow with us! 

Age Should Be Respected, but Youth Will Be Served

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , , , on April 3, 2010 by PickMeYard

Jamie Oliver

Do you remember what your school lunch tasted like?  It seems like such a long time ago, but I still remember the crap we were served.  I don’t know what the hamburger was made from, however, I know it wasn’t real beef. Jamie Oliver  is a celebrity chef that has a new show on ABC on Fridays where he is addressing the very serious issue of unhealthy food served in schools.

I am so psyched about this show.  I love what he is trying to do and the way he’s doing it.  He is inside the school lunch program in the town of Huntington, West Virginia. His mission is to convince the town to let him change the way the schools are feeding their children.  The change is from extremely processed, popular food to healthy food.  Many in the town are very against him being there and don’t want to change a thing.   

The local radio personality hates him and wants him to fail.  Jamie handles it all so well.  Everything he says makes really good sense.  I was hooked by the first episode. I am praying that he is able to get this town to listen to him.  If Huntington will listen then maybe other towns in America will start listening.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful  if instead of McDonald’s as a fast food choice we’ll have McJamie’s? Or McOliver’s?  At least I would rest assured that the food is real.


In the second episode, Jamie took several vegetables into the elementary school and asked the kids to raise their hands if they knew what vegetable he was holding up.  The kids didn’t have a clue what any of the vegetables were.  They did not recognize an eggplant, cauliflower, tomatoes, or even… a potato. They smelled the tomatoes and still didn’t know.  Subsequently, on her own,  the teacher spent some time teaching the children about vegetables. The next time Jamie quizzed them they were proudly shouting out the answers. 

He also learned that the children did not know how to use a knife.  (Why would they need to use a knife and fork if all they eat are chicken nuggets and pizza?)  Jamie, the principal and some teachers walked around the lunch room and taught the enthusiastic children how to use their cutlery.  

In the third episode, Jamie hosted a huge dinner for eighty movers and shakers in Huntington.  The meal was fabulous. They all enjoyed eating food cooked by a famous chef.  After they ate, they were informed that their meal, with Jamie’s guidance, was actually prepared by a group of local high school students.  The show is full of emotion and is very touching.

Why do we have to endure and without question accept the nasty food in our children’s schools?  I know they have a budget, but puh-leeze.  Our government wastes so much money on ridiculous things, why are our children sacrificed?  I doubt anybody would contest the importance of feeding our children a healthy school lunch, but… it isn’t happening.   

Our children’s health and lives are at stake. The youth are the future of this planet.  The food they eat determines their focus and concentration for the day…month…year.  The food they eat can also cause a child to have an untimely death due to diseases such as obesity, high-blood pressure, diabetes and many others.  I believe our children need to be thoroughly educated about food and it’s source. has been top AOL news twice.  The author is a teacher that is eating the school lunch every day and blogging about it anonymously.  The teacher has voiced concern about being outed and fired for doing so.  It’s a great project and I am thankful for the author’s courage.  

Jamie Oliver’s show, Food Revolution, is a powerful show.  I hope his mission is successful.  Please tune in and support his efforts to save our children.

Jamie has a lot of cookbooks published.  I only have one but I absolutely  love it.  It’s called Jamie at Home.  It’s loaded with gorgeous pictures and scrumptious recipes of his garden and what his family eats at home. 


Fortunately I am able to home school my son (we have just completed the first year at home.)  When he attended our public school, every day I cringed when I thought of the lunch he was eating.  I tried the lunch from home routine. This did not work as he wanted to eat like his peers.  This gave me no control over what he ate.  Now that he is home schooled, we are loving every bite of the garden food that we eat every day.  This year we are hoping to add a honey harvest to our bounty. 

Come grow with us!

A Berry Berry Good Lunch

Posted in Fruits of our labor with tags , , , , on March 7, 2010 by PickMeYard

Fresh from the garden today

This was lunch today.  We took the picture and then devoured them on the spot. Grayson said he feels sorry for people who can’t grow these. Made me laugh. They are so darn good. They have a really sweet wild berry flavor.  


We planted a hundred little “Sweet Charlie” strawberry plants on November 6, 2009.  We ordered the tiny plants from Willis Orchard Company. We’ve had several huge strawberry harvests over the last couple of months.  The berries just keep on coming and the plants are lovely.

I was skeptical about planting strawberries because I have always been told that growing strawberries in Southwest Florida is difficult.   There was nothing hard about it.  I planted them in the ground and they grew…and grew.  The bees have been all over them. 

 Come grow with us!