Archive for the Solutions Category

A Garden for the Goats

Posted in Solutions with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2012 by PickMeYard

You’re probably wondering who would grow a garden for their goats.  We are those odd people who do this, but it’s not just for the goats.

Her name is Violet and this is her Garden of Eden.

Over the past several years I’ve struggled with my gardens during the summer in SW Florida.  The weeds, the insects and the humidity are so extreme by July and August that I can barely stand to go outside.  I don’t want to pull weeds in the summer and I’ve had enough of the fire ants.

One summer I let the weeds take over and it was back-breaking work to reclaim my garden in the fall.  Another year I spread black plastic over everything.  I was hoping it would prevent all weed growth.  The weeds still managed to survive somehow and the black plastic disintegrated quickly. It didn’t look good and I had to send a bunch of plastic to the landfill.  I felt terrible about it. Last summer I put down weed mat fabric so the water could still get through but the weeds wouldn’t get the light they needed.  This worked, but it still wasn’t my solution.  The fabric shredded easily and had to be staked down everywhere to stay in place.  I found it difficult to plant around it and I wasn’t happy.  These methods might work great for many others, but they weren’t working for me.

This summer I tried something new and it is the answer I have been searching for.  Our dairy goats love to waste hay.  They are messy eaters and once the hay hits the ground they won’t touch it.  I have been collecting all their wasted hay (it’s a lot) and putting it on my gardens.  This has kept the moisture in the soil and provided awesome insulation against the heat.  I planted sweet potato and tropical calabaza pumpkin vines which quickly covered the ground.  The weeds are much more manageable now because there is only a small patch here and there.  I also planted some heat-loving sunflowers and pigeon pea bushes.  It looks like a jungle, but it’s a jungle of food instead of weeds.  When I’m ready to mow it down to plant vegetables in the fall, I’ll let the goats finish it off.  This has worked out so well that I’m hoping to do it every summer.

Tropical pumpkin vine spreading everywhere and keeping the weeds down. It thrives in the heat and humidity. It has some insects but doesn’t seem too bothered.

A friend told me she had trouble with this method because she ended up with some treated hay that prevented growth of any kind in her garden.  I was afraid to use my hay for a long time because I didn’t want this to happen to me.  Another reason I was told not to use hay was because it might come with weeds in it that would germinate.  My garden has never been weed free, so I was willing to take the risk.  Ideally, the hay should be composted first, but I’m just not going to do it.  I’m happy to report that I’ve been using my hay as mulch for over a year now and it has done wonders for my gardens in every season.

Sweet potato vine and Indian gongurra.

I still need to pull weeds this summer in some of my garden beds that don’t have much planted in them.  The past few weeks have been so hot and humid that I’ve resorted to throwing the hay on top of the weeds to smother them instead of pulling them out.  There are probably lots of reasons not to do this, but it’s working out great for me.  It’s keeping the beds looking tidy.  I’ll deal with the weeds when the threat of heat stroke goes away.

I’ve kept my basil from frying to death this summer by planting them under my kaffir lime tree. They’re doing really well with the protection.

Which one is not like the others?

We walk our goats to their garden several times a week to help them get some exercise.  These dairy goats have been such a win-win for us.  There’s no going back to life without them.

Come grow with us!

Reclaiming the Garden

Posted in Solutions with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2010 by PickMeYard

There’s nothing I could say about weeds that hasn’t already been said.  Everybody is looking for the solution.  I think the best solution is to learn to tolerate them… to a point.  I’ve been educating myself recently on which ones are actually edible.  A surprising amount of them can be eaten by humans.  I was weeding today and worked up the nerve to nibble on some purslane.  It wasn’t bad at all and I was pleasantly surprised.  Grayson was thrilled.  He won’t eat brocoli or spinach but he thinks purslane is delicious.  Kids are hilarious. 

I bought a fantastic book recently at the Seminole Indian reservation called “Healing Plants; Medicine of the Florida Seminole Indians” by Alice Snow and Susan Stans.  It’s the first published record of Florida Seminole herbal medicine and ancient healing practices.  It explains the uses for quail’s foot and lizard tail.  Don’t get excited, they’re just plants.   I just love to learn about nature’s remedies.  I’ve gone off my topic though.  My topic is about removing the weeds and reclaiming my garden space from them. 

This was my vegetable garden about a month ago. No, I don't work in my garden everyday during the summer. I haven't done much work in it this summer at all... too hot.


This is my vegetable garden today. I reclaimed it. That's cassava in the picture.


The clear plastic I put down will solarize the soil.  The heat generated will kill the weeds, diseases and pests (especially nematodes) in the top soil and make our garden ready to plant in September (or early October).  It isn’t the ultimate solution though because the plastic breaks down rather quickly and then it goes into a landfill.  This method works best for me because I don’t have to use any chemicals (which I despise) and it gives me a reprieve from pulling weeds for a couple of months.  It actually gives me a much-needed break from the vegetable garden and keeps it looking tidy.  I tend to use this time to focus on my fruit trees and add manure around their bases.  The summer rains wash away a lot of nutrients. 

This was the garden bed yesterday.


This is the garden bed today. It could probably be described as back-breaking work. I think it makes the food taste better and be more appreciated.


Even after all the weed pulling, there are still weeds coming through all the cracks around my garden beds.  I can live with these.  They always go away in the winter anyway.  One of my big problems this summer was the eleven different kinds of mint we planted.  Grayson and I loved it so, so much.  Everybody told us not to plant it in our garden but we wouldn’t listen.  I rationalized it by saying that it would crowd out the other weeds that I didn’t want and every step through it would smell like mint.  It did smell lovely but it sent runners underground in all different directions and spread like fire.  I pulled every bit of it up and out of the garden. We will keep it in pots from now on… lesson learned. 

The African basil is thriving in the heat. The bees are all over it and dash madly from flower to flower.


Honeybees on the African Basil.


The papaya trees are loaded with blooms about to set fruit.


The coneflowers love the summer heat.


Sugar cane in our yard. We've given it a large area.


Our little banty chicken (the boss) has been extremely broody. We put the fertile duck eggs under her because the duck is not interested in being a mother.


We had to give broody "Sweet Pea" her own box because she was causing a traffic jam.


This is a new addition to the family. A friend gave her to us because she said it was time to get her out of the house. This young hen has been thoroughly socialized by watching T.V. with her 3-year-old in the living room. There are too many predators outside her house.


She is the sweetest little hen ever! She just wants to be held.


Our predators are inside our house. This lazy predator won't even kill a roach.


It's the dog days of summer alright.


The garden is always changing.


Come grow with us!

The Extension System

Posted in Solutions with tags , , , , , , , on June 12, 2010 by PickMeYard

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension System is a reliable place to get information about plants and soil for your local area.  The “extension” is a partnership between State, federal and county governments to provide scientific knowledge and know-how to the public.

Grayson and I spend quite a lot of time at our local extension agency because this is where we attend our local  beekeeping meetings.  We recently joined the Caloosa Rare Fruit Exchange Club   which also has their meetings at the agency.  We are delighted when we run into our favorite extension agent  (Roy Beckford) because his sense of humor always makes us smile… and he always finds the answers to our questions.

This is Grayson at our local cooperative extension agency, UF/IFAS. Grayson is standing in their fabulous butterfly garden.

Our local extension agency is called the University of Florida IFAS Extension.   IFAS stands for Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.  They have a ton of programs geared toward teaching individuals and families.  They offer classes,  seminars,  workshops, field days and tons of other stuff.  I’ve been trying to get into their “small farm day” tour where they all ride around in a comfy bus and visit great little farms.  It’s always full before I can secure a spot.   IFAS has a great website for small farmers at

Grayson and I are going to attend the “Goat Production and Health Seminar” at the UF/IFAS Extension Office this weekend.  There is always something happening there.  Check out their calender of events.

We love the UF/IFAS butterfly garden. We always check to see what is new.

Grayson is checking out their "Butterflies of Lee County" sign.

Kids can get involved with the Florida 4-H Youth Development Program with the UF/IFAS extension.   This program is designed to teach children (ages 5-18) life skills with hands-on projects.  They learn with the guidance of trained volunteers.  Grayson is hoping to show a goat in 4-H this year.  Each county offers different clubs that children can join inside the 4-H program.  Our county even offered a sewing and game playing group last year. 

The UF/IFAS office provides programs to teach a wide array of topics.  They offer resources and solutions for everything from selecting the right crop for your area to money management.   UF/IFAS can be found at Solutions For Your  Their website has an incredible amount of information.  Each of Florida’s sixty-seven counties has an IFAS office.    This is also where the Master Gardener Program  is offered. 

Grayson is sitting on the bench at our local UF/IFAS office with his notebook. He's taking some notes on the butterfly plants.

No matter where you’re located in the United States, a local Extension Agency  is probably nearby.   They are a valuable resource… use them.

Come grow with us!

A Stinky Situation

Posted in Chickens, Solutions with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2010 by PickMeYard

We have been adding and removing plants from our garden every week.  The sunflowers grow tall and then need to be pulled and thrown into the compost pile… along with the old flowers and herbs.  Florida summers are hard on some plants and new plantings usually take the place of the old ones.  This summer we’ve mostly planted black-eyed peas, okra and callaloo.  They grow well in our hot Florida summers and we enjoy them on our dinner plates. 

A row of black-eyed peas. I've planted them all over the garden. They fix the nitrogen in the soil and are a great plant for Florida's extreme summer.

Black-eyed peas.

Giant sunflowers.

We painted the chicken tractor the same color as our house. The kids had a blast painting it...for about 30 minutes. A little help is better than none at all.

The stinky situation is not our compost pile though.  It’s the brown marmonated stink bugs that have shown up.  I kept noticing them on our young watermelon, squash and cucumber plants.  I sprayed them with a poison which made Grayson frown at me.  I used the insecticide against my better judgement, but I wanted to see these bugs disappear off my young plants.  The bugs just laughed at me and increased their numbers.

We decided we needed to figure out a better way to rid our garden of these pests.  Grayson put a specimen in a jar for us to study.  Our conclusion is that it is indeed the brown marmonated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) that has come over to the U.S. from Asia.  It is an invasive pest that was discovered to have made its way into the U.S. in 2001 and is spreading throughout the states.  It sucks the life out of many trees, fruits, and vegetables and is extremely difficult to eradicate. 
We are taking our specimen to our local Florida County Cooperative Extension Service Office  for a positive identification.  I am really hoping that I have it confused with another bug.   I’ll update you on the results.
Grayson and I recently bought twelve little chicks from a friend.  Nine of the birds are Cuckoo Maran chickens that lay dark chocolate eggs.  Three of the chicks are guinea fowl (babies are called “keets”).  We added the three little guinea fowl to the mix but did not tell my husband.  Nine of the chicks are black and white and three of the chicks (guineas) look remarkably different with stripes all over them.

Baby Cuckoo Maran chicken and guinea fowl.

My husband kept commenting that he couldn’t believe how different in color three of the chicks were.  Grayson and I couldn’t keep the secret and eventually told him that we secretly slid 3 guinea fowl in the box.  He said we were crafty and that they would never work out because they’re loud, boisterous and like to fly.  I said they will work out because they’re vocal, entertaining and I want them.  So there. 

Guinea Fowl. I think they're adorable...and they have yummy eggs with a very hard shell.

A great website with information about guineas is   Did you know that guineas can completely rid a yard of ticks? That means there is a much lower risk of getting lyme disease.  They also eat fleas, lice, cutworms, spiders, roaches, termites, grubs, snails, mosquitos and… stink bugs!  They eats thousands of insects in a day.  They might just be our solution.  They also enjoy eating bees, but I’ll figure that one out later.  For now, I am most inclined to get rid of all the bad bugs.
Come grow with us!   

A Garden Flower Shower

Posted in Solutions with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2010 by PickMeYard

Our garden changes every week and sometimes every day.  We pulled out the collards that had gotten big and yucky and pulled out all the cilantro.  A bunch of tomato plants grew up in the flower bed from the compost we had put in.  The heat in Southwest Florida is starting to take its toll on our garden.  We’re now planting crops that like extreme heat for the summer time.  The black-eyed pea plants are loving the 95 degree temperatures and so is the okra and callaloo.  We’ve trying to grow several unique varieties of watermelon this year and many, many unusual passionfruits.  The sunflowers love the heat too and a few of them are well over 6 feet tall right now.  

A surprise harvest of tomatoes.

This tomato has so much personality that we gave her a name. We haven't eaten her yet.

My favorite addition to the garden this year is our garden flower shower.  It’s handmade from copper and has a valve to turn it on and off.  It also has a spigot that provides a wonderful footwash. I’ve got it set up right next to our back door where we come in from the garden. It’s nice  to have a quick footwash before we go into the house.  My daughter loves to play in the shower and the ducks watch with envy in their eyes. 

Flower shower head.

The copper flower shower is 7 feet tall.

This is the spigot at the bottom of the shower. It makes the perfect footwash.

Foot wash.

The valve to turn the shower on and off.

The shower is used as a fountain in this picture. The base of the shower is in concrete and it is plumbed into a small pump and the pump is placed into the galvanized bucket.

A flower shower fountain.

I gave one of these to my mom for mother’s day.  The company has lots of flower colors to choose from…it’s tough to make a choice.  The footwash is an addition to the shower and costs a little extra, but it’s worth it.  The shower can be ordered from Crafty and Copper Creations.  It was a bit of a splurge for us but it is handmade from copper and we use it every day.  It has been a great solution to stop the huge amount of dirt that was traveling into the house from outside.  We love it. 

Come grow with us!

ECHO…fighting world hunger

Posted in Solutions with tags , , , , , on March 6, 2010 by PickMeYard

This is a picture of callaloo growing in our garden.  I will do a future post on callaloo because it requires special attention. It is such an awesome food source.  I obtained these callaloo seeds from a place named ECHO.  I was elated to find them.

ECHO is a non-profit, Christian organization that is dedicated to fighting world hunger.  They help families in developing countries to grow food under difficult conditions.  They tell them what  food will grow where they live and they teach them how to grow it.  Not only do they teach them about agricultural techniques, but about animals as well.  They teach the poor farmer to use their rooftops, concrete surfaces and how to use clever containers to grow their food.

ECHO trains interns and missionaries  in tropical agriculture and animal husbandry and they grow seeds for their seed bank.  We are lucky enough here in Southwest Florida to have public access to their global village where they do all this training and provide tours.  They have a wonderful book store that sells a wide array of books, cards, neem products and of course…seeds.  The best part is the nursery that is located across the street from the book store.  They have a wealth of rare and unusual fruit trees, herbs, and vegetables (sales tax-free too).  I have bought so many splendid edibles from them over the years.  I don’t think I have ever left the nursery empty-handed. 

One of my favorite purchases from them was an Indian pepper bush that produced hundreds of peppers non-stop for two years… until a hard freeze finally got it this year.  They don’t always keep a certain plant in stock.  If you  see something you want, I would recommend buying it then.  They might not ever get it again.  I haven’t seen my Indian pepper for sale there since I bought it two years ago.  I did save my seeds though and I hope to germinate them when it warms up this year. 

The staff that work in the nursery are interns who are always full of information and very helpful.  If they can’t answer your question they will radio someone who can. 

They are having their 19th Annual Farm Day on March 13, 2010 from 9 a.m to 3 p.m.  I have missed it every year but will definitely be attending this year.  They have more information about this event on their website.

The ECHO website is worth a visit.  Click on the agriculture tab at the top of their home page. Click  on agricultural information and then click on ‘book, amaranth to zai holes’.  You’ll find an enormous amount of information.  Their blog is great too.  My kids love to visit ECHO. They are always excited about what treasure we will find to take home to add to our garden.

Come grow with us!