Posted in Flowers with tags , , , on August 15, 2011 by PickMeYard

We tend to gravitate toward growing edibles in our yard.  If we’re going to take the time and money to feed, water, protect, nurture and whisper sweet nothings to our trees and plants, then we’d like to get something in return.  Vitamins and other nutrients are the goal from our edibles, but we’ll settle for flavor sometimes.

Our ylang-ylang tree (Cananga odorata) doesn’t give us any edible delights, but this tree gets a free pass in our yard anytime.  It provides us with the most extraordinary and divine flowers we’ve ever known.  Just one cut flower in the center of our table makes the house smell better than any store-bought “smell-good” ever could.  My husband couldn’t believe how great the house smelled when he came home the other day.  It was aromatherapy at its finest.

A highly aromatic ylang-ylang flower.

I planted two small ylang-ylang trees in our yard about four years ago.  I knew I was taking a risk by trying to grow them in our zone because they’re so sensitive to frost, but I had to try. We’ve had some unusually cold winters in our zone 9b over the past few years and it kept damaging the young ylang-ylang trees.  I didn’t cover them or help protect them from the cold in any way.  The trees survived though and would recover from the cold and frost each year.  By the time our Florida rainy season would start in the summer, the trees looked like they’d never seen a cold day.  It seems like we waited forever for them to flower.  We were wondering if they ever would.

It was such a wonderful surprise this summer to find the trees full of flowers.  To stand under the tree is intoxicating and heavenly.  It was definitely worth the wait and our family is in complete agreement about that!

A medium sized ylang-ylang tree in our yard.

Picking a ylang-ylang flower.

A close-up of a ylang-ylang flower.

A young ylang-ylang flower developing on the branch.

A cluster of ylang-ylang flowers.

The flowers are hard to spot on the tree.

Ylang-ylang flowers in different stages of developement on the branch.

The kids enjoying the scent of a ylang-ylang flower.

Click on TopTropicals.com for a more on this special tree…  their site has a wealth of information.

Come grow with us!

The Kaffir Lime Tree

Posted in edible leaves with tags , , , , , , , on August 14, 2011 by PickMeYard

Every time someone new visits our yard, we take them straight to our kaffir lime tree (Citrus hystrix) to introduce them.  We find that most people have never heard of it.  However, those that are familiar with it absolutely love this fabulous tree.

This is one of our kaffir lime trees. It needs pruning. The butterflies love this tree.

The first thing I do is pick a leaf off the tree, crush it and stick it right up to our guests nose and say, “smell this”.  The reaction is always the same… oh wow!  We never fail to send our guests home with a freezer bag full of the fresh leaves.  They freeze perfectly for later use.  They can frequently be found in the freezer section of most Asian markets in the U.S.

The kaffir lime leaf has a unique shape and flavor. Citrusy and aromatic.

It’s tough to describe the flavor and smell of the kaffir because it is unique.  It’s very pleasing though.  Most people love it right off the bat.  Personally, I don’t think I could live without it in my life.  Okay, that might be a tad dramatic, but you get my drift.  It’s exquisite.

I have a kaffir lime tree growing in my front yard and in the back.  My kids love to grab a leaf as they walk by the tree, crunch it up in their hand and hold it for awhile.  Sometimes they’ll bring some leaves in the house to throw in their glass of water or lemonade.  I do cook with the leaves quite a bit too, especially in my coconut milk, lemongrass chicken and Thai curries.  The leaves are used to flavor and are not usually eaten.  For some more kaffir lime leaf recipe ideas, check out ThaiTable.com.

It is the leaf of this citrus tree that is generally used for culinary reasons, not the fruit.  We’ve started using the fruit recently though and now we wonder why we didn’t start using it sooner.  The fruit tastes exactly like the leaf but it’s very sour (a little bitter maybe).    We think the kaffir lime makes a wonderful drink and we even add the zest to the drink.  I like to add a little of the zest to my yerba mate too.  I’m sure there are thousands of ways to use this incredible flavor.  I will not be letting them fall off the tree to rot anymore.

Funny looking, bumpy, and very sour kaffir lime.

A kaffir lime cut in half.

The kaffir lime tree grows well in zones 9, 10 and 11.   It is susceptible to frost damage.  My trees have been through a couple very cold Florida winters recently and only had minimal damage.  They recovered quickly from their frost bite.

Check out LifesDandies.com for more information on finding a kaffir lime tree in Florida.

I haven’t grown a kaffir lime tree in a container for myself, but I’m certain the tree would do well if it was taken care of properly.  It would need to be fed during its growth cycle and shouldn’t be overwatered.  My favorite book on growing edible trees in containers is Growing Tasty Tropical Plants*in any home, anywhere… by Laurelynn G. Martin and Byron E. MartinI love this book for its pictures because it inspires me and gives me great ideas. The book gives some information on how to grow tropicals inside, but I think it could use a lot more.  It still remains one of my favorites.

A female Eastern Black Swallowtail on our kaffir lime tree.

Have I talked you into growing a kaffir lime tree for yourself?  I hope so.

Come grow with us!

A Garden Tea Party Fit for a Princess

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , on August 12, 2011 by PickMeYard

We don’t usually need a reason to have a little tea party, but this was a birthday tea party for my 4-year-old.  She invited her friends over for a Princess Tea Party and asked them to wear their favorite princess dress.

A gazebo was set up in the garden and decorated with sheer Ikea curtains and adorned with flowers and butterflies.

Each chair had a slip cover and a handmade garland with ribbons and flowers for each girl to take home.

The Frog Prince waited patiently on the table for his true love.

A handmade flower chandelier with big butterflies around it hung over the table.

Another view of the flower chandelier.

The table setting was definitely fit for a group of princesses.

We made traditional tea sandwiches for the moms and the girls.

We made the girls sandwiches into a variety of shapes.

Cupcakes and cookies.

A colorful fruit salad with persimmon, oranges, blueberries and pomegranate.

Princess candies.

Tea cups for the moms.

Water with lemons and rose petals from the garden... no insecticides.

Princess tea cart... each girl took her tea set home as a gift, along with a bunch of other gifts!

Each little girl was given a paper bag and a bin full of craft items to decorate their bag.  They used their bag to carry home an assortment of gifts such as a snow globe with their picture in it, a purse and a little ceramic tea set.

... and the Princesses!

They were all treated like real princesses for an afternoon.

They played on the ship playground and did several party games.

... and GiGi worked tirelessly to make the fairytale party come true. That's her lighting the birthday candles.

My mom brought the gazebo over to our house, decorated the gazebo, made the chandelier, made a table out of plywood, set the table, brought a ton of extras and stayed up until the early morning hours to finish it all for the party.  Mom, thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Come grow with us!

Glorious Gardens of Prospect Plantation

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , on August 10, 2011 by PickMeYard

I’ve seen my share of beautiful places and scenic gardens around the world.  As my memory fades, I try to remember something in particular about the place to lock it into my memory so I can hold onto it as long as possible.   On a recent adventure through a gorgeous plantation in Jamaica, I realized my children would be holding onto their memories of this garden for a long time to come… especially the cow itch my 4-year-old got on her backside.  She was such a brave little trooper- it stings!  I’ll be sure to show that picture at her wedding.

We are so lucky to have a close friend that lives in a charming old cottage deep in the woods of Prospect Plantation, just outside Ocho Rios, Jamaica.  We spent a weekend with her and explored the historic area until our legs cramped up.  The respite from television, phone and internet was a deep breath of fresh air.  We made friends with snails, cicadas, mongoose, hummingbirds, camels… and probably a few duppies

The fairytale cottage we stayed in.

... sneak peek inside the cottage.

Exploring new paths .

Gardens on the plantation at Prospect, Ocho Rios.

Canna lilies. Grayson's photo.

A hummingbird nest.

... magnificent view down the hill.

Leaf imprints on concrete pavers.

A tree planted by Charlie Chaplin.

Antique grind stone.

Sweet, sweet kissing camels. Just look at those lovely lips!

This Jamaican land snail was lovingly nicknamed "Snaily". This critter had personality and was much more entertaining than T.V.

Smiling for the camera.

Cicadas everywhere! Their wings shimmer like gold in the sun.

Kids peeking around the corner at the old Prospect Chapel.

Grayson peeking around the same corner long before his sister was born. We've been here before.

Dancing in the flowers.

Making memories and enjoying every precious moment of it.

I’m ending this post with another favorite song because it’s just so appropriate…  Sweet Jamaica, by Tony Rebel. 

Come grow with us!

Vital Jamaican Roots

Posted in Edible Roots with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 9, 2011 by PickMeYard

Vendors dot the sides of most Jamaican roads and they sell such wonderful treasures!  They sell all sorts of things, but they almost always include tropical fruits, handcrafted items, herbs, and drinks.  I love it when I see the rum bottles of all colors.  The rum is long gone, but the bottles are filled with fresh juices and tonics that are special recipes.   Fresh, Jamaican noni juice  is quite a popular one.  My favorite is the Jamaican roots tonic.

A Jamaican vendor selling colorful footballs and coconuts.

A roadside vendor in Kingston.

Pineapples, tonics and bananas for sale.

A typical Jamaican variety of sellable items.

The Jamaican root tonic is mysterious.  I have questioned so many people about it over the years and found that only a few of them know anything about the roots drink.  Most of the time, the answer I get is just an eyebrow lift and a giggle.  The reason is that roots are generally known for being a potent aphrodisiac (a Jamaican Viagra).  However, I recently learned there are many root tonics in Jamaica.  My new favorite is a concoction made by Ms. Bernice at the Ocho Rios market.  She gave me a tonic for all-over vitality and energy.   She openly shared her recipe with me and sent me home with all kinds of interesting herbs and roots.  My son and I visited her at the market late in the day on a Saturday so she was the only vendor left.  It ended up being our lucky day because she spent hours talking to us.  We learned so much from her.

Ms. Bernice holding up her roots tonic in a rum bottle.

Ms. Bernice's Roots & Tings

A vendor stand at the Ocho Rios market.

These are some of the Jamaican roots from Ms. Bernice's market stand.

Ms. Bernice handed me a big bag full of roots and explained each one to us.  I kept telling my 10-year-old son to help me remember.  We remember her giving us chaney root, sarsparilla root, breadnut root, nickel, dandelion root, kola-nut (which is a seed also called bissy), molasses, honey, Jamaican peppermint (savory) and … I think that’s it.  Ms. Bernice said to boil all the ingredients in a huge pot and let it simmer for a couple of hours.  Cool, strain and bottle.  Apparently the root tonic gets better as it ages and does not need to be refrigerated.  I haven’t made my own roots yet (and not sure I will).  I’ve been enjoying Ms. Bernice’s bottle.  She told me to drink it with a glass of ice and so I have.  However, I live by the motto “everything in moderation”.

Roots, rock ... reggae.

Jamaica is absolutely alive with folk medicine.  They are tuned in to the nature around them and continue with century-old customs and traditions.  Many of their ways probably need more study.  An in-depth book that I recommend on the topic is called Jamaican Folk Medicine:  A Source of Healing, by Arvilla Payne-Jackson and Mervyn Alleyne.  Some other great books are Healing Herbs of Jamaica by Ivelyn Harris (7th Generation Maroon Herbalist) and Bush Doctor by Sylvester Ayre.  These books are part of my home library and I refer to them often. 

This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning  Uptown Top Ranking by Althea and Donna... it rocks!

Come grow with us!






Goats in Jamaica

Posted in Goats with tags , , , , , on August 5, 2011 by PickMeYard

I’ve taken a long break from posting to my blog.  It wasn’t intentional.  I always have so much information that I want to share.  I think it’s a bit like exercising … when you stop, it’s tough to get started again.

Our garden is thriving, but we tend to spend most of our free time with our goats these days.  We milk twice a day and it’s a family affair.

We have 6 goats now .  Funny how it all started with 2 baby Nigerian dwarfs.  We added 4 larger breeds and one of them is giving us a gallon of milk a day.  Our 2 baby Nigerian dwarfs are not babies anymore.  They’re both over a year old and should be having their own babies in about 120 days.  It’s all very exciting to us.  We won’t keep any of the babies though.  Our herd must stay small.  My children disagree.

A recent trip to Jamaica provided us with some great photos that I just can’t keep to myself.  The first set is a series of pictures that I took while driving from Kingston to the country (outside Ocho Rios).  Every time someone in the car spotted a goat, they yelled “g-o-a-t”!  I tried my best to get a decent picture.  The numerous potholes, rain, kamikaze drivers, roadside cliffs and other surprises on the Jamaican roads gave me less than a second to get a shot.   We were very interested in the breeds we would find in Jamaica.

Jamaicans love curried goat. I don't think they realize how great the milk is.

A herd of goats came charging out an open gate. They stopped before running into the road.

This group was on a very curvy road. We saw this same herd walking down the side of the road on our way back.

My friend watched a Jamaican goat look both ways and cross the street at a cross-walk the other day.

... outside a rum bar.

I missed the shot of the herd walking in a single line along the road ... and facing traffic! I caught these two resting.

More goats in traffic. We're just so amazed at how street smart they are.

A Jamaican buck enjoying his smorgasbord of greens.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a link to one of my family’s all-time favorite songs, “Ram Goat Liver”, by Pluto.

Come grow with us!


Milk, Milk, Baby!

Posted in Problems with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2011 by PickMeYard

I’ve been writing this blog post in my head for nearly a month. 

Let me start by saying that I love milk… really love it.  However, I’ve heard that it can cause mucous in the body.  I’ve also heard that it’s not really that great for people to drink it.  I own (and read) the book, Don’t Drink Your Milk, by Frank A. Oski, M.D.  and have followed the theory that the Chinese (and other Asians) have less health problems than westerners because they avoid dairy. 

Dairy Cows.

I’ve eliminated milk and milk products from my diet for months at a time and felt a noticeable improvement in my well-being.  However, in my world, this dietary sacrifice never lasted and I welcomed the milk back… with a smile.  I missed it too much, no matter how terrible the former Physician-in-Chief of John Hopkins Children’s Center says it is for me.

A cow udder.

A recent phone call from a friend rocked my world.  She said that retail cow’s milk from the grocery store can give a baby goat Johnes disease (pronounced ‘yo-nees’).  My reply was, “That’s ridiculous.  Retail cow’s milk is ultra-pasteurized and ultra-dead, everybody knows that”.  Oh… I was so wrong.

I researched Johne’s disease which opened a can of worms.  Pasteurization does not kill everything, nor does ultra-pasteurization.   

There is a common bacteria called mycobacterium paratuberculosis that can survive pasteurization.  It is believed to cause Crohn’s disease in people, especially young people.  The scientists and public health authorities know that the bacteria is associated with Crohn’s disease, but don’t have  evidence that it directly causes Crohn’s.  There are theories that genetic and/or environmental factors may also contribute to the development of Crohn’s, but it is unknown.  There are millions of people suffering worldwide from this disease and the number is growing exponentially.  I wonder why there is little effort to find out if the bacteria (mycobacterium paratuberculosis) that is present in our food supply is causing people to develop Crohn’s disease? It seems obvious that the bacteria is causing life-threatening illnesses in people and animals.  If it isn’t… then it should be ruled out. In fact, more research is desperately needed.  Fifty percent of Crohn’s disease patients are children and there is no cure.

The bacteria (mycobacterium paratuberculosis) is also found in meat, cheese and water that is being sold to the general public for consumption in the U.S. and Europe. Are we at risk from the bacteria?  That remains to be seen.

Most of my research implies that many dairies are unaware of Johne’s disease in their herds.  It is almost impossible to detect in young livestock and probably too late when they show the deadly symptoms.  There are ways to manage the disease, but none of them are easy.  It is a 1.5 billion a year problem for the cattle industry.  A  survey conducted in 2007 showed that 68% of U.S. dairy herds were infected with mycobacterium paratuberculosis.  I wonder what it has grown to now?

Delicious milk. This is goat milk, which is white. Cow milk has a slight yellow tinge.

It seems that Johne’s disease is becoming more common in goats in Florida.  I recently tested our milking doe and was relieved by the negative results, although I have babies that are still too young to test.

... till the cows come home.

Are you concerned?  Good.  We need to know these things and we cannot ever stop asking questions.  Do you think it’s a conspiracy theory? I’m okay with that. Check out this report from the American Academy of Microbiology.  They believe that if MAP is associated with human disease and is in the U.S. food supply, this will be a public health concern to rival that of TB in the early part of the 20th Century.

Are you wondering if I buy cow’s milk for my family?  The answer is no, not anymore. Our children are in 4-H and goats are their project. We feel blessed and the goats are  part of our family (must be why they call them “kids”).  Hmmm… so you can’t keep a goat on your patio… what to do, what to do? You do have options: rice milk, almond milk, soy milk (choose non-GMO), oat milk or coconut milk. 

Grayson milking a Nigerian dwarf goat.

The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America is hosting a webcast called, “Pediatric Crohn’s: Finding the Right Path to Care” on May 19th at 8:00 p.m.

Come grow with us!

Baby Quail

Posted in Quail with tags , , , , , on April 11, 2011 by PickMeYard

We walked into our home the other day and immediately heard chirping noises.  We followed the sound to our new incubator that was loaded with quail eggs.  Baby quail were hatching out of their eggs all at the same time.  What a sight that was!

That’s a hatching baby quail.

We should have taken all the little quail eggs (41 total) out of the egg turner and placed the eggs on the wire mesh inside the incubator a couple of days before they were expected to hatch.  I didn’t.  Everything turned out okay though because we were able to take the babies and the automatic egg turner out.  We put the rest of the un-hatched eggs on the wire mesh.  It would be sad and irresponsible if one of the babies got caught in the automatic egg turner after hatching.

Our “Little Giant” incubator from Tractor Supply.

Coturnix quail eggs are supposed to hatch in 17-18 days.  Ours hatched in exactly 20 days.  We kept adding eggs into the incubator so they’re 3 days apart.  We expect more to hatch today and tomorrow.  We already see a couple of the little eggs rocking back and forth in the incubator.  I put a colored dot on top of each egg with a sharpie to tell us which date the eggs went in.

Quail eggs in the incubator with the automatic egg turner taken out.

After the first set of quail hatched, we let them dry in the incubator for about 30 minutes.  Then we put them all into a bin lined with paper towels and a 100-watt bulb over them.  I put a thermometer in the bin to keep their temperature at 99 degrees.  Each week I’ll lower their temperature. I’ll change their bedding from the paper towels to something less slippery in a few days too.  I haven’t figured out what I’ll switch to yet.  For some more information on raising baby quail check out raisequail.com.

Baby quail in their bin. I don’t recommend the shell as a watering container. I took it out right away. They could easily drown in it.

Our quail  aren’t good parents.  I’ve read it’s from the captivity.  So, after having our 12 quail for over a year, we decided we should get an incubator and hatch them ourselves.  We purchased the incubator and the automatic egg turner  (goes inside the incubator), from Tractor Supply.  It came with a good instruction manual. 

Our experiment turned out to be a success.  The babies are so incredibly cute.  The best part is that we were able to watch them hatch out of their eggs.  We were all yelling, “oh my God” and “get the camera!”.  It made the incubator worth every penny.

They love being in our hand this way. It must make them feel safe. How cute is that?

Come grow with us!

Ultrasound for Kids

Posted in Goats with tags , , , , , on March 21, 2011 by PickMeYard

We have a Nigerian dwarf goat (named Honey) that a friend loaned us to use as a family milker.  Her milk is so rich and creamy that we find ourselves hiding it from each other in our fridge.  It’s 6% butterfat.  It has no goaty flavor and no smell… just delicious!  Grayson does all the milking himself, two times a day.  He’s learning some serious skillz.  Honey loves all the special attention and treats she gets from being milked.  Whenever she sees Grayson she jumps up on her milk stand and waits for him.

We were told there was a chance that Honey could be pregnant.  We decided to take her down to the Verandah Pet Hospital to find out with an ultrasound.  Dr. Piper is a small animal vet and doesn’t treat goats (ruminants).  He made an exception for us… for the kids.  Goats are considered livestock and treated by large animal veterinarians.  Dr. Piper can’t deny that it turned out to be a fun experience though.  The children loved it! 

Grayson walking Honey outside Verandah Pet Hospital.

Waiting for their ultrasound.

Loring and Dr. Piper discussing where the baby goats come from.

The ultrasound didn’t find any baby goats.  That’s the ultrasound machine in the background in the above photo.  If she were pregnant, the ultrasound  would find the babies on her left side under the rumen.  Oh well, maybe next time.  Now we can milk her longer. 

Here’s a link to a YouTube of an ultrasound being done on a goat.  It can be difficult to tell if a goat is pregnant.  This is a link from Fiasco Farms (my absolute favorite online site for goat information) for more information about goat pregnancy.

Dr. Smith works at Verandah Pet Hospital part time. Isn't she beautiful?

Come grow with us!

Catching a Swarm of Bees

Posted in Bees & Hummingbirds with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2011 by PickMeYard

I caught a swarm of bees a few days ago.  It’s strange, but I think the bees called me over to them somehow.  They beckoned me with their minds.  I was unloading my truck and decided to stop what I was doing to go look at our macadamia nut tree.  I walked around it and smelled the wonderful blooms on it.  Then I noticed something dark up in the tree… a cluster of honeybees.

Blooms on our macadamia nut tree.

A swarm of bees in our tree. They’re surrounding their queen.

I believe the swarm is from one of my other hives, but I’m not sure.  They probably outgrew their box and made themselves a new queen since their boxes are healthy and full of brood and honey.  They could have gathered a group together with a new queen and took off to find a new home.  I should have split the hive myself to prevent them from doing this because they were crowded, but I didn’t.  This beekeeping practice is called a split.  Honeybees will make pointy honeycomb on the bottom of the foundation in their boxes when they’ve made up their minds to leave.  These are called swarm cells.  A beekeeper can pull them off to deter the bees from leaving, but it doesn’t always work.  There are several methods of swarm prevention.

I didn’t have a box big enough to put the swarm in so I called a fellow beekeeper.  She gave me an empty bee box to put them in.  (Thanks, Penelope!) I threw on my beekeeping jacket with a veil and lit a smoker.  I held the box up with one hand under the swarm and cut the branch off with big garden sheers with the other hand.  This was tricky, but where there’s a will, there is a way.  The idea is to get the queen into the box so the bees will stay.  If the queen flies off, her swarm will go with her.  I was lucky that the swarm was on a low branch.

Penelope gave me a queen cage to put the queen in if I could catch her.  It would be set into the box between the foundation.  The toothpicks would help the cage stay between the foundation. There’s a little bit of marshmallow stuffed into the end.  The honeybees would eat through the marshmallow over a couple of days to let their queen out.  This process would up the odds that the honeybees would stay in their new box. 

A queen cage.

I couldn’t catch the queen.  I couldn’t even find her.  The bees started getting frustrated with me since I was taking so long so I just gently put the top on their box and walked away.  Within a few minutes, every single bee had made its way into the box.

Every one of these bees went into the box because their queen was in there.

It’s been a few days now and the honey bees are still in their box.  I opened them up and they’re making beautiful white comb.  My instincts tell me they’re not going anywhere and have found their new home. 

New home for honeybee swarm.

Soon I will re-queen them to keep them gentle.  This is an important step for beekeeping in Southwest Florida.  The practice of capturing a swarm of honeybees is not supported in Southwest Florida because we’re in Africanized honey bee territory.  I felt very comfortable catching my swarm though and I didn’t have a nervous bone in my body.  I really wanted that swarm.  Beekeepers develop emotional attachments to their honeybees.

The Beekeepers Association of Southwest Florida is holding another class for beginning beekeeping on June 17, 2011.  Click here for more information about them.  Click here for their blog.

Come grow with us! 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 17, 2011 by PickMeYard

I love St. Patrick’s Day because I don’t feel pressured to buy anybody anything.  We can just enjoy the holiday and wear something green.  Is it a holiday for the Irish only?  Does it matter?  Click here for a history reminder of St. Patrick’s Day.  It was my favorite holiday when I was a kid because we went to school ready to pinch people who forgot to wear green.  I don’t think that’s tolerated in schools these days.  It’s reserved for family members now.

A bunch of clovers. She picked them for our table centerpiece.

A clover leaf. We heart St. Patrick's Day.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Come grow with us!

2011 Polo Season

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2011 by PickMeYard

I realize that polo is not a popular sport for most… but it could be.

Polo is a super exciting game to watch.  It’s played at an all-out full speed and the players get hurt constantly.   Polo players are a hard-core breed of people who usually live and breathe their sport.  They tend to be obsessed with it and think of little else.  I can see why.  The spirit, the vibe and the energy of polo is very infectious.  

Full speed ahead!

If you ever have an afternoon that you’re looking for something new and different to do outside, check out a polo match.  It’s more of an American sport than most people realize… and it does have a magical appeal.  The United States Polo Association has an excellent website to get more information about polo in the U.S.  They also have a full list of upcoming events.

Polo in action.



Polo player injury on the field.

The 2011 Polo season is in full swing at the International Polo Club in Palm Beach which is the home of the only high-goal season in the U.S. You don’t have to be a member of the club to go enjoy the game every Sunday at 3 p.m., but you do have to purchase tickets.  Reservations are highly recommended. The season ends April 17, 2011.  The game on Sunday, March 13th in Wellington will have a special appearance by Betsey Johnson.

Children playing by the polo field.

She's pretending she has a pony.

He's dreaming he has a pony.

... and she really has a pony. Check out the diaper helmet.

... he's practicing his polo skills, just in case.

This is the traditional ‘divet stomping’.

That’s a Jamaican polo player in the photo above.  She’s taken me to some riveting polo games in Jamaica.  It isn’t unheard of to hear “get up, Man! There’s nothing wrong with you!” coming from the audience after a player has fallen at a Jamaican polo match.   They’re very serious about their games.  Of course, all polo players are.  Here’s a list of the 2011 upcoming events for the Jamaica Polo Association,  just in case you want to try something off the beaten tourist path.  You could even grab a polo lesson from a world champion female polo player.  (Ask for Lesley Ann Masterton Fong-Yee).


Come grow with us!

Chalkboard Art, Part 2

Posted in Inspiration with tags , on March 7, 2011 by PickMeYard

We converted our garage into a playroom several years ago and I decided to create an endless amount of things to keep the kids busy in there.  I painted an entire wall with a beige chalkboard paint.  Click on the link to see the chalkboard art in my kids bedroom.

Chalkboard art in the garage.

Before I painted the chalkboard paint on the wall, I painted it with a magnetized paint.  I was hoping the result would be a magnetized chalkboard.  Unfortunately, the magnetization is very weak.  Maybe the chalkboard paint over it was too much.  It’s no big deal though.  The kids spend hours drawing on the walls.


Come grow with us!

Swamp Cabbage Festival 2011

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2011 by PickMeYard

The Sable Palm is the Florida State tree … and we eat it.  Most people know it as  ‘hearts of palm’.  We call it ‘swamp cabbage’. 

Most Floridians refer to the tree as a cabbage palm.   The cabbage palm is native to Florida and survives almost anything mother nature serves its way.  even hurricanes.  If you live in Florida, you should check out Pamela Crawford’s book,  Stormscaping: Landscaping to Minimize Wind Damage in Florida.  She says the cabbage palm is one of the few trees with a well-deserved very high wind tolerance. 

The young palm tree is harvested and the bark is removed.  The center core and the base are the parts that are eaten.  They can be eaten raw or cooked.  It’s sweet, fibrous and tends to have a laxative effect.

A pile of swamp cabbage before it's center is cut out.

Hooray beer! Hooray swamp cabbage!

Swamp cabbage... hearts of palm. I guess it depends where you live.

The small town of LaBelle, Florida holds a  Swamp Cabbage Festival on the last weekend of February every year.  Click on Scrumpdillyicious to see some great photos and get more information.  It’s a big, weekend party for the town. 

A float in the 2011 Swamp Cabbage parade.

The Hillbilly Experience float in the 2011 Swamp Cabbage Parade.

... No, I'm pretty sure the other white meat is gator.

Joneses BBQ is the best ever.

... and Perkins has the best gator tail.

Pirate Pickles has delicious pickled swamp cabbage. He's holding the edible part of the cabbage palm.

That's a big pile of cut up cabbage palms under a cabbage palm frond.

They have some very exciting armadillo races. They really are fun and kids go bonkers over it.

Armadillos getting ready to race.

Ballet in the park.

The weekend holds constant entertainment, from ballet to bluegrass.  The Seminole indians have their booths with traditional fry bread, crafts and information.  There are endless vendors selling food.  It’s fun to try the different family recipes of swamp cabbage.  The town has held this festival for over forty years and attracts over 30,000 people a year from all over South Florida.

Come grow with us!

Chalkboard Art

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 18, 2011 by PickMeYard

I’m straying from my usual topics today to show you some chalkboard art that my daughter and her friend worked on.  I think it’s just too cool.

Finally, a reason to jump on the bed.

I painted one of the walls in my children’s bedroom with chalkboard paint that I bought at Home Depot.  It seems like the chalk dust would settle on the beds that are pushed up next to the wall, but I haven’t had a problem with it yet (I painted it about 5 years ago).  My kids and their friends are always creating works of art on it.  My original plan was that Grayson would use the chalkboard to practice spelling words and other school related things.  That never happened.  It’s always been used for fun instead. (The chalkboard paint comes in many nice colors, not just black).

The girls drew picture frames, a light switch, an outlet and a chandelier.  I got the idea from a clothing catalog, forwarded the idea onto them and … voila.

The dots at the top of the chalkboard are painted-on dots with glow-in-the-dark paint.  The dots spill over from the ceiling which is covered with “stars”.  When the lights go out at bedtime, the kids feel like they’re sleeping under the stars.  They dots are barely visible during the day on the ceiling, but they’re a bit noticeable against the black chalkboard paint.

Come grow with us!

Cool Cosmic Carrots

Posted in Edible Roots with tags , , , , on February 16, 2011 by PickMeYard

We planted purple carrots this year called ‘Cosmic Purple’.  We ordered the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, but they can be purchased lots of places. 

A bunch of Cosmic Purple carrots.

The funny thing about these carrots is that it seems like somebody painted them purple.  When I scrub them with a veggie brush, the purple comes off and they’re orange underneath.  I’m careful not to scrub them too hard.  My kids think they are the bomb.  Edible, purple roots.

See... the purple comes off.

That's a fake snake in the background.

Sliced up Cosmic Purple carrots. Aren’t they beautiful?

These beauties are delicious and definitely jazz up a boring, old salad.

Come grow with us!

Florida Roses

Posted in Flowers with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2011 by PickMeYard
The roses on the left are ‘Belinda’s Dream’ and ‘Mr. Lincoln’ on the right.

About 3 years ago, I decided to create a fragrance garden in our yard.   The focal point is a beautiful michelia champaca tree.  I have gardenia bushes and several edible jasmines too.  However, nothing overshadows the beautiful rose bushes.  They’re always the shining stars of the fragrance garden.  They bloom all year round in Southwest Florida.

My favorite roses to grow in our hot and humid zone 9b are ‘Belinda’s Dream’ and ‘Mr. Lincoln’.  They’re grafted onto ‘Fortuniana’ rootstock and grow great in Southwest Florida.  They both bloom constantly and have a heavenly fragrance.  Click here for more information on Florida rose rootstock.

Mr. Lincoln long-stem roses from my fragrance garden.

I dead-head my rose bushes constantly, so they do require maintenance.  This allows them to focus their energy on growing more flowers.      They require a lot of fertilizer in Southwest Florida too.  It’s recommended to feed them monthly.  I use a time-release fertilizer on them, plus lots of rabbit poop and old coffee grinds.  It is ideal to plant them in full sun.  Nelson’s Florida roses  are my favorite choice.   

I only have two varieties of rose growing in my garden, but I have several bushes of each.  I always have extremely fragrant blooms to bring inside for our enjoyment.  I love that I don’t have to buy fresh flowers all the time.  My daughter likes to nibble on the petals and I don’t have to worry about what they’ve been sprayed with.  Since I grow them, I know  they are completely free of chemicals and she can munch to her heart’s content.  Sometimes I add the petals to a jar of sugar.  It gives the sugar a lovely and light floral flavor.  I use the petals as garnishes too.

When I think of roses, I think of the designer Betsey Johnson.  She absolutely adores roses and centers most of her designs around them.  Her colors are influenced by the rose as well.  My 4-year-old’s favorite dress is by Betsey Johnson.  I’ve never met anyone as inspired by the rose as Betsey.

A photo I took of Betsey Johnson in Jamaica in 1990 (I think). She's so fun!!

Betsey Johnson.

Betsey decorates all her surroundings with rose inspired designs and colors, not just clothes. 

Julian Lennon in a villa decorated by Betsey Johnson at Round Hill, Jamaica.

I love this photo… it’s one of my favorites.

 Roses are nostalgic for me and for so many others.  It’s no wonder that it’s one of lifes greatest symbols of love. 

My daughter smelling a 'Belinda's Dream' rose... right before she ate it.

Happy Valentines Day!

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! 

Dairy Goat Show at the South Florida Fair

Posted in Goats with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2011 by PickMeYard

We took our two little Nigerian dwarf does to the South Florida Fair to compete against the professionals this past weekend.  It was a whirlwind.  We had no idea what to expect.  We put a lot of time and effort into the preparation and jumped head-first into the learning curve.

Grayson and his goat “Mary” did fantastic in their 1st class at their 1st goat show.

Grayson had such a good time at the show and all he can think about now is … goats.  I’m having the same problem.  They are beautiful, intelligent, playful and useful animals.  The goats at this show were some of the most elegant animals I’ve ever seen. 

Elegant show goats.

A class of dairy goats being judged.

The goats are "set-up" to show their dairyness.

Waiting to go into the ring.

Now that’s an udder!

This show was a doe only dairy show… no bucks.  The American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) sanctioned the show and the winners won cash and prizes.  When Grayson took his voucher to collect his winnings he decided he was in this for the long-haul.  He won a lot of money and some great prizes.  (There was nothing free about getting to the show though.)

Mia's only 11-years-old and won a gorgeous, engraved, silver belt buckle.

4-H kids are smart and wholesome. They know how to take care of their animals and are not to be trifled with.

The show wasn’t all pursed-lips and seriousness.   There was a fun costume contest. 

The lone ranger showed up. Whoa, Silver!

I made "Silver's" saddle and bridle from a old vest and purse I bought at Goodwill.

Goat busters.

Check out Goodness Gracious Acres to see the full range of costumes in the contest.  She’s a fellow blogger and took some great photos.  She also sells homemade goat soap and other items from her website. 

Mia and Grayson. Mia is the “goat whisperer” and has taken Grayson under her wing to teach him.

Mia is such a special young lady and an inspiration to us.  She got us started with our chickens and has been a huge help with our goats.   Her knowledge of animal husbandry is very impressive.  If we could motivate all of our nation’s youth to be as motivated as the 4-H kids, our country’s future would look much brighter.

Mary is getting a much-deserved hug.

It's exhausting, but worth it.

Our two little does did very well at our first show.  We’re super proud of them.

Come grow with us!

Muscade Carrots… Not for the Rabbits

Posted in Edible Rhizomes with tags , , , , , on January 11, 2011 by PickMeYard

My daughter and I harvested a row of muscade carrots this morning.  They are absolutely crunchy and delicious!  They would have been even sweeter if I hadn’t waited so long to pull them, but they are still worth writing about.  I ordered the seed packet from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.   According to them, the muscade carrots are a North African variety and rare. 

Harvesting carrots. My daughter dresses herself in her favorite outfits every morning. You never know what the day will bring.

The muscade carrots are a large carrot variety. They have a delicious texture.

After we harvested the muscade carrots I realized they are really large carrots.  I figured they would be good juicing carrots.  When we tasted them we decided there’s no way we would juice them.  They’re way too good.  We will enjoy them uncooked and crunchy.  My kids won’t eat carrots when they’re cooked, but they’ll eat them all day long if they’re raw. (Especially when they grew them.)  I was the same way when I was a kid.

Muscade carrots.

We take the tops off the carrots and rinse them with the hose before we bring them inside.

We cut the green, leafy tops off the carrots and feed them to our bunnies.  The leafy tops are toxic to people but very nutritious for the rabbits.  

A few years ago, I put our harvested carrots in the refrigerator without cutting off the leafy tops and I found them all soft and inedible the next day.  I wondered why the carrots from the grocery store lasted so long in the fridge.  I learned that when the green tops are cut off, I can store my carrots in my refrigerator for several weeks.   Click here for a link on storing carrots through the winter.

All the muscade carrots we can carry.

We’re in zone 9b, so we don’t even attempt to grow carrots in the summer here.   Carrots get bitter and bolt in hot weather. (Cold increases their sweetness.)  However, we grow them every year during our fall and winters.  We find them very easy to grow.  Gardens Alive sells an organic heat tolerant variety called Danvers 126.

We plant our carrots about 3-4 weeks apart so we’re not harvesting a million carrots all at the same time.  We find it interesting and fun to grow different varieties.  It’s priceless to pull a carrot fresh from our garden, rinse it in the hose and walk around our yard crunching on it.  Back to nature!

Come grow with us!