Friday, November 27, 2009

Late fall

Fall came very late this year, even up to late Novemeber we were having 90F days. That postponed my vegetable planting and I could only start towards the end of November. Hope that the beans, zuchini squash will have enough time before we get frost (if any). We normally have a couple of days in January where the mercury can fall close to or below freezing.

I'm continuing to have problems with raccoons who have now made parts of my garden their latrine. It concerns me as I have small children who run around in the garden and raccoon feces can be infested with roundworm.

I have even borrowed my neighbour's raccoon trap, so far they are evading it and going for my ripening starfruit and guavas instead !

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Garden Tour Part 2

Here's part 2 of the garden tour. As with the first tour, most of the plants you'll see here are either grown from seed, or cuttings, with the exception of the larger fruit trees, due to the nature of seed grown fruit trees, its important to buy named varieties from respectable nurseries, unless you want to wait 5-10 years for them to fruit and bear fruit of questionable quality. However, all named varieties we have today are the result of people taking the chance to grow them from seed.

For this part of the tour, we'll be starting from the left hand side of the house, working clockwise until we meet in the center island, where we ended the first part of the tour.

This is my "ugly" part of the garden, tucked to the left of the house in a pie shaped piece of land that for the most part gets "winter" shade. Here I'm growing persimmon trees - because they're deciduous, the winter shade doesn't matter. Behind the persimmon tree, is my vegetable garden. I have three semi-raised beds with wood edging and one "lasagna" border. At the moment, I'm growing cow peas, I recently pruned the eggplants to the ground as they were infested with spider mites. They'll grow back to 5 feet tall shrubs, to me they're beautiful with their purple flowers. Some bear long white fruit, others bear lavender marbled with white fruit.
Starting October, I'll plant pole and bush beans, broccoli here. I tried carrots, turnips, onions before and in our warm winters none of them amounted to anything.

Here's wider view of the same area, in the foreground is a horseradish tree (from seed) that will cast its shade over the air conditioners to help with cooling costs in summer. Behind the horseradish tree, there is a plastic sheet around my newly bought "brown turkey" fig tree which will be planted more or less where it is now. It is deciduous and will cast its shade over the air conditioning units in summer and loose its leaves in winter. Behind that is a natal plum (carissa grandiflora) (from seed), just starting to flower en-mass for the first time. Just behind and to the left of the carissa is a Capulin cherry (Prunus salicifolia - from seed) tree which is on its last "warning". If it doesn't fruit or look better next year, it will be replaced with another fruit tree, possibly a sapodilla. To the left is another mixed shrub border with orange cracker plant, Cocoplum, Seagrape, Elder berry, Mexican petunias, fakahatchee and lemon grass, duranta cuban gold and golden dew drop, Cuban buttercup, white crinum lilly, persian shield, shooting star, strelitzia, euryops, blanket flower, vinca, tibouchina ....

Behind the veggie garden is the start of a future "hidden" pathway, I envision a field stone or some other stone pathway here. To the left if a mixed shrub border with dwarf cavendish (fruiting) bananas, cocoplum, cuban oregano (variegated and plain), lemon grass, butterfly weed, ginger, variegated shell ginger. To the right is the mixed shrub border I described above, in the right front is the turmeric I planted recently.

Moving along the hidden path, to the left is more bananas, pineapples and the whole area being overtaken by railroad vine or bindweed, or some kind of ipoemea. To the right is the dropping branches of the duranta golden dewdrop.In the background there's some more volunteer papayas, volunteer sweet potato vines (I recently harvested a grocery bag full).

Coming out of the hidden pathway brings you to this "room" in the center is the rock garden, to the left you can see the sweet potato vines taking over, the litche tree, behind the lithci tree (not visible) is a loquat tree, to the right is the fig tree (loosing its leaves due to rust), the next tree is a horseradish tree (from seed), this area is covered in seminole pumpkin vines for ground cover, along the fence there is a passion fruit trellis with two yellow passion fruits (from seed) that should fruit next year.

Here's the horse radish tree on the left (a volunteer purple crepe myrtle growing in a container) with the travellers palm in the center, the Valencia Pride mango tree and behind it the Sugar Apple tree.

The Sugar apple is just visible on the left, in the fore ground center is a pitomba tree, to the right of it a jaboticaba. The arbor is visible just to the right of the jaboticaba.

Looking back toward the house, on the left is the arbor with muscadine vines, in the center an Indian Jujube tree, behind it a grumichama. To the right the mixed shrub border with the hidden path.

A look from the other side of the arbor, to the left is a meyer lemon bush, it will not grow much bigger, on both sides of the arbor I have plumbago.

Back to the center island, bordered with duranta cuban gold, in the front center is a choquette avocado tree. Behind it a volunteer Starburst shrub(tree). Also growing in this border: variegated flax lilly, lemon grass, purple cone flowers, shrimp plant, four different coloured pentas, mexican petunias, variegated shell ginger, firebush, fakahatchee grass.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Garden Tour Part 1

Grace's garden tour left such an impression on me (See Grace's blog in my Favorite Places/Links section) and sets such a high standard to achieve, but here goes my "Budget Garden". I clearly lack a lot of hardscaping, i.e. stones, pathways, borders, but it will come with time.

Starting at the right hand side of the backyard, going counter clockwise:

Looking out the dining room window, whats left of my herb garden, rosemary being strangled by bindweed, with the Persian Lime tree behind and Lemon grass on the right. To the right a pink rose - yes we can grow roses in Florida ! Here we treat them like shrubs, they never loose their leaves and flower on and off

Behind the lime tree, just of out view is a grumichama, further along the longan tree is having a growth flush, to the right I have a pink starburst penta, red hibuscus, variegated shell ginger, pineapples, some Catura Coffee shrubs

To the left of the Longan tree, there's a mixed shrub border, with sanchezia, thrysalis, allamanda bush, poinsettia, tibouchina, cordyline, dwarf banana, draceana, nerium oleander, elephants ear, large white crinum lilly, two types of ferns, strelitzia

To the right of the mixed shrub border is my Lancetilla Mango tree, its a "condo" mango and can be maintained at 10 feet tall and wide. To the right is a bunch of indigenous fakahatchee grass, feijoa, variegated shell ginger, duranta cuban gold and white penta. Behind the mango tree is the first of a row of Wonderful Pomegranates along the white aluminum fence.

Mixed shrub border from the other side

More pomegranates along the white aluminum fence, the small tree in the front left, is a seed grown sapodilla

Along the back fence, here's my grape trellis with two different types of muscadine grapes growing from each side, with seminole pumpkin for ground cover, to the right is a "strawberry guava" shrub. In the background is a Australian brush cherry, surnam cherry and volunteer papaya tree that is now about 15 feet tall. Also growing here is a date palm tree (from seed), carissa (natal plum), strawberry guava.

To the left of the papaya, I have a small marlierea in the forground, at the right another surname cherry, the large tree to the left is a starfruit, to the left of the starfruit is a french peanut (pachira glabra), the large palm tree to the right is a travellers palm (from Madagascar)

Looking back at the french peanut, starfruit, childrens play area, to the right of the french peanut is a variegated guava. To the left the center island is showing with cuban duranta gold, lemongrass

Friday, September 11, 2009

Home made succulent garden

This is my second attempt at making a hypertufa trough. It was left standing in the weather for almost a year before I finally got around to do something with it.

I had been growing aloes from seed - I bought a small packet of mixed aloe seed. It took more than a year for these to grow large enough to be transplanted. I had a couple of other small succulents as well.

I filled my hypertufa trough with a mixture of sandy soil from my garden, some compost and vermiculite for drainage. I planted the succulents and then covered it with small mixed brown pebbles. I think the result is stunning.

I placed this container near the front door, where it doesn't get direct water from the rain. I've seen some of the aloes take off and they've grown more in 3 months than they have in a year.

Two frogs have made this their nightly home too ! They have shoved some of the pebbles away and make themselves comfortable in the soil at night, most probably catching any unwary insects.

Once the aloes grow too large, I'll replant them and finally transplant them in my rock garden in my backyard - that is at the moment being invaded by nut grass. Yes, that's another project waiting for the cooler months. Right now, the heat and humidity make it an almost impossible task to do any serious work outside.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Guava airlayers are "taking"

I like my variegated guava so much that I decided to clone it. Here in South Florida, we have every kind of bug imagine-able. The guava was one of my very last fruits I planted because during my research it became clear that guavas are the hosts of more than one type of fruit fly, amongst others the dreaded Caribbean fruit fly. Once I had planted all my "big" trees and had no more space, I searched for more small exotic fruits to plant.

On one of my last trips to Excalibur Rare Fruit Trees Nursery, one of the guides recommended this variegated guava because its relatively pest free. To prove his point, he picked a ripe guava, broke it open, showed me it was worm-free and let me eat it. I was convinced, the only problem was they didn't have any small trees for sale and the big one in the huge container was $800 ! So I had to wait almost a year for their air layers to grow and when I went to buy it around Christmas 2007, the owner said I could buy one if I could find one without air layers. That meant I got the smallest one ! And it was quite pricey.

Well, its now 1 year and 8 months later, the tree has produced about 15 guavas so far and they are delicious. It normally turns into an argument whose turn it is to have the ripening fruit ! It recently started another flowering cycle and we'll have more guavas in a month or two - if the raccoons don't get them before I do !

Another reason I like this plant, besides the yummy fruit, is the beautiful peeling bark of different colors that are so typical of the Myrtaceous fruits. Not only does it bear one of the tropical fruits with the most active anti-oxidants, its highly ornamental with its variegated leaves and attractive peeling bark.

It hasn't been without any problems though, as with almost all my trees, I have an argentine ant infestation and they are "farming" and protecting white flies, mealybugs and aphids. The white fly infestation got so bad so quickly, before I realized, the whole tree was infested and the reason I noticed was due to the leaves being covered in sooty mold from the honeydew the white fly nymphs secrete. It took a few sprays of sevin to get it under control and even now, I have to constantly inspect and spot treat a new white fly outbreak. The only way that worked for me was to put on some heavy duty vinyl gloves, take a hand held sprayer, lift each branch and make sure I sprayed underneath every single leaf !

I have tried air-layering once before on some cocoplums and bouganvillea and both failed - I later learned you have to do it during the active growing season, I tried during the "winter" months. This time, I started my layers late July and about 6 weeks later, I see roots starting to grow through the plastic wrap. Soon I will be able to sever the branch just below the air-layer, plant it in its own pot and keep it in shade and keep it humid until new growth appears (perfect timing as Sept is our rainiest month). Then I have to find a spot in my already crowded garden for it, or I'll probably give it away before then .....

1 year 8 moth old variegated guava tree

Air layer covered with aluminum foil

Foil removed, root growing out at the bottom

Beautiful peeling bark

Developing fruit

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September rain spawns all kinds of mushrooms

It never ceases to amaze me how many different mushrooms I encounter in my backyard.

September is the rainiest month here in South East Florida. With the incessant rain and humidity comes the mushrooms.

There are nearly no lawns in my neighborhood that is not infested with Chlorophyllum molybdites - these incredibly large mushrooms (some are really dinner-plate sized) typically form fairy rings. Here's half of a fairy ring in my backyard the other side is on the other side of my fence.

When I see these mushrooms, I feel so frustrated, they are so beautiful, yet, they are poisonous and I wish I could "seed" my lawn with edible mushrooms that would grow in our heat and humidity - surely, if Chlorophyllum molybdites can grow here in these conditions, there must be a sub-tropical mushroom I could "plant" here that would provide copious amounts of delicious mushrooms during our rainiest months, June and September ?

Stinkhorn on cedar mulch
Stinkhorn on cedar mulch under sugar apple
Stinkhorn on cedar mulch under sugar apple
Oyster type on decaying queen palm frond
Hairy funnel shaped on cedar mulch
Fairy-like mushroom on lawn

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Budget potting bench

Since I don't have a permanent potting bench or spot for one (and am not allowed to have one) in my suburban yard, I found this foldable plastic table at Walmart for under $20. When I need it, I simply fold it open, do my potting work, rinse it off and fold it away and store it against the wall in the garage. Its quite sturdy (can hold a 40lb bag of potting soil).

This table came in handy recently when I remodeled the stair case and had to sand and stain a lot of stair risers.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Pomegranates in South Florida are probably not worth the effort

My seed grown, 3 year old pomegranates are growing well and are truly beautiful, highly ornamental and absolutely low maintenance and drought tolerant .....

However, the fruit are all either splitting open and rotting, or are being damaged by leaf footed bugs, raccoons, birds, beetles and who knows what else.

I have a tough decision to make, keep them for their ornamental value, or remove them and replace them with fruit trees/shrubs that will tolerant the humidity here and are more bug resistant and produce great fruit.

I am running out of space to grow all the interesting and exotic fruits I'd like, so if the poms are not going to work here, maybe they should go to make space ?

What do you think ?

Highly ornamental

Leaf footed bug sucking on shrivelled pomegranate

More leaf footed bugs, note how pomegranate on the right is rotting from the bottom

Leaf footed bug damage - see the juice oozing out of the hole left by their sucking mouth parts

Friday, August 7, 2009

How I grow pineapples

If you happen to live in a sub-tropical climate (or are willing to bring your pineapples inside when temperatures will fall below 30F) then growing them is a simple process.

I planted my very first pineapple by cutting off the top and removing the last bit of pineapple flesh and the lowest couple of small scale like leaves and simply placed it in the soil next to a palm tree, totally neglected/forgot about it and about 18 months later I harvested my first pineapple.

Every time I buy a pineapple, I cut off the top then place it in potting or top soil and place it in a shady spot and make sure it stays moist. Make sure debris/soil does not gather in the crown otherwise it may rot and all your trouble could be in vain. Its ready to planted in its final spot when you see roots growing out the bottom of the container. They benefit from an occasional application of fertilizer scattered around the stem and watered in - make sure you remove or wash off any fertilizer on the leaves. I found them to be quite drought tolerant, but do water them and they will grow faster and produce larger fruit.

Once your pineapple starts changing colour you might consider picking it unless you have no problem with squirrels, raccoons or other hungry animals. It is very depressing to find your ripe pineapple devoured by raccoons. Once you harvest the pineapple, the mother plant may produce a second smaller pineapple 18 months later. The mother plant frequently produces a couple of offshoots and small bulbil like pineapplets frequently develop on the fruit stem below the pineapple. Both offshoots and bulbils are great propagation material. Simply pry them off, let them dry out a day and then plant in potting soil, wait till roots grow out the bottom and plant them.

My first pineapple

Some roots are visible in the cut off top already

These all came from the mother plant. The two bigger ones are offsets, the two smaller ones are bulbils from the fruit stem. Once I eat the pineapple, I will plant the top also - so I get 5 new plants from the one plant.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Cowpeas - yummy!

The cow peas I blogged about earlier, turned out to be a yummy treat.

I gathered a large bag full of mature dry pods and shelled them while watching TV.

I soaked the dried "peas" overnight, then cooked them in a pressure cooker and made a delicious Indian curry from it - somewhat like black dhal (lentils). Even the kids loved it.

I have since planted my other vacant vegetable bed with the remaining seeds. I'll be saving enough seeds for next year and then some. I might even consider planting all the open areas with cow peas to serve as a cover crop / green manure, since they are doing so well in the intense heat and humidity with minimum water and care. Not only are they growing well, they look very pretty too, deep green leaves and beautiful purple flowers all the time.

Here's how I prepared the curry:

Cow pea curry

soak peas overnight, drain, then cook in fresh water until soft, or use pressure cooker to expedite the process, then drain again, rinse and drain

2 large onions chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric (or fresh turmeric)
1 tsp garam masala
2 inches of ginger root - grated
3 - 4 garlic cloves, minced (according to taste)
1 1/2 cups natural yogurt
3 cups cooked peas
1/2 cup half & half or cream
1/2 - 1 tsp red chilly powder

add onions, spices into large pan, dry roast until it just starts to smoke
add olive oil enough to make it "moist"
saute until onions are soft and it becomes a "paste"
add 1 small can of tomato paste or 1 can of tomato sauce
saute until properly combined

add cooked peas and combine
add yogurt and combine
add salt to taste (add a little at a time)
add half & half or cream to taste, or leave out for a healthier version

If you require a stronger curry add a little more red chilly powder (or fresh chillies to taste)

Serve with basmati rice or naans - yum!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Front yard before and after

Here are some pictures of how my front yard has evolved.

Some of the plants that I thought to be indestructible are not doing too well in the intense heat and afternoon sun.

1. Duranta Cuban gold - just one day of no water and it starts to wilt. I must say that I am surprised and disappointed at the same time. All over South Florida you see duranta Cuban gold planted in the islands in roads, shopping centers etc. so I am at a lost for why my plants can't stand the sun and heat - maybe they are just too small still and will harden off ?
2. Euryops (african daisy), they are looking pretty dismal and dried out - this is also surprising, the bushes in my backyard are doing quite fine.

Plants that are loving it:

1. Aloe barberae
2. Aloe thraskii
2. Bouganvillea
3. Glory bush (Tibouchina urvilleana)
4. Mexican petunia (Ruellia)
5. Royal Dwarf Poincana - becoming a small tree in its own right !
6. Lemon grass
7. Sanchezia

Plants that are just making it:

1. Pentas - a couple of days of no water and they start wilting

If the cuban duranta doesn't make it, I am contemplating planting some Aloe arborescence in their place. I only have 2 plants so its clearly not enough, but over time it will grow into a shrub. The other alternative I am considering is dwarf crown of thorns - another South Florida stalwart.

August 19 2007

I was no longer happy with a blank front yard and decided to landscape it myself.

March 8 2009

Spent many weekends and hours after work to clear the large area of grass. I used the removed grass as mulch around my fig tree and its working great even up till now.
I bought a row of variegated liriope and pentas, the rest of the plants are self-grown from seed or cuttings (except Aloe barberae and Aloe thraskii).
Note how terrible the lawn looks after our record dry winter (since 1930).

April 16 2009

I mulched the entire bed with pine needles, I used 6 bales at a cost of $6.50 per bale. Much less than comparable wood mulch and environmentally friendly as its sustainable / renewable and doesn't harm the forests.

May 31 2009

I planted the horse radish tree in the front.

August 5 2009

The tree in the front is a horse radish tree, grown from seed, less than 1 year old !

I am sometimes wondering if it was a good idea to plant the horse radish tree at the front, but when I see the shade its starting to create I hope it will shield the plantings from the unbearable afternoon sun and create some shade where we can sit and watch our children play in the cull-De-sac. I plan to limb up ( remove the lower limbs) in order to make it less dense in the near future.

Its almost big enough to start harvesting leaves for salads / cooking. The leaves have a slight peppery taste. I'll report later how palatable they are used as food.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Raccons raccoons !

Raccoons are really spoiling my gardening experience. No matter how hard I try to prevent them, they somehow get to my grapes, guavas .. whatever.

I have an arbor with muscadine grapes growing from both sides, a purple one on the one side and a green one on the other.

The green one bore a few bunches of grapes which were either ruined by leaf footed bugs or devoured by the raccoons.

The purple grape produced quite a few bunches and I was counting my chickens before they hatched. I awoke one morning to discover the raccoons discovered my grapes. The climbed up the inside of the arbor on the trellis and grabbed every single grape they could lay their claws on, sucked out the inside and left all the skins for me to pick up.

In order to prevent them from picking the last few bunches, I took some carpet tack (some of which I kept after removing the worn out carpet from the stairs), thin strips of wood with vicious nails and tied them to the inside of the trellis at the points where they have to step in order to climb higher.

So far so good.

A few days ago, I was standing at my guava bush and contemplating if I should pick the only guava borne on a limb that is not variegated and looking different than all the other guavas. I decided to let it mature one more day, the next morning it was gone, along with 4 other almost ripe ones.

In order to protect the last few remaining guavas, I removed the thin metal mesh from a used air conditioner filter and tied it around the guavas. The raccoons managed to get to the bottom one and ate away half of it. They tried to open the wire mesh and sort of succeeded in one end, but were unable to get to the guavas - so the remainder is a little scratched but intact.

Soon there will be all kinds of new treats for them to devour (sugar apples, star fruit, pomegranates, papayas, jujubes), so my battle will get more intense. I might have to consider installing electrified wire at the places where they enter my yard.

I am now almost a the point where I am planning a trip to Home Depot to buy a trap.

If anyone has some good ideas to share to ban these rascals from my yard, please post some comments here.

Carpet tacks tied to inside of arbor

Grape skins left for me

Guavas covered with used air conditioner filter wire mesh

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Update: Pumpkins / Squash

It turns out the winner of the two winter squashes I planted is by far the golden Hubbard. We've had 5 huge squashes so far, I've given away some and there are two more on the way, one already the size of a water melon.

The Seminole pumpkin started off with a bang, but sadly stopped producing altogether, its growing all over the place and not a single pumpkin in sight.

Both squashes are being plagued by green caterpillars of some moth that devour the entire leaf, the part not yet devoured is rolled and spun together with silk, when you touch or shake the leaf, the caterpillar simply lets go and falls to the ground.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The heat, humidity and time constraints got the better of me

The combination of 90 - 95 degree weather with 90% humidity, making it feel more like 110, combined with time constraints have finally convinced me to outsource the lawn care to a professional.

It was a hard decision being the "budget gardener" used to do everything myself.

The biggest problem I've been experiencing is timing, early mornings, the grass is sopping wet with dew, late afternoons are almost guaranteed to be rainy with wet grass.

My little Neuton battery powered mower works great - when the grass is dry. This has forced me to mow the lawn when its dry, typically after 11am and before 3pm, the very hottest intolerable time of day, when temps are at their highest, the sun is unbearable.

Coupled with this, my lawn is huge, even after replacing huge areas with mixed shrub beds, it still takes me 2-3 hours and that excludes edging.

So, last week Thursday on my vacation I was cutting the lawn at 11am and sweating it out. Recently my neighbour also outsourced his lawn care. I approached the guy and got an estimate and agreed to have my lawn cut every 10 days - St. Augustine grass must be cut frequently, otherwise it grows too long and it becomes terrible to mow.

What I like about this company is that the owner and a partner do the work themselves, not some illegal immigrants, they cut every 10 days and they use a narrower mower that can access remote parts of my now landscaped lawn.

It was a hard decision to fork over some of my budget to take care of this menial task, but I intend to use the time saved to spend more time with my wife and kids and it will free me up to do the gardening things I really enjoy, like propagation new plants, fruit trees to give away as gifts to friends, experiment with grafting, air layering and other techniques.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Why I do it

Every so often (quite often lately), I ask myself why I work so hard in the stifling heat and humidity, its mowing, pruning, weeding, watering the seedlings, edging .... Sweat running into my eyes, black fingernails and toenails, cracked heels, scratches, sunburn, being drenched in my own sweet .... I'm sure many of you can add more to this list.

Then it happens ... I discover another bowl full of sweet brown turkey figs, some mango's ripen, I find a tasty squash, the hibiscus shrub grown from a cutting is covered in blooms, the starfruit rewards me with the first golden treat, a pomegranate turns ripe and turns out to be completely different from what the seed said it would be, a pineapple rewards me with my first ever self-grown pineapple, the $3 pentas turn into 6 foot tall shrubs covered in blooms year-long, my friends thank me over and over for all the plants I've given them and are now gracing their backyard, the tiny specks of dust seeds are sprouting and some have grown into 5 feet tall shrubs....Then I bear the sweat and heat and humidity and cracked heels and everything and I am so eternally grateful for this wonderful gift i have to propagate and grow my own plants.