Monday, February 23, 2009

Introducing black sapote

I've often wondered what a black sapote (Diospyros digyna) really looked like. Sure, Ive seen illustrations. Never mind what it looked felt and tasted like.

After my spoonful at Excalibur on Valentines day, I bought a fruit to take home. When green, it resembles a green tomato. It's surprisingly light weight for its size. This fruit is not in the sapote family, its actually a family member of the persimmon.

We let it sit for a week to ripen and I cut it open. The sight is not for the faint of hearted.

It looks plain disgusting.

I decided not to be put of by the looks and scooped a spoonful. The taste is soft velvety. It does remind you of chocolate pudding or chocolate mousse. My wife was appalled by the looks of it and decided not to try. My daughter looked at it with disgust, but after seeing me eat spoonful after spoonful decided to try. She says it tastes like stewed prunes. The fruit had about 8 large seeds. I felt compelled to keep them but then after reading how large this tree can get decided not to.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ruellia brittonia purple showers - tough as nails

These Ruellia Brittonia cuttings are ready to plant. They're tough as nails. These are cuttings from the "Florida Friendly" labeled plants at Home Depot (I even re-used the original Florida Friendly containers). These plants are so easy to propagate, just take a cutting of a vigorous growing tip, dip it in rooting hormone, place in any soil, keep moderately moist / wet, and in a few weeks, they'll sprout roots, when you see roots growing out the bottom holes, you can plant them. This particular one in sterile and non-invasive. I can attest to that. Not only are they extremely tough, drought tolerant, they are absolutely stunning. They never stop flowering, producing those stunning purple trumpet flowers all year long. They do tend to get leggy over time, I just cut them down to about 3 feet and they grow back in no time. Left to their own device, they do clump like day lillies but definitely not like the cleodendrum (starburst) plant that is trying its best to consume my center flower bed. My neighbours cleodendrum puts out shoots 30 - 40 feet away from the mother plant - all over my lawn ! I was brave (or stupid) enough, to take one of those and planted it in my center flowerbed - granted it is a stunning plant and in one year has grown into a bush about 12 feet tall by 12 feet wide - but, I constantly have to pull up little ones all over the place, even right next to the trunk of my avocado tree !

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tough worm

I discovered this guy happily eating away at my Natal Plum (Carissa macrocarpa). All parts of this plant are toxic, so I guess this probably makes this guy toxic to birds ? It kind of looks like a Tomato Hornworm.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Newest "family" member

On Valentines Day, I woke up early, picked some fresh flowers: pentas, pink roses, starburst.

I put together a couple of champagne glasses and filled one with roses, one with pentas and starburst and one with pink roses.

I placed a card for the three girls in my life beside each flower arrangement, along with a small gift appropriate for each.

They loved it, and so did I to see their reactions. My generosity was rewarded with an offer to accompany me to my favourite rare fruit tree nursery, Excalibur Rare Fruit Trees. I wanted to buy an Eugenia stipitata, but everyone there frowned and asked why I would want that, its so sour and you can't eat it by itself.

This is the reason I love this place, one of the guys took me and my 3 girls on a golf cart on a personal tour. He showed us (and let us taste one of the few on his small tree) a rare pink lime that tastes like a kumquat, some Meyer lemons that are so mild you can eat it just like that, some variegated pink lemons, black sapote ....

It was a hard decision, I was thinking of getting an Atemoya, but since I already have a Sugar Apple (and its so similar), my wife said "We really need a lemon tree", so we opted for the meyer lemon. I chose this little guy here, already full of lemons, it only grows into a smallish bush, perfect for the spot I reserved for it. I decided to move the jaboticaba from wind alley to a less windy spot and will plant the meyer lemon in that spot as its more wind tolerant.

After we returned from our tour, he offered tastings of Black Sapote - it really tastes like dark chocolate pudding, 2 different sapodilla varieties. My previous experience with sapodilla was not memorable - in fact, I had made up my mind I don't like it. He managed to change my mind, I now have a spot in mind for a "cinnamon pear" sapodilla. I think the spot I have been reserving for a pool will be taken up by a sapodilla soon.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What a nasty job

I spent president's day fixing sprinkler heads, I had to relocate two heads and after at least 3 trips to Home Depot and Lowe's I finally had all the pieces of the puzzle (or so I thought). Of course you can never have all the parts with just one (or two or three) trips - no matter how well you memorize and visualize your protect.

The messiest part is to dig up the old sprinkler heads. Just when you think you've reached the bottom, you have to dig some more. Our black sand makes for some nasty black nails. What makes is even nastier is that over the last 12 years, the grass has built up a foot thick thatch that makes it impossible to find the sprinkler heads unless you turn them on. This in turn makes for a real messy muddy digging experience.

The first sprinkler I tackled was in the front garden. I wanted to move it about 10 feet so that its at the corner and then use a 60 degree angle to water just the lawn, right now, its in the middle of the small lawn and at least half of it is watering the driveway and just runs off.

So I start digging a trench to relocate the 1/2 " pipe. On the second shovel input, I felt a little resistance and though it must just be some thick roots, so I completed the trench and dug the final hole for the sprinkler head. When I came inside, my wife complained that there's no cable TV. I realized to my great horror that the resistance I felt must have been the cable line.

So I searched the trench for the severed line - thank goodness I found the severed cable line almost at the beginning of the trench. So I called the cable company and their first opening is Wednesday between 11 and 2pm! I decided to give it a try myself. I don't have any solder on hand, so I dug through my toolbox and found some old copper wire I had "saved". I stripped the cable line at both ends of the cut, then uncovered the thick copper wire on the inside on both ends, I bend both ends about 100 degrees, then used my copper wire to tie them together, then used duct tape to insulate it. I used another piece of copper wire to connect the outer wires and sealed it all with duct tape. Lo and behold, my temporary fix worked !

OK, so now half the day was over and I hadn't even gotten to the other two broken sprinkler heads. The first was a snap, I screwed in the new head, positioned the left side and adjusted until it was just short of 360 degrees. I adjusted the nozzle to spray a little closer and left the sprinkler on for a while, when I looked again, it was spraying a solid stream of water and eroding nearby flower beds - when I adjusted the distance, I screwed it just a little too much and the nozzle was dislodged and nowhere to be found. Luckily the new sprinkler came with many different sized nozzles. So I took the 2Nd largest and installed it and made sure the screw held it in place. 2 down, 1 to go.

The last sprinkler head was located directly under the children's playground. From all the playing and swinging they managed to break the gear and it no longer revolves. I had to move this head by about 8 feet. After digging the trench and digging the new hole with my pole digger (thank goodness for that) and getting all the parts ready, I discovered that even after 3 trips, I missed some vital parts. I thought to myself, OK this is it, I've had enough, just then I figured I could re-use some of the existing connectors. Thank goodness I was able to move it away so its out of the kids path.

Black toenails, fingernails nicked fingers and black heels later I finally accomplished another nasty gardening task.

I still have to move at least one sprinkler head which is now situated smack dab in the middle of a new flower bed.

My next project will be to replace the solenoid on the sprinkler system since its not stopping between stations, resulting in one station being over watered. If the solenoid doesn't fix the problem, I'll have to cut off the whole valve and replace it all together - that will be another couple of trips to HD for sure.

Another looming project is to install drip irrigation for all my new flower beds that totally lack irrigation and require manual watering.

Here's a quick tip, to easily connect the funny pipe to barbed connectors, I use the barbecue lighter and warm up the pipe at the end, be careful not to melt it, just a couple of seconds over the flame to make it soft (it should not start smoking), then slide it over the barb easily. Also make sure you wear heavy duty gloves, I didn't all the time and today I have at least 3 nasty nicks on both hands.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The drought continues

It is rather normal for our area to get unreliable rainfall during the dry season, however, since November 1st, we're 12 inches below "normal". Since the start of this year, we're more than 4 inches below normal. It is showing, not just on my own lawn, but everywhere. A drought index of 500 is already high, most areas around Palm Beach County and Martin County are in the mid 600's, there are even some areas that are over 700 (including some wildlife refuge areas). It makes for a very flammable situation, brush fires are sprouting up everywhere. Every so often the sky darkens and I look longingly for some rain, but then the wind blows it all away and nothing happens. To top it all, my 10 year old sprinkling system is acting out also, at least two heads need to be replaced - yesterday I decided to water the grass adjacent to the patio as its really looking terrible, so one of the heads decided to stop turning, when I tried to make it turn, the whole head came off and no matter what I tried, I couldn't get it back again - the solenoid valve is also not functioning correctly, causing the system to stay on one station, so I have to manually water station by station and remember to turn the controller off lest I wake up on a Saturday to find one station drenched and the rest dry as dust.

I've been contemplating getting some rain barrels, but they're normally only 55 gallons, some are a little larger. But with our sporadic rainfall in the dry season, its not even a drop in the bucket for me. Also the cost of these barrels are prohibitive.

I've been looking at building my own water storage tank, using the ferro cement technique - a google search for "ferro cement tank" brings up many matches, detailing how this can be done easily. The only problem is that the tank will really have to look decent in order not to incur the wrath of neighbours and HOA. Furthermore, I don't know if there are any permits needed. The other problem is that it would have to hold a substantial amount to make it worthwhile.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Banana pizza slice mulch

The other day, I harvested a bunch of bananas from my dwarf Cavendish plant, the trunk was left standing there.
I used a rechargeable hand saw to remove the whole trunk, I then roll the trunk while sawing, this results in pizza slices of banana trunk.

I use the slices to place around the existing banana patch, this serves as insulation, mulch and returns nutrients to the soil. In addition it also reduces the nematode population (small microscopic worms that penetrate plants roots and causes root knots and ultimately the decline and sometimes death of the plant).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Protect young trunks from being girdled

I spotted some white tailed rabbits in my garden on many occasions. I never thought any of it, until every little shrub or plant I planted got chewed off right to the ground. One day, while doing my daily rounds, I discovered my Persian lime tree had been gnawed. Luckily it was a small wound just on the one side. I quickly did an Internet search and discovered there are many products that can be bought, most at a pretty sum. I've never seen anything at my local garden centers, and I didn't want to spent a couple hundred dollars to buy and ship some of these products. (I had ten new trees to protect).

I remember buying a roll of chicken wire the year before for some other project. I measured around the lime tree and cut a long strip of chicken wire with wire cutters. I then placed it around the trunk and secured the ends together with the cut ends by winding them around each other, I bent the top of the chicken wire "jacket" in towards the middle from both sides, leaving enough space around the trunk, yet giving a snug fit. When viewed from a distance, the wire is invisible, you only see it when you move close up. To me is doesn't distract from the overall landscape appeal. Some friends have asked me why I put the wire around the trees (only after walking up) and I explain its due to the rabbits girdling my trees.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ode to duct tape

I've discovered that when folded double, duct tape creates a very strong durable tape that can be used for many things in the garden. I've used it to secure grape vines to the trellis, but by far I use it most often to stake small trees / shrubs. I don't like placing the stake too close to the stem or even root ball, this makes it necessary to have a strong stake and strong tape that can withstand enough stress without breaking. For larger trees, like my star fruit tree which was leaning one way due to the ever present ocean breeze, I placed 3 stakes in a triangle and used my duct tape "tape" to secure the tree from three sides. Within 6 months, the tree has grown strong enough for me to remove all the tape. Its still leaning a little in the direction of the ocean breeze but the trunk is large enough and root system well developed enough that I no longer have to support it. In this picture, I've staked my little choquette avocado tree with duct tape away from the direction is was leaning. Whats nice about this way of staking is that the trunk never grows too large so that the tape grows into the trunk or the tape
damages the trunk.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Don't be discouraged to grow some trees from seed

This capulin cherry tree (Prunus saliscifolia) was grown from seed. It must be standing about 12 feet tall already. Its about 2 years old and flowered for the first time this winter. I'm not sure why, but not a single blossom matured into fruit. This was one of the earliest trees I planted. I made the mistake of planting it in the windy alley on the northern side of my house. The wind always gushes through this area, you can see the tree grew to one side and I'm trying to right it with a stake. I'm not sure why it dropped all the blossoms and some of the developing fruit. I've read it fruits in 3 years and this is its 2nd year, so maybe its just too young still ?

Nevertheless, the moral of this story is that some trees grow very fast from seed and some even fruit in under 3 years. If I had to buy all the shrubs and trees even in 1 gallon containers, I would not have been able to have the huge diverse variety I already have.

So, common, take a chance, buy or exchange some seeds and try something unusual.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Caught in the act

I've often wondered how animal droppings landed up on the netting of my covered patio. My wife called me last weekend to show me this gray squirrel happily doing its business on top of the netting. I knocked on the window and it turned it's head for a second, then ignored me and continued. When it was done, it climbed down the side of the netting and disappeared.

So how was the freeze ?

Thank heavens the temperature didn't seem to drop as low as predicted. The glass of water my daughter excitedly placed outside was not frozen. Unlike our previous cold snap, the squash and pumpkin plants were also not burnt. The sanchezia's, crossandra look no worse off that they were yesterday. The coffee plants survived ok (so far). Everything else is fine as I hoped.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

My first Surinam Cherry - can't wait for it to ripen

Here's my little 2 year old, 2 foot tall Surinam Cherry (Eugenia Uniflora) grown from seed.

I can't wait for it to ripen. See, I bought red and black seeds. After tasting some red ones (grown as a hedge) on my morning walk, I'm hoping its the black one, apparently they taste much better. The red one I tasted, tasted like a mixture of sugar, tomato, turpentine and resin. Unfortunately, only one of the black seeds germinated, but all three red seeds germinated. I have planted all four plants and don't know which one is the black one anymore - moral of the story, label your plants and pots well. Fortunately its a beautiful little shrub (or tree if left to grow), so I intend on keeping the red ones even if they taste horrible. (I might remove them later when some of my other seedlings are large enough to plant, i.e. feijoa's).

Preparing for the freeze

Tonight and tomorrow morning the temperature is going to drop below freezing. Most of my plants are sub-tropical in nature, but I do have a couple of tropical plants and some smaller sub-tropical plants that still need protection.

I stuck some top-soil bags together with masking tape and made a make-shift jacket for my 2 year old catura coffee plant that I have grown from seed and spent too much time and attention on to loose it in one night. I used dried palm fronds and dried sticks from my own garden for stakes.

I covered the other smaller coffee plant with old towels my wife provided.

I covered my small variegated guava with beach towels. The jaboticaba is supposedly hardy to 27 F. I am not taking chances and will be covering it with a blanket.

As for the rest, they'll be fine, the sanchezia's and crossandra will probably loose their remaining leaves, hopefully they won't freeze completely.

My pumpkin and squash seedlings have really taken off, I hope they survive tonight, I just didn't have enough material to cover everything. The rest should be fine.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What's your excuse for not growing mangoes

It doesn't matter if you live in the tropics, sub-tropics or arctic (well maybe that's exaggerating a little bit), whether you have a big yard or no yard at all - you really don't have an excuse for not growing this delectable (and possibly best fruit in the world).

How can that be, well there are various 'Condo Mango' varieties, so named because even condo owners can grow these in a container on their patio/balcony and bring it in during cold weather.
Here's a very good link with excellent information about all the mango varieties, look for the Condo Mangoes section.

This is a picture of my Lancetilla Mango, which can be maintained at just 10 feet - its a semi-dwarf. I bought this little tree at Lowes last summer, its now been in the ground just under 1 year and its filled with flowers and little developing fruit. Just a couple of crops (maybe even one) will make up and exceed what I paid for it. This little tree is capable of bearing 5 lb blood red fruit !

On my "wanted" list are:

1. Mallika (in India its ripened in camel dung! I'll stick with a dark cardboard box thank you.)
2. Glen (not dwarf, but can be maintained at 15 feet).
3. Nam Doc Mai

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dealing with mother nature

Pictured here is a Caribbean Red papaya and some purple beans - they loose their purple colour when cooking them.

Just as I thought the winter is over, we're expecting another round of arctic weather coming our way tonight. I've been looking at the grey overcast skies with great expectation, hoping for a few drops of rain, but nothing so far. Ahead of the arrival, we've been experiencing gusts of wind probably up to 40 mph. It knocked over some of my grow houses, negating months of rooting, hardening off and growing cuttings. By Wednesday evening temperatures will drop into the 30's, probably killing the Sanchezia's and maybe even my Catura Coffee plants.

It also knocked the best looking Caribbean Red papaya clear off the tree. Just as well I discovered it before the raccoons !

The papaya is not ripe yet, it is showing some signs of ripening, so I can just hope it ripens inside before it either rots from all the fruit fly stings or from being devoured by fruit fly larvae from the inside ! The plant from which it came is not looking too good either, hope the remaining fruit doesn't all fall off, or the plant gets blown over - its already leaning like the tower of Pisa.

At least I was able to pick enough purple beans for a tasty side dish. The Kentucky Blue wonder pole beans are starting to show signs of rust (they're supposed to be rust-resistant!) and mildew.

Gardening in the sub-tropics is fun and yet frustrating at times.