Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ahh grumichama

The grumichamas are finally starting to ripen, each day I can pick a small handfull, not enough to feast on, but still a tasty treat. The grumichamas taste sweet, somewhat similar to a bing cherry, with a hint of aromatic spicy after taste (not distracting or distastefull) - confirming its a clove relative.

In my hand I have two grumichama's (the dark purple fruit) and several ripe Suriname cherries. I never thought I'd say this, but these specific Suriname cherries actually trumps the grumichama's in taste. Of my four Suriname cherry bushes, only this one produces wonderfully sweet excellent fruit - so much so that I can't wait for them to ripen.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ataulfo Mangos

A couple of weeks ago, I went to our local green market to buy some fruit and vegetables. I noticed these yellow mangoes and wondered what they tasted like, so I bought four. Let me tell you, they were some of the best tasting mangoes I've ever tried. I kept a couple of the seeds outside and planted them in containers.

A week ago, I also bought some Ataulfo mangoes from Costco. I find it hard to throw away any seeds, so last night, I took a steak knife and carefully carved away the sharp edge on the one side of the seed. I then split the seed open to reveal the embryo inside. I've read somewhere that these mangoes are supposed to polyembryonic, but these ones only seem to have one seed inside. I am going to plant these and see if they sprout. I know it may take 7 years before they'll fruit, but so what, I have most of the trees/fruits that I want planted, so I'll just grow these in containers until they're ready to be planted in the ground. I may even decide to take out some other shrubs / trees that don't fruit or taste well.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Tropical vegetables

I finally took the plunge and ordered some tropical vegetable seeds.

I ordered some edamame (soybean) seeds in the winter - I only received 9 seeds, planted them in November, all I got was a measly few small pods, so I decided to leave each pod and I ended up with about 24 seeds. Over the weekend I cleared my summer vegetable beds, removed all the weeds, added new fertiliser and planted my soybean seeds.

Last week I ordered seminole pumpkin, cow peas, malabar spinach and yellow passion fruit seeds from

My experience with was excellent, not only was my order shipped quicker than expected, I received much more seeds in each packet than expected/advertised. I even received a free packet of sweet pepper seeds.

Two previous attempts with passion fruit seeds have failed, hopefully this time will be better. At least I got 25 or more seeds, both previous times, I only got 6 seeds for the same price - not much room for error, I lost all seeds to mold.

Ants, scales and mealybugs are ruining everything

This newly created and planted squash hill has been taken over by ants. Its almost guaranteed that anything growing in there will be attacked by mealybugs cared for by the ants. I am at wits end, I don't want to pour poison in the hills for fear of the plants absorbing it and it ending up in my body.

What can be done, I have billions of ants everywhere and have noticed scales on a lot of my plants, from grumichama to firebush and natal plum. Nothing seems to kill the scales and these plants leaves are covered in the honeydew these things excrete. The leaves are also covered on sooty mold as a result of the honey dew.

This poor Mexican petunia is being overtaken by barnacle scales, I often see ants associated with them, so I guess they must by excreting a kind of honeydew also.

These natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) leaves are infested with green scale, covered in honey dew and sooty mold. Nothing so far has helped, I've sprayed with bifenthrin, neem oil with perythrin. My firebush looks like someone has sprinkled sugar water over it, the honeydew is visible from quite a distance.
I even discovered this pest of one of my beloved grumichama's ! I took a twig and scraped a lot of them off, but when I look the next day, there are more everywhere !

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lancetilla mango

My little 1 year old (in the ground) lancetilla mango tree is really putting on a great effort - I'm just scared the branches will break under the weight. Some of the fruit must already be over 2 lbs - and they can get to be 5 lbs ! It has about 9 fruit on it and its flowering at the top and little fruit are forming - don't think it can handle more though!

They're only supposed to ripen in August, don't know how I'll be able to wait till then !

"Unwelcome" residents

This brown anole's eyes are bigger than its mouth. I shot this picture next to my egg-plant vegetable bed. Even though they devour pests in the garden, Brown Anoles are an invasive species probably introduced as unwanted pets like so many other unwelcome Florida residents. They out compete and consume many native lizard species.

Last weekend my eldest daughter got the urge to spend some of her birthday money on a new pet. I was amazed to see so many different kinds of snakes and lizards for sale. Baby python snakes etc. We have an ecological disaster in the making with the pythons taking over the everglades, just this week they were reporting on the news how some cities in the Florida Keys have trained the electricity meter readers and other service providers to also serve as animal patrol agents - when they spot a python they round it up and bring it to animal control, even so, they expect the snakes to invade most of the upper Keys.

Monday, April 20, 2009

More plants in the making

Here are some variegated ginger (Alpinia zerumbet), lemon grass and variegated flax Lily (Dianella tasmanica 'Variegata') plants that I am growing from divisions. They're in the recovery area behind the house where the brutal sun is not reaching yet.

In the little grow house, I have more duranta cuban gold and Tibouchina urvilleana cuttings busy recovering from being planted out.

The ginger plants will probably go in the front garden underneath the queen palms somewhere.

Two of the Tibouchina plants will go in the front garden one on each side of the scrub rose bush.

The duranta cuban gold cuttings will finish the border of the center island.

The lemon grass will be used to fill in some open spaces along the fence, they form a beautiful bush about 4 feet wide by two feet tall.

I have two more citrus seedlings growing in there also, plus one blue grape (Myrciara vexator) seed that has just started to root after 4 months !

Sunday, April 19, 2009

New family members in the making

Last weekend, we visited friends and I learned that he was trying to eradicate some "aloes". Turns out to be almost certainly Aloe arborescence - one that I've been trying to buy locally without success. So I took the liberty and pulled two of the rosettes out with some roots intact. I plan on planting them at the back of the garden close to the fence where nothing else but the toughest weeds are making it. There's no irrigation there and the lawn sprinklers hardly reach that spot.

In the picture the two aloes in the front left are the Aloe arborescence, the little Aloe to the right, is Aloe ferox.

The plant in the front left, is Marlierea (unknown species) supposed to be a guava relative with excellent dark purple fruits. Its grown from a seed and is now almost 6 months old. The little tree behind the Aloes is a horseradish tree. At the very right, there's some mandarin citrus seedlings going (don't know if they'll come true from seed, but I'm trying). The numerous small containers at the top right are all mixed Aloe seedlings, planted last year June - it took 8 months to get less than half an inch tall. Underneath the Sea Grape leaves, I have some starfruit seedlings going. To the left of the Sea Grape leaves, you can see some containers with Dioon Edule - those seedlings are almost 2 years old and still only a couple of inches tall.

Just out of view to the right, is a 1 year old sugar apple and 1 year old Sapodilla seedling.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Welcome volunteers

Most volunteers in my garden are weeds. Every now and then I find a welcome volunteer.

This small vine is a sweet potato. There are at least three places where they've now established themselves. The vine forms a beautiful ground cover and has beautiful purple flowers and produce a large supply of lovely sweet potatoes. They seem to love our sandy soil. The only problem is in the dry season, they loose most of their leaves and that gives way to weeds, lots of them. It then becomes hard to control the weeds because you don't want to damage the dormant sweet potato vines.

This very vigorously growing tomato plant, appeared in the center island next to one of my newly planted duranta cuban gold cuttings. I recognized it the minute it sprouted and decided to leave it. My other tomatoes are now done and succumbing to the heat and humidity whereas this one seems to thrive on it. Maybe I've got a native everglades tomato growing ? The fruit are still small and green but seems to be appearing in great numbers. Looks like cherry type tomatoes.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Everything's blooming

This must be the most exciting time of the year. All the fruit trees are blooming now (well almost, some have already bloomed, i.e. mango, Suriname cherry, Persian lime).

Yes, they might not all have the showiest blooms, but the product of the blooms is what gets me excited.

I haven't even added the rest of the ornamentals, I have penta's, euryops, plumbago, firecracker (crossandra), oleander, Mexican petunias, starburst, shooting star, butterfly weed, fire bush, giant crinum lily, Indian blanket flower, periwinkle, thrysalis, tibouchina, bouganvilla, allamanda, flax lilly, duranta ... all blooming. Needless to say, my allergies are also blooming.




Meyer Lemon



Sea Grape

Sugar Apple


Sweet potato

Variegated Guava

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Suriname cherries revisited

My Suriname cherry bushes (Eugenia uniflora) - I have four, 3 are of the large fruited Vermilion and one is supposed to be the black version, two of the three large fruited ones, are now producing a handful of fruit daily. The black fruited one bears much smaller fruit and they're not black but a darker burgundy color, maybe I need to leave them longer so they can turn black ? They do taste a little sweeter and less pungent on average though.

One thing I have realized is that you have to leave the fruits until they basically fall into your hand at the slightest pull, otherwise they can taste very pungent. Then even the ones that do fall into your hands can vary in taste dramatically, from pungent, to very sour (makes your face pucker) to almost sweet. They all have a melting quality.

I didn't think I would say this, but I now look forward to my trip around the garden to collect ripe Suriname cherries daily. My girls don't like it, so there's more for me. They are supposedly extremely high in anti-oxidants and vitamin C.

So whats my verdict - I might just come to really like this little fruit. The plants are very beautiful, ornamental, undemanding, fruit profusely and grow fast, from seed to fruit just over 2 years for me.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Trench composting

Since we have a problem with raccoons and we're not allowed to have compost heaps in our community, I've often wondered what to do with all our kitchen waste. I read up about trench composting and started doing it. I had an empty 5lb protein container, made some space under the kitchen sink. My wife refuses to open the lid, so she leaves all the organic waste (expect animal, meat and fat) and I place it in the jar every day. When the jar fills up, I find an open space in the backyard, dig a trench about 2 feet deep by 2 feet wide, pour the containers content into it, chop it up with the spade and fill the soil back in. I frequently plant new shrubs or plants on top of it and it seems to be working quite well. I've only had the raccoons dig it up once, then I put my chicken wire over the area until the scent disappeared and they lost interest. In this case I planted a horse radish tree and removed the chicken wire today as it was starting to grow thru the wire. I hope they don't dig it up overnight.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Whats left of the cool season crops

This is whats left of my carrots, golden beets, turnips and Swiss chard, the bean skeletons on the bottom left are quite visible. I guess its time to pull out the last few plants hanging in for dear life. The problem is I have no idea what to plant in their place - I'm thinking of edamame (soy beans) or cow peas or winged beans. I have some edamame seeds but will have to look for some tropical veggie seeds, otherwise this and the other three raised beds are going to be empty from now till October.

This tomato will be gone soon. It still has quite a few green fruit, but it has been relentlessly attacked by flea beetles. Even if it does make it, the fruit will split open and rot due to the high overnight temperatures. Some of them are already splitting open.

I have sprayed it with pyrethrin a few times, but every time I look its as if it has no effect on the flea beetles.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pomegranates - hoping for some fruit this year

I grew these five pomegranates grown from seed. This is their 3rd year. Last year, only of of them bloomed, and 1 fruit formed, but was aborted when it was about the size of an egg. This year all five shrubs are blooming and I'm really hoping for some fruit this year. As you can see the grass is in a real sorry state. I watered twice a week in March and it resulted in a $50 water bill and no real improvement in the grass. Since November, we're officially 15 inches below normal. At this moment it seems as if everything is shriveling in the relentless sun. I have to water some plants almost daily, like the jaboticaba, pitomba and grumichama.

Both grumichama plants are laden with developing fruit, they should be ready in about a month from now - can't wait, hope I get them before the birds !

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Spider mites ! Help !

This poor eggplant has been taken over by millions of red spider mites. I have sprayed it repeatedly with bifenthrin, neem oil/pyrethrin to no effect. I am now thinking that I will loose this and its neighbouring plant.

Here's a close-up of one of the infected leaves. Today I sprayed it with paraffin oil, it states that it controls fungus,white flies/aphids and spider mites.

Hopefully it kills these critters before it destroys this plant.

Winter/summer squash done

With out up-side down season here in South Florida - we plant "normal" summer crops in the fall and again in Spring, its time to pull out my squash vines and get rid of all the weeds growing in their place.

Here's a picture of whats left of the butternut, delicata and zucchini squash plants. The zucchini plant only produced one small zucchini, the delicata squash produced 5 little squash and the butternut squash three medium sized squash. ALl the vines had mealybugs on their roots, so I am sure the meagre crops and lack of vigor are a direct result of this infestation. Even the weeds I pull up here have these bugs sucking on their roots.

The mulch is environment friendly eucalyptus mulch.

I am still deciding what I'm going to plant here in the summer, but it will probably be sweet potato vines.

This area is underneath my new muscadine grape trellis that I built from scratch. I will post pictures and instructions of how I built it as cheaply as possible at a later stage.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Golden hubbard squash - yum yum

Last night I sliced and peeled the golden hubbard squash. Its not as tough to cut and peel as a butternut squash. The flesh has a wonderfull smell to it and a rich golden colour with tinges of green on the inside.

My wife drizzled a little olive oil and brown sugar over the slices and grilled them in the oven.

Let me tell you, we were in culinary heaven, it is easily the best squash I have had since I started liking squash ! We literally savoured each bite. The flavour is unsurpassed. I planted one hill with 6 seeds, only 3 vines survived. Somehow they only managed to produce 2 squash even though the vines are huge and growing all over the place. I might consider planting them again in October. These vines also seemed a little more resistant to the powdery mildew that killed almost all of the other squash I planted. This year, I had only 1 acorn squash out of 3 hills ! Needless to say, I'll not waste my time with it in the fall.

The remaining hubbard squash is almost twice the size of the first one. We'll probably be able to "squash" two meals out of it. We might also make a creamy soup out of it, like we often do with butternut.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Last "summer" crops

With April arrived hot and humid weather. Today's high was a record 93F. All the "summer" vegetables, squash, water melon, tomatoes and pumpkin plants have succumbed to the heat. The cool season veggies are all long gone, there are a few Swiss chard and carrot plants hanging on for dear life. The arugula is bolting and looking like a wildflower patch. Will probably have to make sure I take it out before I have millions of volunteer seedlings next fall.

I will be harvesting the last butternut squash. One of the three fruits seem to be a hybrid, its green in colour and larger than the others. I wonder what its going to look like on the inside and taste like.

I have one more golden Hubbard squash on the last remaining vine, the sugar baby water melons need a few more weeks to mature - just hope the vines make it. I had high hopes for the Tuscan melons, but only 3 managed to form and they are little larger than oranges. I am starting to wonder of the hours spent watering, fertilizing and caring for the squash,cucumber,melons are really worth it if they're going to produce such meagre crops. The delicata squash was a disappointment too, 2 hills with 3 vines each produced only 4 small squash - they are very tasty though, sort of a mixture between pumpkin and butternut squash. They seem to be very susceptible to mildew and other fungus.

I'd better look into Seminole pumpkin (supposedly indigenous to South Florida) which is supposed to have a better flavour and similar texture than butternut squash - and butternut squash is our family's favourite. I'm also looking at everglades tomatoes, supposedly indigenous to the everglades and bears even through our hot muggy summer months when no other tomato can survive.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Dreaded root mealybugs

I've noticed so many of my vegetables and even shrubs decline with no apparent reason. I pulled up one of my all but dead squash plants and discovered the roots completely covered with what look like mealybugs.

A google search revealed they might be "pink pineapple mealybugs". I really try to keep insecticides to a minimum, especially near the root zone, for fear of the plant absorbing harmful chemicals.

I wonder what can be done about this terrible pest that is very prevalent in our sandy soil.