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.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Lancetilla Mangos - not the best,but delicious

I had to pick the Lancetilla Mango's - the raccoons started testing them for ripeness by clawing them !

I thought I was going to loose the two biggest ones, but luckily they were green enough to only ooze resin from the wounds and ripen perfectly.

They were huge, in the picture, from left to right: store bought mango, big mango from neighbour's tree and two huge lancetilla mango's on the right. They were so big, I had difficulty holding them in order to cut them. One mango was enough to feed four of us and have some to spare.

The flavour is sweet but every now and then you get a strange spicy bite, maybe not completely ripe in spots or skin not peeled deep enough. Its not really distracting, just something to get used to. I am sure if I could let them mature further on the tree that they probably would have tasted even better.

It is still a winner due to its compact growing size, perfect for even the smallest backyard, plus it shows no signs of any disease, I wish the same could be said for my 3 year old Valencia Pride mango, it set 8 mango's, there are only 3 left, the others have rotten due to anthracnose, a fungal disease that causes black spots to appear on the fruit and then rot sets in.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Chinch bugs

As if the brutal dry season wasn't enough - large patches of my lawn simply died and I was unable to revive it, now the remaining good areas are being killed off by southern chinch bugs !

In the picture you can see the lighter almost yellow colour of the infected area with the dead patches in between.

I despise chemical insecticides - and yes I do occasionally spot treat some of my treasured plants. I've used bifinthrin in the past, but to avoid the Sri Lanka weevils building up resistance to it, I recently switched to sevin. Some of the feijoa's have been attacked so relentlessly by the weevils that I had to start spraying them for fear of the plants dying. My treasured sugar apple has been overcome by three different kinds of scale and I sprayed it with a neem oil/pyrethrin mixture.

I do not want to spray these chemicals on my lawn where my children run barefoot, but I'm at wits end and fear I'll have to spend considerable time and money to restore the remaining lawn to an acceptable state.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Finally - a vegetable that will grow in this heat and humdity

I planted some red cow peas a month or so ago and didn't expect much. Boy did they take off !

We tried to saute some - like we do with green beans. Most of them, even the smaller sized ones were very tough to the point where chewing and swallowing became almost impossible.

This weekend I harvested a heap of peas and while watching TV shelled them. Now I have to figure our what to do with them- I have about 1.5 cups of shelled peas so far.