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