Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dreaded freeze

We have been experiencing very strange weather this year. First we had a record-breaking cold winter last year, then a record-breaking warm spring and summer, then record-breaking warm fall, with record-breaking drought.

Now we are having record-breaking cold this early in December with overnight freezes ! We normally only experience occasional frost during mid January !

Last night the temperature must have dipped to well below freezing. This morning I took these pictures of icicles hanging from several plants.

Ice on the carissa (natal plum)

Ice on the sapodilla

We are expecting freezing temperatures again tonight. Only time will tell which plants will die as a result. So far, it looks like the bananas, sanchezias, some of the papayas .... Luckily I brought my little nursery inside the garage and will keep them there again tonight. I've been growing some of these plants for 3 or 4 years and can't risk loosing them. These include blue grape, dragon fruit, grumichama's, prickly pear, cycads, starfruit, various aloes...

My heart goes out to all the farmers all over Central and South Florida who will be devastated by this early frost. In St. Lucie county the damage to citrus crops alone could run in the 100's of millions of dollars.

This week I spoke with a tree farmer that is still recovering from last winter's freeze - he lost more than 2100 valuable palm trees worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I hope and pray all is not lost.

Aloe thraskii update - recovers from crown rot

During the hot humid summer months, my Aloe thraskii that i had been growing for about 4 years suddenly succumbed to crown rot.

I removed the rotten crown and just left it. Shortly afterwards we hit one of the driest spells in recent history.

I suspect the dry hot weather enabled it to completely recover and it started pushing out new growth. It is now busy pushing out flower stalks ! I've never seen an Aloe thraskii in bloom so I am ultra excited. So if you have an Aloe thraskii with crown rot, leave it and it will most likely recover.

Aloe thraskii recovering from crown rot
Unfortunately the timing sucks. We've had the coldest snap since 1937, last week we had close to freezing temperatures and I didn't cover any of my plants, luckily so far it only looks like the sanchezia (as usual) was badly damaged.

Last night we had sub-freezing temperatures, luckily I took the time to cover the aloe with old towels. I didn't have time or material to cover anything else, so now I am waiting to see what will die and what will survive. We are expecting freezing or close to freezing temps again tonight.

Aloe thraskii flowering 2 months after crown rot
Protecting Aloe thraskii against from frost

Gardeners block

I often wonder if my fellow gardeners also sometimes hit a period of not knowing what to write on their blogs.

Its not that nothing has been happening in the garden, it is either I'm too busy with work and family or feel what I've been doing is not of enough importance to tell the whole world about it.

I suspect there could also be more to it, I spent the first 4 years working feverishly - almost every spare moment I had was dedicated to the garden. Then as the vacant space became less and less and I had more and more trouble finding a spot for that new plant, I found myself spending less and less time in the garden and subsequently visiting garden centers or even buying seed less and less. After burning myself out trying to keep up with mowing, edging and gardening, I finally gave in and paid someone to mow and trim.

The summer was also so terribly hot and humid and that made matters even worse. Coupled with our record-breaking heat, we also had record-breaking drought. Last time I heard we were more than 6 inches below normal just since the beginning of October. It is well reflected on my water bill. It has more than doubled in the last couple of months.

To make matters worse, the heat lingered on and on and I felt even less motivated to start preparing the veggie patch. We normally start our "summer" veggies around mid October, but we were still having 90+F days and no rain, so I waited patiently. It finally started cooling down ever slightly by mid November.

I finally got out of my slumber and used the ugly trellis material I removed from the patio to create a "fence" around my new "out of sight and out of mind" veggie patch. I created three planting beds, fertilized with Milorganite.

Then I had problem getting water to it, bought some soaker hoses, laid them out and attached those quick connectors so I can take the garden hose and quickly just clip it in to water the entire veggie garden.

So its not ideal, but at least now I can turn on the kitchen timer, turn on the water and remember to turn it off.

Next step will be to install a poly pipe to take water all the way to the back (about 130 feet), attach it to a multiple manifold so I can still use the hose and/or spigot, attach a timer and forget about it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Finally : wild edible mushrooms in my backyard

I've been lamenting about the bounty of giant, dinner sized toxic mushrooms (Chlorophyllum molybdites ) springing up all over our neighbourhood after rain.

I've been wishing I could seed my yard with edible mushrooms instead, then I discovered to my amazement these giant white puff balls. I was a little hesitant and did a lot of research and finally without a shadow of a doubt identified these as the "The Giant Puffball", Calvatia gigantea.

I washed my first one carefully, then peeled the skin off to remove the black soil, then cut it into 1/2 inch thick "steaks", then fried them in butter with garlic and herbs.
 It was delightful. My wife said: "I'll see if you're still alive tomorrow, then I might consider tasting it". I fried mushrooms for myself a couple of times when she finally gave in and tried it, she loved it and so did the girls, now when I find a newly "hatched" puffball, we add it to whatever dish we're making, last time my wife added it to a delicious pasta dish, it made the dish creamy and very tasty.

Disclaimer: Please do not gather and eat any mushrooms unless you can be 100% sure they are non-toxic.

Protecting Meyer Lemons from birds : Update

Even though the foot socks didn't help to protect my pomegranates from the leaf footed bugs, they sure scared the birds away from my Meyer Lemons. Even though the lemons outgrew the socks - and they teared, it still kept the birds away.

We've been having as many lemons as we need, plus giving away some to all guests. The first crop is barely ripening and I see the tree starting to bloom again.

These lemons are delightful, not as sour as other lemons, cut them into wedges, salt them up and eat away !

Monday, October 4, 2010

Trust your first instincts

Indian Jujube

I really created a lot of work for myself by planting plants in spots I knew I shouldn't have.

I went to my favourite rare fruit nursery once, and wasn't sure what I wanted to buy, so I asked for a small tree with great tasting fruit. Well, I ended up buying an Indian Jujube tree. I walked around the yard and just couldn't find a spot that I wanted to give up for the jujube since I didn't know what it would taste like. I finally decided upon a spot next to my developing rock garden. I knew right there and then it wasn't the right spot but planted it nonetheless.

Turns out the tree is is not small  - its a very fast and aggressive grower, its has a scrawny habit and when the trunks are laden with fruit, they bend down, covering a very large area and makes it impossible to mow or weed underneath. The trunks are so long that when they sag down, they cover the rock garden too !

The other problem, no-one in my family likes the fruit, including myself.

The branches are also cover with nasty hooks that makes working around and with it nasty. This tree also seems to be one of the Sri Lanka weevil's favourite food plants.

Horse Radish
So I had to make a tough decision, should I keep the tree as it is rather pretty regardless of the bland tasting fruit and nasty thorns ? After thinking about it for months, I finally took the plunge. While I had my chain saw pruner attachment on my weed whacker, I decided to take it down and also chop down the horse radish tree (that I also knew I shouldn't have planted where I did).

Rock garden with stump of Jujube behind it
After all this hard work and money wasted I'm back to where I was before I planted these two trees. I've since learned that its better to give away plants that you don't want, than to plant them in the wrong spot and having to end up spending a lot of sweat and hard work to remove them later when they do become a problem.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Read this before you plant that yellow passionfruit

Yellow Passionfruit vine eating up Travellers Palm
So you're thinking of planting a yellow passionfruit also known as lillikoi, or Passiflora edulis var flavicarpa ?

I already had so many different tropical fruits and despreately wanted a passionfruit. I read that the purple fruited variety is very susceptable to nematodes here in South Florida's sandy soil, so I found some Brazilian yellow round passionfruit seeds. Unlike the other passionfruit seeds I had bought, thse seeds readily germinated and grew very fast.

I found 8x4x4 solid cedar posts on sale at Home Depot, bought the wire, metal connectors and all the other hardware to construct my two wire trellis as all the books and online sources instructed, only this is not near enough to support a yellow passionfruit vine.

I planted 2 containers, I had two vines, the other one. Within one year, these three plants had covered the fence, grown into my neighbour's trees, covered the whole area in the picture to a heigth off about 3 feet, started smothering my travellers palm mango, litchi, fig, papaya tree, in short, anything within its grasp.

Feeling sorry for it and hoping for some delicious fruit, I left it to its own devices. I should have followed my first instincts and gotten rid of it sooner than later. It flowered on and off but never set a single fruit.

1 year old yellow passionfruit vine stem
4 weekends later and this area is now clear, was covered to top of fence, and rest up to 4 feet tall
Some of the dead vines heaped onto a pile
I spent the last 4 weekends getting rid of this invasive vine. Seriously, this is not something I wish on my worst enemy. To remove this vine was hell, it kept on looping aorund the head of the weed wacker and every few seconds I had to untangle it, I also used my pole pruner on it, it even  managed to get into the chain saw enclosure and brought everything to a halt and I constantly had to pull the vine out to get it going again. Today I had to cut the strands with a pruner in order to untangle it from the wires and clear the area. I will not plant another passionfruit here as long as I live here. Maybe not even the tamer purple variety.

The cedar posts rotted, so much for "rot resistant cedar", guess nothing can withstand the hot, humid and wet Florida summers.

8x4x4 cedar fence post after 1 year in ground
If you really must plant this vine, make sure you have enough space and please do yourself a favour and keep up with it. As soon as you see it grow into your other beloved plants or trees, cut off those tendrils and keep a close watch on it, before you know it, it will completely cover everything in its path.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Aloe thraskii crown rot

I've noticed lately that the growing tip of my beautiful Aloe thraskii looked wilted and started turning brown.

Upon closer inspection, the whole crown had rotted.

When I pulled on the litle leaves, the whole inside of the crown came out, all slimy and covered in maggots.

Its really disheartening when something you've been growing and caring for so long just rots like that. Its really surprising to me since these aloes grow right on the beach in South Africa, where they get salty spray and lots of rain.

I started reading up on it and found quite a few other people complaining about crow rot with the thraskii's. Some say to leave them and it might come back, albeit with a strange looking double crown which is out of character for a thraskii as they are solitary single trunked aloes.

At least one plant thats happy and trouble free

This is Carissa macrocarpa, a beatiful thorny shrub from my native South Africa.

I grew it from a little seed bought online. Its been a little over three years and its now reached a stage where its almost constantly in bloom and really pretty.

I ate the first fruit off it last week, it tasted a little like a cranberry but it wasn't enough to really get a good feel for it.

I planted it off the beaten track, away from where the kids run and play, I knew it could grow quite large, so I planted it in a secluded spot, almost against the North facing wall, so in winter it doesn't get full sunlight, but even so its been very happy in its spot. Its also hiding my work area where I store my little greenhouse, empty plant containers etc.

I really enjoy walking past it and smelling the sweet jasmine-like fragrance and seeing the white flowers against the glossy green leaves. In all the years we visited the ocean every summer back home, I never paid any attention to this shrub growing right on the beach with its pretty red berries, didn't even know it was edible.

Lillikoi halfway tamed

Last weekend I got up early with determination to get rid of the lillikoi passionfruit vine.

Of course there was a problem, the little metal part that connects the string trimmer head to the motor was missing, so after searching for a while, sweating in the heat of the garage and humidity, I was finally ready to start tackling it.

It took almost three hours to hack away half of it. What makes it really tough is the fact that the touch vine keeps on wrapping around the head of the string trimmer, basically bringing it to a half, then I have to stop, and try to wrangle the vine away and off. The electric cord was just too short off course and I couldn't reach further. By then I looked like a green martian, covered in pieces of passion fruit leaf, vine, weeds and who knows what else. By then I had also stopped sweating and was starting to feel overheated.

The brown area is where I've whacked the 3 feet high vine away.
It is just so hot and humid right now, that just walking outside for a couple of minutes is enough to be drenched  in sweat. I know I shouldn't leave the rest too long, otherwise I'll be back to square one, but for now, I am just hoping and praying that at least the humidity will give a little way, or I could start early enough to beat the intense heat, or it could be overcast and just a little cooler.
The other half that still needs to be wacked

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Annona squamosa - the sugar apple

The first time I saw a sugar apple fruit (it may have been custard apples), were during a trip for work to India in 1995. It looked disgusting to me and I wouldn't even try it - it was one of the fruits the hotel staff had left in my room.

Now, 15 years later, I am growing this amazing small tree in my own garden and relish each and every fruit.

The tree is rather straggly, not ugly, not pretty. It struggled to get going at first and seemed to suffer from some nutritional deficiency all the time - yellowing leaves etc. I just frequently fertilized with a fertilizer containing Molybdenum and other trace elements.

My efforts paid off, this year its been producing large perfectly formed sugar apples in profusion.

The ripe fruits are soft and easily open up, use a spoon to scoop out the many seeds and custardy pulp, scrape every last bit off the inside skin ! Then remove the flesh around each seed and spit out the many seeds.

Scoop out the seeds with the pulp

Enjoying the fruits of my labour

With all the hard work, insects, raccoons, squirrels, possums and who knows what else I am competing with, its hard to believe I actually manage to get to taste the fruits of my labour.

Anyway, here's some of the fruits now in season:

sugar apple

If I had to choose the most successful of these, I would have to say sugar apple, the small tree took 3 years to really come into bearing, but now we've been eating quite a few sugar apples daily for the last week or so.

So, if you live in a warm enough area, plant a sugar apple already !

Monday, August 16, 2010

Update on growing myrtaceous fruits: Eugenia uhalva added to unsuccessfull list

My third attempt at growing Eugenia uhalva has failed.

Each attempt took 6 months. The seeds are extremely difficult to germinate, then grow slower than anything I've ever seen, then just when you think , ok its going to grow its first real leaf, the shoot withers and dies.

Just to make matters worse, a second shoot may emerge a few weeks later, only to suffer the same fate after weeks of anticipation. All in all, about 6 months of wasted time per try.

If anyone succeeds in growing it, I'd be interested to find out how.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Caught in the act: Caribbean fruit fly

Caribbean fruit fly on green guava
With the recent outbreak of Mediterranean fruit fly here in Palm Beach County, I've been worried about the fruit flies in my own yard. I really wanted to make sure they were not med fly.

Today, I set out with my camera stalking around the variegated guava. I had no problem spotting them, there were many of them all over the guavas ! I don't know if the variegated guavas have a very tough skin, but so far only a few of them have been infested with very small larvae.

My pictures confirm these are Caribbean fruit fly, the bane of every South Florida fruit grower.

I was ably to squash the last one while it has its ovipository inserted, even when it was dead, and I tried to pull it out, it broke off inside the guava. This means they have very sharp nasty ovipositories and explains why they infest so many fruit.
Squashed Caribbean fruit fly with stinger caught in guava

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Update: Strawberry guavas deemed unfit

I had to make a decision and fast. Every single strawberry guava is infested with Caribbean fruit fly worms. The fruit flies are now also targeting my other guavas, I frequently spot them with their ovipositaries piercing the fruit, laying their eggs.

After much deliberation I finally made the decision to remove the strawberry guavas. I really hate doing this, especially after waiting more than a year for them to grow and fruit.

The plants themselves are really pretty and ornamental, I am running out of space to plant the edibles I still want that are trouble and disease free, so these two plants had to go. I have learnt my lesson, from now on, only fruit-fly resistant fruits.

I am thinking more and more to just concentrate on the fruit we all really like: mango's.  I will have to concentrate on the condo mango's as space is definitely an issue, I am thinking of getting some early cultivars, Florigon and maybe Choc Anon, which is supposedly a miracle mango as it fruits from November - January. The earliest cultivars all fruit late May - June.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

When life gives you elderberries then make some ....

Elderberry jam.

I kept putting it off, every day I'd see quite a few bunches of ripe elderberries and next day most would be gone, probably eaten by birds.

This weekend, I decided to try and make something out of them as there were more ripe bunches than usual. So, I picked a plastic grocery bag full, sat next to my wife watching tv and took all these berries off the stems using another plastic bag - these berries pack a beautifull purple colour, so best not to use your uncovered hands. This is the worst part, getting those thousands of little berries dislodged and removing all the small pieces of stem.

Then I just put it in a small pot (probably 1 quart), the berries filing it about 1/2 way, added very little boiling water, turned the heat up until it started to boil, then added about 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar and kept on boiling it, tasting it every now and again. At first I thought it would be a complete waiste as it tasted bitter and not edible at all, but the longer I cooked it, the better it started tasting. After aobut 20 minutes or so, it started to become sticky, so I let it cool and put the sticky mess into a small jam jar I had my wife keep and wash.

This stuff is delicious ! Unlike anything I've ever tasted, with the skin and many seeds, it has a crunchy texture and is quite chewy. The colour is unbelieveable, dark burgundy, must be loaded with anti-oxidants. Try it on toasted sour dough bread with butter, then add some brie or sharp cheddar on top ... hmm heaven.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pomegranate update

First I tried foot sox to protect the pomegranates from the leaf footed bugs. They simply ignore them and still suck the juices making them rot.

Then I tried paper bags made from thick magazine glossy paper. I found this almost ripe pomegranate invaded and ruined by monkey beetles, which made a hole in the paper to find the pomegranate and then tunneled right through the foot sox also.

Seems foot sox and paper bags are not going to do it in Florida. Next up ? Maybe I'll try window screen, the nylon type, just need to figure out how to make a bag from it, so that pomegranate is in the middle and insects can't reach it through the mesh, the other option I was thinking is to use row cover material and make bags out of that.  Oh the length us fruit nuts will go through.

Monday, July 5, 2010

It seemed like a good idea at the time

I really wanted a passionfruit vine. I never thought in my wildest dreams it would be this invasive. It started innocent, 3 little vines growing along a trellis, they were supposed to just fill the trellis and any tendrils overgrowing would just be pruned.

It turns out these are lillikoi or yellow passionfruit Passiflora edulis var. flavicarpa - read up on it and you'll discover this vigorous vine quickly smothers and engulfs anything in its path.

Here's the problem, its taking over a substantial part of the garden, not only vinining and smothering everything in its path, its also growing on the ground, space that I normally use to grow squash and pumpkins in the fall. Not only has it overgrown the trellis to the point that the wires basically snapped and can no longer support the weight, its engulfing the largest plant in my garden, a travellers palm. If you just turn your back on it and come back a few days later, the tendrils are starting to vine into anything in its path.

If it was laden with delicous yellow passionfruit, I might overlook its aggressive behavior, but after flowering on an off since January 2010, I have yet to see a single fruit.

 I have to make a decision about it soon, before it becomes almost impossible to get rid of it. Another reason why its hard to get rid of it - I see tonnes of Gulf Fritillary butterflies around it, its one of their hosts plants.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What goes around comes around

Our neighbours closed on the sale of their house yesterday.

I had created two container plantings for her previously and also remade the walkway to her front door.

Since they're moving to Colorado and as she said: "I don't have you to plant these for me, I might as well give them to you".The plants I choose for the first container were tough as nails, they survived 98F summers and sub-freezing winters without watering or any care. I found out the reason while trying to move it - the roots has grown into the soil beneath, so in order not to leave a large bald spot in the lawn, we decided to leave that one.

She gave me the other container I planted with dwarf selloum, another large empty container and another large container containing a small bald cypress seedling.

I plan on planting the cypress seedling next to a city pond close by, where there are already a couple of young bald cypress trees growing.

I plan on using the two containers to experinment with "condo" fruits.

I have a seedling keitt mango  that I'd like to plant in one - this one was unusual as it was the only poly-embryonic seed I found out of probably 30 seeds. This means that it should be an exact clone of the parent tree. The keitt mango is considered a condo mango by some, my snowbird neighbour's tree at the back, is probably as tall as the middle of the roof and has an upright habit, i.e. its not even closely as wide as tall and very manageable and it bears arguably the best tasting mangos I have ever tasted. They are huge, weighing 2-3 lbs each! When they are here, we frequently exchange pleasantries over the fence, they are avid vegetable gardeners and plant all kinds of vegetables while they are here for our "winter". He has given me sole ownership of the mango's his tree bears while they are away, in return I gave him my best "orange-fleshed" guava seedling. Before he left this year, he asked me to plant a papaya tree for him, which I gladly did last weekend. At the same time I picked the first mango's. They are just starting to blush and will take about 10 days to ripen. Better I pick them, otherwise his garden service guys, neighbours etc. will happily take care of it.

In the other container I'll possibly plant a red malaysian guava. They'll both go on the uncovered patio at the back of the house.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Musical chairs

After 3 1/2 years of hard labor, my yard is now starting to mature and I find myself running out of space to plant all the exotic fruits that I still want to grow.

I removed the seed-grown sapodilla tree as noted before due to fear of it overrunning my neighbor's yard and replaced it with a mallika mango. I've been growing an orange fleshed guava from seed since last spring and I was looking for a spot to plant it.

I decided to remove the giant crinum lily and move it to one of the mixed shrub borders and replace it with the guava.

I am grooming this specific guava to be a single trunked tree, so that the exotic peeling bark can be visible and also to keep it size in check.

This means I now have three different guava varieties growing almost in a row, forming a natural wall to enclose the kids playset, forming another garden room.

As you can see in this picture, I moved the lilly to the back of the guava.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Nursing the variegated guava air layers

On Saturday, I severed all the air layers that I did in February. Most of them didn't grow as many roots as I had hoped for - the plastic that I used to cover the spagnum  peat moss, was too thin and it was invadid by argentine ants and other insects, making the peat moss dry out.

The largest of them all had a very nice rootball growing. I planted a total of 5 air layers, after removing 90% of the leaves and cutting some of the shoots back.

They are now under the deep shade of the litchi tree along with the sapodilla tree I also removed this weekend.

Since June is our rainyest month and also extremely humid, now is a good time to nurse them.

If they grow, I'll have plants to give away as gifts or sell during our community yard sale, if not, then nothing is wasted and I had great fun doing this experiment.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Difficult decision - replacing the seed-grown sapodilla

After Julie's comment about her 50ft tall sapodilla, I had to make a difficult decision, shall I leave it and let it grow too big and then take care of it, or remove it while its only 5 feet tall.

The tree is truly beautiful and already starting to sport the pyramid shape they are known for.

Since it will take a very long to bear fruit and is occupying prime real estate, I decided to replace it with something that will fruit sooner and that I really like and have been thinking of planting for a long time.

So on Saturday, I went to Home Depot in Lake Worth to get some painting supplies and I looked in the outdoor section and they had a couple of Mallika mango trees. I have been reading up a lot on the mallika and have read so many good things about it.

What I really like is the fact that the tree is a real dwarf variety and can even be grown in a container on a patio for example. I don't know what I was thinking when I planted the sapodilla tree, maybe it will take 20 years to grow 50ft tall and by then I won't be living here and it will be someone else's problem, but with our under water mortgage, who knows, it just might become my problem. So after coming home with the mallika I still deliberated and tried finding a different spot, but after a long time, I finally decided that the sapodilla had to go.

So I removed some more of the sod and planted the mallika, then dug around the root ball of the sapodilla and replanted it in the same container and placed it under the deep shade of the litchi tree where it can recover from the shock. I just feel too sorry to get rid of it. Maybe I'll go and plant it in a public spot like they do in some communities in California. People find unused, waisted public spaces then plant fruit trees for everyone to enjoy.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Growing goji berry in South Florida

I couldn't find any information about growing it in Florida, so I am taking a chance and bought some seeds online -Lycium chinense, this is the variety that grows in the southern warmer parts of China. They took a long time to germinate, and they grew very slowy, of the 8 or so pots I planted, 4 survived, I've already planted 3 in the garden in different spots, I'm still looking for a spot for the last one.

This is a picture of one of them, now 5 months old. Apparently they take 3 years to bear from seed, so now its wait and see. The plants are very scraggly and needs to be supported.

They are in the Solanacea family  that includes eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers .... and so far I have found them to be suspectible to the same pests, i.e. tomato hornworm, spider mites...whitefly

Hopefully i can keep it alive for three years in order to get some fruit from it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Second try at growing turmeric

Last year I bought some fresh tumeric tubers at our local fresh market and planted them in my garden.

They sprouted growth but never seemed very happy and the argentine ants invaded the tubers and the plants just died back. I lifted the few remaining tubers and stored them until late January after the last day of frost, then planted them and kept them moist in my little greenhouse. They only started growing in late April, seems they really need shady, moist, warm and humid conditions. In retrospect, I think the site was too dry and too sunny.

After they grew real leaves, I planted them in this box container and placed it on the patio where they will receive a few hours of direct sun, If I see them deteriorating, I'll move it to a full time shady spot, maybe under one of the trees.

So far the leaves are really beautiful kind of reminds me of shell ginger or even canna.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rescued ixora's coming on nicely

About 3 months ago, I helped my neighbor to redo the flower bed leading up to her front door. http://thebudgetgardener.blogspot.com/2010/03/lending-helping-hand.html

I don't know if I had any part to play in it, but they sold their house and for a much better price than anyone had hoped for - still well below what we owe (since we bought at the height of the market in 2006), but its 50% more than our direct neighbors sold for. This gives us hope that we might break even  (and dare we hope even turn a profit some day) sooner than later.

Anyway, the dwarf ixora's that I removed due to being burned by the chlorine bleach used to clean her walkway, are all starting to sprout new growth (except one which is now on the compost pile). Now I just need to figure out where I'm going to plant them, or I might sell them on our community garage sale.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The first sapodilla flower

My latest addition to the yard, an Alano sapodilla from Excalibur which I planted last fall, is flowering! This is the difference between buying quality versus skimping (or growing from seed). My other sapodilla which I grew from a seed 2 years ago, is only about 3 feet tall and will probably only fruit in another 5 years.

The bought tree is barely 4 feet tall and already has numerous flowers and will probably bear at least 5 fruit.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The secret to growing myrtaceous fruits from seeds

Almost all the myrtaceous fruit seeds I have bought have played the same trick on me.

This includes:

1. Surinam cherry
2. Grumichama
3. Uvalha
4. Cabelluda
5. Blue Grape

and I am pretty sure the same holds for most of the others with large seeds, like jaboticaba, pitomba ...

I plant the seeds in well drained loamy soil, place the container in some shade, but where it will receive some sunlight, keep it moist, not too wet, then wait for what feels like forever. Normally after about 2 - 4 weeks (for some even 2 - 4 months), you should see the first little shoot push trough the soil.

What happens next is very disheartening, almost without fault, the very first shoot dies within a few days and turns brown and rots away.

I made the mistake to throw out some of those seeds, but accidentally left a few grumichammas and discovered to my amazement that a new shoot (or sometimes more than one) started growing ! This later happened to most of the seeds I bought online. If I hadn't known, I would have lost all of them. Some of these seeds run $3 each ! (Uvalha).

My latest seed, a Uvalha, germinated and started growing a shoot, but within a day or two, the shoot died. So with a lot of faith, I left it, placed it in deeper shade and didn't water it too much, and sure as hell, today, about 2 weeks later, I discovered the new little shoot ! You really have to zoom into the picture to see it. To the right of the green little shoot, the dead brown shoot is barely visible.

Its important to never expose the new little shoots to direct sun, they will get scorched and die within a day.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Taming the yellow (lillikoi) passion flower

When I went outside on memorial day, I was planning on doing a few routine maintenance tasks, i.e. prune some shrubs, prune the pentas ...

I heard some hacking noise and discovered my neighbour hacking away at the lillikoi that had been suffocating his crepe myrtle trees. I guess we're even now, because he let his bougainvilleas and mandevilla vines grow over the fence and completely engulf the whole corner, including a Christmas palm. The bougainvillea is much tougher to deal with than the passion fruit since it has hard woody canes armed with nasty spikes.

After he was done, I took out my pruning gear and hacked away the last few shoots growing over the fence. I didn't have the heart to remove all the shoots that are now creating a rather nice looking ground cover, but I sort of realize I might be sorry later when it tries to take over the rest of the yard ! I also left the thick growth that is now covering the bottom part of the travellers palm. I did however cut off the shoots that are now trying to suffocate the strawberry guava and the ones reaching for the sugar apple.

So far, not s single fruit in sight. This is very disappointing. Now I have this beautiful vine, taking over most of the back fence, with beautiful blooms and the promise of great tasting fruit, but nothing !

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Growing grumichama from seed

Growing grumichama (Eugenia brasiliensis) from seed is not for the faint of hearted or easily discouraged. The seeds take a very long time to germinate, then the seedlings are extremely vulnerable to drying out, sunburn etc. This is my 2nd grumichama that died suddenly after two years for no apparent reason.

If you are lucky to live close to a rare fruit nursery like me, your luck is in as these are fairly cheap and can be bought for about $15 and will fruit within a year or two from planting. However, if you want a good supply of these delicious fruits, I suggest you buy as many as you can, so it can get expensive very quickly. If money was no issue, I definitely would plant as many of these as I have space for.

For me I grow it from seed because its more of a "I do it because I can" and "I hate throwing away seeds" and "I already have two fruiting specimens, but I'd like a lot more, so I can wait".

I strongly suspect that juvenile plants can not stand even a single drying out episode, neither do they like the scorching South Florida sun. This particular one looked a little wilted, I watered it but it died within two days after it started wilting. They also seem to really hate being transplanted.

Furthermore, they seem to have some nutritional deficiency all of the time, but at the same time don't seem to like too much fertilizer either.So for me, its been a hit-miss experience. I still have three seedlings varying in age from almost two years to 1 year.

We love this fruit so much that we literally fight over them, we pick the fruits then count and equally divide them!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monster vine is a lillikoi

Last year I bought "Brazilian round yellow passion fruit" seeds from Baker Creek. Unlike the other passion fruit seeds I unsuccessfully tried to germinate before, these germinated very easily and grew very quickly. Within a month or two from germinating around May last year, I planted them in my back yard on a two wire trellis specially made for the two plants I planted.

In my wildest dreams I never imagined them to completely overgrow the trellis and then reach beyond to envelop everything in its path. As you can see in the last picture, they're now snaking up my traveller's Palm.

I see my neighbor tried to hack it away from his Crepe Myrtle trees which were being completely suffocated. I will have to bring out my pruning gear this coming weekend and try to stop it from completely taking over.

It has been blooming profusely for a couple of weeks now, but I still don't see a single fruit forming, I also don't see any bees or other insects buzzing around the flowers. I think I will have to take a small paint brush and start hand pollinating. I wonder if having two vines are enough - hopefully the seeds were not from the same parent and incompatible.

So, if there are more people out there who were wondering what "Brazilian round yellow passionfruit" from Baker Creek are, they are undoubtedly the yellow edible passion fruit or lillikoi.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Put a sock on it

Last year, I lost almost all my limes and meyer lemons to birds.

I had caught black birds pecking at my citrus fruits. A search for florida's birds revealed they are "American Crows" or "Boat tailed Grackle"

I had been thinking long and hard how to protect my fruit from these birds. At the same time I have also pondered how I can save my pomegranates from the leaf-footed bugs.

I read on some blog that someone was using footies, those try on socks you get at the shoe stores. So I searched and found some for sale on eBay, bought some last week and started to put them on the poms and citrus fruit.

So far so good. I spotted a leaf footed bug on one of the poms and today I found a leaf footed bug nymph on another. So the verdict is still out if its going to work on the poms.

It seems to be working on the meyer lemon, so far I have not seen any new bird damage after applying them.