Sunday, February 28, 2010

My first attempt at mango grafting

Last summer I started growing a lot of mango seeds, about 10 plants.

This means they are now about 8-10 months old.

I took my first stab at cleft-grafting - I grafted some of my neighbor's hatcher mango and also one of my own lancetilla mango.

Here's a picture of the hatcher mango grafted onto a very strong growing lancetilla seedling. The rest of the grafts are on another neighbors seedlings, possibly glen or kent. Now its wait and see.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Falling home values in South Florida - there's no bottom in sight

This is really disconcerting. Our neighbours just sold their home for half of what we owe on our house. When inflation is taken into account, the home has now sold for half of what it was sold for 14 years ago - brand new.

That means, we are now 100% underwater on our mortgage. Many calls to our mortgage company have fallen on deaf ears, even as my income has been slashed. I still earn too much and thus they will not help me.

So many homeowners are simply walking away here in South Florida. On our cul-de-sac, there's already one unoccupied home. Right now, the lawn and landscape is being maintained - who knows by whom, so at least its not looking bad, but it has a pool in the backyard, who knows whats breeding in there now ? As more and more homes are foreclosing, who knows what will happen to our HOA fees, it must go up eventually to make up for the loss of income.

Recently, our HOA sent every home owner a referendum form, to define how many people may live in a home - as people are leaving their homes, or short-selling, the prices have dropped 100% since 3 years ago, it has now become affordable for many people and more and more renters and people of questionable character are moving in, sometimes 5 cars or more line the streets in front of these homes, making driving and parking difficult for everyone else and looking unsightly. When you drive through the neighbourhood, those are also the houses with unkempt lawns and gardens, very often with no window treatments, or cardboard boxes in front of windows. So they want to make it HOA law, that only one family may live in a home, and also a maximum of 2 people per room. Also, you may have family live with you temporarily, but you must prove that it is direct family.

My mistake was simply buying the best house I could afford at the wrong time. Granted, I would be hard pressed to find a home with such a large garden anywhere within suburbia, but looking at and others, there are now newer, more beautiful homes with 1.25 - 1.5 acre lots selling for half what I owe on mine. The original allure of this house was the large lot. It has been my dream to have a large garden as long as I can remember. I have also invested so must sweat and hard labour here.

Florida is a recourse state - that means if the mortgage company sells the home at an auction for less than what you owe, they can come after you for up to 20 years and get a deficiency judgement against you. That means, you are simply screwed, there seems to be no way out of this.

This leaves me the question, as a responsible law-abiding citizen, what am I supposed to do ? Do I simply walk away and face the danger of getting a deficiency judgment against me, should I try to do a short sale, but will the mortgage company settle for 50c on the dollar, or do I continue sinking my hard-earned money into this bottomless pit - according to, it will take 104 years to recover my equity !

See here how your home measures up:

Friday, February 26, 2010

Garden services - love to hate them

I fired my first garden services because they were riding over and whacking my fruit trees, then I braved the Florida heat and humidity, bought my own mower and tools and started doing the mowing, edging, trimming myself. I kept this up for two seasons, last summer I finally gave up. Work hours and the un-bare able heat/humidity and less time to spend with family finally made me hire a new company.

Yesterday they came by for their two-weekly moving / edging task.

This morning on my daily walk through the garden, I couldn't help to notice the damage to my newly planted fairchild mango.

For no apparent reason, as there are no weeds near the stem, they whacked it badly.

It was flushing new growth and flowering. I really hope the damage doesn't make it drop its flowers or is severe enough to cause it to die altogether.

I already e-mailed the owner and gave him a piece of my mind!

grrrr !

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Myrtaceae - what a family

Upon closer inspection, you will understand my fascination with the Myrtaceous family of plants.

This varied family includes amongst others eucalyptus, clove, myrtle, and guava.

The reason for my fascination though is where beauty and usefulness meet, specifically fruits in this family. What also makes this family so fascinating to me is the peeling bark that is so prevalent in most of its members. Not only are these edible family members stunningly beautiful, but some of them bear the most delicious fruits on earth.

Here are a few pictures of family members I am growing in my yard:

Rumberry - Myrciara Floribunda only a few inches tall and peeling bark already visible

Cabelluda - Eugenia tomentosa only a few inches tall and showing peeling bark already

Guava - Psidium guajava most beautiful peeling bark

Jaboticaba - Myrciara cauliflora stunning bark and structure

Pitomba - Eugenia luschnathiana

Strawberry guava - Psidium littorale

Surinam cherry - Eugenia uniflora

Australian Brush Cherry - also known as Syzygium paniculatum, Eugenia paniculata, Eugenia myrtifolia

Grumichama - Eugenia brasiliensis

Blue grape - Myrciara vexator

Feijoa - Feijoa sellowiana

Friday, February 19, 2010

Aloe barberae - my favourite structural plant

If I had to make a choice about my most favourite ornamental plant at the moment, I would have to say it is this Aloe barberae.

I grew it form a bare-root 10 inch plant bought on e-bay. Its been in the ground just over 2 years.

In its natural habitat along the subtropical coastal forests in KwaZulu Natal South Africa, this can grow 15m tall (50 feet), making it the largest African Aloe.

Click here to learn more about Aloe barberae

Here's a close-up of the stem and bark.

Here's a majestic specimen at the Pretoria Zoo in South Africa - hopefully mine will not grow this big - or it will take a very long time and it will be someone else's problem by then.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Horseradish tree is no more

I received a notice from our HOA in October to remove the horseradish tree from my front yard, apparently it wasn't planted far enough from the road easement.

I sent a request to extend the 30 days notice to after Christmas. At least we had a beautiful tree in the front yard decorated with lights.

Shortly after the new year, I received another letter from the HOA with an architectural approval form.

That's when I decided I had enough and chopped it down. As a final blow, I received another letter from our HOA last week to "remove the tree stump from your front garden". So this past weekend was spent digging up and removing the stump and re-planting emerald St. Augustine grass (see dark rectangle in the front of the picture). So, almost one year after planting the tree, seeing it grow to 20 feet tall and eternally covered in beautiful orchid-like blossoms, I had to chop it down.

So along with it goes our dream of a shady front yard with a bench. I guess we'll have to grunt and bear the 100F afternoon sun or wait till after sunset to venture outside.

I also grew another horseradish tree in the backyard. It too is stunningly beautiful, and it even bore a number of "drumsticks" seed pods. I tried to acquire a taste for it, but no matter how I tried it, I just couldn't stomach the taste of it.

So I had to make a touch decision, keep it for its beauty/ornamental value or plant a fruit tree I really like in its place - after much deliberation, I brought out my chainsaw attachment and before I could get second thoughts, I chopped it down too. I used the main leader as a support for the passion fruit vines and saved the other major limbs for other support duties, i.e. for planting pole beans etc.

In its place, I planted a mango I grew from a seed that I got from a friend. The mango is unlike any mango I've even tried, I suspect it may itself have been a seed-grown mango.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Monster passion fruit vines

I bought these "Brazilian round yellow passion fruit" seeds from Bakerstreet last year.
I built a two wire trellis with 8 feet cedar posts. I underestimated these vines. The trellis is almost collapsing under the weight of the vines. They are growing so vigorously, they are now starting to cover my neighbour's crepe myrtle trees. I am not feeling guilty because their bougainvillea is taking over the corner of my yard and now it looks like they also have another vine (I suspect the highly invasive mandevilla vine) growing all over my palm trees.

One of the vines flowered briefly in November, with pure white flowers but none set fruit. There are a total of three vines planted, so hopefully there will be enough variability to ensure cross-pollination.

I tried to look up round yellow passion fruit with white flowers and so far no luck. The closest I could come up with is the lillikoi, but they have flowers similar to the purple passionflower, Passiflora edulis which have purple tinged flowers.

I guess I'm going to have to start pruning them already and hope they flower and set fruit soon.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fairchild mango

Fairchild Mango growing in Florida sand - err I mean soil.

I can hardly believe it, but my newly planted (December) little 4 foot tall Fairchild mango, is having a growth spurt and its sporting a flower raceme on one of those growths ! I never even anticipated it bearing right after planting it and at such a small size even though is a dwarf or condo mango! I probably will have to remove the fruit because the little tree is not mature enough to hold fruit.

Even more worrisome, since it so small,l how will I keep the raccoons and other animals at bay ! Maybe time for some electric fencing !

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Raccoons, rabbits, birds, insects, possums now squirrels

As if I haven't had enough trouble protecting the hard-earned fruits of my labour from raccoons, now something else started eating my half-ripe sugar apples, starfruit and papayas.

It soon became very clear, the squirrels have now also discovered my "garden of Eden".

Its very clear that I'm probably not going to get one ripe papaya from this tree.

I strongly suspect they are also to blame for my disappearing or half eaten starfruit. I laid rat traps, but something set them off and was obvious to large and could free themselves, or the rat traps were too large and maybe the culprits eating my starfruit were mice, so I bought mouse traps also - no luck either. So now I am strongly suspecting the squirrels are also eating my starfruit.

Maybe its time for a rat zapper, an electronic rat killer, supposedly kills squirrels (tree rats as they are affectionately known) too.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Record breaking cold temps

Burnt PineapplesBurnt Aloe thraskii
Burnt sanchezia
Burnt seagrape

We had a 10 day period in January where 70 year old records were broken each day for overnight lows and even for lowest daytime maximum temperatures. It was also the longest time ever on record with freezing or close-to freezing temperatures in West Palm Beach. We even turned on the heat for a couple of days when the maximum barely hit the 40's.

It took a heavy toll on my garden, but fortunately a lot of plants are already recovering well.

Worst hit was the crossandra and sanchezias. The pineapples, aloes, cleodendrum all got burnt, but are recovering very well. Even the native seagrape got quite badly burnt, but its already pushing out tonnes of new growth.

Not much came of my attempts to grow vegetables. In fact, I planted beans twice, first they succumbed to the intense heat we had right into November, then the second batch wilted after our cold spell, so I dug them up, removed all my vegetable beds from their conspicuous spot and relocated a few beds to the back of the garden, where they're out of sight (and big hallelujahs were heard from my wife's mouth). In place of the vegetable garden, I replanted emerald St. Augustine grass and my seed-grown atualfo mango.

Atualfo mango

Monday, February 8, 2010

Indian Jujube - the verdict

It took forever for the jujube's to ripen with our record breaking cold December and January.

The branches became so heavy with fruit that some snapped off.

The tree likes to droop and not a single branch is growing straight. I pretty much planted it in the spot I have because I counted on it growing up straight, instead, it is consuming so much space with its drooping branches that my lawn services can't mow the lawn there and every time they were here, another branch or two is broken in their attempt to cut around it.

So with much anticipation, I waited and waited, tried a couple of green jujubes and just spat them out as they are completely tasteless/ insipid. Finally some turned ever so slightly yellow and dare I say, some had a slight resemblance to a bland golden delicious apple. Most however, have no taste whatsoever. To make matters worse, some go from green to brown and then have a slightly spicy but half rotten taste, completely alien to my palate. Even the raccoons had second thoughts about it, the drooping branches were complete laden with fruit and lying on the ground. Every day, I would find half chewed jujubes everywhere, much like I did, took one bite and spat it out.

The big question now is, do I keep it around even though no-one in my household really cares for it and because I paid $35 for it, or do I cut it down and plant something I really like ? Maybe a different guava variety - I am growing an orange fleshed variety from seed and its going to take 3 years or so to reach fruiting age.

This weekend, I took out my frustration on it and cut it back almost to a stump. I will give it one more season and I will attempt to make it grow a little more upright and compact, plus I will prune it so that it bears fewer but larger fruit - the larger fruit tends to be sweeter and tastier.

If I had tasted jujubes before, I probably would not have bought the tree.