Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Weekend project

I went to Home Depot this weekend to spend the gift card my neighbour gave me for re-making her front entryway.

I had a long list of supplies to buy. Fertilizer (my tropical fruit trees need a lot of it in our sandy soil). Organic insecticide - I got Organicide, made from sesame oil.

I really wanted a another condo mango tree, I had my mind set on either Mallika or Nam Doc Mai. This time, they only smallish mango's they had were Carrie, still too big for the space I have in mind.

While looking through the mango trees, I noticed this beautiful red guava shrub for $13.99, so I decided to buy it. My wife wanted to know: "How many more guava trees can you plant", my reply, "How many more pairs of shoes or handbags do you possibly need" - I rest my case.

Then came the hard decision where to plant it. I decided to expand my very first border to the left as there is space to spare. So I removed the turf and used it to patch bare spots elsewhere in the garden. I planted the remaining gazania seedlings, some pineapples I had been growing all winter and the guava.

I also bought some miniature crown of thorns in various colours for the border in front of the front window, the sanchezia's I had growing there really took a beating with our colder than normal winter and only the bare stems were remaining, so I pulled them out.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Aloe barberae replacement - Giant crinum lily

When we first arrived in Florida, we lived in temporary housing in a condo community.

The first plants I noticed were the large crinum lilies and I decided that I had to have one.

Whenever I went for a walk, I checked the plants to see if I could find any seeds. Its not hard to spot these seeds, they are huge. So I picked a couple of the common green plants but couldn't find any of the dark, almost black plants. One day I was lucky and I found one seed that looked different than all the "green" seeds.

As soon as we moved into this home, I planted the seeds in containers and planted them in the garden as soon as I had a spot for them. Its now 3 years later and the spot I planted this one is now overgrown by other shrubs so it was hardly visible anymore. Mature specimens can cost $50 or more. The darker ones (Queen Emma) cost as much as $100 each !

The different seed produced a plant with darker leaves, but not quite as dark as the Queen Emma - probably a hybrid of the common green one and Queen Emma. Its bigger than the green one and its producing more pups too. I like it when the plants stay solitary, so I'll remove the pups and grow them on to mature size to plant elsewhere in my garden or to give away to friends or maybe to sell during our annual community yard sale.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I'm not the only guava lover

I forgot to pick the almost ripe guavas this weekend. The next morning, all that was left were the shells. You got to admire the raccoons - they really know the good stuff.

Now, I inspect the guavas daily, I can now tell just by looking at them which ones are ready for the picking. To confirm, I gently squeeze them, when green, they are rock hard, when ready for picking, they give way ever so slightly, then take one to two days to ripen. Once they give off the classic guava aroma, they're ready to eat, but eat them before they turn too soft and mushy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Aloe barberae down

Late last summer, we got a lot of rain over an extended period of time. One of my beautiful Aloe barberae's really took a beating. It looked like it might be rotting.

This weekend, while looking out the back window, I saw it lying down and my first thought was, oh no, the raccoons again.

Upon closer inspection, I saw a lot of raccoon digging in the lawn around it and I do suspect they had something to do with it, but, the poor aloe's main stem was completely rotten. It is bizarre, because my other Aloe barberae in my rock garden is doing extremely well. The only difference is that its planted on a hill of sand - so it must be the drainage that made all the difference.

Now I'm stuck with what to plant in its place. I have some orange fleshed guava seedlings growing that I think might fit in very well. I am limbing it up and keeping the main stem clear so that it will be trained as a tree and not a shrub and this means the magnificent bark will be visible - but these seedlings are still very small, so maybe for now, I'll plant a fast growing shrubs or transplant one of my seed-grown giant crinum lilies there.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Budget container make-over

This container with variegated Cuban oregano and red ti plant really started looking dilapidated - OK, the truth, my wife has been bugging me about it for a while as its right by our front entryway.

This weekend, I woke up with an idea in my head. Last year I planted some ligustrum and duranta rooted cuttings that were outgrowing their containers in a bare area of the garden. I didn't really want them there permanently and this was a great time to re-use them.

So I removed the oregano, carefully removed the red ti plant (grown from cutting) with as much of its root ball intact. The soil had sagged quite a big, so I topped it up with garden soil, removed the ligstrum and duranta with as much of their root balls intact, then replanted them in the container with the red ti plant.

The small seedlings are gazania's grown from seed. Hopefully they'll fill in the bare spots and provide long term colour. They are water wise and love heat, so hopefully they'll do well here as they're about to get a lot of heat with our approaching summer.

All in all this remake cost about $3.00 - half a bag of garden soil and half a packet of gazania seeds.

Here's the nice thing about growing your own plants, if it doesn't work out or you kill them, just grow some more for free.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Winter in Florida - perfect biltong making weather

With our dry and cooler weather, its the perfect time for making our favourite South African snack - biltong. Its derived from Dutch: "bil" for buttock and "tong" meaning strip, i.e. strips of dried meat.

Here's how I make the perfect biltong.


Find very thinly cut strips of meat - our local Publix has 4 mm thin strips of topside
Coarse salt
Freshly ground Coriander
Worcestershire sauce


Take strips of meat, place in large flat dish, enough to cover bottom
Sprinkle course salt thinly, turn strips around, then sprinkle salt on other side
Repeat placing strips / sprinkling, until all strips are covered

Leave to cure for 30 minutes

Rinse with fresh water to remove excess salt, drain properly.

Place a layer of strips on the bottom of same or other dish, then sprinkle with Worcestershire sauce, turn around and sprinkle other side
Repeat until all strips are marinated
Let is marinate for 30 minutes - longer if you like a stronger flavour

Make hooks from thin wire, by bending it into an s shape with pliers, then cutting it off the roll, or use paper clips.

Sprinkle coriander over top layer of strips, turn around, then sprinkle other side.

Hook each piece and hang in a dry, bug free environment that has ample fresh air circulating.

Let it air dry until the meat turns black.

The thicker the strips the longer the drying time.

The thin strips I use, dry to satisfaction within 2 days.

Enjoy !

Monday, March 8, 2010

Persistent little buggers

All my attempts to keep the squirrels away from my papayas have failed. They somehow got under the wire I placed around the tree and still ate away all the ripening papayas.

This weekend, while walking around the garden with my 10 year old daughter, I mentioned that I might as well remove the papaya and she said, "daddy, don't be silly, keep this one for the squirrels, then they will leave the other one on the other side of the garden with the big papayas alone".

Now that's one clever observation.

I picked all the intact papayas that are still rock hard that are turning ever so slightly yellow. Lets see if they will ripen, at least the squirrels won't get them.

Pandorum movie sucks

Last night I wasted 2 hours of my precious time (trying) to watch Pandorum.

Wish I head read this review before. It sums it up pretty well.

So be warned, if you love sci-fi movies like me, give this one a skip.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Lending a helping hand

One of our neighbours are desperately trying to sell their home. They recently had their driveway and walkway pressure cleaned, too bad the people doing the cleaning didn't cover the ixora's lining their walkway to the front door.

The chlorine defoliated the ixoras completely, leaving dead skeletons, where there was normally a nice low evergreen hedge.

Their garden services wanted to charge them a fortune to replace the 12 ixora's. Everyone in our Cul de Sac knows I am the gardener with the green thumb, so she approached me out of desperation. Luckily I belong to the Home Depot Garden club and get all kinds of deals, as well as the weekly add. Unfortunately I didn't grow any rootlings this year as I have now covered all the areas I want to cover with herbaceous plants.

I normally shy away from annuals, yes they are beautiful and colourfull, but for me its a waste of time and money to replace them after two months, especially when it gets to late March/April, it get too hot for them here.

Since she needed colour fast, I suggested some of the annuals on sale at HD. Her budget was $50. I drove to HD this morning and got some begonia flats on sale, 18 per flat, bought two pink ones and 1 white one, 4 mamey crotons (each pot had two) and a bag of red mulch to match the red mulch she already had. I divided the mamey crotons, so now I should have had 8, but one fooled me, what appeared to be a 2nd plant, was attached to the other (that is now in my litte grow house with rooting hormome). So I was short one mamey croton, and I ran out of pink begonias. So, one trip to the store later, I had two more begonias and one small croton and finished the job, swept the dirt away, then quickly washed the walkway and voila!

Here's some before and after pics.

Of course the ixora's were not just thrown away. I planted them in bags and placed them in the shade of the litchi tree, where I will water them daily and nurse them back to health. If they make it, I will replant them in my neighbour's back yard, otherwise, they'll become compost.

Not all veggies are lost

At least the mesculin salad mix is growing well and seem to be really enjoying the cold weather.

We've had large bowls of tropical salad with arugula and at least three other kinds of greens, chopped almonds, chopped dates, avocado, grape tomatoes, cucumber, sharp cheddar cheese, garlic, ginger, carrots, guava (depitted), mango - only the greens are from my garden unfortunately, the fruit from Costco (except guava) and rest from local grocery store.

The arugula is growing so well, I have to cut off the seed heads every day now. I've even given some away to a neighbour.

I tried making pesto with the over abundant arugula and I hate to say it, both me and my wife find it way too overpowering. Its a pity, we really wanted it to be great. Now that I've made my own pesto, I have a great understanding of why its so expensive to buy. It takes a ton of leaves, lots of Parmesan cheese (very expensive), extra virgin olive oil, garlic and a lot of patience.

Our Italian snowbird neighbours even tried to give me some of theirs since it grows like a weed. I have read people use it like spinach, so we'll try that next. Until then its restricted to our salads.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Bananas total loss

With the freezing temperatures we had over a long period in January and even the unseasonably cold temperatures currently, the three bearing bananas have all but withered and died.

All three were well on their way bearing nicely sized bunches of fruit and all three were killed by the cold temps and all the fruit stopped developing and just shrivelled away.

All I can say is that I feel extremely sorry for farmers all over the sunshine state.

This must have been one of the worst years they've ever had. For me its only a hobby, for these folks their lively hood depends on it.

Its showing on the prices of fresh produce, my wife commented how ridiculous the prices are for especially salad greens.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Split personality

I know I've posted about my variegated guava quite a bit. You see, it is one of my ultimate favourite plants and fruits.

It is highly ornamental, first of all it is evergreen, has that truly tropical look, has flaking bark (I love flaking bark), its variegated (quite rare for guavas), the fruits stay green so the birds and insects ignore it, it bears profusely and over a long period and finally guavas are just plain right delicious !

Another thing that amazes me about this guava is that the same plant bears normal non-variegated leaves and variegated leaves, very often one of the large branches has smaller branches with normal leaves and some with variegated leaves!

The "normal" branches, bear green fruit, the variegated branches bear variegated fruit.

I even found this fruit that is half green and half variegated.

I had my first all green guava today and it tastes exactly the same as the variegated ones.

With our unseasonably cold weather, even the raccoons have left all the fruit to me.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Quality time

On Sunday morning, I spent some great time outside with my daughters. We picked some Suriname cherries which were still too red for my liking - they have to turn almost black before I will eat them, otherwise they are unbearably sour and taste like turpentine.

Anyway, they loved it and wanted more, but we could only find 2 each.

Afterwards, I took them on an adventure. We stopped at each of the Myrtaceous plants in my garden, picked a leaf, crushed it and smelt it. The Suriname cherry is the most pungent of them all. I explained how these plants are all related because they have oil glands in their leaves that release the oil when crushed. My eldest daughter likes the Suriname cherry smell the best. My favorite is the Marlierea spp, smells almost like perfume(forgot to include it in my previous post about the Myrtaceous family), followed by the feijoa. The least spicy smell of them all, probably the grumichama.

The grumichama is blooming, very shyly, unlike the Suriname cherry which is covered in blooms and should be laden with fruit soon. I wish it was the other way around as we all just can't wait for the grumichamas and its normally a battle between me, mom, the birds and the children to get our hands on them first. They really are yum.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Variegated guava air-layers, take number 2

The variegated guava is heavily infested with whitefly.

I'm not sure if the whitefly arrived first, or the Argentine ants brought them to farm them for honey dew - the classic chicken and egg situation.

In a drastic attempt to rid the poor tree of the whitefly, I sprayed it with volk oil, which burned the leaves and left ugly spots on the fruit. It did appear to reduce the whitefly population though, but I see the tell-tale trail of ants running up and down the trunk, so they are still there.

Extensive searching has brought up few suggestions to control the ants. Most sites suggest boric acid in a sugar solution, but also states it never completely eradicates the ants, merely brings their numbers down. The other solution that seems to help is an insecticidal gel that contains fipronil, which acts slow enough to allow the foragers to take it back to the colony and feed to the queen and larvae, eventually killing the whole colony. The problem with the gel is that at almost $5 for 27g, it would cost a lot to eradicate the ants from my 15000 sq ft. So I've opted for the boric acid solution. Made my own bait with sugar / water and boric acid, now I'm using used water bottles, take the lid off, then squeeze a little of the solution into the bottle, then place the opening close to a big concentration of ant nests. Keep a watch on it and refill when needed.

In addition many also suggest you limb up your trees / shrubs so limbs are at least 12 inches from the ground, then implement some measures to prevent the ants from running up the tree, i.e. sticky molasses, grease .....

Since I am going to limb up the guava tree, I decided to do another round of air layers. The lowest branches that will be removed were all layered. So now I have to wait and see. Probably about 4 months or so before the roots will be strong enough. That should be around June, which is normally our wettest, not too hot yet and a very humid month here in South Florida and an excellent time to sever the new plants from the mother plant and transplant them.