Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

From the Ground Up

This morning, I was sitting on the bricks by the raised bed pulling weeds and admiring the vegetables from that perspective, thus the title. :) I love this mesclum lettuce. I will come back out this evening with my kitchen shears and cut some for our salad. I've been doing that for a few weeks now. Mesclum grows back to this height in about a week after trimming. Yumm!
In spite of the cold snap of last week, our basil is growing well. I'm making some homemade tomato/basil spagetti sauce for dinner.
I have to say that the thing I like best about our raised bed is how easy it is to weed. I never thought I would say that I am enjoying weeding. Sitting on the bricks makes all the difference.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fall Colors, Oranges, and Bees

After a week of colder temperatures, we finally have a little fall color in our yard. The maples are the only trees on our property that turn red and drop their leaves in the Fall, if we have colder temperatures. I think they're lovely.Our best looking orange tree. I took this picture as a 'before' picture. We are in the process of getting a couple of beehives. I hope the bees will help increase our orange crop next year

The oranges are not quite ripe yet. We all look forward to fresh OJ at the beginning of the Advent season every year. It's looking like this will be our smallest harvest yet. The two lemon trees are a sad sight with only a few lemons near the top of the trees. I think the reason is the development that went up on the west side of our property. There used to be a large orange grove there. I think our trees just didn't have enough bees pollinating them.

Our tomatoes survived the cold weather well. The lowest temperature we had was 37 degrees on Tuesday. I definitely think the tomatoes are sweeter after a cold snap. :)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

First Tomato Harvest

Our first tomato harvest (Sweet 100) picked this morning. I can't wait to have these in our salad for dinner. The low this morning was 42, so I'm hoping for sweeter tomatoes. Tomorrow morning is another story. They're predicting a low of 29. Since all the tomatoes are in pots, we're going to try to set up our pop-up greenhouse to protect them. We could still have another month of tomatoes before the next cold snap. It would be a shame to loose them when they just started to produce.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Looking Forward

Spring planting for us begins in mid-February. It always seems like the months of November and December just vanish with the holidays, and then gardening is upon us in a rush.
Building a chicken tractor was one of the first things we did when we got our first flock of chickens. They are very efficient at cultivating a garden bed, eating weeds and bugs, and dropping nitrogen-rich manure as they go. Their digging and scratching will incorporate this manure into the soil, so that it's not laying around on the surface.
Since we are hoping to expand our garden next year, the chickens are now working on clearing the grass and weeds for our new beds. We will be moving the tractor around during the next three months. Given enough time, they will clear the beds of all weeds and seeds. If you have chickens, you can put them to work. They will be happy to work for you for just a little water and grain. :)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Still Growing and Blooming

The peach tree is blooming. I've never understood why it puts out a few blossoms in the Fall. They fall off without leaving any fruit behind. It is the lone survivor of our peach orchard, the rest were lost to hurricanes a couple of years ago. It was barely a stick after the storms. This year, it gave us six peaches; and it doubled in size over the summer.
Lantana, a Florida native wildflower. This variety grows wild on our property, and the butterflies like its nectar.

Walking Iris - a Florida invasive. Walking is what it does, spreading itself all over planting areas. They are easy to pull though, so not a problem. I think the flowers are interesting, somewhat alien.

The mango we planted in September is showing new growth again. I'm glad it likes its location.

The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is in bloom. Its flowers aren't very showy; but I noticed their lovely, sweet, subtle scent as I walked past them this morning. My children look forward to loquat season in March. They aren't alone. Every year, the birds and squirrels eat about half the fruit before we even realize it's ripe.

At the foot of this red hibiscus grows a Spanish Needle, considered a weed in suburban yards. I think it looks pretty here. They are food for many butterflies - Gulf Fritillary, Orange Long Wing, Zebra Long Wing, Pearl Crescent, and others.

Milkweed, not my favorite from a distance. It lives for the Monarch butterflies whose caterpillars make those ugly holes on its leaves. Most of the time, it's a bare bundle of sticks. We enjoy the butterflies, so it earns its keep.

The weatherman predicts a high of 86 for today and maybe some badly needed rain tomorrow with the cold front. We haven't seen a drop of rain in weeks. Mr. Weatherman is also predicting a low of 43 on Sunday, so that's what we'll have to keep an eye on. I still have cucumber plants in the garden which I will cover up. We'll be harvesting all the Calabaza squash/pumpkin tomorrow. For now, can you say 'humuggity'?

Just Planted

Mesclum - Lowes
Carrot (Sweet Treat Hybrid) - Burpee
Lettuce (Jericho) - Seeds of Change
Radish (French Breakfast) - Seeds of Change

I have planted all of these already this season and have been harvesting the lettuce and mesclum for couple of weeks. I noticed some of the the first radishes I planted are showing their red tops, so not much longer before we start harvesting them. Jericho is still #1 on my list of favorites.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Article - Plastics in Food

There is an interesting article about plastic contamination in food here.

Frugal Challenge - Reading

I'm learning from others how to be frugal this week. I borrowed this book from the library, and it has a few good ideas and lots of frugal recipes. Cooking is a great way to save money, we rarely go out to eat as a family any more. It would be easy for us to spend $100 on a restaurant dinner.

The author has a family of six like ours. I'm sure she would have to update the $12 amount, since she wrote the book in 2002. Still, all her ideas are valid. There is a lot of good shopping advice in this book. She suggests buying BOGOs with coupons, shopping at Aldi - which I will try once the new store in town opens its doors, and buying certain things in bulk at places like SAM's and food coops. She mentions gardening as a way to save money on produce but doesn't go into the subject past the suggestion. I'm sure that could fill another book, and there are already many out there. ;)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Autumn Beauty - Calabaza

I harvested our first Calabaza squash/pumpkin of the season last week. I had to show it off on our dinning room table for a few days before cutting it up :). I dont' have a scale that can weigh something this heavy, but our estimate is about 15 lbs.

The seeds for this pumpkin came from a crop I grew last year. I still have plenty more. According to Seed to Seed they should keep for at least six years. Calabaza seeds aren't easy to find. For some reason, the large seed companies don't sell them. It may be that there isn't much demand, since the Calabaza (Cucurbita moschata) is definitely a tropical squash. The vines had damage after the low one morning went to 41 degrees. On the other hand, this variety is very disease resistant - perfect for our Florida garden.
To save seeds from a pumpkin or squash, all you need to do is scoop out the pulp and seeds, separate and wash off the pulp, and spread the seeds on a cookie sheet to dry. I like to put mine on top of the refrigerator. They have to dry for at least two weeks. If they aren't completely dry, they will not germinate - learned that from experience. To insure dryness, I keep my seeds in a ziplock bag in the refrigerator with one of those silica gel packs that come in vitamin bottles.

My pumpkin bread recipe goes like this:

Calabaza (pumpkin) Bread

2 cups of pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
2 cups honey
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Turn on oven to 350 degrees. Grease two loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and honey until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans.

Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Enjoy!

This weekend everyone enjoyed a pumpkin casserole. Tonight, we'll be having Pumpkin Curry Soup. I think I'll be canning some of the dozen or more pumpkins that are still on the vine. ;)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

This and That...

Looking around the garden and backyard, I found all these great creatures going about their lives. It didn't take more than fifteen minutes to capture them all.

I have a planter by the garden gate with a few Salvias. I planted the original plants there about a year ago. During the heat of summer, they died back but left seeds behind. The new plants are growing better than the parents did, and there are many more of them. They attract butterflies, bees, and others like this Silver Spotted (Epargyreus clarus)Skipper I found feeding on them this afternoon.

Michael asked to see the skipper's straw-like proboscis - we've been studying insects lately. He went and identified it for me in one of our Audubon guides :). It sat and fed on a Salvia, though the guide says it likes wisteria. I think the eyes, on close-up, are amazing; they take up about half its face. Teaching our kids about nature in our backyard has been one of the most exciting things I've done in my homeschooling career.

Lizards are masters of camouflage. I almost didn't spot this one, except that it jumped off a leaf onto the brown wood.

Our eggplant is finally producing. I think I'll harvest a few of them tomorrow morning. The plant is loaded with small fruit, so it will direct its energy to growing the little ones once the large ones are gone.

The Cassia bush in our back yard is starting to bloom. I found a Cloudless Sulfur caterpillar on one of the buds. We have enjoyed watching the Sulfurs fly in great profusion this Fall. I never knew that the Cassia was their host plant.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Tomato Experiment

I noticed this morning that we finally have a couple of cherry tomatoes ripening on the vine. I will wait a couple of days before picking them, as they look a bit green yet.

I was reading yesterday that rhonda jean likes to harvest her tomatoes green because, by doing this, her vines produce more flowers and more fruit, plus she avoids pests. I just don't know if the taste and nutritional value of a tomato picked green would really be comparable to that of a vine-ripe tomato. I have always thought that storebought tomatoes were flavorless because they were picked green. Also, I read recently that in order to have a sweet tomato, it must be allowed to ripen on the vine and picked after a cold night. The plant will send all the sugar it has stored into the fruit if it senses a freeze is about to kill it. I was also told this secret by a strawberry farmer in town and have tested it myself. Since we live in the winter strawberry capital, it was easy to do. Last year, I only bought strawberries the day after the temperatures had gone down below 40 degrees. We enjoyed the best strawberries ever. I am hoping this same thing will work with my Fall tomatoes, so I'll be looking to harvesting them the day after we have temperatures in the 40s. Stay tuned!

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