Friday, December 17, 2010

T’is the Season to be Holly, I mean Jolly

Ahh! It’s that time of year again when families and friends get together to enjoy a dish and a dram or two. I always have to give myself a big lecture before attending or hosting one of these occasions on not to bore the ants, I mean pants, off anyone by twittering on about my garden and the beauty I find in it every day. Lettuce be clear about this, over the years I have found that I can very quickly glaze someone’s eyeballs over by tooting my hornet about how big my broccoli is, the merits of growing and eating organic vegetables, in addition to the germination time of a mini pepper seed. Sometimes I can get so carried away I find myself itching to talk about the wormy compost heap just as someone’s about to pop a meatball with spaghetti in their mouth. Oh well, I guess I am just an avid – or is it aphid – gardener? Onion you glad I’m not spending time at your home this festive season? Since most of our neighbors can actually hear both of our conure parrots shrieking away at every perceived danger, they have no interest in their diet or how cute and clever they are by saying things like “what’ya doing?” or “very bad birdie!” No sir, no-one is amused, imagine that. I guess I will just have to bonemeal up on some intellectually newsworthy item like the gasoline reserves or the debate of the tax package. Anyway folks, hoe, hoe, hoe …. Ooh that’s corn-y – may the joy and blessings of this season be yours.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Seen the price of potting soil? I go through bags of it since our Florida yard soil is very sandy and does not have much nutritional value for healthy plants. Over the years I have amended it and it is getting better, both in consistency, drainage and ‘muck’ value. Mulching certainly helps, but takes a long time to break down.  I didn’t want the expense of getting a composting drum and my husband was pretty concerned about the perceived odor. Determined to give composting a go I bought a 25 gallon plastic drum from a large nursery store and punched holes in the bottom with a box knife. Every day I put the potato peelings, egg shells, carrot tops, coffee grounds, broccoli stems, orange peels, wilted lettuce, molded fruit, tea bags and anything else I could think of including the paper from the bottom of our bird cages but with the exception of dairy and meat. I covered it with a lid and watched the transformation from gunk to gold. I won’t go into the fascinating meltdown process that takes place but it’s fast! In no time at all I had black, healthy compost that I can incorporate into my veggie pots and they LOVE it. And guess what….no odor. Now don’t let this gross you out, but sometimes I see the pile moving as the bugs, worms etc. chomp their way through this decomposing morass-like heap. It’s also a smorgasbord for all the lizards and frogs that eat anything of a flying nature that thinks it can muscle its way in. Honestly it’s a wonder my neat freak beloved puts up with my “experiments” – what with the recycled (and well rinsed out) 15 gallon detergent containers positioned at strategic points around the house catching the runoff rain from the roof (very classy) and now the compost heap!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Get Certified!

My family and I love all the furry, feathery, slithery, fluttery visitors to our yard. Every spring the Pileated Woodpeckers return to the neighborhood and nest. Look on UTube for some great videos taken of these birds. Since putting up a large enough box for the Pileated, other critter families have taken turns raising their young in same box, including a rambunctious family of squirrels and a “hoot” of Eastern Screech Owls. One year a honey bee colony set up their hive but we lost them during that unusual cold snap a winter or two ago. During the time the bees were there they did not bother us once, even though the box is located right by our BBQ. Now when the Pileated Woodpecker returns as soon as the grill lid is opened we hear this scrabbling from the box 15 feet up, and a fledgling will pop a head out of the box and watch us grilling! Another box set in the back provides shelter for smaller Red bellied Woodpeckers who seem to “live” in it year round, this is probably not surprising since the box is a hop, flap and glide to the bird bath and sunflower seed/peanut holder I fill up every morning. If I am delayed in this obligation I can always rely on the blue jay brigade that will shriek at me from the branches until I get myself out there. I also hang little huts that I pick up at the grocery store for bees and lizards to shelter in. Keeping to permanent shrubs and plants that are Florida specific and drought tolerant provides shelter, food sources and saves oodles of water. We have birds of paradise, coconut and fox tail palms, wild coffee, blue and salmon colored porterweed, fire bushes and sea grapes that produce loads of berries for the birds. In the back part of the yard we have a permanent brush pile that I believe a box turtle lives in and I know black racers live under the shed and a red rat snake occupies a Queen Palm. Ever seen a snake climb a tree? A large broken clay pot turned upside down has a plant tray on top that I fill with water. I believe there are probably toads that live in the pot underneath, I don’t think I will put my hand in there and find out though. So when my neighbor, whose yard resembles the nature trail at MacArthur Park, put up a sign “Certified Wildlife Habitat” I was wildly curious how one would get certified. Turns out we were half way there already. To apply and join visit the web site of the National Wildlife Federation and, if you have water, shelter, places to raise young and food sources for wildlife, you’re all set. I can tell you it was a great source of pride for us when we put up our own sign that gives recognition on “the establishment and maintenance of an official wildlife habitat.” You can live in a pint size yard and still meet the guidelines, so what are you waiting for…….Get Certified! The local wildlife will reward you with hours of entertainment and enjoyment. Visit for more info.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tomato Time!

I saved the seeds from last years crop of tomatoes and this year started most from seed in the last week of September. I used really good quality potting mix and paper drinking cups. I labeled the paper cups with the seeds I was going to plant and dated it.  I punched little holes in the bottom of each cup, filled with potting mix, one little seed and placed in one of those deep styrofoam containers that mushrooms come in. I dampened down the soil mixture with diluted fish emulsion and lined them up on the patio facing the sun. I kept the soil damp and 8 weeks later they are 4” high. I have found with practice that baby tomatoes plants like to be “brushed” with your hand, they grow into stronger plants. I am torn between container gardening and wanting to just plunk them into the ground – I have watched Godfather II you know, Don Corleone didn’t have any problems with his tomato patch even though it rather seemed they assassinated him. Using potting soil seems to solve the problem of those nematodes that like to lay their eggs in the roots and stunt growth. So….I do both. I dig a 10” x 10” hole in the garden and line it with newspaper, then I fill it partway with compost from my pile, then some perlite, then potting soil, stir in with some slow release fertilizer and wait for it a ripe banana! Tomatoes love bananas – who would have guessed. Pop the baby tomato in hole while still in its paper cup and fill so the soil is mounded around plant and then mulch heavily, but not with Cypress. The photo shows a tomato that is 39” high that I put in the ground November 1st! PS. Raccoons like bananas too and evidently can smell them even when they are buried 8 inches deep.
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