Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Special Avian Visitor and Two’fers

Here’s a quiz for you. What bird is a petite 4 inches long, has a bright blue head, red belly and a lime green patch on its back? No, not from your 6 year old niece’s “Painting By Numbers” book. Answer: A Painted Bunting. Last week, just as it was beginning to get dark, a male Painted Bunting arrived to feed. When I saw all the bright colors I could not believe my eyes. It took my youngest son to track down the identity of this elusive and shy little bird on Wikipedia. Although the Painted Bunting is a native of North America and belongs to the Cardinal family, it is sadly near threatened due to loss of habitat. The Painted Bunting likes to eat millet, small seeds but will also nosh on spiders, caterpillars and other insects. Much to our delight, he comes back everyday now and, although I couldn’t get close enough to take a decent picture, you can go to the Wikipedia link to check out this gorgeous little fella!

I will hotly refute any suggestion that I am a cheapskate or anything, but I am mildly frugal, and I especially like getting two for one. “Two’fer” examples in my gardening world are quantified as getting two or three harvests from one plant (duh! not beans or tomatoes) or using something for a nifty gardening purpose when it was purchased as something else. Money saving examples that gardeners in S. Florida, currently growing lettuce and broccoli, can take advantage of are as follows. I planted leaf lettuce last November and all plants have matured. Can we eat 8 lettuce heads before they all bolt? Here is the solution. When making salad take leaves from around the outside of the lettuces and maybe a few inside leaves, use scissors here for sterile cuts. Leave 4 little biddy leaves at the heart of the lettuce and continue watering. Within a week you will notice that those 4 leaves are beginning to grow with another cluster of smaller leaves inside and you will have a 2nd harvest, and maybe even a 3rd!
2nd harvest lettuce

Same deal with broccoli folks, when you have harvested the head don’t compost the whole plant yet. With just the stem left the broccoli will develop broccolets (a made up word) from the side stem which are tiny offerings for your stir fry. Wow! are we saving some money here or what!

Who needs peat pots? Not I. Try cardboard egg boxes with holes punched in the bottom filled with some nice cheap perlite and mix in some potting soil. Put the seeds in and water with a home made watering can. My light and oh so portable “watering can” is a sour cream container with lots of little nail like a charm. When the seeds develop into sprouts transfer to larger pots with a plastic spoon, or grandma’s best silver if you prefer. And talking about seeds and sowing, guess what is super handy to keep seeds dry and will also dispense one seed at a time.......a toothpick dispenser. Dixie brand works for me. 
And finally, mad scientist that I am (not really), I recently became enamored with Quinoa - a delicious grain that the Inca civilization cultivated. The package instructions direct you to wash the grains really well - because apparently Quinoa has a coating substance called saponin, a bitter tasting compound that repels insects from eating the grain. Really? Bitter tasting insect repellant? So, when I washed the Quinoa grains I just happened to have a handy-dandy pot underneath to save the water soluble saponin. Then, because the white cabbage butterflies loitering in my garden have not escaped my beady eye, I sprinkled this water over my fledgling cabbages to see if the worms and caterpillars will be repelled. I will keep you posted on my progress fellow gardeners. Have a great weekend.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Now It Makes 'Scents!'

Crinum Lily
Today, I was reminded that long forgotten scents can and do evoke powerful memories. While walking I detected the sweet and pleasantly, pungent smell of warm hay and horses. Curiosity piqued, I took deeper breaths and remembered my horse orientated childhood, then I turned the corner and saw a horse happily grazing in a front yard. 
Walking home I reflected on the memory trigger. Do garden lovers unconsciously choose scented trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials in their yards that might not have the identical odor, but come pretty close to that linked to a pleasant memory?

7 years ago I was given a Crinum Lily which we planted and forgot. One day I could smell something amazing in the yard and re-discovered the thriving Crinum with a towering and magnificent, pink colored flower. Its delicious combo-aroma of honeysuckle, rain and pears transported me back 35 years across the Atlantic Ocean to an urban garden with a mature, rambling honeysuckle. The Crinum was promptly replanted closer to the house and we have had many ‘pups’ from that one plant. After a good rainfall, the flower stem almost appears overnight and its scent is both sweetest and strongest at night, which might suggest it attracts bats and moths. 
For a long time resident of Florida, the ultimate aroma-induced happiness moment has to be the heady-sweetness of orange blossoms. For me the scent of those white, waxy blooms wafting from our tree, conjures up earlier years of summer vacations. Back then we travelled north on I95 with our young boys and past the miles of acres of orange groves in Martin County. And, although I have not seen a bluebell patch in 25 years, in a quiet reflective moment I can still recall the heady and deeply soothing aroma of those residents of England’s deeply shaded, and damp woodland glades. I am not likely to find a bluebell patch in sub-tropical Florida anytime soon but I’ll keep my nose to the ground and hold out for a scentsational-double that can hold its own in my garden of aromatic memories. Having said that I can assure you I won't be getting a horse anytime soon, they are just too expensive to feed!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Chilled But Not Stirred and Hold The Ice, Thanks.

Here's Bobby!

I don’t know about the rest of you South Floridian gardening folks but I was more than relieved when the nighttime temperatures began to climb into the mid 40’s. For a few days the birdbath was frozen solid in the morning and my garden was beginning to look like Halloween again what with all the blankets and sheets covering the tomatoes and peppers. Amazingly enough some 1” in-ground Cherry tomato “sproutlets” did made it through those bitter nights, but then I did cover them with boxes. The 3” Sunmaster tomatoes melted and I gave up covering them but here we are two weeks later and they have reasserted themselves with healthy, new leaf growth! The cabbages also made it through, as did the potted leaf lettuce (which I did bring in onto our screened in patio). As far as the mature tomatoes are concerned other than a little frostbite damage on leaf tips they are thriving. It is interesting to note that the in-ground tomatoes are faring better than those in large pots. Last year I had read that before a really cold spell you need to water tomatoes deeply but at their root base and not the leaves. In case you are wondering, no I don't have a remarkable memory but I do keep a gardening journal.
Since installing our tiny but beloved butterfly garden last November the group of Milkweed plants have many Monarch caterpillars munching away. I was happy to see these black and yellow striped critters also survived, and some are as big as my little finger. They really are quite smart and will attempt to hide under a leaf if you observe them for too long.

Also, luckily for this gardening family of broccoli lovers no plants were affected by the chilly weather. I discovered this tip last year - by accident per most of my learning experiences. When you remove the mature broccoli head don’t then remove the remaining plant, over a few days some tiny broccoli sprouts will appear from the main stem and they are good stir fried or steamed. I let some of the broccoli to go to flower since those little blue-green neon bees seem to love the canary colored flowers.
Our family was amused to see that some enterprising lizards had made their homes in those little, fake bird houses you can get from the grocery store. The main picture shows Bob peeking out from his Log Cabin.

Last but not least the Pileated Woodpecker has made a return visit to the large bird box. I am hopeful that they will have their chicks in there again. More to follow. Happy New Year to you and yours!
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