Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Goofy Wednesday Humor II in the Garden

"Eddie, Eddie, wil'ya wait up, I knows Mouse said right at the snake brushpile and we's goin' left!"

"Hush Malcolm, I knows where we's goin'. You's wanna eat, right?"

"Yeah, yeah, I wanna eat." - Malcolm

"Eddie, Eddie, will'ya listen' for a moment, Mouse said don't mess with her tomatoes, she don't like that!" - Malcolm

"Hush Malcolm, she not here, so we's taking the shortcut through her tomatoes, over the broccoli and past the cabbages.. not that there is any left after our last visit. "
- sniggering
"Uh oh!" - Malcolm

 "Ask her Eddie, ask her!"

"Ahem, 'scuse me miss, can you point me and Malc here in the direction of the radishes?' - Eddie

"WHHAAAT?" - Human

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Trails & Open Spaces II - Grassy Waters Preserve

When my boys were younger the announcement of an "adventure" - hiking, biking, walking, or even just visiting a botanical garden - was met with happy faces and excited preparations.

Fast forward 5 years and said boys are mid, and late teens. Adventures with mom has made way to "hanging out," young ladies, basketball, and paintball games, and so it should, after all independence is important and necessary.

So, when it transpired over the weekend that my youngest son was at a loose end for a few hours I casually asked (with barely concealed glee) if he would like to visit a local park. The result of our afternoon is part two in my mini-series of Trails, Open Spaces & Forests: Grassy Waters Preserve.

Grassy Waters Preserve is a pristine, and vast 20 square mile wetlands preserve located in North Palm Beach County, south east Florida. To underline its importance in our lives on a local level here, it is also known as the water catchment area for the City of West Palm Beach. Optimum water levels are considered to be between 18 to 24 inches, so it really is a shallow, marshy body of water that provides 695 million gallons of water, used for both drinking and environmental purposes. A history of Grassy Waters can be found here. There is no entry charge.

Boardwalk Entrance
The weather was in the mid-80s and breezy and dry. Perfect day for a hike and photography. The preserve is viewed via a 1,500 foot long boardwalk that winds above and around the preserve. You can see in the photo (above right) how the boardwalk is looping around in the background - see upper left of photo.

One of the fabulous aspects of this preserve is that it all wheelchair accessible and therefore anyone can enjoy the outstanding scenery from the viewing areas. While walking around there was an abundance of large bees and dragonflies. One of the viewing areas is shown below.

Tiki Hut
The Tiki Hut is remarkably cool considering it is just palm thatch, and the rocking chairs are a nice touch and a very welcome spot for drinking some water and viewing the dappled forest beyond - see photo below.
Very peaceful scenery.
View from Tiki Hut

The preserve staff offer "unique educational and guided environmental learning opportunities" including guided canoe tours, photography workshops and a swamp tromp (swamp walk). You just know I am going to be signing up for the tromp in the swamp!


Our destination is the wetlands canoe dock at the end of the boardwalk. Along the way we pass other viewing platforms that were being quietly enjoyed by other awestruck folks. 

Smiling faces everywhere!
View of the Wetlands

Canoe Dock Viewing Platform

At the dock my son reads about the endangered snail kite whose habitat has been the Everglades and connected wetlands for over 5,000 years. That habitat has been slowly destroyed by man through draining, building and pollution. The preserve staff are making extraordinary efforts to restore the balance and encourage its survival.
Lily Pads and Pig Frogs Abound
Grassy Waters Wetlands

Here is a view of the Lily pads. While we were standing here we could hear this grunting noise that sounded like a few hogs, and we looked around nervously expecting an irate boar to emerge from the swamp, but actually it was the aptly named pig frog!

Back at the preserve entrance we checked out the canoeing available, which is offered at very reasonable rates. My son was gung-ho for a paddle right there and then, but we didn't have sunscreen or hats with us.

They have guided paddling tours right into the preserve where the rare animals reside. 

Also featured is a "Moonlight Paddle," which is canoeing at sunset. I really have to come back and experience that.

Look how clear the water is!

Grassy Waters Preserve really does a wonderful job of showcasing Florida's fragile watery ecosystem wilderness, and leaves you wanting more of this beautiful scenery and wide open spaces.

Coming soon.......Trails & Open Spaces III - Apoxee Wilderness Preserve.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lazy Sunday Afternoon

Snoozing on a Sunday afternoon! I know exactly how she feels...zzzzzzzz......

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Walkabout Thursday

About a week ago, I was interested to see that other bloggers had a competition going on as to who could provide the most photo-worthy walkabout of their immediate neighborhood. I wasn't able to participate in time, and my contribution would have been somewhat overshadowed by some of the entries, one of which included gorgeous scenes of a quaint, Cotswold village in England.

Early this morning it started out reasonably cool and misty outside. It occurred to me that the filtered sunlight through the trees would make some decent photographs, and although this didn't start out as a neighborhood walkabout it evolved into one anyway, and it kind of fits in with my occasional trails and open spaces blogs.

By the time I had rushed around giving the dogs their breakfast, my conures their seed and fresh water, and filled up the feeders for the cardinals, blue jays and woodpeckers ...whew! .... the mist had burned off and just left me with an overcast sky. Currently our daytime temperatures are 80 degrees and overcast is good walking weather! When the humidity kicks in at the end of April, a walk like this requires taking along a bottle of water.

So here we go:

As I turn out of my street I am on one of the main roads running through my neighborhood. As you can see on this particular street, we have no sidewalks or streetlamps and the road is sand/dirt. The electricity runs on lines across the roads, which is why when we have a hurricane we have no power for days on end.

At one time, much of Florida was once covered by pine flatwoods. Pines grow quickly here and provide welcome shade and hold the grass in place on our sandy soils. Our neighborhood trees comprise of: Live Oaks, Scrub Oaks, Slash Pines, Bald Cypress, Silver Buttonwoods, Simpson's Stopper, Sea Grapes and a wide variety of palms, including Sabal Palms.

I am going to walk as far as the eye can see in the photo above.

Our compensation for the lack of city conveniences is the abundance of trees, fresh air, wildlife, and a constellation and star filled night (no street lamp glare), and even though it is 9am, you can see how quiet it is here. 

When the moon is full, the white sand glows, and it is as if the middle of night becomes a surreal midday.

On the way, I pass a magnificent clump of bamboo which reaches some 25 feet high. Alas, since the neighbors can get a little twitchy over their landscaping being photographed, I have had to omit from sharing that with you.

Now I have turned off the main road and down a side street that leads to the canal. The red sign is a warning to unsuspecting motorists that there is a canal ahead. But there is no guard rail, so it's driver beware, since at night it is pitch black. The worst that could happen is that you would be stuck down there and would have to walk home. No chance of being submerged in less than 2 feet of water.

Heading back towards home, I am going to walk along the canal. You can see how beautiful it is here. The water level could do with being higher though, and you can see from the 'tide line' evidenced by the dirt that the water table should be about 2 feet higher than it is. Along the way I am accompanied by the cardinals cheeping in stereo, the ducks quacking ........ and all the dogs in the backyards along the canal howling and growling at me! I am glad they can't jump their fences.

I am headed all the way towards the culvert at the far end of the canal, and I can tell you it is quite a work-out walking on grass.

To the right we have some Sandhill Cranes that sadly are a threatened species, but thankfully plentiful and local to our rural area. We actually have signs posted "Sandhill Crane Crossing." These two are a pair, and soon will have the cutest, fluffiest, little crane babies following them around. The babies will stay with mom and dad for about 10 months. These birds actually fly and make a trumpeting noise that can be heard for some distance. You can see how large the male is, at about 4 feet high. While I was walking by, he fixed me with his beady, yellow eye, and casually began to preen himself to let me know how big his wings are, so I kept a distance of about 7 feet from him. According to some online sources these birds can live to 20 years of age.

 Here's the culvert.

I walked about a mile and a half. That's my semi-rural neighborhood for you.

Hope you enjoy sharing my walk with me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Goofy Wednesday Humor in The Garden

Since the squirrels are very greedy I have attempted to fool them by moving one of the bird feeders (cleverly disguised as a Cool Whip container) closer to the patio door - everyone knows that squirrels don't like Cool Whip.

"Where's My Lunch!"
The Cardinal however has no problem figuring out where his sunflower seeds went to. I believe having an aerial perspective might have clued him in.

"Hmm, that's funny.. the lunch special says 'Cool Whip.'"

I hadn't seen any Monarch Caterpillars for a week and then.......

"C-atty Arbuckle"

Whoaa! This "cat" is enormous!

A Bee-2-Bumble Bomber?

And while we are on the subject of large insects.......

I have never seen such a large bee. 

Mammoth Sunflower Seeds
This is "Sunflower Penitentiary" - a maximum security facility, for the inmates against marauding squirrels, raccoons, and evidently mice now.

I was going to upload a picture on how the swimming lessons are going for the lubber grasshoppers grosshoppers, but that's waay too dark humor. 

My husband came home from work, steps onto the patio and very casually remarks....seems like we have a lot going on out here.......

....and I just have no idea what the problem is..... :)

Hubbie's Patio Chair

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Another Water Saving Idea

As a follow up to my Blog "Thinking Aloud: About Water," (click here) I wanted to share how quickly the tomatoes camouflaged the drip-system-milk-jugs that I placed in the tomato beds. My intent was both to save water and supply essential food directly to the tomato plants, and not everything else within run-off range. As you can see these tomatoes "Juliet" a Roma variety are heavy with fruit and looking very healthy. I grew these from seeds.
Roma Tomatoes - Bring On The Sauce!
I am currently reading an awesome book, chock-o-block with great ideas, gardening tips and with loads of color photos on every page. Very well put together. I enjoy his style of writing too. I picked this up from It is only a week old and already slightly "dog-eared."

A Must Read

The main theme of this book is Container Gardening.  I do grow many of my tomatoes in the ground (as evidenced by the Roma tomatoes), but I also grow a lot of peppers, carrots, radishes, spinach, lettuces, potatoes and soon cantaloupes, in containers. The main reason I grow these veggies in containers is so I can move them to the sunniest spot in the garden, as the year progresses. But growing veggies in containers in Florida, and right now, during our "dry' season, means watering everything every day. There has to be a better way. "The Vegetable Gardener's Container Bible" has an interesting solution I have just experimented with and wanted to share with you. It's basically a self watering system, which is heads and shoulders above my primitive milk jug idea.

First of all take two large buckets. The author recommends feed buckets, but I just used what I had to hand. 

Drill circle of  holes in bottom of bucket

Using a drill (you will need one), make a circle of drill holes in the bottom of one of the buckets and then by using a box cutter, carve out the drill-dot-circle, until the hole is formed. Now put the bucket-with-a-hole into the other bucket and mark with permanent marker (see left) where the bottom of that bucket sits. Just below that line, drill out another line of holes and cut a rectangle/square shape - large enough to allow a nozzle spray from your hose.
Now you need to make a wicking system.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Return of The Bees, Aphids and Ladybugs

Now the weather is consistently warmer during the day, we have lots of really good stuff going on in our Backyard Paradise. 

Salmon Porterweed
The salmon/coral, porterweed finally bloomed after a torrential rainfall. 
I discovered online, that this color variety is Stachytarpheta mutabilis; a native of South America. The native blue/purple porterweed is called Stachytarpheta jamaicensis. We have both varieties in our yard. The mutabilis variety can get up to 8 feet high. Porterweeds attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. In addition to being very attractive, porterweed is drought tolerant, and blooms all year. It doesn't seem to like cool weather below 50 degrees F and just retires from blooming until it warms up.
While I was composting,  I heard an warning buzz close to my head. There, busily investigating the hibiscus, was a gigantic bumble bee. I am so glad to welcome back the big bees  along with the honey bees, wild halictid bee, which are bright, neon-green, and mason bees. The proliferate sightings of bees and butterflies is testimony that not using pesticides works. As I have a wooded lot, sooner or later I will also see the black carpenter bees, with whom the bumble bees have an ongoing turf war. On many occasions I have seen a bumble bee chase off a carpenter bee, and the carpenter bee will hide in the porterweed. The bumble bee will "patrol" the edges of the porterweed until the black carpenter makes a break for it, and then the bumble bee leaps into action and tries to chase her off again. I say "her" because according to the information found the link below, the black faced carpenter bee is the female, looking for food and a nesting site.
Ladybug going to Work
Note Coral Colored Abdomen
The warmer days have encouraged aphid activity into my garden, and onto my mammoth jalapeno and mini sweet peppers. Nasturtiums are reported to repel aphids - see my previous blog "Cup of Nas'tea' Anyone?" To protect my little ecosystem, I am always looking for ways of making, non-toxic, "bug-off" water-based solutions. So, I came up with the following; a big handful of Nasturtium leaves and flowers, a 1/4 cup white vinegar and an empty quart container. I boiled the Nasturtium plant material in tap water, and, with lid tightly on, allowed it to cool completely. Then I added this "soup" to a empty jug with the white vinegar and filled it up with tap water. For 3 days I dabbed this solution on the underside of the pepper leaves and sloshed it over the flower buds. I did see a significant reduction but I don't know if it would have eradicated them. But I can tell you this, over the 3 days I sloshed this mixture around on the plants, they "greened" up and grew maybe 3 inches apiece. That's significant growth. On the fourth day we came back from the beach to find that nature has stepped in. The ladybugs and their larva had discovered my horde of aphids...yummy! 
Folks, I am reading a great book at the moment: "The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control "- Barbara W. Ellis and Deborah L. Martin. According to the authors' the black ladybug/bird, with coral head and abdomen - as shown in pictures - is a mealybug destroyer. I don't have mealybugs (yet), maybe they were just having lunch on the aphids on their way to a dinner date with mealybugs.
Lizard Defending Territory
While I was taking the ladybug close ups a lizard decided to engage in a territorial, stare down contest with me, complete with bobbing head (him, not me). You can see how close he/she was to me, a mere 2 feet away: very unusual behavior. 

Do you have an experience to share regarding a stand-off with a normally shy critter?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cup Of Nas'tea' anyone?

Oh the joy of a pot o’ Nasties! 
The fragrance, the color, the country charm of these enduring, grow-anywhere, and drought tolerant plants should endear themselves to any gardener! Their spicy-pepper, yet sweet aroma has ensnared me, hook-line and stinker sinker! I just love little bouquets of them popped into a small vase on my kitchen counter. I might be forgiven to be found inhaling their uniqueness with a rather foolish smile upon my face.
Here in sandy, South Florida, I just sow the seeds all over the place and they have popped up without any soil improvement. Having said that, they seem to generate more flowers with soil amendment, in potting soil that drains well, and watered occasionally with a weak Miracle Grow solution, but only when soil is dry.

The humble Nasturtium is considered by many to be an herb. Both the leaves and the flowers of Nasturtiums are reported to be edible, with a peppery taste that lends itself to addition in a mixed salad or vegetable dish. I have read of some accounts where folks stuff the flowers with cream cheese. Here is a link to a web site for some Nasturtium recipes. I think I will give the vinegar recipe a whirl.
Nasturtiums’ repel aphids. Vegetable gardeners can tuck them away with your peppers, tomats, cucumbers, and just about anywhere you can squeeze them in. Since the aroma of the leaves and flowers is both long lasting and easily absorbed by a water or vinegar solution, I might just put my mad scientist hat on and see whether I can make a solution from the plant material to rid my Sweet Mini Pepper plant of the aphids I discovered this morning - more on this in a future blog.
Varieties of Nasturtiums I have include: Fordhook (Capuchina), distributed by the Burpee seed company. Fordhook produces fragrant, single flowers in many colors, is a climbing variety of up to 6 feet in hight, full sun/partial shade, and is very attractive to hummingbirds. 
A "Jewel" Indeed
Then there is Jewel (distributed by Ferry-Morse). Blooms are semi-doubled and slightly ruffled with stand out colors of yellow, orange and scarlet, seen here as the top yellow flower. Jewel is no wallflower either! The flower head is held well above the leaves. According to Ferry-Morse, Jewel makes a good edging and planter-box flower. I grow mine in a large wicker basket in the garden and they come back year after year. 
"Scarlet Gleam" Leaves Above Petunias
Also by FM is Scarlet Gleam, with big-orange-red flowers and bushy appearance. This Nastie is recommended for hanging baskets, and also for borders. Here is a picture of my hanging basket that I eagerly await some flowers of Scarlet Gleam to appear in.
Nasturtiums germinate from seed faster by nicking the seed. My method is just putting them in a jug of warm water overnight and then planting them the next day. They reseed profusely and I collect as many still-green, seed pods as I can, and dry them on paper towels.
Here in Florida they do really well during the cooler months of November through to our baking hot, late June, when they stop producing flowers and wither away. They won’t tolerate the humid 90 + degree heat and the prolific, amount of rain, which makes their roots soggy.
Thompson & Morgan, Inc. (, stocks a double Nasturtium with a hardiness zone 10-11 - “Double Delight Apricot.” I think I might have to find some room for it!
For more information on Nasturtiums, I found this video online.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Recycling On A Global Scale: For Life

Mark; visit him at has provided some neat ways of reusing those plastic containers that would otherwise find their way into our recycling bins, or the landfill.

I also have been committed to recycling for a long time now. Once you've got the recycling "bug" you are stuck with it. Much to my family's chagrin, I have never been adverse to screeching to a halt, and picking up something from the side of the road that would be useful in the garden: old tables, a china cabinet (as a potting/storage bench), bricks...well you get the idea. I don't consider myself a "bag lady" more a "swag lady" - "one man's trash.." etc.

But to share some of my modest, and recent, recycling efforts. I offer the following:

Shattered pot, used as both bird bath, and "cosy" for a critter needing shelter.
Derelict Pot Used As Birdbath

"Blue roofs" in USA: Florida, Texas and the Gulf Coast in general, has a different connotation, referring back to our horrid Hurricane seasons and the blue tarps that covered what remained of our roofs. However, here the paint-spayed, bright-blue milk carton, serves as a nifty replacement for a broken bird house roof. Secured in place with industrial glue.
Blue Roofed Bird House

Above: "The "Real Thing" serves as a buried catchment container to deeply water plants at their roots, and a toothpick container (below) has a new life as a seed dispenser.
The "trellis" to the right is a broken dog gate to support the tomatoes for the time being.

Here is my compost bin. 

A few stakes, a piece of discarded lumber and some string supports more tomatoes. I think there is a French word for this (using wire), but it completely escapes me. 
Plastic potting soil/mulch bags, along with cardboard provide the ultimate weed protection, and all without using a spray.

The wine gift box
below, serves as a multi-layered
seed drying area. Seeds are stacked on
polystyrene trays and covered with
paper towel. I just can't imagine what happened to the wine in the box. Santa must be partial to
Mouton methinks. Bad Santa!

A utensil basket from a broken dishwasher has a new purpose as my trowel, scissor container. The newly painted, green ladle serves as a potting soil scoop, because girls don't like to get their nails dirty, even when their thumbs are getting greener by the minute thanks to an expansive, generous, and informative blogger group of like minded folks :)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Hope Grows Day: March 2011

for another fresh, new idea: The First Hope Grows Day meme.

In order to rise to Hanni's challenge, I prowled around my garden, Iphone quivering with anticpation of a good shot, looking for something to put into my blog. However, I was distracted on the way by another Horde of Lubburions which have
had taken up residence on my bush beans. I don't think so......But I digress......

I finally decided on two Hopeful Grow Candidates:

This fleshy, stick-like tree is actually a dormant Frangipani (Plumeria).

For more info on this flowering plant:

As you can see from my rather poorly executed photograph (I had to hold the stem and take photograph at the same time), I am "expecting" some new leaf shoots to develop. After that occurs, probably about the same time as April 5th, we can look forward to some very fragrant flowers. My Frangipani is almost 8 feet tall now. I grew it from a cutting which I had bought at a arts fair 3 years ago. Since it is very unattractive without its leaves and flowers, I have a Gardenia in the front to somewhat distract from the Frangipani's  gangling appearance.
New Leaves Budding
My second hopeful contender is this rather bulbous looking sprout. It is a Weeping Bottlebrush (Callistemon Spp.): more info found at:

Weeping Bottlebrush

The Bottlebrush only does really well after a good rain. We have two of these directly outside our patio. Since the Giant Eastern Swallowtail Butterfly and Hummingbirds, luv, luv, luv, this shrub it remains a firm fave in my garden. This is what it will look like after a good couple of rainfalls between now and April (hopefully).
Bottlebrush "brush"

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