Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Critters Galore II

Springtime days have brought on lots of critter activity in our backyard paradise.

Baby Screech Owl 2010
Mommy Screech Owl 2012

The Screech Owl came back for a brief visit. She was a show stopping, speckled, calico color. The reason she has her wings out like that is to cool herself off. She wasn't worried about us. This year however it doesn't look as though we'll have any babies to coo over. We did have this privilege a few years back though.

"I'll be out in a few hours or thereabouts."
A multitude of different birds have taken to cheeping, cawing, peeping and singing in the trees, along with taking turns in the bird bath. They actually wait in line for a cool afternoon dip! I have to fill the bath up twice since they splash all the water over the sides. And of course the toad loves to wallow in there too. Biggest toad I've ever seen he is.

Female Carpenter Bee on Dianthus

Meanwhile the large, black carpenter bees have returned to the garden and are on patrol around the Sky Vine. I saw maybe one bee circling the vine about a week ago, and now there are many, and they all think the Sky Vine is their personal territory. I have even been dive bombed when I go out into the garden, but it's all for show - they are not going to sting me. Some even hide in the foliage and come flying out to intercept an interloper encroaching on their space. We have a few dead pine trees in the yard and they probably nest in there.

Too Bee or Not To Bee?
This is a picture of a rather scary looking 'bee.' Or is it??? I was amazed it let me get up close to it. But guess what it's not a bee or even a wasp! I cruised around online for identification, and it appears to be a Syrphid Fly. It mimics a bee so as not to get eaten. How to tell?
 1) has 2 wings not 4 wings
 2) stubby antennae 
 3) Big, BIG eyes! 

Now you know. 
Syrphid Flies favorite meal? Aphids.
Click below link for great website!
How To Identify Beneficial Insects in Your Yard

Left pic is Milkweed bug. Just what I need .... another insect chomping on the Milkweed, dramatic female sigh...

Monarch Caterpillars
These are the only little gals/guys I want to see on the Milkweed! They were both attempting to eat the teeniest morsel left on the stem, and, at one point started nipping at each other. It was interesting to see that they flattened their antenna much in the same way a dog puts its ears back when being hostile.
So cute!

Eventually we have this to look forward to in our butterfly garden.

Monarch Chrysalis
Just hatched and Drying Wings
Oh, and the aphids. Don't we just love the return of these nuisance insects. In my garden, they start on the peppers and then swiftly move on to the Milkweed.
Aphids on Milkweed
But hold the soapy spray, help is on its way........

Bashful Ladybird
Welcome back the hungry, hungry ladybird. What took you so long?

But wait........ we need to make a mention of a super predator in my backyard paradise. I think it might be a male Blue Dasher. (Corrections are always welcomed and encouraged).

Male Blue Dasher
Juvenile Black Racer.
Want to know more about Dragonflies?
Click Here 

.....and while on the subject of predators. Here is a reminder why closed in shoes are necessary in the sub-tropical garden. 
A Black Racer. I moved a few pots around and it was curled up under there. 
Note to self: Put pot back quickly and back away.

That's my springtime tour of the garden and its various inhabitants.

Thanks for coming along with me!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

John D. MacArthur Beach State Park

Take a cool, blustery Saturday with predicted afternoon showers, and then combine that with two teenage 'young men' with time on their hands. There's nothing else for it, we'll have to go on a family ramble.
Dune Hammock Trail
Part IV of my mini series "Trails and Open Spaces" showcases the absolutely beautiful John D. MacArthur Beach State Park. This park is my hands down favorite and is a National Gold Medal Winner of Florida State Parks.

The 325-acre park is situated directly alongside the Lake Worth Lagoon, and a two mile stretch of Atlantic Ocean beachfront. If you want to experience the real Florida, refresh yourself here by hiking the forest trails, and give yourself at least three hours to leisurely explore the park's many attractions.

John D. MacArthur
Named after its previous owner, John D. MacArthur, it is preserved for future generations due to his generous donation of the land in the 1970s for public park use. Additional monetary contributions from the MacArthurs Foundation were used to develop the park as 'public friendly' and to build the Nature Center.

Parking is ample and adjacent to the nature trails, boardwalk, picnic areas, nature center and kayak rental office, and they have a cute little playground to entertain the youngsters.

My young men and I started our exploration of the park by crossing the 1,600 foot boardwalk. As you can see it spans a large body of water known as an estuary of the Lake Worth Cove. Kayak rentals are available to paddle around the shallow cove.

One one side you can see the high rises on the beach of Singer Island and on the other side the view as far as the eye can see is the preserve and the pristine waters. The park staff provide a free tram ride across the boardwalk if you don't fancy the hike.

On the other side of the boardwalk one can either meander down a shady, nature trail called the Dune Hammock Walk. The trail runs below the dune line and adjacent to the beach. Otherwise you can climb the staircase to get down onto the beach. We chose the hammock walk.

Gumbo Limbo's Peeling Bark

My oldest son is propped up on a Gumbo Limbo tree (Bursera simaruba). A fast growing and large tree, it was used throughout the ages for medicine, varnish and incense.

It has an interesting red peeling bark, which gives it the nickname of "Tourist Tree."

My youngest son on the trail stands in front of a tree that has a Strangler Fig (Ficus aurea) wrapped around it. Although this Fig may eventually causes its host tree to die, the Strangler is a valuable source of food for many animals.

Strangler Fig grasping host tree

A shady spot to rest and watch the many Zebra longwinged butterflies flitter among the Wild Coffee plants.

The end of the trail reveals weathered stairs that offer a glimpse of the beach......

....and what a beautiful beach it is. Miles of soft sand and roaring surf.
We had the whole beach to ourselves...

"Look what I found mom!"

Seagrapes cover dunes
Seagrapes (Coccoloba uvifera) hold the dunes firmly in place. This plant's fruits are like grapes which can be made into a jam or eaten raw. Birds absolutely love, love these grapes.

Dune restoration in progress

Discoveries abound. This piece of coral is full of interesting textures and embedded marine life.

Beach staircase to get back onto boardwalk
For more information, and to visit the official park web site, listing events, hours and amenities:

Click here

The park charges a nominal entrance fee of $5 for a carload (up to 8). Trust me on this, it's money well spent for a few hours either walking through the lush, subtropical coastal habitat, visiting the nature center, or spending some time on the beach. 

Baby Loggerhead - Nature Center Exhibit

This is Florida at its very best.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Eight Lessons I Learned From My Zone 10a Garden

Jewel Nasturtiums 

1 - Planting Petunias and Nasturtiums in among the tomatoes adds to the visual pleasure of the veggie garden. Nasturtiums are reported to deter nematodes, but the jury is out on that one. An added bonus is that they both give off a heavenly scent in the evening. A report by the USDA says that ordinary sugar sprinkled on the garden has a drying effect on nematodes (either that or the sugar high kills them).

Broccoli in the ground
Potted Broccoli

2 - Broccoli (Packman variety in my case) prefers to be grown in the ground, on a slight mound, with plenty of compost dug in and commercial weed block underneath the leaves. For years I have grown Broccoli in pots and have been happy with the results. Check out the size of the leaves of the potted example, compared to the foliage of the plants in the ground. I have noticed that potted Broccoli rapidly assimilates its potting compound into itself, thereby causing the medium to shrink and diminish. They have deep roots and will go through the pots and anchor into the soil below. You might wonder why I grew Broccoli in pots to begin with? My dogs just love to roll around in the vegetable garden!

CD hanging
3 - We love the birds visiting our garden, especially when they bring their fledgelings with them. What I don't love is a tiny peck hole in every single tomato. Solution? Hang old CD's nearby. Oh, and then fill up the feeders - we don't want them going hungry! 

An added bonus is the attractive, sparkly and reflective 'winks' from the CD's surface. 

Woodpecker in Feeder

4 - Despite my best (and continued) efforts, I cannot grow cucumbers, zucchini or summer squash to fruition. They develop powdery mildew and just dissolve into a mush. I have tried most natural remedies out there. The boys don't care for squashes anyway.

5 - If your Eggplant develops a whitefly infestation, try Diatomaceous (Dya-tom-a-cee-us) Earth. Take a paintbrush and just lightly brush the underside of leaves. Problem solved. You will have to reapply after it rains. I picked up a big bag of DE from a local feed store. DE dusted on your garden also helps to eliminate fleas, lice and cockroaches. It interferes with their protective shell and desiccates them. Do not inhale the dust.
Where does Diatomaceous Earth come from? Click Here for Wiki info.

6 - If tomato or pepper fruit production comes to a grinding halt, try watering with a solution of Epsom Salts, and IF the plants has plenty of green leaves hold off on the nitrogen. If the fruit however is too small that's the time to add nitrogen. Nitrogen rich add-ins include: coffee and tea grounds and fish emulsion.

7 - There is no substitute for your own compost. It is truly amazing how quickly all those vegetable scraps break down into the 'gold' standard of soil! I have 3 bins throughout the garden. 1) For large item like broccoli that has gone to seed 2) For kitchen scraps, eggshells, tea bags, coffee grounds etc. 3) For potting soil that has been 'recycled' from out of season vegetables or annuals.

White Periwinkles
8 - With daytime temperatures now stretching into the 80F, Bizzy Lizzies (Impatiens), Marigolds and Pansies are pretty much done. Rather than coddle them along (with vast amounts of water) I have moved on. Periwinkles are thriving and look good either in a pot or as a border item. They need very little water to survive. Only thing about Vincas is they will reseed like crazy and pop up everywhere! Nasturtiums, and Petunias are still thriving, although they have to be shaded from the afternoon sun, not so with Portulaca which loves the heat. Coleus and Dianthus are also looking good in the garden.

Fading Away - Impatiens

What is a Zone Anyway? Click here to find your USA Zone

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lemon Boy Tomato - My Favorite 2 Years Running

The Lemon Boy variety of tomato is a hands down winner again in my Zone 10 garden in South Florida!

Its flavorful, juicy fruit (that get as big as baseballs) and durability easily surpasses most tomato varieties I have personally grown.
Lemon Boy - compare size to the Red Roma!
I first became acquainted with this bright yellow tomato in 2011. I harvested my own seeds from the juiciest tomatoes during the growing season of 2011 and picked and harvested the seeds of the very last tomatoes during July. My intention is to cultivate a heat tolerant tomato that will perhaps last into August or even September. This is quite a tall order, since the temperatures here in South Florida are in the 90’s every day during May to September. In addition last year we had considerably less rainfall than usual, so the vegetables in the garden had to tolerate being watered with our well water (full of iron and sediments).

Fast forward growing season 2012. I started the seeds in potting soil during November 2011 when the temperatures were 75F during the day and 70F’s at night. In December the growth of the seedlings accelerated in leaps and bounds and when they reached 10” tall I set some out in very large pots and some in the Florida sandy, garden soil (which I had greatly amended with the contents of my compost heap). All seedlings were watered with a weak solution of Epsom Salts. I installed tomato cages to support the heavy vines. By February all plants were producing fruit. Here’s where it gets interesting. Despite all plants treated equally with fish emulsion waterings, the Lemon Boy in the soil is faring much better than the Lemon Boys in large pots (compost, potting soil medium). I felt sure that the nematodes would inhibit the growth of those plants in the soil, but we’re in April and so far so good. In addition (and maybe I just got lucky) I had no damage from hornworm caterpillars. You know they can strip a plant of its foliage in a couple of days if you are not “patrolling” the garden on a daily basis.

I have had so many tomatoes from the plants that I have been giving them away to neighbors. Family in North Carolina have just started their vegetable garden and so I have sent some seeds to them to see if Lemon Boy will be as prolific in the clayish soil where they live.

For tips on harvesting your own seeds, see my previous blog:

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