Sunday, July 29, 2012

Coming to Fruition - Pineapples

Several years ago a friend of mine mentioned that the top (a slip) removed from a ripe pineapple can be rooted and will produce another pineapple.

So, over quite a few years, we dutifully planted a few pineapple slips here and there, and promptly forgot about them. Sure enough they rooted and thrived, and in their own prickly, spiny, and somewhat primitive bromiliad way they make an interesting addition to the garden. However, none of them ever bore any fruit.

Then prowling around the garden in January........drum roll please....
....we noticed that several of them had flower-type-something-going-on.

Eventually this floret developed purple flowers, which were very pretty, but I forgot to take a photo of.

April; and finally the pineapple reveals itself! According to the University of Florida IFAS Extension's website (link listed below) the pineapple is ripe when the peel (called a shell) turns from its green color to yellow. As this is also right around the time when squirrels and raccoons become interested in eating said ripe pineapple, I cut mine off just below pineapple, before it started to turn yellowish,  and then I refrigerated the whole thing until the shell turned yellow.

I was concerned that it would be dried out, but when I cut it was so juicy and sweet, and check out that vibrant color!

If however, you decide to let it ripen fully in the garden, the Extension's website suggests covering the pineapple with a paper bag to protect it from being chewed on. I'd go ahead and draw a scary face on the bag just for added effect.... :)

Here is how we got ours rooted and a link for more info is below. 
1)   Cut the spiky top off ripe pineapple. I left a little bit of the fruit to feed the slip.

2)   Peel off the bottom leaves, about 2" worth, to reveal a stalk. Don't use rooting powder, you don't need it.

3)   Plant in garden up to the bottom leaves.

4)   Water regularly, feed, and in approximately 18 to 24 months you will be the proud owner of a garden fresh pineapple.

I am growing mine in pots to give them a good start.

When you go to transplant your rooted slips, be aware that the mature pineapple plant might easily get 3 feet across in diameter. Also the leaves are sharp, so don't plant them close to your walkway.

Good Luck!

Click Here for University of Florida IFAS Extension website

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Critters Galore III

A Squirrel family nested in the owls box and the two young squirrels are a right nuisance! They are always climbing all over the patio screen trying to get to our birds food. I got up this morning only to discover a youngster had actually gotten onto the patio by tearing a hole through the screening and was desperately trying to escape, by scrambling all over the screen (and putting more holes in it). I scooted him out the door and then sat down to read my emails. I had this creepy feeling I was being watched.....I looked up and there was one of the parents hiding under the bamboo shades on the inside of the screen. Here's a picture of him trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible.

"Don't eat me!

Two young Blue Jays
Blue Jays. The young Blue Jays are always on high alert with their head crest at "full mast." Unlike their parents, they have yet to get their lil' fluffy heads around how to use the bird bath, despite frequent demonstrations from parents. They make a sweet, mewling sound, like a kitten, and "tremble" their wings for attention. Then they get a "what's that!" moment and become startled by their own wings. I believe we have had ongoing generations of the same family for at least 7 years now.

We currently have two Cardinal youngsters moseying around and I gently rescued a cute, little female a few times from our screened in patio, where she has flown in attracted by our Maroon-bellied Conures feed dish. Both Conures can talk, so she has fluttered around, trapped and frantic, to a scathing male-duet-chorus of "bad birdie," from them.

Busy Busy Woodpecker Parent
The Woodpeckers' youngsters (hatched in my neighbor's dead Palm tree), made their appearance May through present time. The babies have an unmistakable wheezing peep. They closely watch what mom/dad does and then copy verbatim. The fledglings are a pretty, soft gray color with wing banding of a darker gray. The bright red head coloring comes in very gradually, starting off by just being plain gray. They are very cheeky and, if they don't think they are getting enough attention, they will "tug" on their parent's tail feathers for attention! This infuriates the parent who will give a warning peck feint to the youngster, who backs off for a minute or two, and then creeps closer for another "tug, tug," - gotta love kids......

Above a parent woodpecker alites right next to me to gather up sunflower seeds for the wheezy, pesky youngsters.

Here's another view of his/her gloriously striped, back feathers.

I believe this is, unfortunately, a Japanese Beetle, a serious pest. Follow "Beetle" link below for more information.

Japanese Beetle?
Red Rat Snake
Here's a big predator in the yard, just in time for all those little baby birds (Red Rat Snakes are very good climbers).

Lubber Grasshopper
A brightly colored, but annoying Lubber grasshopper shown here in a very agitated mood. They do love to chew on the lilies.

First Instar
This year I planted plenty of parsley and dill to attract the Swallowtail Butterfly to my garden. I was rewarded by plenty of little caterpillars greedily devouring the parsley down to a stump. The caterpillars start out by being deviously disguised as a bird dropping, see above right picture. They get big fast!

Full grown Caterpillar


Life Cycle of a Black Swallowtail Butterfly

What Butterflies Can You Attract To Your Garden?

Then it's time for a snooze.  They develop from Pre-Pupa to Pupa overnight, and even though I kept checking for the butterfly to emerge I never caught the moment, but the empty case remained as testimony as to its safe transition to butterfly.

Laying eggs on Parsley

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Spicy Broccoli Soup

Got Broccoli? I haven't...not in my South Florida garden anyway, it's way too hot. We are reduced to buying our vegetables from the local grocery store, and as fresh and nutritious as store bought broccoli is just not the same as broccoli grown in your own garden.

Anyway I digress. Today I was supposed to cut-the-lawn, but the lawn mower wouldn't start, so while I hooked it up to the little charger gizmo I flounced around looking for something to do. An examination of the refrigerator revealed 2 full stalks of broccoli and 1 full broccoli complete with florets. 

Don't throw those stalks out, I am going to show you how to make a really smooth and spicy broccoli soup.

You will need 
a 10" skillet, I prefer stainless steel
3 broccoli (2 just using the stalks, but not last two inches, and 1 head of chopped florets, which you hold back)
5 tablespoons butter (hold 2 tablespoons back)
1 onion, sliced
1/4 teaspoons each of, powdered ginger and cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons each of, cumin, coriander and turmeric
4 cups chicken stock or vegetarian stock
2 potatoes and 4 carrots, peeled and diced (hold 2 carrots worth back)
2 or 3 cloves garlic, just peeled
2 oz reduced fat cream cheese
1 cup of reduced fat milk
12 cherry tomatoes, halved

Just sizzling
Heat the butter in the skillet on a low setting. Now chop up the 2 broccoli stalks, and discard any dried up bits and the last two inches of the stalk, which are very tough and fibrous. When butter is melted, add the broccoli stalk/stems, the onion, 2 diced carrots and garlic cloves, give it a good stir to coat and let it cook about 7 minutes, then add all spices and the potato. Give another couple stirs not letting anything stick to bottom of pan

Liquid has been added
Your combination should look something like this and will begin to be very aromatic.

Now add the 4 cups of chicken stock, put the lid on, and
set at a low setting, and allow to simmer.

Okay, lawnmower should be charged, I'll be back in half-an-hour......

30 mins later
After 30 mins the veg has softened, and my kitchen smells amazing, so I just turned the heat off and allowed it to cool down in the pan for another 30 mins, so I can puree it.

I'll just run out and do a little weed-whacking in the yard while I'm waiting for the contents to cool down.....

When the liquid is cool enough not to melt your blender, give it a good mix on the puree cycle, and at this point you want to add the 1 cup of milk and the 2 oz cream cheese.

In another pan, heat up the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and add the chopped up broccoli florets and the 2 remaining diced carrots, let the veg soften to 'al dente' and then remove and add to the large pan with the pureed contents. Add the cherry tomatoes and simmer everything for about 10 mins.

The finished soup
The combination of the smooth, creamy and just spicy-enough puree, with the crunch of the barely sauteed veg is amazing. Yield is about 6-8 bowls of soup.

You could make it heartier with diced sausage, black beans or even some cooked rice for a late night supper. Or drizzle it over cooked pasta.

Serve with crusty loaf. It's delicious, bon appetit! where did those gardening gloves get to...
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