Sunday, May 1, 2022

Two geezers and a shed--part 2

After 10 years, the shed needed some work.

Our shed had a noticeable tilt after ten years.
In the foreground, the pot sits on the top of the septic holding
tank and the septic drainage field mound is to the left.
In 2012, my husband and I moved the shed that came with our house closer to the garage so that it would be more useful. I documented how we moved the it using pvc pipes as rollers and pulled it slowly across the yard with our van to its new location. That was quite a project and my "Two geezers and a shed" article is still one of the most visited posts on this blog.

These days the shed is heavily used for tools, pots, and other gardening supplies. But the oak tree to its left had grown and had tilted the whole shed a few degrees, and on the right, there were large roots also touching the bottom of the shed.

At first, we thought we would have to move it a foot or two to the right, but after clearing out the leaves and sticks from under the shed, we decided to just raise it in place. We know that this is not a permanent solution because the trees' roots will continue to grow. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

The value of trees

 An appreciation of trees

Trees in our yards and in our communities add to the global
population, which is crucial for slowing down climate change.

Here are just some of the many ways that trees are important not only in our urban and suburban neighborhoods, but also for the whole planet:

- Trees actually cool the air through transpiration. A mature deciduous tree like an oak will transpire more than 400 liters of water on a hot summer's day. In the process of liquid water evaporating (going from liquid to gas) the air is cooled. At 68˚F each gram of water that evaporates, cools the air by 585 calories. Transpiration: Forests' most important service

- Trees sequester carbon, by absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) a long-lasting greenhouse gas, through the process of photosynthesis where they remove carbon dioxide from the air to make sugars, which are then stored in the various plant tissues. A typical hardwood tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon per year. This means it will sequester approximately 1 ton of carbon by the time it reaches 40 years old. Carbon sequestration

- Trees produce oxygen through photosynthesis, but trees and all the other organisms in the forest absorb most of that oxygen to live. Also read Transpiration: Forests' most important service where I talk about three cycles in the forest: Carbon, Oxygen, and Water.

- Trees remove carbon monoxide (CO) and other air pollutants from the air. They are absorbed primarily through stomata (pores) on the leaves where they diffuse into intercellular spaces and may be absorbed by water films to form acids or react with inner-leaf surfaces. Trees can remove significant amounts of air pollution in cities, where it is often concentrated. More information on this from the EPA.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Growing parsnips in North Florida

Wear gloves to harvest parsnips, because the foliage is toxic.

Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is a biennial that is similar to carrots (and is in the same family) where the crop is the tap root. In early fall, I planted the seeds directly into deeply prepared garden soil. I planted my first carrot seeds at that time as well. I just barely covered the seeds with fine soil and watered them and the carrots thoroughly several times a week. The parsnip seeds took a week or so longer to germinate than the carrot seeds. 

I knew that they have a fairly low germination rate and that the seeds don't stay viable until the next season, so I planted the whole seed package in a half row about 24" x 18". I thinned the seedlings once so that there would be adequate room for root expansion. Some gardeners germinate the seeds in between damp or wet paper towels to have more control. Those that germinate can then be transplanted into the garden at just the right distance from each other. Do this early, only a few days after germination, because if you wait too long, you'll disturb their roots, and they may not recover. 

Warning! The shoots and leaves of parsnip must be handled with care, as its sap contains phototoxic chemicals that can cause blisters on the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. Toxicity can also affect livestock and poultry, so wear gloves when weeding, thinning, or harvesting this crop, and then compost the foliage.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Red maples in Florida

A large clump of maple seeds. It readily reseeds.

Red maples are versatile trees

The red maple (Acer rubrum) is native to most of Florida and its range also includes almost all of eastern North America including Canada. According to the U.S. Forest Service, it's one of the most abundant trees in this range, because it grows well in a wide variety of habitats and because it's easy to grow and has reliable fall color even in Florida, it is widely planted. It will grow in both wet and dry soil, but in the southern part of Florida it's mostly found in wet soils. While it prefers some acidity, it tolerates a variety of soil types.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Salad burnet: an easy-to-grow perennial crop

Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor) is a perennial crop in the rose family (Rosaceae) that is native to all of Europe, northern Africa and also in southern Africa. It's easy to grow from seed and it reseeds. It's best to plant this with other perennial crops and herbs so it does not get in the way during crop rotations.

Salad burnet leaves in the morning with guttation* drops on
the ends of all the leaf serrations.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Wax myrtle: an under-used Florida native

The female wax myrtles carry a heavy
load of berries that feed the winter birds.

Wax myrtle (Morella cerifera formerly Myrica cerifera) is an easy-to-grow evergreen shrub or small tree that typically grows to 10-15’ tall and 8-10’ wide, but sometimes it grows to 20’ tall or more. It's native to all of Florida, even The Keys, and naturally occurs in a variety of habitats including edges of wetlands, river margins, sand dunes, pine barrens, hillsides, and upland forests. Species epithet "cerifera" means wax-bearing.

This species is dioecious (male and female flowers borne in catkins on separate plants). Female plants are preferred in the landscape because they produce the fruit to feed the birds, particularly migrating birds during the winter. Of course, at least one male plant is needed in the neighborhood to facilitate pollination of the female flowers.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Tropical sage: a Florida native wildflower

A tattered gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)
feeding on a tropical sage.

Tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) is a beautiful, easy-to-grow Florida native wildflower in the mint family, Lamiaceae. It has a long blooming cycle and its flowers are usually scarlet red, but sometimes are pink, even in natural areas. In addition to attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and native bees, tropical sage is the larval host for several sphynx moths. 

It's considered to be an annual, but I've had many that have lasted for two seasons and it's a prolific reseeder. So this plant is a wonderful addition to your pollinator gardens and wildflower meadows.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Roselle: Florida's cranberry

Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

The calyces subtend and support the petals. The flower lasts for only one day and when the petals fall off, the sepals begin to swell to surround the developing fruit. 

The five overlapping petals of the roselle flower are pale yellow tinged with burgundy on the edges and becoming deep burgundy in the center of the flower where the pistil emerges.

The mallow family: Malvaceae

Friday, October 1, 2021

Removing invasive plants in Florida costs $54 million per year

Mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin),
a Category I invasive in all of Florida.

Yet, many of these plants are still for sale

How did we get into this situation?

A few hundred years ago, once world travel was readily available, many plants and animals were transported from their native habitats where natural checks and balances evolved over millennia so that predator & food sources were in balance. (I will be talking about plants in this post, but invasive animal species are also a huge problem in Florida.) 

People moved thousands of plant species for a number of reasons:
- to bring food crops with them as they settled into new places.
- they collected beautiful plants from around the world to plant in gardens as a novelty or for prestige.
- Some plants were imported for their utility such as stopping erosion (such as kudzu (Pueraria montana)) or building fast-growing hedges (such as, Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolia)).
- Many non-native plants have been favored in the landscaping industry because most local insects and other critters do not feed on them, so they are easier to grow and sell, because they "look good."
and...
- Sometimes the plants were introduced to new regions by accident as hitchhikers with other plants or with other products that were being transported.

What is "invasive" and how is that status determined?

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Wild sweet basil

Wild sweet basil has lavender flowers
unlike sweet basil and lime basil which
have white flowers.

Florida's native basil

Wild sweet basil (Ocimum campechianum) is warm-weather herb related to sweet basil (O. basilicum) and lime basil (O. americanum). (Lime basil can tolerate Florida's hot wet summers, which I wrote about in two previous posts.) Unlike those traditional basils so popular in the Mediterranean cooking, which are native to India, Africa and Southeast Asia, this wild basil is native to the southernmost Florida counties, the Caribbean islands, Mexico, Central America, and most of South America.

Since we live in northeast Florida, this plant is not a true native here, but South Florida is MUCH closer to home than Africa or India, so this species of basil would be a regional native that should be better adapted to our climate with our hot, wet summers. Sweet basil often suffers from fungal diseases during our wet summers.