Monday, March 5, 2018

Build a pine-straw baler

A pine-straw baler made from scrap lumber 
Our neighbor Tim had this apparatus in his front yard. We wondered what the heck it was. Tim has a lot of big pine trees on his property, which, of course, generate a lot of pine needles. So he'd built this pine-straw baling machine out of scrap lumber he had on hand.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

An Appreciation of Muhly Grass

Muhly grass makes a nice border planting.
It's attractive even when it's not in full bloom.
Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia spp.) is one of the most popular native grasses in Florida and other places in the Southeastern US and you can see why. Its gorgeous pink flowers in late fall certainly stand out in the landscape. It's also known as sweetgrass, which has been used for coiled basketry, particularly in the "low country" of South Carolina, Georgia, and northeast Florida, by people of the Gullah Culture.

It likes dry soil in full sun or partial sun. It can be trimmed back in the late winter if there is a real need for neatness, but it's not necessary, because it tends to itself with new growth totally covering the old stalks.

Monday, January 1, 2018

When you plant a tree, you believe in tomorrow

This long garden used to be next to the fence,
but since the fence is gone, it now sticks
out like a peninsula into the lawn area. 

I'd pulled a small red maple tree (Acer rubrum) from the edge of our front pond. It was in a place where another tree would not work well, but when I pulled it, all its roots were still attached in a blob of mud. I stuck the tree in an empty pot near the rain barrels. Over the next couple of weeks, it seemed to be happy in the bottom of the pot with just occasional splashes of rain barrel water. I didn't know what I was going to do with it, but its presence there reminded me to do something every time I came to that side of the garage with the rain barrels and compost piles.

I had a thought when I was cleaning out the long garden that used to back up to a fence, but when we gave away the fence, this bed jutted  out into the yard like a peninsula. Placing a tree at the end of this bed would eventually provide an anchor. It will also eventually shade out the nice muhly grass, but it will be years before that happens.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Holiday Legends of Rosemary

A 9-year old rosemary shrub is 3 feet tall & wide

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officianalis) is a winter-blooming shrub that grows well throughout Florida. That alone makes it a great choice for your garden. But like a talented actor, rosemary plays multiple roles. It brightens your drought-tolerant landscape, adds flavor to your cooking and aroma to your potpourri. Rosemary has been immortalized in song and classic literature, plus it plays a part in a charming legend of Christmas.

Its waxy needle-like leaves grow from the newer sections of the stems, while the older sections of the stem are covered with a rough gray bark. Rosemary is one of many culinary herbs in the mint family. Others include mints, thyme, marjoram, oregano, sages, monarda, and many others. Plants in our herb gardens produce aromatic chemicals to help to fight off leaf-eating predators, but these properties also add flavor to our cooking and aroma to potpourri mixtures.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Blueberry Hill

Here's how it started, but over the years I converted to a
more nave plant pallet with a big yucca replacing those
hidden ginger lilies. And tropical sage and blue curls
replacing the zinnias.
We lost a sweet gum tree in one of the 2004 hurricanes. There were 4 big storms that year--it was our welcome to Florida because we'd moved here in June of that year.  But instead of grinding out the stump as recommended by the tree guy so we could convert that area to lawn, we covered it with pond muck and compost and build a butterfly garden there in the middle of our back yard.

Read my post from back then, From Stump to Butterfly Haven.

Moving the blueberries

Back in 2009, I planted 3 blueberry bushes that were bred for Florida. I wrote about this adventure in Florida's Blueberries. The bushes were small when I planted them 3 feet from the back of the detached garage.

Monday, September 25, 2017

End of the Seminole pumpkin season

What a bountiful crop! 

The 3 Seminole pumpkin vines took over the whole 18' x 5' bed. Wow. I'm holding a ripe and a green pumpkin--these babies weigh almost 5 pounds each. I got the feeling that if I stood for too long near one of its many growth points, that it would start to twine around my ankle. :-) 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Reworking the elevated rain barrels

I'd been using these elevated barrels since Feb. 2009.

These 3 elevated rain barrels have been well used over the years, because their placement near the edible gardens means that I have been able to use a hose to water thirsty crops rather than hauling watering cans. My back has been grateful.

Our best growing season here in north Florida is Fall, Winter, and early Spring--these are our dry months, but rarely have the barrels run dry during those times. I also have 3 other rain barrels not too far away, but they have not been set up with a single drain like these. See my post Three More Barrels for details on how my husband installed them.

After 8 years, it was time to rework the barrels...

Saturday, July 1, 2017

All-American landscape filled with natives

What could be more patriotic than a native landscape that supports Mother Nature??

Belfast castle garden is an example of a non-native and
unsustainable landscape. This is NOT authentic to America.
For far too long, the standard landscaping in our country has ignored the plants that belong here. Maybe it's a throwback to the European upper class castles where impossibly maintained formal gardens and the most exotic plants showed how much wealth they had. This landscape style is not only difficult to maintain, it's also not authentic to America.

It's time for a more patriotic approach...

The All-American Landscape
filled with regionally authentic plants 


Friday, June 9, 2017

Squash family on our menu

3 different species of bee work a
Seminole pumpkin flower.

The Squash family

There are quite a few important crops in this family (Curcubitaceae), from cucumbers and melons to zucchinis and pumpkins, all members of this family have separate male and female flowers which need to be pollinated--most female flowers need to be visited by pollinators (mostly bees and wasps) 7 to 10 times before a fruit forms. The female flower sits atop a small preformed fruit, while the male flower is borne on a long stalk. If a fruit does not grow after the flower fades and it turns yellow, this usually means that it was not fertilized.

Most squash vines put out several to many male flowers first before the first female flower is formed. My guess is that this strategy attracts pollinators to the area before it spends the extra energy to form a female flower.

Up until 2 weeks ago, it's been a dry spring, so I've irrigated the squashes every other day at the minimum to keep them from stressing due to wilting. This has been hand irrigation with rain barrel water, in addition to the once a week landscape-wide irrigation. The reason for this is that squashes need a consistent and generous amount of water to produce the fastest growth of the fruit.

For more detailed information on growing the squash family crops see our book "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida."

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The March for Science

Ready to go

I had scheduled a trip north for several reasons including an event at UMass in Amherst on April 29th. So I extended the trip to include the March for Science in Washington, DC. I have friends and family there so this was a logical stopping place for a couple of days.  I had a "There is No Planet B!!" sign made and I dug out my old lab coat from my days as a botany grad student--I'd embroidered it with plants including a fern up the back, so I'd kept it all these years for some reason, so now I know its real purpose. :-)

Here are some of the photos I took of the event. It was misting in the morning but it was supposed to start clearing around noon. It did not; it rained harder and at times quite hard, but the weather did not scare too many people away. Fortunately, I'd carried my poncho.