Monday, December 21, 2020

Celebrate Winter Solstice 2020

The winter solstice for the Northern Hemisphere occurs on
Monday, December 21, 2020 at 5:02 a.m. EST.

Sunrise over the St. John's River from
Spring Park in Green Cove Springs.

Winter Solstice is the astronomical moment when the Sun reaches the Tropic of Capricorn, which here in the  Northern Hemisphere produces our shortest day and longest night of the year and marks the official start of winter.

At the winter solstice, the sun appears at its southernmost position and at the lowest point in the sky, and its noontime elevation seems to stay the same for several days before and after this day. The sun’s gradual decrease in the sky reverses after the winter solstice and as the hours of daylight become longer, marking what many cultures believe to be a “rebirth” of the Sun.

The term “solstice” is derived from Latin: sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still) because, during the solstice, the sun appears to stand still.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Lichen: a three-way symbiotic organism

Last week, a neighbor knocked on our door. He was holding a twig covered with lichens. He wanted to know what heck they were and how could he get rid of them, because they were killing his tree. I explained that no, these were not killing his tree, but because the twigs were bare, their spores had germinated there to take advantage of the good light (without the leaves). He's not alone in thinking the the lichens are causing harm to trees, so I thought I should provide some needed background.

Monday, October 12, 2020

An unexpected drainage project

A complex location, with a raised sprinkler head, a newly
reinstalled downspout, and the access to the septic system.

Rain barrels on the move

We moved the three rain barrels that we'd installed at the back of the garage. Initially, years ago, they were elevated on a wooden platform, but when the wood gave out due to stress from all that weight, we reinstalled them in the same place on separate cinderblock towers. I wrote about them here: Three more rain barrels and here: Reworking the elevated rain barrels.

Well, since there was no cross bracing between the towers, the cinderblocks tipped and sank into the soil at different rates. This caused a problem with the plumbing since the barrels are connected together to have one spigot. 

My husband disassembled barrels and reinstalled the downspout for this end of the gutter that runs along two sides of the garage. The other end feeds into two different rain barrels. 

The three barrels sat unused through the summer, but the dry season was coming and I'd be growing a large selection of cool-weather crops and I'd need the capacity of those three barrels. In looking at this location we could not install a concrete pad to provide more stability because the main septic pipe from the house runs through the area. We decided to move barrels to the north side of the garage where there was already a concrete pad and to move the ten-foot gutter to gather the water.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Seminole pumpkin & onion upside-down cornbread

The cornbread as it came from the oven. 
It needs to "rest" for 15 minutes like this.

Cooking to the harvest

Years ago, I'd seen a recipe for upside-down cornbread, so I decided to modify it to include two cups of grated Seminole pumpkin that I needed to use. That old recipe called for baking the cornbread in a cast iron skillet and that would have made it the right shape to flip onto a plate. But my 9" X 12" glass baking dish worked fine and we flipped it onto a cutting board.

I used my standard buttermilk cornbread recipe as a base.  

Friday, August 28, 2020

Growing Florida's wildflowers from seed

 Fall is the best seed-sowing season for Florida's native wildflowers

I used a vegetable bed that would be fallow from late fall
through winter as a nursery for the wildflower seeds. 

We were going to be out of the country from January through March of 2020, so I had not planted any winter crops. After the warm-weather crops had been harvested, I mulched those beds with a thick layer of pine needles to allow them to remain fallow. There were some beds that I'd used as pollinator gardens during the summer, so those I left in place. They were filled with mostly scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea).

I had some native wildflower seeds from the Florida Wildflowers Growers Cooperative (, but I didn't have any particular areas where I was ready to plant them. So took advantage of the largest fallow bed and planted them there. This way, they'd have good soil and little competition with existing plants. Plus, I'd be able to keep track of them. So when we returned, I could figure out what to do with them.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Winged elm: A beautiful Florida native

The winged elm is so named because of its corky
The winged elm (Ulmus alata) is a graceful medium-sized tree native from Virginia to Texas and to north Central Florida. It grows well in a variety of conditions and should be more widely planted. Gil Nelson describes it as a fast grower in his "Florida's Best Native Landscape Plants." I have to agree with this assessment given my experience with this tree.

In 2010, I was on my first flowered shirt book tour of Florida after the publication of "Sustainable Gardening for Florida." I spoke to a number of the Florida Native Plant Society chapters as part of that tour. At one of those chapters, I was given a winged elm tree that had been auctioned off. The member who won the auction decided that I should have it. Even though the tree was not in good shape, I gracefully accepted his gift and brought it home.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Birds of prey in our yard

Here's looking at you, kid!

Barred Owls

We're delighted that Barrel Owls (Strix varia) have occupied our non-poisoned yard for a number of years. We mostly hear them at twilight or dawn, but during mating season they are more active in the day.

They are opportunistic predators catching anything from small mammals to insects: including snakes, lizards, bats, birds, and even fish.

Their range is forested habitats across eastern North America and is now expanding into the Pacific northwest.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Lime basil pesto

Lime basil seedlings in my New Zealand
spinach (Tetragonia tetragoniodes) rows.

Lime basil loves Florida's 
hot, wet summers!

Lime basil (Ocimum americanum) is native to Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, not the Americas, despite its species epithet. It has a strong citrus odor and a cross between lime basil and sweet basil (O.basilicum) is known as lemon basil.

Sweet basil, which is the traditional basil for Italian cooking including pesto, is susceptible to fungal diseases once the wet season begins here in Florida.

So, a number of years ago, I bought some lime basil seed from Burpee on the advice that it was more heat tolerant. It was so prolific that it has been self seeding in my edible beds ever since.  Read my previous Lime basil article for more information.

This year I transplanted the seedlings from my okra and New Zealand spinach beds to its own row, so I could keep those crops weeded and have a good basil crop as well.

This is the story from rogue seedlings to pesto.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

A South American engulfed my resting vegetable beds

I had put my veggie beds to rest for the winter. What could go wrong?

I knew we were going to be out of town for the first three months of 2020, so I did not plant our normal winter crops. After the last summer/fall crops in three of the beds, I weeded them trying to disturb the soil as little as possible and then covered them with a four-inch layer of pine needles. (6 reasons to use pine needle mulch in edible gardens) In two of the other three beds had the native salvia and other wildflowers growing, so I did some light weeding and left them alone. In the last bed I planted some wildflower seeds and I'll cover this bed in my next post.

So in those three beds, a visitor from South America came calling...

This innocent-looking plant is a monster! The native range for this oxalis is shown in green while the purple areas show where it's escaped. 

Monday, March 9, 2020

For a more beautiful yard, plant more beautyberry

Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana): a plant profile

In addition to its iridescent purple berries, beautyberry make your landscape more beautiful because of all the birds it invites to the landscape. In this photo, there is a mockingbird in the upper right and a cardinal in the lower left.
Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is in the mint family (Lamiacaeae). Appropriately enough, the genus name is Greek for beautiful fruit. Usually the fruit is a bright purple, but white berries sometimes occur naturally and both purple- and white-berried shrubs are available in the native plant trade. While there are no other Callicarpa species native to Florida there are others, but most are native to Asia.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Smart Gardening

Let's combat those horticultural myths with science 

This meme with a reminder to share
about male and female pepper fruits based on
 the number of lobes is total baloney!

The Internet has been a fantastic tool for sharing all of human knowledge. Social media, powered via the Internet, has made it easier to reconnect with long-lost friends and relatives and to share photos and memes with the world. It also serves as a market place, with online shopping.

But all this mostly unfiltered access to eye balls has made it ripe for spreading misleading information and blatant misinformation. Plus, this unfiltered marketplace allows for the selling of ineffective or bogus products with no chance for returns.

But, our topic is gardening and landscaping, so let's look at a few examples of bad information so widely shared that those myths have become accepted as fact.