Week in Review – Ready, Set, Grow!

22 06 2009

I’ll warn you in advance, this post is long. But if you hang in there you will find a veggie creature that gave me a chuckle. I think it’s worth the read.

I don’t know how I’d ever keep up with this if anything really happened. Every time I step outside I want to take more pictures, then I have another post on my hands. Now that I have some readers (thanks to all of you), I feel the push to keep it going. Special thanks this week goes to my dear old friend, Dori. Your comments tell me that you are just the same thoughtful, encouraging, beautiful person who took me under her wing that first day of school in a new and frightening place. Thanks for still being there!

I’m ready for a change from the garden doom and gloom and happy to say that I have some verdant hope to offer. Most of the past two weeks has been spent problem solving. AJ is working like a full-time mechanic to keep us on the road with our “pre-owned” vehicles. Personally, we prefer to think of them as “future classics”. We like the older cars because…no car payment; also because they are more durable and easier for him to work on. When he takes a break from fixing and maintaining, he isn’t happy unless they are also clean. I know it sounds obsessive, but it’s essential to keep us rolling.

Yesterday, as I did more garden triage, he washed the car. Lookin’ good! (and the car ain’t half bad, either)

Car-Wash

Yesterday was Atomic Grow™ Sunday”. This is the first season that I’ve had a substantial garden. I could have taken a class or read some books and done it right from the start; but that is too easy and I would certainly have lost interest. I’m more of the “test the water by jumping in” type person, so I just planted anything and everything I could squeeze into the small space, with little regard to planting or growing season guidelines. As I am learning, summer in Central Florida is a challenging time for gardeners. Most of what I am trying to grow is supposed to be done or winding down. Heat, and insects become overwhelming for most gardeners this time of year.

Well, as long as a green leaf survives, I’m not giving up on these plants. It sounds kind of crazy to say it, but I feel as though I know them personally. Yes, I even talk to them! I know the feel and texture of each plant. I think that if you blindfolded me and handed me a cutting, I could identify most of them by touch. I know where to look for the most troublesome pests, and spend a good deal of time exposing and eradicating them. I imagine that I can hear a soft whisper of “Thank you” from my green friends.

The pickleworms, cabbage loopers, squash bugs and aphids are causing me the most grief. Atomic Grow™ is not a pesticide. Although it is said that insects can’t handle the sugars created by the plants, the aforementioned critters seem to have no problem munching on mine. I have resigned myself to my twice daily “critter patrol”, but the aphids are the most troublesome. Fortunately, Atomic Grow™ works wonders when directly applied to aphids.

You’ve got to respect ants. They are brilliantly designed and organized. I’m in awe of the “Rancher Ants” in my garden. I don’t know what kind they are, really; but they are bonafide ranchers; and they are raising herds of sweet, juicy aphids on my vegetable plants! The ants drink the aphid excretions or “honeydew”, sometimes actually milking them. They carry their livestock from plant to plant and protect them from predators; even going so far as to destroy ladybird eggs. In the winter, the ants carry aphid eggs into their nests where they are nurtured in optimal temperatures.

These ranchers have been doing a fine job on my cucumber plant. I know that when a plant is swarming with ants there will be plenty of aphids sucking the life out of it. Yesterday I shut down the Cucumber Ranch.

Here is a shot of the underside of a typical cucumber leaf, yesterday (minus the ants, which scurried away):

Aphids

Here is a closeup, showing the adults and babies. They look so cute and fresh. I almost wish I were an ant so I could enjoy some aphid honeydew; but since I’m not, they must die.

Aphids-Closeup

I mixed up a batch of Atomic Grow™ and went to work. Atomic Grow™ affects their chitin layer (skin), and causes them to dry up. In order for it to work, you must apply it to all areas of the plant; with special attention to the leaf bottoms and new tips, where aphids congregate. The ants went crazy and took off. The spray has an effect on ants, too; but there are so many that it doesn’t take long for them to return. Jim Shellenback from Atomic Grow™ recommends spraying every five days when pests are so active. I can see why, because it is a constant battle.

The good news is that it works! Here are some shots of the same plant this morning:

Aphids After AG2

Aphids-after-AG

Most of the aphids are gone. Of the ones remaining, most are dead and drop off with the brush of a finger. I did find a couple still alive, and I suspect that the ants have begun bringing them back. Still, a huge difference! I think that a couple of applications is all it will take to deplete the ants’ backup stock. I have used Atomic Grow™ to eliminate aphids on my peas and beans with great success.

In addition to aphid control on the cucumbers, I applied Atomic Grow™ to the entire garden. I also watered everything with a vinegar solution to work towards balancing the soil pH. Looking back at the abuse I have given this garden, I am more and more convinced that Atomic Grow™ is a main factor in keeping most of it alive. As always, I awoke to find things looking better after the spray. Take a look.

This celery was croaking two weeks ago. The pale leaves you see were much worse, and many were actually white from chlorosis. The foliar applications of Manganese Sulfate, Iron Sulfate and Atomic Grow™ have made a marked improvement. The color is starting to seep back into the leaves.

Celery2

Here is a closeup of a celery plant. The mottled leaves were white before the treatments.

Celery

Ditto for this red pepper plant. Still showing chlorosis, but many times better than before.

Red-Pepper-New-Growth

The Italian parsley never got very pale, but it has sent out a swath of new growth this week.

Attention: Veggie Creature coming up!

Italian-Parsley

The Poblano plants are responding especially well. See that dark green? That’s all new.

Poblano-New-Growth

Boo!

Scream-Pepper

Does it remind you of this?

The_Scream or this?  Scary Movie

OK, enough of that silliness. Check out the watermelon vine!

Watermelon-New

Two weeks ago this thing was completely yellow and brittle without a hint of a surviving female flower, let alone a fruit. I was seriously planning to scrap this plant and wait for next season. If you recall, it was the watermelon symptoms which ultimately led me to the Manganese deficiency diagnosis; and it is the same vine that is now responding the best of all. The new growth is lush and green, and even the old (once hopeless) sections are showing improvement. What is pale green in the upper section of this image was once whitish yellow and so brittle as to crack in your hands. And the best part…

Watermelon

Baby watermelons! After the spray treatments, the watermelon sent out spurts of new growth, covered in male and female flowers. I have learned that it takes an average of eight visits by a bee to pollinate a female watermelon flower. Because they are nondescript and only open for a single day, the chances of pollination are very limited. I have recently begun experimenting with hand pollination by picking a male flower, removing the petals and rubbing the pollen onto the female flower. It really works. In addition to this little beauty, I have two more which I believe may come to fruition.

Baby-Watermelon

The carrots are much greener and putting out new growth.

Carrots

At the seed swap I heard it told that tomato season is coming to an end. Apparently it is too hot. Please don’t say this out loud in my garden. I just counted 55 tomatoes on these plants in The Oasis, and upwards of 100 cherry tomatoes on the plant in O2. Stepping outside to count them was like walking into a pizza oven, but I’m keeping them watered and crossing my fingers.

Oh, and by the way…the leaf spot fungus is all but gone; thanks to Atomic Grow™.

Tomatoes

Here is my latest project: “Tomato Alley”. Eight heirloom plants (two each of Cherokee Purple, Indian Stripe, Black Krim and Brandywine ) from seeds given to me by Suzanne Malone. The end bucket has two Okra seeds (again, fingers crossed). This is an experiment in growing delicate tomatoes under the worst of conditions. I have chosen the smallest of each type to treat with Atomic Grow™. It will be interesting to see the difference between the treated and control plants, and if any of them survive at all.

Smokey now accompanies me on my morning and afternoon rounds.

Tomato-Alley

Here is the papaya that Mike Whitlow gave us. It is also responding well to the treatments.

Papaya

I was happy to discover a new predator on the Cherry Tomato plant. I moved in for a closeup and didn’t see this Green Lynx Spider, Peucetia viridans (Hentz) until I was very close. Trusting her camouflage, she didn’t budge, as I grabbed the camera for a couple quick shots. The wind was blowing, so I’ll have to find her on a calm day and get some better photos. These spiders are a mixed blessing, as they eat destructive moths and beneficial bees and wasps, alike.

Green-Spider

Here is how The Oasis looks today (overgrown and somewhat messy).

Oasis

And here is O2.

O2

The muskmelon vines are barely hanging on. It’s a race to ripeness for these three melons. And then I wonder if they will taste OK. Time will tell.

Muskmelon

Remember the baby bananas? They are slowly growing.

Old-Bananas

And here are their counterparts from the other stand. This flower is much larger, and appeared immediately after the spray treatments. This first hand has eight bananas and we hope there are more to come.

New-Bananas

Well, there it is! I’m finally caught up on my regular posts. The next thing you see from me will be all about Atomic Grow™ and how you can get some for your own garden, lawn or even house plants.

For now I leave you with Silly Cat:

Smokey-Sleeps

See ya’ very soon!





Week in Review…Preview

21 06 2009

This is really a bit of catching up for the last two weeks. When I finish this post I am going straight to the garden to do some more stuff. Changes have taken place, and I will share them later.

Garden

When we got back from Jacksonville I couldn’t wait to check out the garden. This is an outdated shot, now; but the Poblanos were getting bigger.

Poblano

We needed a salad so I did a mini-harvest. I selected one of the carrots I had transplanted. It had a nice big top, but when I pulled it up, this creature was revealed. Sorry for the bad focus. Lesson learned? Don’t transplant carrots.

Crazy-Carrot

The salad was good with Chives, Cilantro, Cherry Tomatoes, Celery, Carrot and Carrot Creature all freshly picked.

Today's-Harvest

Mr. Fix-It

This is what AJ has looked like for the past two weeks. That is, when he hasn’t been on the phone dealing with insurance companies, parts stores and our financial matters.

Here he is fixing the battery tray on the truck.

Mechanic

Here he is changing the brakes on the Mercedes. He has fixed so many things that we can’t even remember them all. I’m sure he has sweat at least five gallons worth in the hot Florida sun.

Brake-Job

Smokey the cat, does not work so hard. He just finds various ways to look silly.

Smokey Hose

Mystery Guests

Remember the little bird poop look-alikes?

Mystery-Guests

They got more interesting…

Mystery-Guest

And much bigger.

Mystery-Guest2

This one ate up the whole dill plant it was on. I caught it going for a stroll as I was vacuuming the garden. Lucky thing it was so colorful or I might have accidentally sucked it up.

When they go for a stroll, that means only one thing happens next. I relocated this one to my potted dill plant, where it nibbled a little more and then built a silk hammock. It stayed like this for the entire day.

MysteryGuestHammock

The next morning I found this lovely green chrysalis. I’ve raised a number of these beauties (sometimes right on my desk), but I’ve yet to capture the moment they transform from caterpillar to chrysalis. Maybe next time… The fun part is what follows. In a week or two the chrysalis will turn transparent. This is the signal to get the camera ready for the emergence. Afterward I’ll post a specific page for this guest and disclose its identity to those who don’t already know.

MysteryChrysalis

Here’s another guest I discovered last night. Wish I could give some perspective as to how huge this thing was. I saw it from halfway across the yard. My heart jumped at the thought of being invaded by two inch monster mosquitoes. Perhaps that is an exaggeration, but it was at least 1.5 inches tall.

I got closer and was relieved to see that it was a Robberfly; so named because they often mimic their prey and attack when the victim unwittingly approaches. I had never seen one like this, before.

After moments on the internet I discovered that it is Diogmites sp., or “The Hanging Thief”; known for hanging by its front legs while eating its prey. These crazy looking flies are predatory and eat a number of intimidating insects, including bees, wasps and dragonflies. Here is a site with some great Robberfly shots, including the hanging behavior.

Diogmites (?) Robber Fly

Seed Swap at the Funky Chicken Farm

This past Wednesday I went back to the Funky Chicken Farm for a seed and  plant cutting swap. Suzanne Malone gave a great tutorial on growing and collecting seeds from your garden. I met a lot of great people and saw a couple of whom I had met before, including Carol (who was at the previous meetup) and John Rogers, AKA “Bamboo John”.

I explained to John that I had killed the bamboo cuttings he had given us. He generously offered to let us come get new cuttings. This time I won’t subject them to lime overdose.

I got a lot of seeds and some cuttings, which you will see in my upcoming posts (provided I can keep them alive). I am still working towards a page listing all of my seeds.

Etc.

Allan Sr. and Barney the poodle came to stay with us last night. They brought steak and booze; so we had a pre-Father’s Day celebration. Good times and good company!

There’s a good chance I will get caught up on my writing goals, as we just lost over half of our income over the past week. Three of our clients canceled our service, due to the financial downturn. It’s depressing, but I do believe in the saying “When one door closes, another one opens.”

AJ has become “The Pina Colada King”, having perfected a Pina Colada recipe that helps dull the pain. It just takes two of these tropical delights to brighten things up for a while.

I’m sure I’ve got a lot more to say, but the garden beckons…the garden and a “Rum Punishment” as AJ has named his new favorite cocktail.

Check back tomorrow for the rest of the Week in Review.






The day I vacuumed the garden.

21 06 2009

One of the recurring themes of this blog is “Creative Solutions”.

One of the solutions to our hot, sandy, weedy yard was the Gravel Project (Parts 1, 2, 3 & 4). That was a huge undertaking, and a remarkable transformation.

We went from this:

Pregravel4

To this:

Gravel1

Instantly, everything was better. The yard was cooler, no more tracking in piles of sand on our shoes, and the garden held moisture and kept the plants from getting overheated. It also discouraged the armadillo who had been leaving dozens of holes every night. The gravel had telltale craters the first couple of nights, and after that the nosey nuisance moved on to greener pastures.

We even had a great time “beachcombing” our yard for the most interesting and complete fossilized shells. Little did I know how much trouble those shells were about to cause.

I planted things, and things grew. However, a lurking problem slowly reared its limey head. A common theme began to appear in many of the plants. Leaves were turning pale (sometimes completely white), beans and peppers had strange spots on the older leaves. As more and more leaves yellowed, I began to notice that the veins were still dark green.

Using this clue, it was easy to find the most likely cause of these symptoms: Manganese deficiency.

I’ll be honest with you. Heretofore, I haven’t given much thought to soil science and the importance of proper pH. When we spread the limestone gravel, I did briefly contemplate the consequences of alkalinizing the soil; but didn’t imagine how much trouble it could cause.

Although I didn’t have the soil tested (I plan to do so in the near future), it seemed fairly obvious that if you put down a layer of alkaline limestone, and you get extreme symptoms of high soil pH, that there is a correlation. I had spent hours researching the various maladies in my plants, only to find that most of the symptoms, fit the description of Manganese deficiency to a “T”.

Take a look for yourself:

Cucumber with yellowing leaves and dark green veins. This is an older leaf that also has insect damage.

Cucumber-Mag-Def

Watermelon with same symptoms. Actually, the watermelon with its cracking, brittle, yellow leaves is what finally clued me in. I found a website showing the exact problem in commercial watermelon with Manganese deficiency.

Watermelon-Leaf-Mag-Def

Various tomato leaves, with dark veins and crinkled new growth.

Tom-Mag-Def

Tomato-Magnesium-Def

Tomato-Mag-Def

Muskmelon

Musk-Melon-Mag-Def

Sweet Pea

Sweet-Pea-Mag-Def

Pole Beans (I think).

Pole-Beans-Mag-Def

Poblano Pepper. Leggy and droopy, in addition to the mottled leaves. Another symptom of Manganese deficiency.

Poblano-Mag-Def

Red Pepper. New growth was all white.

red-knight-pep-mag-def

Cilantro

Cilantro-Mag-Def

Celery. It appears wilted because it is wet. Outside growth was pale yellow, almost white.

Celery-Magnesium-Def2

Once I found out what was happening I had to devise and schedule a plan of action. Manganese and Iron deficiencies occur when the soil becomes so alkaline that the plants are unable to absorb the minerals that are present within the soil. It’s like going to an “All you can eat” buffet just after having your jaw wired shut.

With very little money in the budget and a busy schedule, I devised the quickest and least labor-intensive way to salvage the garden. Chances were that if the plants were deprived of Manganese that they were also low on Iron. The quickest fix is a foliar application of both Manganese Sulfate and Iron Sulfate. Walmart didn’t even have such products and Home Depot only had them in large bags, totaling  over $40.00.

A look at the liquid combination fertilizers revealed a couple of brands with some Manganese and Iron, along with a bunch of other things I didn’t really want (including Nitrogen). They were also fairly pricey. “Come on! All I want is a small container with two things.”  Imagine a beam of light shining down and illuminating this bottle. It didn’t exactly happen, but that’s what it felt like at the time.

Chelated-Palm-Nutritional

A quick glance at the label showed that this had the two ingredients I was looking for, in higher concentrations than the other fertilizers. From what I had read, Magnesium deficiency wasn’t likely a problem, but adding Magnesium wouldn’t harm anything.

CPN-Label

The best part was that this bottle cost less than $6.00. I paid up, and crossed my fingers. Before I could apply this treatment, I had to remove the gravel from around all of the plants. Enter the handy-dandy Shop-vac!

That’s right folks. I’m sure the neighbors thought I had finally come unhinged as I spent the next three hours vacuuming up all of the gravel from around the plants. I can assure you that putting it down was much easier!

The plants appeared battered and confused. As the sun went down, I assured them that it was for their own good.

The next day I hurried to finish my work and got busy spraying the Chelated Palm Nutritional on everything. All the while a secret doubt nagged me that I may be committing herbicide. There were more steps to correcting the damage caused by the limestone, but I didn’t want to overdo it, so I waited until the next morning to see the results.

The following morning I was greeted by some very happy plants. I kid you not, things were already greener. The carrots had greened up so much that I was actually shocked. This was no instant cure, but the results looked promising.

The foliar application was like triage. It didn’t solve the problem, it only gave the plants a good dose of what they desperately needed. The long-term solution is to acidify the soil. My research pointed to infusions of organic material and applications of the liquid solution to the soil, in addition to the leaves. I knew this needed to be done, but I was still looking for a quicker fix. Vinegar seemed like a possible solution, so I googled around and found that, indeed it was.

First, I did my overdue application of Atomic Grow™ and then I added a cup or so of white wine vinegar to a gallon of water and sprayed that into the soil. Another restless night was followed by another green morning. The plants looked even better, and many of them (including the seemingly dormant carrots) had sprouted new growth.

Now I had a mulch problem. I have a long-term solution (which I am still formulating), but I needed to get something on the soil to hold in the moisture and continue acidification. I raked up some dried ficus leaves from a neighbor’s yard and mulched around the plants. It is messy and not particularly attractive, but it does the job for now.

A day or two later I added the Chelated Palm Nutritional to the soil. Things have improved greatly, as you’ll see in my next “Week in Review” post.






Jacksonville Trip Wrap Up

21 06 2009

Here we are, almost two weeks gone by, and I am only just getting around to wrapping up the Jacksonville trip.

I wanted to go back to the Palmarosa on Sunday morning, but there was no way we could make time.

AJ and I stayed with Karen/Mom and Mark (her partner and love). Although our visit was brief and they were busy, Karen still managed to keep everyone fed with her outstanding cooking. There was spaghetti left for me when I came in late Saturday night (early Sunday morning) and she got up and cooked us a breakfast to rival any gourmet restaurant. We even had farm fresh eggs from the Palmarosa, with Alan’s homemade Datil Ketchup. Yum!

AJ had worked on Judith’s computer and glued together the broken cabinet door. As much as we wanted to lounge around and let that phenomenal breakfast digest, we had to get on the road. Karen and Mark made a perfect picture as they stood in the doorway waving goodbye. No way could I get the camera out fast enough, so I’ll share another photo of them from a visit earlier this year.

If you are buying or selling a house anywhere in Florida check out the Greenwise Team.

Mark & Karen

Next, AJ and I headed over to Judith’s to put things back together. We got the computer up and running and the cabinet door put back on.

Judith got dressed up so pretty on Saturday, and the only pictures I got were of her standing out in the rain. Doesn’t she look cute with that polka-dotted umbrella, though?

Judith-on-Stepmother's-Day

Next time, I will do better at remembering to take pictures of people.

I did manage to get a picture of Granny Smith as AJ and I stopped to visit her in the nursing home on the way out of town.

Granny-Smith

We had a nice visit, although AJ didn’t say more than three or four words. Granny told us some great stories and modeled her new glasses for us. She was an interior designer by profession and her sense of style still shows, even though she is bedridden. I wanted to stay and talk with Granny longer, but it was raining hard and we had a long drive ahead.

It rained most of the way home, only letting up as we made the final stretch. A full rainbow arched across the sky, as if to guide us along. As we approached the trailer park, the rainbow appeared to end at our destination.

Rainbow

Tired and glad to be back home, we unloaded the truck and inventoried the culinary treasures we had been given. From Alan & Chris we had fresh, happy chicken eggs, a big bag of datil peppers, and three of Alan’s canned treats: Palmarosa Datil Ketchup, strawberry preserves and chow-chow. Although they explained what chow-chow was, I still had to look it up for ideas of how to eat it. A few days later I had it atop some beans and bacon. I’m hooked! There are many ways to make the relish, and I can’t quite remember how Alan said he made it. Maybe I’ll get a confirmation on that from him.

The eggs were straight from under the chickens. Mud washed right off, and they were delicious!

Palmarosa-Eggs

Alan Palmrose’s homemade Chow-chow, Datil Pepper Ketchup & Strawberry Jam; all of which have been sampled and are deemed delicious.

Palmarosa-Jars

Karen and Mark bestowed upon us a great selection of Asian foods including Dried Shitake Mushrooms, Chanatoon Rice Sticks, Lemongrass, Soy Beans, Rice Sticks and Dried Beancurd Sticks. All cooking suggestions are welcomed. Please, somebody give me some ideas.

Asian-Food

The problem with trying to get caught up with two weeks worth of blogging is that my memory aint’ what it used to be, and it didn’t used to be worth a dime. So, please forgive me if I left something out.





Week in Review: A week to remember.

9 06 2009

I’m at a loss as to how to wrap up this surreal week. Chris Dailey made a suggestion reinforcing something I’ve been mulling over; and that was to break up my posts into a more manageable format. The challenge becomes how best to organize them. Because of the volume of information I have to share I think I will give this idea a go. I plan to go back and archive the old posts in chronological order. The posts associated with this week will be placed in chronological order with links added below. Feedback is much appreciated.

Speaking of feedback…I really love the comments. I learned a lot this week; one thing being that people are passing this blog around to friends and family, and that I have some readers I didn’t know about. So, I encourage anyone who is lurking about to chime in and give me some constructive criticism as to how I can keep from boring you to tears.

I have slapped these posts together, although they are most certainly full of errors and omissions. My hope is that the parties involved will contact me with some more details. I would really like to have the names of the animals featured on the Palmarosa post, as well as anything else I left out. Help!

Here we go with the events of this week:

The Garden

The Dailey Bunch

Stepmother’s Day and the Crash

The Palmarosa

Wrap Up (Better late than never.)