Happy New Year!

9 01 2010

What the Heck?! It’s almost mid-January, already?

Well, we made it through Christmas relatively unscathed, thanks to a couple of unexpected cash windfalls, including a bonus from the honorable “Mike, the Guy Who Pays Us”. Thanks Mike!

We were able to make it to Jacksonville for Christmas and Christmas Eve at Aunt Anne & Uncle Norman’s. Glad that we got up there, because a bunch of important things took place, including the Engagement of AJ’s mom, Karen Swinson and her darling Mark Werbil on Christmas Day. Congratulations!

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The next day we attended the wedding of AJ’s dad, Allan Ricketts to his new bride, Caroline. Congratulations to the two of you!

IMG_6050

We got to see Judith, although she was sick, and also enjoyed the Palmrose clan Christmas party at Uncle Pete’s and Aunt Melanie’s. Between the festivities, I was able to squeeze in a few moments with two of my dearest and best friends Christy and Kim. I missed a few people, but I’ll see ya’ next time (I promise).

After the whirlwind, we spent a quiet New Year’s Eve in bed before the ball dropped. Wish that I could have stayed there, as it has been cold and/or rainy ever since!

Cabin Fever

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It is cold outside and it’s drafty in here. We are both in our flannel jammies, with  warm socks. AJ is wrapped up in a wool blanket, and I have on my warm fuzzy slippers and house coat. At one point I even had on gloves and a stocking cap! No, I will not post pictures.

In South Florida, the Iguanas are losing their grip and falling from the trees. My favorite part was the one about the man who took the opportunity to cull them by picking up the stiff lizards and tossing them into the back of his station wagon. Unfortunately, the warmth brought them back around and he almost wrecked as they crawled on his back!

We are going stir-crazy in here! Especially AJ, whose projects all involve being outdoors. He and Llami appear to be competing for the restlessness award. Llami hates, hates, hates the cold. She curls up, trying to stay warm.

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She snuggles up, trying to stay warm,

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and stares at me as though demanding “Make it warm!”.

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She insists upon going out, only to turn right around and knock on the door.

I love them both dearly (AJ & Llami), but I can’t wait for the hot sun to return!

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The Fallout

I was already having difficulty in the gardening department. Thanks to the evil nematodes and various other inclement circumstances, the winter plantings have been a bit sketchy. The Marketmore 76 cucumber produced one, big fat specimen (which was quite tasty) right before the vine croaked. Most of the heirlooms do not seem to have any resistance to the nematodes, and were suffering, even before the cold spell.

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Ironically, the broccoli (which suffered attack by caterpillars all summer) is flourishing; and even though we have had some hard freezes, the plant looks as though it couldn’t be happier. The same goes for the collard greens and a few other hardy plants. The verdict won’t come in until it warms up and I take the covers off. What I do know is that the beautiful bananas and papayas are taking it pretty hard. I guess that I shouldn’t complain too much. At least it hasn’t snowed…fingers crossed. The garden did yield some interesting characters. I present to you…

Frankensquash!

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Earlier this year I attended a seed swap, where I was given seeds for a Seminole Pumpkin Squash.

At this seed swap I learned two valuable things:

  1. The native Seminole Indians were pretty good gardeners, who developed a hardy strain of squash that was perfectly suited to the sandy soil and numerous pests of Florida. The Seminoles were said to have trained the robust vines of this prized plant to grow up into palm and oak trees. Since they ripen in the winter, I like to picture the thought of the Native American’s version of a sub-tropical Christmas tree, drooping with golden globes of sustenance. As long as it didn’t go below freezing, they could leave the squash hanging on the vines and pluck them as needed.
  2. The second thing I learned is that when you plant seeds, the product can be drastically different from the parent. As if this weren’t confusing enough, there is a serious degree of myth and misunderstanding surrounding this fact. At the same meeting where I picked up the Seminole Pumpkin Squash seeds, I overheard the statement that plants of a similar nature could interbreed if allowed to cross-pollinate. “If you plant cucumbers and watermelons too close together you will get a normal looking fruit, but the seeds will produce a hybrid of the two, and you’ll end up with some nasty-tasting cucumber-melon.”

This idea fascinated and confounded me. Why had I never seen such a thing? Surely, someone would be growing them by accident, or for the sheer novelty? I couldn’t wait to get home so that I could get to the bottom of this. Sure enough, it was an old wives’ tale. Although Watermelon, Cucumbers, Squash, Gourds, Cantaloupe and Pumpkins all belong to the Cucurbitaceae family, they are different species, and cannot inter-breed. However, varieties of the same species can cross-pollinate. This means that salad cucumbers and pickling cucumbers will blend to create a seed stock that produces some mixture of the two. The frustrating part is that, in some cases, a plant over one mile away can contaminate yours. For the standard gardener this is not a problem, as it only applies to the product grown by the seed of the cross-pollinated fruit. However, it is a problem for collectors of heirloom seeds.

I planted the Seminole Pumpkin Squash seeds that I got from the seed swap. Not long afterward I visited John Roberts, “Bamboo John”, who gave me a gorgeous specimen from his own garden. I ate that squash and planted a seed from it, as well. All plants grew rapidly, and looked identical. It wasn’t until the squash appeared that it was demonstrated how easily an heirloom can get mixed up. I had researched the Seminole Pumpkin Squash online and had noticed that there are at least two distinct varieties of what is supposed to be the same plant. The fruit from the first seed were of the bell-shaped variety. They got very large and heavy (almost 5 lbs.) before I was forced to pick them due to a variety of circumstances. The plant from John’s squash produced a single specimen, which looked exactly like the smaller, round squash that he had given me. As both were blooming at the same time, it is quite possible that the seeds from these squash would produce something in-between. I plan to roast the seeds when I cook the squash, so I will not have to wonder what they would produce. Well…maybe I’ll save a couple.

Roasted pumpkin-squash seeds do seem like a fun cold-weather treat. Anyway…the verdict is still out on what exactly a Seminole Pumpkin Squash is. What I do know is that Llami might be part squash, herself, based upon this quick comparison.

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Yogurt

The only other (remotely) interesting thing that I have to share is about yogurt. Those of you closest to me know that I have been suffering from a serious bladder infection that was causing me undue pain and inconvenience. I went to the clinic (another blog post in itself) and got some antibiotics. They didn’t work. I know it is unpleasant to read about, but I was peeing what could easily be mistaken for curdled milk! (I exaggerate, but only slightly.) Doctors sometimes get offended when we go online to look for remedies; but my doctor can get indignant all he wants, because if I hadn’t gone searching I would still be suffering. The doctor did discover that I have glucose in my urine. This means that I either have undiagnosed diabetes (doesn’t show up on blood tests), or a congenital kidney disorder. The only other explanation is pregnancy (which I assure you does not apply). So, I got to thinking “Sugar feeds yeast. What if I have yeast in my bladder? What kills yeast? Acidophilus!” I got some plain yogurt, and within an hour my suffering was over!

What I don’t like about store yogurt is that although you can find all natural, plain yogurt, it is impossible to find anything but lowfat or nonfat in the regular store. Besides, it is not cheap. So, I found a blog post about how to make your own yogurt. It is incredibly simple. All you need is a crock pot, a towel, a gallon of milk and two tablespoons of yogurt for a starter. I didn’t add gelatin, so the yogurt I made is not as thick as the store brand. This is fine with me, as it is perfect over cereal. I bought a box of Paul Newman’s Own organic cereal (with no corn syrup) and have found my new breakfast treat. Yum! The bladder problems that plagued me for over one month have disappeared.

Well, I applaud anyone who made it this far through the rambling post. Hope that you all are staying warm and safe!

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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!





Babies

31 05 2009

OK, maybe he’s really more of a teenager. But isn’t he adorable?!

This afternoon AJ came running in to tell me that he had cornered a baby opossum. I grabbed the camera, raced over to the cottage and saw this little guy. We started to rescue him but decided to let him go. After checking the internet I found out that opossums this size are just fine on their own. We brought him over to our place and let him go, so now we will have one more midnight visitor to the cat food dish.

Opossum-Jr.

Found this baby muskmelon hiding under the vines today. More like another teenager, really. I’m guessing 30 days ’til melon time.

Muskmelon

Here are the new guests to the garden. Anybody want to make a stab at an ID? Here’s a hint…that’s the mammoth dill. These little critters are one of my favorite photographic models, so you will get to watch them grow up; provided the invasive lizards don’t eat them up.

Eggs

Baby collard didn’t take well to the transplant. It was so happy in the nice Miracle Grow soil of the nursery; but I decided it was time to graduate to the garden. I think it will be fine and soon on its way to becoming a Collard Tree.

Baby-Collard

Perhaps I’m overdoing it on the bananas, but isn’t this thing gorgeous? I have been standing underneath it, mentally willing the bananas to ripen. AJ tells me that he expects it to be even bigger than previously stated. If it is one of his grandma’s trees then the clump of fruit could end up weighing 150+ pounds. We’ll see, soon enough, if that is an exaggeration.

Banana

I harvested a couple pounds of tomatoes this afternoon. Sorry, the photos were too blurry to post. Next, I sprayed everything with Atomic Grow™.

I was working towards rolling out some news about Atomic Grow™, and my part in the company; but I haven’t gotten my ducks in a row just yet. I’m sure that you can tell that I’m very thrilled with this product and am anxious to be a part of its ascent in the world of gardening!

And finally…If AJ would make himself a blog these things would get better coverage. Of course he went about fixing things again today. This project started out as a simple truck wash. His eagle eye caught the clouded headlights, so he dropped what he was doing and sanded and buffed the headlights and tail lights. They look great, don’t they? If you want to see more of this stuff leave a comment and tell him to get on that blog!

Headlight





Week in review – A reprieve from the rain

31 05 2009

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Everything is green. The yard is packed with baby grass, and the garden is growing fast.

If you read Things are a bit Spotty, you may recall that I was having a fungal issue with the tomatoes. I’m calling it Grey Leaf Spot until someone tells me otherwise. Last year this stuff completely ravaged my tomato plant to the point that I had very little yield.

Last week I treated the plant with Atomic Grow™ and trimmed off the terminal branches. I left a few of the branches with the initial stages of yellowing to see what would happen. One week later, the leaves are virtually unchanged and it appears that the fungal invasion has been stopped in its tracks. The new growth is green and healthy. I’m not going to go overboard with excitement, but things look promising!

Leaf-Spot-Halted

I know I said I would make my next Atomic Grow™ application yesterday. I reserve the right to change my mind, and so I have declared Sundays to be “Atomic Sunday”. I will make the application this afternoon and post some quick photos. There are some new guests in the garden (one for which I have planted a specific herb), and I will not be spraying that plant because I want to encourage the guests. Sorry for the vagueness, but I think I’ll let you watch them progress and see who can guess what they are. Their momma dropped them off on Friday, so stay tuned for some baby pictures this afternoon.

Here is the Oasis this weekend. Doesn’t everything look happy?

Oasis

A closer shot of some of the herbs. This is my first year with celery. I’m learning about self-blanching and how celery needs to be grouped together. I had thinned out the clump and moved some plants to outside areas. They are easily identified because they turned pale yellow. The central clump is still green. I guess we will wait and watch to see how they turn out.

Herbs

The cherry tomato plant has officially reached tree status in my book. It is upwards of 5′ tall and growing by leaps and bounds. If it didn’t make those yummy tomatoes I’d think it were a weed.

Cherry-Tomato-Tree

Time for a salad.

Cherry-Tomatoes

The succulent garden is doing great. Notice that green grass in front?

Succulents

Over the course of the week our banana flower has opened up and exposed the first hand of six bananas.

AJ explained to me that this is only the beginning. Each layer of the pod will open up in succession and reveal another hand. He estimates five or six more to come. This has been the highlight of my week.

Banana-Flower-Preopen

Banana-Flower-Opening

Banana-Flower-Opening-more

The poblano peppers got off to a rocky start, but now they are loaded with babies.

Baby-Poblano

Can I have more than one highlight? The Marketmore 76 cucumber has exploded in size.

Marketmore 76 Cucumber

And I found three new babies on a single branch. I’ve got to keep my eye out for those pickleworms. They are not allowed to eat our cucumbers.

Baby-Cucumbers

The muskmelon took a beating from the winds this week. The older leaves are fairly shredded, but there is so much new growth that it hardly matters. This plant is loaded with babies.

Muskmelon Vine

Dead frog walking. Yes, here is another Cuban Tree Frog. This one has set up housekeeping inside one of the bamboo stakes. The stake has filled with water, thus forcing froggie to poke out of the top in the daylight. These are nocturnal frogs, so you can see its determination to stay home. I was able to get extremely close and the frog didn’t budge. I’m still building the fortitude to round up and kill these invasives. I even bought some Benzocaine to put them gently to sleep before popping them into the freezer. AJ is promoting the idea of just stomping on them. Is he mean or what? Actually, it would probably be the most humane way. I just don’t think I could do it.

For now I am building a collection of photographs for their memorial. Eat up little froggie; your days are numbered!

Cuban Tree Frog in Bamboo

Mr. Fix It is still at it. This week the rains exposed another problem with the car: leaking tail lights, which allowed water to get into the trunk. AJ took them apart and found that they were both crazed and that one was cracked in various places. Here he is trying to salvage the blasted thing until we can afford a replacement part. Anybody want to buy a 1985 Mercedes 300D? 😉

Tail-light-repair

I’ll leave you with “Gravel Cat”, Jorgi.

Gravel-Cat

Check back later for a harvest update and some shots of the baby guests.