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 This is an outdated shot, now; but the Poblanos were getting bigger.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.


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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.





Home from Funky Chicken Farm

18 04 2009

I returned from Funky Chicken farm with the long end of the stick. In return for a couple of trays of seedlings Suzanne gave me a dozen happy chicken eggs laid on Tuesday, many packets of seeds including a variety of heirloom tomatoes, a strawberry plant and a gallon of Atomic Grow™.

She described these farm fresh eggs as “creamy”, which is exactly what they are. After having them I can attest that they are the best eggs I have ever eaten! I still chuckle when I recall our initial discussion about the eggs. She said “Isn’t it amazing that something so good comes out of a chicken’s butt?” Amazing indeed!

Eggs

As we toured the garden I commented upon her gorgeous strawberry plants to which she replied by yanking out a good handful of runners and sticking them into a pot for me. Strawberries are the one thing AJ’s mom wished our garden had. See how easily some wishes come true?

Strawberry

The final goody Suzanne gave me was a gallon of Atomic Grow™. I have contacted them via email and hope to have a response in order to update this post. For now, I gather that this is an all natural, organic wonder soap, that when sprayed onto all types of plants causes them to do everything they do a whole lot better. The leaves turn greener overnight, the root systems become massive and strong, and insects are repelled. It appears to be a single application, environmentally friendly pesticide and fertilizer. I will take some before and after shots of my garden to document the results.

In addition to the physical objects I obtained in my trade with Suzanne, I gained an incredible introduction into the local permaculture movement as well as a wealth of new activities and ideas in which to participate.

During my visit I mentioned to Suzanne that I would love to go on a foraging expedition, but don’t have enough local plant knowledge to do this properly. She jumped on the idea and offered to suggest this to her good friend Vicki who is a member of the Conradina Chapter of  the Florida Native Plant Society.

As soon as I get my projects under control I want to get out and forage!

Suzanne also turned me onto Eco Growers of East Central Florida:

Eco-Growers of East Central Florida is an informal group of local growers that support and participate in sustainable, environmentally-friendly agriculture and offer an outlet to exchange resources, knowledge, current events, education, and more.

Our group was started to support growers (a grower can be anyone who has a few tomato plants or fruit trees, or maybe a flock of laying hens, or someone with a small working farm) and to help raise community awareness about local food.

Our goal is to promote local, sustainable agriculture in east central Florida and help make the community aware of the opportunities to buy locally grown or produced goods, as well as the environmental and social benefits of buying locally.

The members hold a “Local Flavors” potluck approximately once per month, and Suzanne hopes to hold one at her place soon. Where am I going to find time to do all of this fun stuff?

Since my visit Suzanne and I have also decided to get into the business of raising Ox Beetles. I will try to go into more detail about these delightful insects, and share a couple of photographs in a future post. For now I must get busy in the garden.

Once I finish this post I will compile all of the links and place them in my sidebar.

All in all I would have to rate this a five star day. I returned home both exhausted and exuberated.

The garden greeted me with some spring blooms and a surprise.

Green onion bloom

Green-Onion-Bloom

Chive bloom

Chive-Bloom

Cardinal Air Plant ready to bloom

Tillandsia-Fasciculata-Flow

Does this look familiar? This is the mystery fruit from “Saturday in Review – Spring is Springing”. Things didn’t turn out quite like I expected. This is a passion fruit from a variety of which I do not know the name. My internet research assured me that it would ripen and drop to the ground, from whence I could retrieve it and enjoy it’s sweet goodness; perhaps by infusing into a bottle of vodka. Instead, the thing dried up, split open and released a handful of seeds on wispy parachutes. Oh well…

Open-Passion-Fruit

I saved some of the seeds, although I have no use for them, with a plant for cuttings growing right into my yard. I read that they are difficult to grow from seed and take many years to bloom.

Passion-Flower-Seeds

Fortunately the plant I enjoy is mature and produces a constant supply of  blooms to the joy of butterflies and bees alike.

Passion-Flower

So, that’s my wrap-up of my visit to Funky Chicken Farm. If you live in the area or find yourself passing through, I highly recommend making an appointment and dropping in for a tour. You will find a warm welcome, lots of treasures and an experience to remember.

Thanks Suzanne & Andrew!

Funky Chicken Farm
3510 Hield Rd.
West Melbourne, Fla 32904
Suzanne at 321-505-4066 or at srichmond2@cfl.rr.com





Funky Chicken Farm: Part 2

18 04 2009

Funky Chicken Farm owners Suzanne & Andrew Malone with some of their feathery friends. Suzanne-&-Andrew

On Wednesday, I was so privileged as to find myself sitting around a large table at Funky Chicken Farm with four fascinating and like-minded individuals: Suzanne and Andrew, Christi and Carol. Funky Chicken Farm is a joint endeavor by Suzanne and Andrew Malone. Andrew is the poultry specialist while Suzanne does the gardening, brewing, bees, worms, herbs, Crusty Man Balm and Tie-Dye shirts. They help each other with all projects, many of which are symbiotic. Don’t ask me what “Crusty Man Balm” is. We talked about so much that this one got overlooked. Hopefully, Suzanne will fill me in and I will describe it in a later post.

Had I known so much would be taking place I would have brought a notepad. Instead, I attempted to absorb as much of the rapid-fire conversation as my feeble mind could contain. I’ll try to break it down into digestible segments. Suzanne and Andrew are as compatible as any two people I’ve met. They both struck me as gregarious, intelligent, easygoing and passionate about their varied interests. These are not people I would expect to find with their noses buried in the TV while the world passes them by. They are busy; busy doing lots of interesting and beneficial things. These are my kind of people! The conversation started with The Growboxes which are featured here and here. The Growbox looks like a Rubbermaid storage bin, but there is much more to it. Suzanne explains it best:

A Growbox is a self watering container that is portable, and contains all the water, air, and nutrients for a plants optimum growth. Great for patios, apartments, and even those in wheelchairs as you can put them on a raised platform. No more bending over! You will participate in making your own Growbox to take home, you will learn the quickest way to make them, you will use power tools and you will get a farm tour of my garden of veggies in over 50 Growboxes. Includes discussion on what to grow, trellis systems, and how many seedlings to grow in each box with a printout. We’ll cover composting, worm culture, and the chicken tour.

The mechanics still remain somewhat of a mystery to me, but upon viewing her garden, there is no doubt as to their effectiveness. I mentioned that I used one of those containers to start plants, but it wasn’t as sophisticated as her setup. Everyone took interest in my mention of initially using my container for raising beetles. Somehow I found myself explaining how there is a community of people who raise beetles and other insects as a hobby; and that I paid the rent one summer by capturing and selling Ox beetles (Strategus antaeus) online. We discussed black lighting and the forum where I met my fellow insect enthusiasts (insectnet.com). Andrew and Carol both found it interesting enough to jot down the website. It’s so refreshing to find people with the same interests.

I asked about their worms and Suzanne offered me some “Worm Tea”, which I learned is a great liquid fertilizer extracted during the process of worm farming. Their offerings so outweighed mine that I felt compelled to reign in my enthusiasm for fear of being a mooch. Next time I will come bearing our wild caught Florida shrimp and trade for some of the things I didn’t get today.

Next I learned that Christi started and moderates a yahoo group called Brevard_CoSeed&CuttingsExchange. Although I am happy to financially support the preservation of heirloom varieties I love her philosophy that plants should not cost money. I didn’t realize that the meeting was also a cutting swap. Now I feel bad for not bringing some cuttings to offer. I have since joined that group and found that Christi is looking for jasmine, which I have aplenty.

Everyone raved about the Brevard Rare Fruit Council until I was thoroughly convinced that I must join. I suggest that anyone who lives in the area should check out the website and take advantage of the benefits offered by this group. I certainly intend to. The topic of edible weeds was raised. If you have read back into my previous postings you may know that I’m a big fan of foraging and would love to be involved in a foraging group. I listed a few wild edibles that I nurture and when prickly pear came up Suzanne mentioned that prickly pear makes great wine. This is when I learned of yet another interesting hobby of theirs. They belong to the SAAZ Homebrew Club.

The SAAZ Homebrew Club in Brevard County Florida is an AHA registered club. We sponsor a national competition every year in September. Social events include our Summer Party, Octoberfest, Pub Crawls and Christmas Party. We encourage and help new members in the art of homebrewing to further our mission of educating and promoting homebrewing and craft beers. We have members who make beer, wine and mead (honey wine) and are happy to share their knowledge. Our normal monthly meetings are at Charlie & Jakes (6300 Wickham RD, Melbourne FL) on the 3rd Sunday of the month at 2pm. Due to the number of special events during the year it’s a good idea to check the calendar, or contact the club president at Prez@saaz.org  if you are interested in attending.

See why this took multiple posts? Actually, any one of the many topics we spanned could justify a post of its own.

To my surprise Carol began extracting small plastic cups and bottles of brown liquid from her bag. I wondered to myself “Is there no end to how interesting these people are?” As she opened a bottle and began pouring out shots she described the cloudy liquid as “Kombucha”. I had never heard of this beverage, but it turns out to be an interesting and tasty form of fermented sweet tea. From the Wikipedia page:

Kombucha is the Western name for sweetened tea or tisane that has been fermented using a macroscopic solid mass of microorganisms called a “kombucha colony”.

First Carol shared a spiced version rich with cinnamon, ginger and apple flavor. This was really good and reminded me of apple cider. Next she gave us a taste of the straight brew. The experience created an image in my mind of sitting around a campfire in New Guinea passing around native brew in a gourd, like you might see on The Discovery Channel. Of course, everyone sat in chairs and had their clothes on. Carol talked about the health benefits attributed to Kombucha and the conversation shifted to a variety of homeopathic  remedies for cancer and diabetes. The entire conversation was stimulating and educational.

Although I occasionally enjoy discussing politics and religion, it was a welcome relief to take part in such a gathering where these topics were never raised. It was as though a group of kindred nature lovers conspired to make the world a better place through acts of kindness, generosity and sustainability. When the shit hits the fan I want to be in this tribe.

After the Kombucha Suzanne offered to take us on a tour of the farm. Again, I wish I had taken notes because the vast number of plants she has was more than enough to overwhelm my memory. Suffice it to say that she has just about everything I do and ten times more. Suzanne showed us the Growboxes as Christi’s son investigated the ripening produce, causing his mother to repeatedly remind him “No picking.” He was a well-behaved child who did his best to maintain his composure in such an exciting place. Once or twice she had to retrieve him as he wandered off to look at chickens, but who could blame him? I had the same urges myself.

Some of Suzanne’s heirloom tomatoes.

Suzanne's-heirloom-tomatos

I forget what this one is.

Suzanne's-Garden

The Growboxes.

Grow-Boxes

A selection of herbs. Throughout the tour Suzanne plucked aromatic leaves and offered them up for our olfactory enjoyment.

More-Grow-Boxes

A robust bunch of celery from Victory Seed Company. Yikes, I think I planted mine in too small of a space!

Suzanne's-Celery

Once our tour of the garden was complete we continued towards the back of the property to view the portable chicken pens they had built from simple and inexpensive materials.The coop and pens can easily be moved to give the hens frequent access to fresh grass. There is a netting over the top to protect them from birds of prey.

It is obvious that Both Suzanne and Andrew are big fans of creative solutions too. I wish AJ could have been with me; I know he would have been impressed. Anyone interested in these chicken pens can contact Andrew at 321-505-4227.

These are some happy Funky Chickens!

Layers

Awww…what a cute little duckling.

Duckling

Check out my next post for a wrap-up of the day’s events.





Funky Chicken Farm – Part 1

18 04 2009

Tuesday I alluded to an excursion that I was to take on Wednesday. Although I wasn’t sure what to expect, it was all I had hoped for and more. So much more, in fact, that I need to break it into three posts.

On Monday I joined the Yahoo group Fruit Swap of Brevard, and offered a surplus tray of seedlings left over from the garden projects. Because it was  a fruit swap I expected to be offered coconuts, star fruit or citrus of some sort (all of which are wonderful) however, the response I got was a pleasant surprise.

Hi Roxanne,

I am interested!   I buy from Victory Seeds too.   I can trade you some honey or fresh eggs, Atomic Grow.
We are located at Funky Chicken Farm in W. Melb, off Minton, on Hield Rd.

My phone is 321-505-4066 as I will be away from the computer…

Suzanne

Right off the bat I knew this was a cool person and a fun place.

I Googled “Funky Chicken Farm” and was directed to their profile on Local Harvest. I’m familiar with Local Harvest because we are members with our shrimp business The Shrimp Pimp. Local Harvest describes their mission as:

The best organic food is what’s grown closest to you. Use our website to find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies. Want to support this great web site? Shop in our catalog for things you can’t find locally!

I called Suzanne and scheduled an appointment to visit the farm on Wednesday. I figured that my meager tray of baby lettuce was maybe worth a dozen free range eggs or a container of honey. After all, it only cost me pennies to grow, aside from a little bit of watering. I took a little bit of cash because I knew I’d want to buy more. During our conversation I learned that Suzanne knows John Rogers (AKA “Bamboo John”). It seems that he is a sort of local gardening guru (which I already suspected).

With plants loaded in the trunk of the car I hurried to get my work done and then made a beeline to Funky Chicken Farm. It was easy to find with a great sign on the road.


Funky-Chicken-Farm-Sign


Funky Chicken Farm
3510 Hield Rd.
West Melbourne, Fla 32904
Suzanne at 321-505-4066 or at srichmond2@cfl.rr.com

I followed a winding, tree-lined road to a house surrounded by all kinds of stuff going on. I won’t even try to describe it; you’ll just have to go and see for yourself. Within moments of pulling in I was greeted by Suzanne with a jovial smile and a warm handshake. She was accompanied by a woman named Christi, whom she identified as “The moderator”. I didn’t get this at the time, but later I understood what she meant. Christi’s son was having a grand time exploring the place and had already done his share of “touching the chickens”. As soon as the introductions were made another car pulled up and I was introduced to Carol. Carol and Christi recognized each other from Freecycle.org. I believe that Carol knew Suzanne from The Brevard Rare Fruit Society. As I witnessed the threads of this community pull tighter, I decided that it was a community that I wanted to be stitched into.

I had arrived at lunch time and Suzanne invited all of us to join her and her husband, Andrew, on the back porch for lunch. We wove our way through chicken and duck pens, gardening things and all kinds of interesting looking projects to a large table on the back porch.  Along the way I dropped off my plant offerings in the garden, where they were received with enthusiasm by Suzanne. Before she went in to retrieve her food, Suzanne presented me with a bin of seeds in envelopes to pick through. She had already portioned out a variety of heirloom tomato seeds just for me. Everyone gathered around the table and I eagerly sorted through the packets picking out a few from some varieties I didn’t yet have. Just as in my excursion to John Rogers’ property I felt like a student trying to soak up as much information as I could.

These are the seeds I chose:

New-Seeds

Suzanne presented us with a beautiful appetizer made with her heirloom tomatoes. I passed, only because I was full from having just eaten; but the dish was beautiful as though prepared in a fine restaurant. Suzanne’s husband, Andrew, emerged and they ate as the conversation rolled.

Cont. in Funky Chicken Farm: Part 2