Screamy, Fiesty, Good Food and Silly Cat

16 07 2009

Well, I’ve gone and let weeks go by without any proper updates. Nothing much has happened that would pass for exciting, so I guess I don’t feel too bad.

The Oasis is looking lush and tropical.

Oasis-Close

Screamy the Pepper has ripened. AJ thinks I could sell him as a Michael Jackson likeness on ebay. I’m letting him dry above my desk to see what he looks like when old and wrinkled.

Screamy-Ripe

This is “Feisty” the Cuban Anole. How these miniature dinosaur replicas have escaped extinction is beyond me; because they are none too bright. Every day, without fail, he takes his post on the grill lid handle, puffs up his crests and struts back and forth in an attempt to intimidate his perfectly matched opponent.

Feisty-Puffed-Up

Every day, he gives his best fight, only to be equaled by the foe with the steely  bites (which leave both of their noses battered and raw). Neither will relinquish their territory in this daily ritual. This is one neurotic lizard!

Feisty-Throwdown

Talk about neurosis. I got a little obsessed with this eggplant. As it grew larger and more regal, I began to get paranoid about its well being. My research warned that eggplants lose their goodness once they get too ripe. They grow tough and seedy. They are meant to be picked while young and shiny.

This is the first eggplant I have ever grown, and with all of the dangers of over-ripeness, insects and critters I gave in and picked it. AJ chastised me, saying that they were meant to be much larger before harvesting.

First-Eggplant

I sliced it up to find firm, seedless meat. I marinated in Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar with fresh chopped garden herbs. Then I grilled to perfection. Captain Kym came over for dinner. This is when I realized that eggplant (especially my version) is not for everyone. AJ and Kym politely nibbled on the vegetable, while we all devoured AJ’s roasted, stuffed pork tenderloin. Oh well, I thought the eggplant was good.

Grilled-Eggplant

AJ’s pork tenderloin was delicious. However, just as in everything he does, he immediately criticised his recipe and began planning for the improved version. We still had half of the large cut in the freezer, so a few days later he set about perfecting his stuffed, smoked pork tenderloin technique.

Here is his recipe:

AJ’s Smoked Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

Sautee Italian Sausage.

Butterfly tenderloin lengthwise to flatten.

Spread Cream Cheese as bottom layer.


Splitopenandcreamcheese

Add a layer of fresh Baby Spinach

Spinachlayer

Next layer: Prosciutto

Prosciuttolayer

Sprinkle with Grated Cheese.

6Italiancheeselayer

Spread the browned sausage.

ItalianSausagelayer

Layer on Ricotta Cheese.

RicottaParmesanlayer

Roll up and tie with cotton string. Season with Rosemary, Dill and Ken’s Greek Salad Dressing.

Readyforsmoker-1

Smoke uncovered, spraying with mixture of Olive Oil, Pineapple Juice and Ken’s Greek Salad Dressing until internal temperature reaches 150°

Finished-1

Remove from heat, wrap in foil and let rest for 10 minutes.

Thereitis

Unwrap, slice and enjoy!

Sliced

The mystery guest’s children overran the garden, eating up all of the dill and most of the parsley. I moved at least ten ravenous caterpillars to the carrots, where they quickly matured and went on “walkabout”, looking for places to pupate.

This one chose a green onion. Hope the wind doesn’t blow too hard.

Papilo-Polyxenes-Chives

How’s this for camouflage? I found this fellow on the broccoli. The next day was a perfectly hidden chrysalis that I would have never seen had I not known where to look. I have been aching to try broccoli greens, and carefully harvested the most tender leaves, while taking care not to disturb the sleeping beauty.

Papilo-Polyxenes-Broccoli

Roxanne’s Broccoli & Collard Greens

Harvest a bundle of tender Broccoli and/or Collard Greens.

Wash thoroughly, taking care to remove all insects and insect eggs. Cut into medium-sized pieces, removing central vein from larger leaves.

Blanch by submerging greens in boiling, salted water just long enough to tenderize, and then plunging into ice water. This preserves the bright green color.

Blanched--Greens

Chop bacon, onions and peppers (I used a red pepper and Poblano from the garden). Once the bacon is almost cooked, add pressed or chopped garlic.

Sautee

When bacon is cooked and onions are tender, toss in blanched greens. Drench with white wine, cover and simmer until greens are thoroughly wilted.

AJ, who had previously stated his reluctance to try broccoli greens, enthusiastically ate his portion and raved about how good they were. We enjoyed this dish as complement to his scrumptious smoked chicken. All in all, a week of good, down-home cooking.

Greens

And as if on cue, Smokey the Silly Cat has found yet another way to chill while looking ridiculously uncomfortable.

SillyCatBack071609

SillyCat071609

Hope everyone is enjoying life with peace and happiness! See y’all soon.





Abundant Bounty

3 07 2009

Lots of goodies coming from the garden and the Universe over the past couple of weeks.

The tomatoes are still on full bore. I’ve been picking an average of ten to fifteen per day.

Cherry-Tomatoes

Here are a couple of harvests. This is not nearly everything I gathered over the past two weeks, just two of the bigger days. I collected the muskmelons because the vine was mostly dead. They could have ripened a few more days, but they were OK. The middle melon is the one I did not protect with the pantyhose. In retrospect I don’t see the value of doing this. The skin was thin and split on the protected melons, and the netting did not develop normally.

Sunday's-Harvest

Friday's-Harvest

I made salsa for the first time. I didn’t realize how large the green onions were getting until I cut this one! These were store onions that I just stuck in the ground. They grow back each time I cut them. I also picked a puny red pepper and a smallish Poblano. The salsa is still a work in progress.

Onion Peppers

The past week has been very active for the eggplant. It grew…

Eggplant

and grew…

Eggplant2

and grew! Since I’m not familiar with what these are supposed to look like, I am not sure when to pick it. I’m thinking I’ll pick it this weekend, since the consequences of waiting too long seem to outweigh the risk of picking too soon.

Eggplant-big

Here is Super Eggplant’s sidekick. I don’t know why it looks so different, but I think a bug got ahold of it.

Eggplantnew

The second batch of bananas is looking good. First batch is also coming along nicely, too. They sure are taking a long time, though.

Bananas2

This is the string lily AJ brought back from the river. We keep it in a container under the AC condensation drip. It is going great, and bloomed this week.

String-Lily

The blooms were short-lived, but very delicate and pretty. I can’t say my husband doesn’t bring me flowers! The kind he brings are much more interesting and thoughtful than those bought in a store.

String-Lily-Bloomed

Not only that, but he can smoke a mean pork tenderloin! Yum!

AJ-Cuts-Pork-Tenderloin

Yesterday was a special treat. We stopped in at John Roger’s to pick up some bamboo. John is a local horticultural guru and, as I’ve said before, one of the most knowledgeable and unassuming guys you could ever hope to meet.

Bamboo-John

Even though he was on his way to run errands he took the time to give us another tour of his property to show us some of the things he has growing, as well as some nice mounds of mulch and compost. Had you told me, a year ago, that I’d get a thrill from compost I would have looked at you askance!

Nor did I even know of heirloom and heritage varieties, about which I am now quite excited. John Rogers is a true steward of the land and cultivator of native and unique plant varieties.

As we headed to the compost heap we stopped to admire his massive watermelon and squash vines. He promptly plucked this little jewel and bequeathed it upon me. What’s the big deal? This is a renowned, historic gem of the squash persuasion: A Seminole Pumpkin Squash (Cucurbita moschata), to be exact.

At the recent Funky Chicken Farm seed swap, John Rogers encouraged me to get some Seminole Pumpkin Squash seeds. I had never heard of this variety, but have since learned that it is a true heirloom, indeed developed by the Seminole Indians. They planted these hardy, natives at the base of palm trees, and allowed the vines to grow up the trunk and fronds. Considering how robust the plants seem to be, I imagine that this was quite a sight! Wish I had brought my camera to John’s place!

Seminole-Pumpkin-Squash

I cooked the squash in the smoker, using my father’s recipe for acorn squash: A chunk of butter, a sprinkling of brown (raw) sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. It looked beautiful, and tasted much like sweet potatoes. AJ, didn’t take to it, since he is not much for sweet food. Strange for the guy who can devour ice cream and candy bars like they are going out of style, and who is currently drinking a Pina Colada! Oh well.

I’ve got some seeds and will be planting Seminole Pumpkin Squash this weekend.

Here they are in the smoker, which was still hot from the pork tenderloin.

Pump-Squash-Smoked

The original reason for going to John Roger’s (AKA Bamboo John) was to pick up a cutting of the lovely striped bamboo (Bambusa Vulgaris), which I managed to kill last time. I think we will get it right this go round , and hope to have a stand going soon. Thanks again, John!

Bambusa-Vulgaris

So far, a good two weeks. I will try to get the wrap-up posted on Sunday evening.

Have a Happy 4th of July!





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!





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.