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 This is an outdated shot, now; but the Poblanos were getting bigger.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






The Garden (Rated PG 13)

9 06 2009

How quickly we can go from drought to deluge. It has been raining almost every day; and the garden is showing both the positive and negative effects of this.

Let’s go ahead and cover the “challenges” first:

Gardening Challenges

Spots on Cherry Tomato leaves: I have no clue. Nitrogen issues, Blight, Over-watering? I haven’t had time to delve into it; but I did cut off most of the damage. The plant is still cranking out cherry tomatoes, so we’ll watch and wait.

Cherry-Tomato-Leaves

Cherry-Tomato-Leaves2

The stem has a white fuzzy growth, which screams “fungus” to me. Since these photos were taken, things appear to have improved. I’ll focus on this more when I get a chance.

Cherry-Tomato-Stem

Pale Celery. I’m pretty sure this has to do with the haphazard transplanting I did. I did fertilize last week and after last Sunday’s Atomic Grow application they greened up considerably.

Celery

Pale Red Pepper leaves. Possibly root-bound, over-watered or underfertilized. I’ll try to help this plant this week. It is still making peppers, so I think it will be OK.

Red-Pepper-Plant

The pickleworms are back, and are now attacking the broccoli. The advice that I have found is to either poison with pesticide or give up the idea of gardening in the summer. Well, I’m too stubborn for that. The unfortunate part is that by the time I find them, they have destroyed an entire stem. I have begun to alternate between pinching them to death, and leaving the leaf intact and dousing the entry hole with Atomic Grow™. Atomic Grow™ is not a pesticide, but it makes insects pretty miserable, so it’s worth a shot.

Caterpillar-in-Brocolli

Entrance hole with frass (poop).

Frass-Broccoli

It’s not all bad news. When I first discovered these little monsters, some were already dead and rotting inside their hidey holes. I hope they died from alcohol poisoning as an effect of the increased sugars the plant produces on Atomic Grow™. I sprayed everything today and will update when something happens.

Dead-Vine-Borer

Squash Bugs. Shown here on the cucumber plant. I suspect they are responsible for the sick watermelon vine that is not doing well at all. In honor of their name I have been busily squashing them. Feel free to drop by and stomp to your heart’s content. We’ve got plenty to go around!

Stink-Bug

Harlequin Bug. Isn’t she Pretty? Pretty evil! See that shriveled up broccoli leaf? Thanks a lot you little six-legged piece of abstract art with sucking mouth parts! She is now a “Mashed Bug”, too.

Harlequin-Bug

Are you impressed that I knew it was a female? It wasn’t hard, since she left her Beetlejuice-looking eggs under another leaf. I did a lot of squashing that day.

Harlequin-Bug-Eggs

One more downer and then I’ll move on to the good stuff. The three baby cucumbers I got excited about all shriveled up like this. Yes, that really sucks. However, I did some research tonight and learned that female cucumber flowers do this when not properly pollinated. Even though it looks like a cucumber, it is still waiting to snuggle with a bee as long as the flower is there. I figure that since these babies were buried under the big, lush leaves they didn’t get to meet up with the pollinators. I have since learned how to pollinate with an artist’s brush whenever I find one of these little gals. Speaking of sex…don’t go away. There is some sex at the end of this post.

Cucumber-Casualty

Good news and bad news: The bananas are still doing their thing; but there are only going to be six. All of the following flowers have dropped off. AJ has done some research and learned that the bananas are formed from female flowers, Usually there are multiple hands and then many rows of sterile flowers that drop off along the stem. I’m pretty sure I jinxed them by expecting a huge bunch of bananas. We figure this puny output has to do with lack of fertilizer and/or water. AJ is on the job and we will be working to ensure larger families in the future.

Bananas

Gardening Victories

The muskmelons are doing great. Nothing would irk me more than to lose these to the squash vine borers (pickleworms). I learned online that covering the fruit can prevent the moths from laying eggs on them. Paper bags were mentioned, but seemed to be messy and to fall apart when wet. Not a good option for rainy Florida.

Muskmelon

Then I found a blog by someone using pantyhose to protect her melons. Best use of pantyhose ever! I have covered a couple of the largest muskmelons and will track their progress in relation to the uncovered ones. So far, so good.

Muskmelon-covered

Despite the pest problems, the broccoli is still going strong. I don’t know whether or not I will get any broccoli, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Broccoli

The baby heirloom tomatoes are getting big. I have got to get these things planted ASAP!

Heirloom

Pole beans are finally starting to climb. So far, these are the most perplexing of all my crops. They have taken off this week, so maybe there is still hope.

Pole-Bean

Here is a detail of The Oasis last night, showing the Poblanos, Tomatoes and Carrots.

Poblanos-Detail

This is the Poblano on the left before we went out of town. It grew quite a bit while we were gone.

Poblano

Despite the issues, the Cherry Tomatoes continue to proliferate.

Cherry-Tomatoes-Lower-Part

The regular tomatoes also continue to thrive. I counted over sixty on this trellis today.

Tomato-Fest

June 3rd’s Harvest

June-03-Harvest

The Oasis as it greeted us on Sunday.

Oasis-Wet

O2. Both beds are looking a bit overgrown, as the lettuce is going to seed and the tomatoes are completely out of control. I’m formulating the next phase, once the lettuce plants are removed. Be sure to read the Palmarosa post for some great news about seeds I was given by my cousin Alan.

O2

The mystery guests are growing up fast. One day soon, you’ll be looking back and reminiscing about how it seems like only yesterday that they looked just like bird poop. They will move past this awkward stage within a week or so.

Mystery-Guests

And last but not least…

“Birds do it, bees do it, lizards on the trees do it.” Or something like that.

Lizards-Do-It





Bamboo, Bamboo and more Bamboo!

10 04 2009

We got home with the bamboo on Wednesday and crashed. Thursday, after work we set up a processing center in the driveway. Bamboo is messy, branchy, leafy and sharp! I processed my pile of thin bamboo and AJ processed the big stuff. Sawzall, branch cutters and a machete were involved.

Processing

AJ deals with the especially difficult pieces.

Finishing-up

I pose with the sawzall.

Cutting

Today, AJ finished processing the big stuff, and put it under the RV to cure. Once it has dried for a couple of weeks we will treat it and use it in the new fence.

Bamboo-Curing

Here is my small stuff. It looks like a lot, but I bet Oasis2 takes the all of it.

Finished-Thin-Bamboo

This shot of Oasis2 should explain why I’m chomping at the bit to get the trellis built and the beans planted. The chaos in the background is Jack’s lot. He’s a fascinating and nice old guy; but his sense of aesthetics is vastly different than ours. This afternoon, Jack came around and sat on his trailer to talk to me while I worked. He said that he loved our gravel and couldn’t get over how great it looks. He said the bamboo brought back memories of WWII. They used it to build traps and cages for the Japanese. While we were talking the park manager came by with a notice about the Health Department citations. Jack has been ordered to clean up his lot, cover the boat with a tarp and get tags on his vehicles. I’ve been in this park too long to expect much of a change. There is only so much you can do with hoarders like Jack. I am very fond of the guy, but I do not enjoy looking at his junk. I keep my fingers crossed that the pole beans, lima beans and cucumbers fill in the trellis and obscure the view.

Oasis2-in-works

Here is the experimental stage of the trellis. I dug holes up to my elbows and buried five poles. The horizontal bamboo wasn’t long enough to span the length, so I changed plans and went for a diagonal look with three poles.

Trellis-in-process

It’s still a little crooked because I ran out of twine to tie it together. I will straighten it out a bit, and AJ said he would trim the ends for me.  I’m not very concerned since it is quite sturdy and I don’t plan to see much of it in a month or two. It’s not large enough to hide the entire mess, but I hope it helps.

Trellis-done

Here is a photo that AJ took when I wasn’t looking. I’m cutting the long pieces into small fascia, which I will pound into the ground around the raised beds.

Cutting-Fascia

Here’s The Oasis. Take a good look at this and try to take your mind off of the previous image.

Oasis041009

The ebay auctions bombed. I didn’t make enough to buy the topsoil. We planned to get it with our pay, but we did not get paid today; so I don’t know what will happen. The beans are sending out very long tendrils and really need to get into the ground. I may cash in my change jar and buy a couple of bags of soil just to get the beans planted.

Tomorrow is another day of labor. We are aching, exhausted and all scratched up.  See you on the flip side.





The Gravel Project: Part 4

29 03 2009

UPDATE: Please see this post for important results concerning this mulching project!

AJ and I awoke Saturday feeling the pain of the previous day’s labor. He laughed when I told him “I feel like I went to the gym, used every piece of equipment and then fell asleep in the tanning bed.”

With company on the road to our place we pulled ourselves together and set about getting the place ready for company. AJ worked on some projects outdoors while I gave the inside a much needed scrubbing.

After our guests had arrived and we had all eaten dinner, we took to the yard to admire it some more. I have been a rock and fossil hound since as early as I can recall; and have eccentric collections of all sorts of items picked up from in and on the ground. This gravel excited me so much more than the common chipped marble  because this is composed of fossilized shells. We now possess an expanse of million year old relics, many of which have survived in perfect condition. Before sunset and with wine glasses in hand, AJ and I went “beachcombing” on our ancient beach to pick out some great specimens.

Here is a closeup of the #57.

Gravel-2

And, here is a closeup of the washed shell gravel.

Gravel-Detail

Here are some of the shells we found. These are true fossils, with no shell material remaining.

Fossil-Shells
Fossil-Shells-2
Fossil--Shells-3

Here is a closeup of  my baby carrots.

Carrots

And here is a closeup of the bibb lettuce.

Bibb-Lettuce

As dusk settled in I remarked upon how much better the yard smelled with the “catbox” far removed. As if on cue, the wind shifted and blew from the West bringing in the delicious fragrance from the nearby orange groves. Imagine the finest, sweetest citrus air freshener filling all of the outdoors.

Next weekend I will get the soil for The Oasis 2 and get my rapidly growing beans and melons planted. I plan to build a huge trellis out of bamboo, which when grown in should block the monstrous eyesore behind us. The Atomic Veteran is a sweet and kind man, but he chooses to collect junk like a professional hoarder.





The Gravel Project: Part 3

29 03 2009

Friday was a looooong day. By sundown the project was completed and we were exhausted.

Here are some shots of our handiwork:

Gravel11
Gravel12

Here is a closeup of the succulent garden.

Gravel3

Gravel2

Here’s the driveway with the car parked in it.

Gravel4

The containers are the beginnings of “The Oasis 2” More pickle buckets and a polyethylene barrel cut into 1/3rds. It contained a soy based liquid used in spray foam insulation. The MSDS states that it is only dangerous when inhaled. The liquid has solidified and I believe the containers will be fine for garden beds.

AJ filled in the gap behind the banana trees on Saturday. It looks even better now.

Gravel6

Gravel5

Here is The Oasis from the other side. The edges look rough in the photo, but in real life it looks nice. I was thrilled to have enough gravel to expand beyond the banana trees and devil’s backbone. It really feels like a beachy desert island.

Gravel13

Gravel7

Oasis032909

Gravel1





February in Central Florida

8 02 2009

It looks like a year has vanished since I started this.

For some reason, a few people on reddit.com have expressed an interest in reading my blog.  I’ve given a good deal of thought to what I should write to keep it interesting. I know blogs are supposed to have a set theme; but the only theme I can stick to would be “Whatever happens to pop into my head or my world on any given day”. So, I’ll give it a go and see what happens.

One year later we are still in the same spot in the same park. A lot of moves have been in the works, including the time we were accepted for a mortgage on a house we couldn’t afford. A couple of days before closing the loan was rejected, not because it was unwieldy for us, but because of a zoning issue. We could have changed financing vehicles and continued on, but common sense set in and we decided to take that as a message.

Good move that was, on our part. The housing market and economy took a huge dump immediately thereafter. The house is still for sale and has been marked down about $30,000.00.

We also got a wild hair about having a lagoon view and got ready to move to a park right on the water under a beautiful canopy of oak trees. It was $90.00 more per month than here, but the view was great. We made some observations and decided that we couldn’t handle the horrendous noise from the constant swarm of Bikers who frequent the bar just up the road. I guess enough people enjoy having their eardrums ruptured by idots gunning their pipes to show off how inefficiently their cooling systems work that the noise ordinances are overlooked.

So, here we are still in the same place. Acceptance has kicked in and I got to work on a garden. This park is built on a leveled sand dune and there is nothing resembling fertile soil anywhere around. All the soil I have brought in quickly leeches away with the heavy rain we get in the spring and summer.

My garden began when we first got here, with some concrete rings we salvaged from one of our construction sites. Filled with good soil they were perfect for my herb collection. Gradually we became more and more interested in the idea of growing some vegetables and my current layout evolved.

Over a month or two I collected 5 gallon buckets from delis and restaurants and placed them in a large oval. My husband (AJ) picked up two truckloads of topsoil which I used to fill in the buckets and center section, as well as my recycled concrete rings. Next, AJ went out and collected a great stack of bamboo, which he cut into workable lengths. I pounded these bamboo stakes into the ground around the buckets (which I had painted black), to create an attractive fascia. We ran out of bamboo and he recently picked up some more to finish the job.

In the meantime I planted some things. I’ll post a list later on. Next, we got a record cold spell (two actually). The garden survived, due to being covered, but not much has begun to grow. Today I will finish inserting the fascia stakes and then post some photos. The next project is to pick up some truckloads of gravel for the yard and driveway. I will finish the garden with white gravel and washed shell gravel (which is a nice fossiliferous material containing shells and coral). You will eventually find out that I am a fossil hound, so the idea of decorating my garden with them is a thrilling one for me.

I’m off to finish the garden and will make a new post with the photos. For now, take a look at the painted bunting that has been visiting our feeder. I joined a site called “Painted Bunting Observer Team” which tracks painted buntings at feeders throughout their breeding sites and migratory routes.

So far, I’ve logged two sightings, but I am out of food and have been too lazy to go get more. This week I’ll get more and try for some better photos. This one was shot through tinted glass on an overcast day, so the light didn’t allow for sharpness.