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.





Mr. Fix-it and more Silly Cat

3 07 2009

Why should these last two weeks be any different than the rest?

There are two things I can always count on around here.

1. AJ will be fixing something or researching how to fix something at all times. Here he is preparing to replace the radiator on the car:

AJ-Fixes-Radiator

He also helped the neighbors work on their broken stuff and is now working on the broken computer that has a devastating virus (thanks to me). When he isn’t fixing, he’s doing something else like smoking a pork loin. Yum. I’ll post photos of this (as well as a great gift we received yesterday) in my next edition.

2. The other thing I can always count on is that our neighborhood cat, Smokey, will continue to nap in entertainingly silly postures.

How can any of this be comfortable?

Smokey-on-Bin

Smokey-Chair

Smokey follows me around on all of my garden inspections, and (as though to demonstrate his cat prowess) he runs up the palm tree and hangs there for a brief few seconds before jumping to the ground.

Good times.

Smokey-Tree





Week in Review – Ready, Set, Grow!

22 06 2009

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

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

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

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

Car-Wash

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aphids

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

Aphids-Closeup

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

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

Aphids After AG2

Aphids-after-AG

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

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

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

Celery2

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

Celery

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

Red-Pepper-New-Growth

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

Attention: Veggie Creature coming up!

Italian-Parsley

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

Poblano-New-Growth

Boo!

Scream-Pepper

Does it remind you of this?

The_Scream or this?  Scary Movie

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

Watermelon-New

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

Watermelon

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

Baby-Watermelon

The carrots are much greener and putting out new growth.

Carrots

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

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

Tomatoes

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

Smokey now accompanies me on my morning and afternoon rounds.

Tomato-Alley

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

Papaya

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

Green-Spider

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

Oasis

And here is O2.

O2

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

Muskmelon

Remember the baby bananas? They are slowly growing.

Old-Bananas

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

New-Bananas

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

For now I leave you with Silly Cat:

Smokey-Sleeps

See ya’ very soon!





Week in Review…Preview

21 06 2009

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

Garden

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

Poblano

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

Crazy-Carrot

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

Today's-Harvest

Mr. Fix-It

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

Here he is fixing the battery tray on the truck.

Mechanic

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

Brake-Job

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

Smokey Hose

Mystery Guests

Remember the little bird poop look-alikes?

Mystery-Guests

They got more interesting…

Mystery-Guest

And much bigger.

Mystery-Guest2

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

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

MysteryGuestHammock

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

MysteryChrysalis

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

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

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

Diogmites (?) Robber Fly

Seed Swap at the Funky Chicken Farm

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

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

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

Etc.

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

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

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

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

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






Storms, Beetles and a Silly Cat

27 05 2009

Storms

The last two days have graced us with some exciting thunderstorms.

This was yesterday’s front, although today and just about every other Florida afternoon thunderstorm looks much the same.

Weather-Map

The clouds looked ominous and we got about 1/2″ of rain; but the lighting was minimal and the whole thing passed within a few minutes. The most interesting part was the smoke in the clouds. Apparently the storm brought remnants of a fire that it may have whipped up on the way.

Storm052609

Today’s storm was much more impressive. The NOAA weather radio went off and mentioned Micco (which it never does). The clouds rolled in fast with a good display of lightning. We got 3″ of rain within one hour. The yard turned into a temporary pond and the road was transformed into a river. We even heard some hail tinkling on the roof. Another quick mover, the storm was gone and the sun back out in just over an hour. Within a few more minutes the puddles had dried up.

We unplugged everything during the storm, but got a good show by looking out the windows.

Wind

AJ’s anemometer clocked the biggest gust it has ever measured:62.6 mph.

62.6-Gust

Beetles

Grapevine beetles (Pelidnota punctata) have been visiting my blacklight. They are common, but their size and mellow demeanor makes them fun to capture and inspect. I enjoy them because they look as though they are made of wood.

Grapevine-Beetle1

Grapevine-Beetle2

And last but not least…

Smokey the Silly Cat

Smokey-Naps