My Dress Rehearsal

3 09 2009

I knew I was in trouble when I received this fortune cookie with last week’s indulgence of Chinese take out.

Failure

Chinese take out is bad for you and this week just proves it.

Writing has long been my favorite form of therapy; and (unfortunately for my readers) I have readers. Otherwise, I would scribble this stuff down in a notebook and tuck it away in some dark corner.

But paper notebooks don’t upload pictures, and I have pictures. I am reminded (by that annoying voice in my head) that every cloud has a silver lining. I am taking this post to review my most recent clouds and get busy looking for the linings.

These are in no particular order, except the most depressing part at the end because I don’t want to give you bum-out whiplash.

Cloud #1: Root knot nematodes

Nematodes

The name sounds like I’m talking about cartoon characters, doesn’t it? And these bulbous root growths I discovered when unearthing a tomato plant even look like something you’d see on Adult Swim. But, trust me, there is nothing funny about these little monsters! I thought the caterpillars were annoying, but they have nothing on these microscopic beasts.

I was digging up the expired plants in my garden beds in preparation to infuse my soil with a nice helping of composted road apples (that’s horse manure to you city folk), when I discovered my worst gardening nightmare. Up to this point my gardening woes have ranged somewhere between moderate annoyances and fascinating learning experiences. Mother Nature has upped the ante’ and bestowed upon me the wormy devils of the horticultural world: Root Knot Nematodes! I won’t bore you with the details of their biology, but if you are interested, you can go to The University of Florida IFAS Extension and learn all about them.

“Why are these tiny roundworms such a scourge?” you might ask. Because there is nothing on the market to kill  them. Right away I had a brainstorm and hopped online to see if it had been done. The idea was “Maybe I can cook these little suckers out of my soil with boiling water”. Lo and behold, this is the oldest treatment in the book, and one of the most effective. If one can saturate the soil with hot water, the nematodes will die. Manure also helps to deter them, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

So, off I went to grab the propane boiler, which I set up next to the Oasis and prepared to douse my soil with boiling water. Since my garden is divided up into various containers, I figured that I could get a good kill on in the empty sections and boil off each adjacent area as the plants died off. This all seemed like a great idea until I went to get the propane tank.

Cloud #2: Project aborted due to empty propane tank

Soil-Project

The fact that this rusty old tank is empty might actually be a silver lining, since AJ was certain it would rust through and blow us out of the park the next time it was lit.

Propane-Tank

Cloud #3: No Horse Manure

No picture needed for this one. Just look around you. If you don’t see horse manure, that’s what it looks like here, too. If you do see horse manure, please call me. I’ll be right over to pick it up!

I’m sure that were you to consult my astral chart for this week you would discover that my planet of communication is transiting the house of the planet where chainsaw exhibitions and tractor pulls take place.

I found a pile of horse manure for the taking by placing an ad on craigslist.org. Turns out it was available, but only if I could swoop in with a bobcat and get it without causing inconvenience to the owner. I made attempts to put together a horse manure party by organizing a group of people to come take it all at once. That didn’t work. Next, I suggested to the owner that Mike (my boss/friend/sometimes-nemesis) and I could come with two pickups and a trailer to get it. The email replies ceased at that time, so I guess the answer was “No”.

I’ve suffered a week-long inability to communicate properly (especially in writing). I have managed to unintentionally confuse, piss-off and annoy a good handful of people, one result of which being that I have no free fertilizer for my garden.

Cloud #4: Spaced Out Keyboard

Keyboard

Literally. The space bar has broken and constantly gets stuck in the down position. This causes the cursor to run off faster than Karl Rove from a congressional subpoena. Once I chase it down and start backing up, I end up deleting some of the characters of the previous word.

AJ tried to fix it by banging down real hard with his fist and then whacking the keyboard on the desk. I am officially starting a list of things that AJ can’t fix. So far, this is the first and only. Taking a more creative (and less hostile) approach, I popped out the space bar and taped the little springy wire part back in place with some pretty blue electrical tape. Now the cursor only bolts every once in a while. The silver lining here is that it helps me self-edit by reminding me that every superfluous word brings me that much closer to the next unsolicited space.

Cloud #5: Dropped Green Peppers

Giant-Bells

This one isn’t quite so bad. My amazing volunteer green pepper plants have been manufacturing some promisingly giant peppers. We have been watching and watering in anticipation of picking a bunch once they get really big and making a big batch of stuffed peppers.

This morning we discovered that the branch holding these two could no longer do it; and had dropped them to the ground. The silver lining is easy to find on this one. Two gorgeous, free, organic green peppers and many more maturing on the plants.

Cloud #6: My Beloved Stepmother spent the weekend in the hospital.

Judith went to the emergency room with edema and spent the weekend and all day Monday in the hospital. We have both discovered one silver lining on this one. She got a wake-up call that she needs to start taking oxygen and get back to using her CPAP machine for sleep apnea. Her heart is healthy and she can get better if she follows the doctor’s orders. She is also receiving some help at home. Still, this cloud is an especially dark one, since I live so far away and cannot afford to go up there when she needs me. She has always gone above and beyond the call of duty for a stepmother and I regret that I cannot repay her as I would like.

No picture here either, for the above mentioned reason.

There are a whole lot more little clouds, but I’m done dwelling on the bad stuff. I’m ready for the success for which I have apparently been rehearsing. I have great friends and great family, good health (mostly) and a wonderful life in comparison to so many unfortunate people in the world. With the exception of Cloud #6, my hopes are that we can all find some light humor in my misfortunes and missteps and look forward to a time when you don’t have to read so much griping from me:)

My friend and creative inspiration, Doug Havens, has invited me to collaborate on a brilliant creative project, which I hope to reveal in a future post. For now, please take a look at his wonderful imagery at “What I saw” and writing at “Who I met” and try to forget about all of my doom and gloom.

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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!





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





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