Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Frugality Challenge

Use It Up:

Saved peach pits for planting after learning that peach family pits will grow fruit when grown, unlike many other fruits found at the store.

Saved one peach that was getting mushy but was simply really ripe and had been slightly squashed (here at our house) by freezing it for later smoothies.

Incorporating the small bits of leftovers that might usually make it to the compost pile, in order to not waste any food in the fridge at this point. It all adds up. I've got to do better planning so that food I send in Jack's lunches is enough but not too much and therefore wasted.

Wear It Out:

Nothing out of the ordinary today.

Make It Do:

We're sharing the one remaining vehicle and cell phone between our two work schedules. It's a challenge on days/nights like these where the schedules overlap.

Do Without:

Convenience and some sleep. I'm losing sleep because of our double driving of the car, but that's gotta happen. We have to have the jobs and are grateful for them!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Small Challenge For Myself

I'm so short on time these days that many challenges I see at other blogs (when I even get a chance to visit any!) are something I long to participate in, but KNOW I won't follow through on because I'd be neglecting things here at home and spending a bit too much time at the keyboard.

Nevertheless, I'll loosely organize a few things into a gentle challenge for myself under the familiar quip of the frugal "Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Do Without"

Maybe I can handle those 4 things :)


1. Use it up: I pureed some leftover roasted butternut squash and included it in a batch of fudge brownies I made. They tasted wonderful, not weird, which was a relief.

Processing the harvested okra and purple hull peas gets away from me on the days it needs to be done right then and I can't. But I want to use every bit. So I hull the peas and freeze them, to cook later in supper-sized portions. I freeze the hulls separately and really want to make jelly from them soon.

2. Wear it out: I've put off buying more jeans, and am mending these and just re-using them. I do need a new blouse/shirt or two, but there are no functions I need to attend wearing anything fancy, so will look for something on sale in the next couple months. I have few clothes, and many of those are faded or stained. Now they're "work clothes" for the garden.

3. Make it do: I turned an old skirt into a drawstring apron. I have terrible sewing skills, so this is not a very cute apron, ha!

I'm also making our own herbal tea, and getting two teabags out of one, with regular flow-through generic tea bags from the store. I wanted to add some of our own moringa leaves that have dried and I've crumbled to a powder consistency, and I like the taste better when mixed with regular tea and steeped in hot water. So I take regular tea bags, cut them open and add the powdered moringa, and then staple them shut again and use them. If I have time, I cut them in two and get two teabags out of it instead of one..if there's not enough teabag left, I can cut a square from our old coffee filters I don't use, and it works great that way.

Big ol' plastic bins as fire ant protection --Jack also solved a problem about getting bitten by our fire ants, which are everywhere in the garden and have wreaked havoc with us when we're covered with them. They're unavoidable, and we're not going to blast chemicals, etc. I get two of the big plastic bins (no holes in bottom) and put those wherever I want to stand to harvest or tend an area of plants, such as the okra that I have to pick. One of my feet is in one bin, the other in the other. It's easy to shuffle around the area in them, and they are so big the ants never make it up the sides and over to my feet. I do look a bit funny using them, but I don't care. I keep my balance pretty well and also feel a bit better protected from any surprise snake attacks. Boots might do the trick, but I don't have any and I feel the fire ants would probably scale those after a while.

4. Do Without: I'm not sure why, but lately I've had an urge to go shopping "just because." I think I get that way sometimes when we're very goal focused and every penny goes to its designated place with nothing to spare. No complaints, though! I'm finding that if I don't have a certain thing on hand in the kitchen for cooking, our stock in the pantry yields an alternative that's just as good!

Okra Loves...Bermuda?

I cut our first okra pods today, many of which were too large and should have been cut days earlier. I'll be checking the plants daily or every other day now so I'll get them at the tender stage.

The reason I'm impressed with the okra is that they've survived a lot of extremes and still flourished. More of our attention went to other areas of the garden and lot. Early on, we had spread 8 inches (yep, 8 inches deep) of manure and woodshavings from a nearby horse barn over that area. At the time, there was little grass, and very very hard sand underneath. There was also drought for months...all spring.

I was really trying to see a green bean patch get a good start, and our limited time focused more on those than on the okra. The okra was planted in rows alternately beside rows of lima beans. The limas succumbed to our neglect not because we didn't water them when small, but because the Bermuda grass was so invasive and our budget didn't stretch to laying down landscaping fabric or rolls of plastic. We had some boxes, but that bermuda grew overnight. It swallowed the limas alive, and covered the okra entirely. Still, we left the okra sections unmowed...in hopes of what, I don't know, but I guess we wanted to see what would happen.

I'm glad we did! What happened was not in the category of Garden Beautiful, but those okra plants, which we had bungled by planting too closely together and in the middle of a drought, and then neglected to thin or weed, and later discontinued watering...kept on holding their own. Pretty soon their tops surpassed the top of the Bermuda. We were curious to see which would ultimately triumph.

Interestingly, some of them survived, and started maturing. I don't advise anyone to duplicate our way of growing it...we'd have a much better return if we'd planned better, tended them better. But one thing we learned was that okra can hold its own even in the midst of thick Bermuda. It LOVES punishing heat. The deer seem to leave it alone. It also survives days of rain. And neglect. The pods were disease-free, and insects of all sorts were among its leaves, but with no damage noted. These two small patches yielded 4 lbs of pods at first picking.

If I were to speculate, a better-tended patch or set of rows would be one of the easiest veggies to grow here.

It's a keeper! Now the question is...does it NEED Bermuda to grow so well?? haha :)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

False Roselle

I hope your week has been busy and fulfilling and that new things are sprouting!
Here are some seeds Jack planted a while back...new to our garden, cranberry hibiscus, or false roselle. They are naturally nematode and insect resistant, and will tolerate sandy soil. We saw them growing at the ECHO test farm to the size of a fairly large shrub. This pic was taken in the shade...in the sunlight the leaves really stand out with a glowing ruby color. (The leaves remind me of Japanese maple leaves ) I still can't get over how beautiful each plant is, and how unique.
Just had to post a pic...the leaves are edible and taste like tart lemon :)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Calabaza: So Many Uses

I love multiple-use plants, especially if they're really hardy. Our calabazas recently had to be harvested after we found evidence of some borer damage, but what a bounty that one vine provided us!

We harvested over 90 lbs from the one plant, and it gave no evidence of quitting! Here is what it provided us:

1. Leaves for cooked greens
2. Blossoms for fresh salads or frying
3. Immature fruits for use as summer squash
4. Mature fruits for use as storage pumpkins
5. Seeds for roasting
6. Really beautiful variegated foliage and stunning flowers

For more about our experience so far with growing this plant, it's my post today at NotDabblingInNormal...maybe you'll want to try calabaza, too!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Advice Needed: Squash Vine Borers?

It is time to harvest some of our calabazas, which are in the pumpkin/gourd/winter squash family. About half of them had some damage. Here is the hole in the stem of one of them, wiped free of the sawdust-like frass from some insect. The stem interior was intact (not eaten out) but something got in right there close to the calabaza. In trying to read up on what it might be, the only thing I could find was squash vine borer.

However, here is another fine calabaza, but the hole, which is no larger around than the diameter of a toothpick, is right in the side of the pretty tough shell. Do squash vine borers drill right into tough shells?

Here's a closeup. The brown stuff, I'm guessing, is frass...otherwise known as bug poop.
The calabaza vines are each 50 feet long, and the older parts of the vines do wilt in midday, which I only now read might be further evidence there are borers in there wreaking havoc. However, I 've not seen any evidence on the vines themselves. I've also not seen the moths that are supposed to be present in the daytime, but I do see a lot of wasps, none of them with the red midsections the borers are said to have.
Does anyone know if this is squash vine borer damage for sure? I went ahead and harvested all the calabazas regardless of size since finding the damage, and 4 of the 9 have the holes...all in different places. Only one has the hole in the stem...the others have a single hole, like above, in the shell itself, some right in the side, one in the bottom.
All advice is welcome! I'm not sure what to do. We've thought maybe of cutting the old vine sections and pulling them and disposing of them off-property and seeing how the new vines do....or alternately, of just pulling it all up and hoeing the area to expose the soil to the sun in case there are any bad guys down in there, and replanting with a different type crop.
Help! :)

Friday, June 19, 2009


(Clicking on image will enlarge)
There are amazing worlds right before my eyes. Whether it's in a pot or in the ground, the beauty that surrounds me in what we often consider simple things mesmerizes me...and I feel like a child again.
I love the way leaves are patterned, and how the sun backlights stems, veins, tendrils, and petals of plants. I love the hiding places under umbrellas of leaf clusters...the places where lizards and shady things lurk in their busy semi-hidden worlds. I love the worlds of insects that go about their business, nonplussed by my presence, and the birds that fuss at me and then work up the courage to nip down to a favorite plant nearby for a juicy bug or chance seed.
I love how the earth drinks the water, from rain or from the hose, down...and how it pools slightly when it's had enough for the moment. I love the beads of moisture in the morning dews, or just after the rains, when all the blades of grasses and the leaf curves are jeweled with them.
I love the sounds, and knowing what birds are in the thicket even when I can't see them. I love the crunches, the soft swishes, the aliveness of walking among the garden, aware. I learn secrets. I learn where the velvet ants have their nests under the leaf mould, where the fire ants attempt to make towers of sand, where finger-sized lizards hide and play and court their mates. I watch tightly-rolled leaf blades unfurl as they grow towards the sun, and I see fuzzy pumpkin vines push past the limits of their boundaries, always questing for more places unknown.
I see where the armdillos rooted and tilled at night among the rows for juicy subterranean treats, without much consideration for my planting schemes. I also found the places, right in the middle of the nearly-mature pea patch, where two small deer must have nestled themselves one evening, content after the rain had cleared.
I hear the sticky, suction sound of tree frogs that climb our windows at night outside to make the most of the flying insects the light attracts, and their squeaky-toy songs.
The plants, the birds, the insects, the soil, the air currents, the moisture, the heat, the night sounds and smells, the fragrances...are a moving and living masterpiece, always changing.
I'm so grateful for such beauty, so thankful to God. It is all I need to know He is good.
I don't need much when there is so much to witness and be a part of, in these secret worlds in my own square of dirt...if it can even be said to be anyone's at all. Whomever's it is, I'm really glad to be welcomed into these moments. They feed me like the fullest table.
I hope you're finding the wonders in the worlds hidden nearby...the garden, woods, plants, animals.
I think contentment just may be the best sort of excitement around :)
Shabbat shalom

Thursday, June 18, 2009

First, We Picked You...

Then we hulled you...

Then we snapped the little tender ones and mixed them in...

Then, I cooked you.
And then we "et" you.
We stood right over the pan and ate you with a spoon till there was NO MORE.
Time to go pick some more!!
Anyone want to come over for some hot cornbread and purple hulls? Bring homegrown tomatoes and little green onions. The iced tea awaits!
(hooray for our first harvest food to eat this year....wooooo!!!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009

Our First Real Crop?

Finally...I think we're going to have an edible crop of something! These purple hulls have exceeded our hopes and have survived our gardening ignorance. And now they're trying to swallow the garden chair alive...woo!

Here's a before pic (below). The Bermuda grass is obvious. Next to the purple hulls were planted Blue Lake bush snap beans. Both were off to a great start. But in the later stages, with the same care, watering, intermittent drought and constant heat, the snaps couldn't hack it. I'm glad we did a test plot to compare these...the ability of the cowpeas to handle the vagaries of our climate at this time of year really stand out.

Here's the After shot...it's a small patch. The cowpeas managed to compete with the Bermuda enough to stand on their own ...
These will be ready to pick before too long...yay!!

Here's the baby calabaza we planted a few weeks ago. The other one is mature and has very long vines going all over the place. This one is so small it barely shows in the picture. This is the Before shot, below... Jack placed freshly-cut willow branches over it, mainly to keep our neighbor, who dumps horse stall manure on the lot, from accidentally running it over.

Here it is as of a few days ago. Calabaza, in reading more about it, is a crop that can be grown as far north as the New England states, if started in plenty of time.

A few of the calabazas never finish developing past the baby stage...they yellow and simply fall off. Some do make it, and we have several on the first plant that will hopefully make it to the harvest stage before long. Here's a pic of one, below...

and another smaller one. We've placed spare plastic lids under some of them when we thought the failure of some of the small fruits might have been due to insect damage from below. We're not sure there's any advantage to placing the lids beneath them, but have just kept them there because they seem to be doing fine in the meantime. We may have about 7 or 8 mature calabazas developing at this time, and several other very small ones that might or might not make it to maturity.

That's the update for now. We've officially entered hurricane season, which is supposed to be wet and rainy, but for us the spring has had very little rain and recently quite intense heat. I sure hope we have some more rain. The few showers that came a couple weeks ago reallyyyyy helped all the growing things!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I'm not here much at the computer, but we're staying quite busy.

I'm not sure what's going on with our calabaza vine. It's in the pumpkin family and has quite a few developing fruits that are larger, but the small ones I see trying to develop at the ends of the vines will initially make a small fruit, but then turn yellow practially overnight and simply fall off. We are trying to water consistently in this drought and I'm not sure what is happening to the small calabazas in those crucial developing stage...the ones that make it past that seem to be fine.

Doing well at the moment are the limes we planted in the ground, the jujube we planted out, and the moringas. Bermuda has overtaken everything crop-wise in the ground except for the purple hull peas...I've got to say they've outrun even the Bermuda! The snap beans we had such high hopes of harvesting are so far a disappointment. They are stressed, and have fingernail-size beans all over them that don't seem to be growing further. Arghh! But hey, we're learning.

Jack's doing regular digging and raising our yard level in certain spots by hand...which takes time. So far the kiwi vine and the grapevine are soldiering along.

We found that clustering the pots works much better for most our plants still in containers. We're only using our containers to raise plants to a stage that can be transplanted safely, but we do have a cluster of very small trees/shrubs that we're not disturbing simply because in their center are our two small figs that have NEVER done well for us until this year. They like to be snuggled in the protection of the other plants and are loaded with small figs this year. We're waiting till they finish fruiting, and then we'll move the surrounding plants into the ground, except for a few that need to remain in containers a while longer, which we'll snuggle up to the in-ground transplants in the meantime at their new locations because they seem to benefit from not standing alone.

We're noticing an upsurge of pollinators now in comparison with a couple months ago. yay!

We renewed the seed in the bird feeder for the first time since we initially moved here. We had decided at one point not to go with the feeders when we thought we'd be relocating soon. Be we have no timeframe for relocating at present, so that's why so many of the potted plants are going into the ground, and I noticed the birds visit the garden a lot. After reading in Gaia's Garden, I feel good about putting out treats for our feathered friends. They're my favorite entertainment in the cool of the early morning or evening, and if I'm still enough, they feed rather close without seeming worried. I think they forget I'm there when I've very still, because yesterday an adolescent cardinal that's still being beak-fed by its parents flew off from the feeder and sat only a foot away from me on the wheelbarrow handle, completely unaware I was that close. I love those moments!

I'm off to do some more things on the list...just checking in :)

Thank you to the many friends here who sent your comments and thoughts our way at the loss of my friend last week. I pulled the post after a couple days because I felt that it was too personal to leave up, but your words were lovely and I appreciate your friendship across the miles :)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Heat and Drought Plant Update

While most of the rest of the country is considering building arks because of the torrential rains, in this one little corner of Florida, I can count the total hours of rain since January on one hand.
So here's our update in light of the current high temps and low precipitation...

Doing well: The volunteer calabaza plant. We lost a lot of developing fruits to something that appeared to have cut them right from the stem at an early stage, but there have been continual flowers, even to this day. The vines have gone nuts -- each at about ten plus feet in length and counting. We're letting them trail around and through the 5 gallon buckets of small seedlings, sort of as a nurse plant to provide some semi-shade. Yesterday, Jack counted 7 surviving fruits still plumping up in various stages of development, and we're testing putting some of those many plastic bucket lids under them -- one under each fruit to keep it from lying directly on the ground. I don't know if this is wise or foolish, but we want to see if it thwarts anything that might be trying to come upwards from the ground to devour the young pumpkins/squash.

We also have had success in harvesting batches of the young leaves and slicing them chiffonade-fashion and cooking them as greens. How does this plant handle the heat? It's one of the few that is growing like crazy despite the heat. It wilts badly in the middle of the day, and by the end of the day is perky again. We do water it daily. It seems to be stronger than the Bermuda, and though it doesn't choke out the Bermuda, it towers over it and still goes strong.

So, all in all, the calabaza is a keeper for the summer...so far.

The snap beans: What started off with a bang is hating the drought and extreme heat. I'll have to take pictures, but we do not have irrigation set up to water the snap bean patch daily, and we're under heavy water restrictions and fines in our area due to the drought. So they're mature and even have flowers and small beans on them, but the heat and lack of daily watering have taken their toll. We probably will have no harvest for these this summer by the looks of things. This is a real disappointment after such a great start. We'll have to plant these later in the year when the temps are better regulated and hopefully when we get some steady rains.

The purple hull peas (cowpeas): They're amazing. Planted at the same time as the snaps, and even at later dates for some of the rows, they're heads and shoulders bigger than the snap bean plants, are a vigorous deep green, and are as hardy as all get-out. They've taken the same limited waterings as the snaps, but utilized the water better and really managed to handle the drought amazingly. There are no flowers on them yet, so we're not sure we planted at the right time of year (will they set flowers so they can produce?)...but they're lush and we've tested the leaves at the young stage for cooking greens, and they are simply delicious! We'll see if they produce a crop of cowpeas or not...if so, we have another winner. If we had livestock, it would be a double winner, cowpeas or no, because it's evident the plants are lush enough to use as fodder or to dry for hay.

There are only a few other plants we have growing just now that seem to be heat and drought-hardy. These are :
1. The moringa seedlings
2. Papaya seedlings
3. Malangas
4. Yerba Buena (in part shade)
5. Thai jujube tree
6. The baby guava trees
7. Two small lime and one lemon tree starts.
8. Cranberry hibiscus (edible)...let's see if they make it...
9. The okra
10. The gardenias
11. The brush cherry. No pests seen on this at all, and it survived all the freezes.

The two small fig trees in pots are surviving this year due to our clustering the containers of trees together (not with the citrus, though), and they have a lot of fruit developing now.

We went ahead and put the citrus in the ground finally...it's too stressful keeping them contained and not knowing what our final timeframe for relocation is. So in the ground they went, and seem to be doing well even having been transplanted during this weather. We keep them well watered. The key limes, however, were wimpy in the pots and still look wan after transplanting, so we're not really sure how they'll end up doing.

We were hoping to have some actual food being harvested by now from some of our efforts, namely the snap beans. The ones in pots produced a few, but are stressed from the heat. The ones in the bean patch I already commented on above, and it looks like the harvest will be negligible.

A lot of Floridians skip the summer as far as growing things, for these very reasons...heat and drought. Or depending on location, heat and monsoon :) When we visited the ECHO test gardens, they have plants growing smack in the middle of the hottest summer months, and we have yet to test many of those. Tepary beans, madagascar beans, and winged beans are some that come to mind. We actually have many of these sitting ready for planting, but we haven't started them yet.

We're down to one vehicle now, to share between two commutes and separate jobs however possible. This is a recent development, and a challenge. We're also down to fewer gardening hours with the changing work schedules, and very sporadic watering. One emphasis at the moment is to get all our present plants situated well, either in-ground, sited for better heat endurance, or some cleanup of the tired experimental subjects we've been playing with but are not thriving.

We need to be growing more actual food. We're not set up with some of the things we need, and so we're still in the semi-experimental stages. Which drives me crazy when I just want some tomatoes and peppers. But it's where we are presently. I suppose learning what does NOT work for us is helping us in the long run.

I do have to say that the eighty degree temps were pretty enjoyable until the mercury rose to the nineties. I'm not a happy outdoor person in the mid and high nineties, no matter how much some want to romanticize gardening. But seeing some plants thrive despite the oven-like temps still does my heart good.

The coffee trees are probably a wash...they look really bad since those freezes and have never bounced back.

I have a fanciful notion of trying to find some wild plum seedlings...I've always loved the way the air smells when plums are ripe and fallen on the ground.

That's all for now...I feel like I have nothing exciting to report. It's hot....HOT. And so very dry. It's at this point all nostalgia for living without AC vanishes entirely (y'know, those fancies of living in the log cabin with only a wood stove??), and I kiss my thermostat. My job requires me to work in unairconditioned environs, and after my shift I'm entirely physically wrung out. The range is 86-94 degrees at night where I work, and after that shift, I feel like I've been wrung out like a wet washrag.

Oh yeah...and I love ice. It's my affordable luxury. I pour myself some tea or water, and watch the icy tears of condensation weep down the glass...and I sigh happily as my garden bakes and we all pray for rain...again.

Officially, or not, summer's here with a vengeance.