Monday, December 5, 2011

Happy Foraging!

Leaf types from top right, clockwise: Jujube, Gynura procumbens, Guava, Moringa , Narrow Leaf Plantago (plantain), Dollarweed, Nopal cactus pads

It's hard to believe winter's upon us and yet outside in the backyard everything is still green.  But so grows Florida!  The papaya tree now has 16 fat and heavy fruits winding up its stem, and counting...what fun!  The second one has smaller round fat ones and seems to be trying to keep up.

What's new in our neck of the woods?  Well, not enough new news to keep me blathering on here too often, since I just don't want to come here to fill blog space.  But my excitement comes in small things, and these days it's the plants and learning so many uses for their different parts.  Our focus has been plants that thrive in this climate without a lot of fuss, so that is a marriage of plants that usually get categorized separately into categories such as "fruit trees," "perennials," "culinary herbs," "medicinal herbs," and of course the one that makes me chuckle..."weeds."  (We so appreciate our native plants that I get more excited about weeds these days than I do a garden center full of exotics.  One gal's weeds are another gal's wonder plants!)   I do love me a native plant.  I also love the proven immigrant plants that over the years thrived right along side the native ones, as long as they don't bully them.

I probably don't write enough here about our harvests of leaves and greens because I still don't think of my backyard as a garden as such...until I walk under the moringa trees and pick some chaya leaves or guava leaves or other things I'm beginning to add to our repertoire of natural food and medicine.  Learning to USE these things has been a process, and it continues.  I'm just not used to the "un-garden" not in raised beds or tilled plots or rows.

But the good news is that so many common trees have leaves with edible uses, or medicinal.  So do "weeds," and so do some plants with a lot of staying power.

Pine needles harvested for making a mock balsamic vinegar and pine needle tea

My computer ate my Dummy-proof five option photo editing program somewhere along the line.  Or maybe it was so out of date it just retired early, ha!  But I'm using now and I'm having fun with the effects.   But back to the leaves...

One day I looked around our yard, counted the sorts of trees and shrubs we have (some we planted, others that are in the woods that border our property) and then researched any known food or medicinal uses for each of them.  The results were SO exciting!  Everything from pine trees to citrus to landscaping shrubs, and nearly all of them had some traditional use somewhere in the world as a food, a spice, a supplement, or a medicinal.  It has caused me to really stop and study these leaves I walk by so casually every day...inside of each of them is an array of nutrients I'd never be able to afford were I to try to fill my medicine chest or spice rack with the individual isolates.

Many are wonderful as teas.  Others are gentle herbal supports.  Others are powerful stimulant herbals.  Others are tonics and digestives.  Others make wonderful vinegars, syrups, flavorings.  Others contribute their benefits when made into balms, lotions, compresses, poultices.
Just picked from the backyard, my food and art:  Dollarweed, Plantain leaves, Pine needles.  Happiness in a basket!

As we nibble our way through the newness of the backyard greens, I may post here about some of them.

We are continuing to juice, mostly carrots and apples, as a healing change to our diet and a way to get raw foods when we're all salad-ed out.  For some reason the juice has a more noticeable effect, and maybe a quicker one, than just the smoothies or raw salads, so we're doing a combination of all those alongside a small percentage of cooked greens and soups.  Lots of fruits and greens.  I am REALLY trying to get rid of this diabetes.  We're drinking many supportive teas, some for specific benefits and others just because we like them.  When I say tea, I'm meaning herbals, usually loose herbs boiled and steeped, or infusions left to concentrate for a few hours before drinking (I learned that one from a Susun Weed video, and it really seems to get the most use for the herb that way).

I'm still making up some batches of tinctures, but I'd like a book as reference for the specific herbs so I have a better idea of the correct proportions of herb to alcohol.  One step at a time :)

And that leads me to my last quick mention...I've decided I want to become a master herbalist.  I've had a great deal of fun researching so many of our plants for our own uses, it just dawned on me I'd love to delve deeper as well as actually utilize a lot of what we've learned.  Besides the fun aspect, I believe good health is within the grasp of those with very little cash or savings and is crucial for the times we're in.  Learning and utilizing traditional herbalism AND lesser-known (or just overlooked) edibles is a backyard pantry whose ends are health...and a different kind of prosperity and abundance.

This will be a long-term thing, so why not enjoy learning beside so many of the great herbalists who've made their wisdom and resources available?   If anyone can recommend some good school or program with distance-learning access, I'd love to know more!

What's going on in your neck of the woods...and do you folks in the Upper 47 have snow yet?  Ah, the smell of fir trees and icy air!   :)  Stay warm!

Blessings from us to you,


Monday, October 24, 2011

More Dehydrator Juice Pulp Uses

Oatmeal made with addition of apple pulp from juicer

The juicing continues!  The resulting juicer pulp also continues!

The  nice thing about juicing is that it fits into any diet, ramping up the veggie and fruit content considerably.  We're all for eating those good things fiber and all (fiber's good!).  It's just that we're concentrating our nutrition for some specific targets nutritionally for the time being, and the concentration of fresh juice is really benefitting our bodies (they can really feel the difference).

I did a practice round with the pulp (as written about in my last post) by mixing it with oatmeal and seeds/nuts and dehydrating.  They turned out pretty well, but for it to be perfected I'm going to have to play around with it some more. 

In the meantime, we separate the apple pulp (as it comes out of the juicer) and save it since we remove the seeds before juicing.  The pulp itself is sweet and pretty moist, so it certainly merits some dehydrator experimentation, something maybe with cinnamon? 

But anyway, the pulp has never made it yet as far as the's the perfect pairing with hot cooked oatmeal.  When cooked up with some oatmeal, it actually lightens the oatmeal ( I was surprised), giving it a texture less gummy (quite pleasant, really!).   It's wonderful with some walnuts and maple syrup, or raisins and honey, or cinnamon, etc.  It's a great homemade "apple cinnamon oatmeal" and cooks up in no time if your oatmeal is the faster cook kind (but if not, is great in the slow cook kind, of course).

Next up for experiments will be some of that lovely soft fruit/veggie pulp mixed in with seeds and nuts and oats and raisins to make homemade granola!  I'm not sure what additional pulp we'll use besides the apple, maybe a little carrot?

So....what to do if you are inundated with extra pulp and you don't have time to do any particular experiments those days??

I'm mulching a tree seedling that's suffered a bit.  Lots of lovely veggie pulp right around the root line.  And the wonderful surprise that greets me these days as I go to empty the overflow there again?

Butterflies!!  The viceroy butterflies seem to love carrot pulp!  There are usually a half dozen or more at a time, perched on the fluffy orange compost, finding some way to feast on their own version of a carrot juice pick-me-up...ha :)  I'll try to capture that on camera if I can pretty!  And the tree seems to be holding is own...I know the microbes and little crawlies must be enjoying a new lease on life as the fertility ramps up.  (It's the lazy woman's composts, indeed).

If you have any suggestions for uses for the good juicer pulp, let me know!  I'll post the results of the granola experiment, if any of the apple pulp makes it that long without being snacked on beforehand.  Chilled in the fridge, it's almost like apple sauce.

Hope your fall is refreshing and full of color!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Juicer Pulp Dehydrator Crackers

(Pics enlarge if you click)

I don't know how many times I've been in my local supermarket produce section and have passed through the small organic section after curiously eyeballing the only bulk item they carry there...carrots.  I'm not much of a carrot eater per se, at least raw carrot sticks.  Sure, we use them in stews, but never to the point where I need 25 lbs of them in my refrigerator at a time.  But, wow, they seemed like a good deal...priced at $14.99, that comes to about what, 60 cents a pound?

So now I guess it's time for true confessions.  We were given a Champion juicer a while back, and had not used it yet, despite the best of intentions.  Why??? (head banging time, ha)  I don't know!  But I succumbed to a sudden urge to ramp up our nutrition as I stood there in the produce section, and knowing that that many carrots would be a pretty good buy for some serious juicing.  I've juiced before, and I'm used to the taste, especially with a carrot and apple base.

We had never used a Champion juicer, and Jack manned it after we watched a couple of  youtube videos to get all tutorialed up.  It was really easy to use and clean and it did make a lot more juice than some cheaper juicers we've used in years (wayyy) past.  So we juiced up some carrots and a couple of apples, and it was oh, so good!  The juice was drunk right on the spot by us both.

But what to do with that good clean carrot pulp?  Kaleb got a snack of some, some went into the evening soup pot, but the bulk of it was the stuff of experiment.  Having made some dehydrated raw foods in the dehydrator in the past couple years (but never crackers), I wondered if I could approximate some of those dehydrated crackers I've had in the past from the health food store.  I needed to use whatever ingredients we had on hand, bits of this and that.  We're trying to stay away from most flours, but we do eat oatmeal and seeds and nuts.  I also don't have one of those convenient tray liners to make thin spreads on, so I have to make the mixture thick enough to not fall through the dehydrator spaces on each rack.

I put about 2 parts carrot pulp (a tiny bit was apple) to about 1 part uncooked quick raw oatmeal and added sesame seeds, raw hulled pumpkin seeds, some flax seeds, a few pinches of sea salt and some pepper, a little olive oil, and a few spices, namely powdered garlic.  Then I mixed in 1/2 of a onion, minced fine.  It was still too crumbly at that stage, so I added water enough to really wet the whole thing, and let it set for about five minutes so the oatmeal could get sticky enough to hold everything together a little better.  I tried to patty out portions as thinly as I could between my hands and then transfer them each carefully to the stacking dehydrator trays. 

I had no idea how they would turn out, but hey, it would be a shame to waste that really good organic carrot pulp!  I let the deydrator go and didn't really pay attention to how much time it took, but I think it was in the neighborhood of about 4 or 5 hours (???)...till they were very dry.  I didn't want them still moist in the middle because I'd like them to last without molding for a while, or at least until they're eaten  :)

They didn't turn out badly!  Not a 10 but definitely way above the category of a dog biscuit (ha!)   Not bad for a first attempt.  They're crunchy and very full of fiber and have a sweetness from the carrot that pairs nicely with the oatmeal binder, and the seeds and onion and garlic are nice.  This will go well with soups or with some farmer's cheese topped with herbs.

We're already glad we got supplied with enough carrots to begin juicing again's been way too long!  We watched some clips and full length videos about the Gershon Protocol and have tweaked our eating once again.  It seems we're always having to hone our focus in the area of our eating, and get on track with better choices.  With the carrots going into juice, soup, and now dehydrated crackers all at one shot, it really makes me feel like we got a very healthy bang for our buck.

How do you use the pulp from your juicers?  Have any great dehydrator recipe along those lines, or other ways to use it?

I can't believe this is the first time we're doing this.  Jack's already requested a sweet version with raisins and maple syrup or cinnamon.  If you have any experience or ideas, help, I can use it!

I hope you all are well and are having wonderful cooler weather with some relief from those high temps.  The days here in Florida are simply beautiful just now, and the nights a bit cooler.  Ah, I miss my Tennessee autumns!  But no complaints from down here in paradise right now...

:)   Robbyn

Sunday, October 9, 2011

5772: Thoughts for a New Year

These are calabazas from a prior year....our version of the fall pumpkins!  We're headed into the fall and today is the day after Yom Kippur.

The slate is clean and white, a new year ahead!  What am I determined to remember heading into the upcoming months?

1.  The dream is not dead.   Dreams change, alter, of necessity.  When I began this blog some years back in 2007 (or was it 2006?? ack, my memory!) Jack and I were making preparations to relocate eventually to acreage where we could be more self-sufficient.  In the ensuing years, I experienced discouragement as that dream would seem to be on the precipice, yet fall through time and time again.  It was not for a lack of effort and creativity, and patience, on our part.  I said I was discouraged, and I'm sure Jack was, at times, but he has the gift of a resilient outlook on life and an irrepressible optimism.  I'm so glad, otherwise I'd be tempted to let my sometimes dour outlook on adversity have freer reign.  So, instead, God has taught me to cherish what I do have, especially the partner He's given me.  Jack is THE best.  No dream for me would be happy without his being the main ingredient within it.  I also am so grateful for being right where we are, even as I hope to one day relocate.  Jack is behind this desire...he wants to see us settled to his satisfaction where we have fewer monetary obligations, namely mortgage.  Until then, here we are.  This place is simply beautiful and has sustained us so well.  If we remain here, it's because God has decided it's where we need to be for the longterm.  We planted out all those buckets of plants right here...put down roots, literally.  We remain poised for change but dig our weeds right here, right now :)

Dreams delayed can sometimes make one heartsick, but dreams can be tools to change us.  I'm different now, much the same at heart, but having made concessions for real life, and learning to bend to fit dreams to reality.  I also allow for the open door, not just the closed ones.  As God directs our path, we continue to knock on doors.  If the door ever opens to "that dream," the one where we're on some land where we can build something very small and have no mortgage, I believe the delay has been a learning experience.  And a lesson not to allow hope in something future to lessen the living in the Now.

2.  Remembering to be present in my own life. Life is so short.  The other day, I was putting together some pictures for my daughter from photos collected over the last few decades.  I realized something as I went through the albums and boxes of old pictures...I had left myself out of almost all the shots, and had not included any of the few pictures of myself, with only a few exceptions.  It was weird.  It was as if everyone else had lived through those birthdays and holidays, special events and candid shots, but either I was the one behind the camera lens, or had excluded my picture intentionally.  It was as if I were absent from my own history.  I'll probably always be camera-shy, but this was somewhat ridiculous!  So I went on a hunt for a few pictures to include, and I did finally find a few.  So into the albums they went.  Some passing vanity of not wanting my photo to be viewed unless I were at an ideal weight, a cuter outfit, a more flattering shot instead of that one laughing with my mouth completely silly I had been to be so superficial.  Those who know me today would seldom realize that as a child I went through a period when I was so painfully shy I would cry if I were forced to say hello to someone I had never met before.  At my core, I still have a shyness that wars within, but I've learned appropriate ways to push past it, most times.  But I think it's that latent "pull-back" tendency that kept my image from being among the photos of family and friends.  I resolve to be present TODAY, warts and all, and without apology to myself.  If I'm caught in a photo laughing with food in my mouth or on a bad hair day, or at a size I wish were smaller, fair warning...too bad, it's me!  I refuse to be invisible in my own history any more.

From a wonderful book I'm reading called Making Loss Matter, by David Wolpe, he quotes Thomas Merton:  It is a foolish life which is lived in the minds of other human beings.  Freeing myself from the constraints of what I believe to be the opinions or conviction of other people is allowing me to do something that would otherwise not happen --- mature.  I need to have enough confidence in the lessons I've learned about what's important to me and how to walk out this life that I am not edged out, by my own omission, into a life where I don't appear in any of my own life's scenes.  I need to trust the wisdom God has gone to the trouble of teaching me.  I'm quick to listen to others, and learn, and defer.  I need to quit pretending that I, myself, have less to offer and I need to actually use my talents and knowledge, or I'm living a shadow life that mimics others, rather than being present and vital in my own.  I need to make my time here count in a meaningful, sometimes bolder way, and not as the child who is plagued with fear of failure or embarrassment and retreats to the safety of shyness...or invisibility.

3.  I'm resolved to delight in my Judaism. I rarely write about this here, but today is the exception.  This figures largely into my life, so on the list it goes!  Did you know when you're a Jewish convert or are at any specific point in the process of conversion, it's going to be very controversial?  It's not for the faint of heart :)  I'll leave it at that, but I'm not talking about friends in christianity who don't understand my choice that way, but rather some Jewish sects who have very concrete ideas of what that means and how it should happen.  And, of course, I'm not the perfect fit for some of these groups.  :)

I'm an odd fit theologically and spiritually--there is no cookie cutter formula for me other than my credo "to the Torah."  The quest of going "scripture only" flies in the face of some element of ALL religious groups at some point.  That my conclusions don't agree with most of the people who made up my life for my first three decades and more has meant loss and being misunderstood, but my focus remains simple  "Seek God."   Most of my friends are christian, as I was for most of my life until several years ago, and my love and appreciation for them has not diminished.  For some, my conversion was a deal-breaker, for others, they chose to "trust me to God." (that's how one lifetime friend puts it :))  The funny thing is that as a convert to Judaism, there are certain religious Jews who do not welcome me (yet!) because my conversion did not match their established traditions for such. That's not to broadly generalize, nor to denigrate any group, but it is a reality I was blissfully unaware of.  Nevertheless, I'm at the point where I've got to be ok with that, after all, I'm happiest on this path. 

I am happy to be the oddball (with some caveats, ha)!  But it can be rather like being the one schoolkid not picked to be on the kickball team at recess :) Where some people are born into a culture of belief and never ask questions beyond the "approved ones," I will always reserve the right to ask and seek and want to know the scriptures.  Question everything.  Truth can always bear up under the asking of questions.

Judaism, by my definition of following the Torah as the covenant between God and Israel, is broad enough to include me and endlessly rich in equipping folks for its primary goal...tikkun olam...the bettering of this world, or literally in the hebrew "the repair of the world."  It expects participation, not resignation, and includes a motly crew that very much now includes me.  It's messy work, but it means one person CAN and DOES make a difference, here, and now.  So this year, I'm going to FLY.  I'm going to continue to learn, study, and pray.  I'm going to look for ways to make the ordinary meaningful, and do what I can to make this a better place, to fix little wrongs and add enthusiasm and some elbow grease to existing efforts already doing this.

I'm not anything "typical" as far as being Jewish, but the one unifying element among "practicing Jews" (meaning ones who have Jewish belief, not just ethnicity) of any "variety" is the Torah...a love of living its precepts,  love for fellowman, love for God.  I may have to piece together my own place along this path, and that applies to finding a congregation.  There's not an orthodox one to be found within driving distance, plus the orthodox don't drive on shabbat.  Our work schedules thankfully allow for Saturdays off at this point (Yayyyy!!!) but we're so tired on that day, we usually rest here at home instead of finding a service somewhere.  We participate in services via the internet, but that, understandably, has its limitations.  We study regularly, but not with others, and my attempts to gain an internet study partner through some better known sites has so far resulted in my being told that my conversion was not orthodox enough to make me eligible to study with the orthodox . Which is beyond ironic because I'm what most Jews would think of as quite "observant."  This only means I'm now fully in my usual comfort zone of being...a square peg in a round hole!!!! HA!   It's be original :)  Which leads me to my next point...

4.  My definition of success and of myself is not going to look like anyone else's. Sometimes the fact that I find myself not squarely in ANY camp is a bit unsettling.  But we have to strive for authenticity, being true to the unique qualities God created in us individually, and the values which anchor us.  "Success" will be defined personally much differently for me than how our surrounding culture defines it. 

I love love love the Steve Jobs quote (may he rest in peace).   See if this has meaning for you, too.  I know of NO authentic person to whom this quote would not apply:
Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.~ Steve Jobs
Thank you to Steve Jobs.  This is a very powerful quote, and I won't forget it soon.

5.  Be more deliberate.  This will mean having my goals before me, becoming more disciplined, getting healthier, organizing certain areas of my life better, using what I have at hand to utilize my talents, and not starting too many new projects until I see through the worthwhile ones at hand.  It will also mean being kind, and investing more effort into relationships and keeping them nurtured.  It also will help me focus attention on being true to my core values in ways that support integrity even in small details.  Specifically, I'm going to be aware of things that I do and how I do them, such as how I use my time.  What do I fill my moments with, my mind with?  What company do I keep, and what have I been rationalizing under the guise of entertainment, relaxation?  I've found that as much as I enjoy watching movies, I've slowly over the years compromised some of my core values in what I allow myself as far as "enjoyment" and entertainment.  There often is so much yuck along with the fun stuff, I've lost my barometer many times by justifying junk as entertainment.  Being a really easygoing person in this area (I don't like santimoniousness in myself or others), I've gotten TOO relaxed.  So this year I will exercise more deliberateness (is that a word?) in being honest with my choices and honing my focus a bit more in areas I'm slack or unproductive.  This also goes for Bible study, career, household, relationships, and so on.  Here's to a gentle and consistent raising of the bar to gain the best rather than settle for counterfeits :)

6.  Joy!!  This is a choice and an attitude.  I've had many times of grief and loss in my life.  I've also had great blessing.  No matter what befalls, there is something to be grateful for.  To not cultivate joy and choose to see the extraordinary in the everyday is to miss the gift we're given every morning when we wake up and have been given one more day to live.  I'm no stranger to adversity, but without it, I'd still be a child and not an adult.  Our focus AS we go through things is our choice.  I'm determined this year to celebrate JOY any time I can grab it!  Life is to be tasted, handled, marveled at, experienced.  It's way too short to settle for mediocrity, and too precious to not appreciate its worth.  I resolve to grab joy at any turn possible.

7.  Cultivate community.  I need to continue to do this, even though a large part of my makeup is to be a hermit.  I need others and have much to offer.  I'm the person who is uncomfortable in a crowd unless it's a crowd of people I already know well, and even then I prefer to interact with one or two people at a time.  But it's time to push past this big rock of reluctance and discomfort I have, so I can become more connected.  Whenever I've done that in the past, I've seldom regretted it.

And there we have it!   This past month has been one of reflection and contemplation, and as is the case this time of the year for me, I was waiting to see which things rose like cream to the surface, as far as how to proceed from here.

I'm so grateful for all the blessings we've been given, and so aware of how fine a thread holds things up.  Jack and I are so very aware of how God's protection and mercy have been the only reason we're still here, with a house over our heads and money to pay the bills so far.  Our dreams and hopes are in His hands.  Our hearts our full of gratitude!

I'd love to hear any thoughts you have to share, even if this is not yet your own new year.  I so appreciate the many comments and emails I receive and I thank you for sharing your life with us.  Every comment, email, is cherished!

May your year ahead be full of good!!


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Stinging Chaya: Butterfly Buffet

 (all photos can be clicked on to enlarge)
Here's a closeup of a Gulf fritillary, one of dozens surrounding these half-feral stinging chaya bushes with fluttering clouds of color. We initially planted the stinging chayas for their prolific growth of nutritious edible (cooked, never raw!) leaves.  We discovered their modest white flowerets lure certain butterflies...constantly!

Don't be fooled by the freeze frame here...I'm proof that an avid nature watcher armed with camera can still take a LOT of pictures of butterflies and still come out with only two that aren't total blurs.  These little nectar hunters do not sit still for a good pose!  Here's the same shot from farther away, showing the floral landing pads that stick up from the bushes, singing their siren song for winged passersby.

If you live in a hot climate, do consider the stinging chaya plant.  It needs to be sited somewhere casual contact won't be common, as the leaves cause contact dermatitis (nearly instantly) to bare skin.  The leaves are harvested with cloth or other gloves for that reason.  Once rinsed and cooked in boiling water, it is rendered edible.  And full of amazing nutrition, which is why we even bothered, but we're so glad we did!  Jack simply clips an entire "branch" from a more mature plant, sticks it in some ground where he's dug a hole and worked the earth a little, adding some compost if he has it, and watered it in for a few days.  Even in the hottest part of the summer, they soldier on and grow pretty fast, going from branch to waist high bush in a couple months.

The bushes have a nice rounded form that do not need trimming to keep a shape, but may be trimmed to keep the growth down.  Harvesting the leaves doesn't hurt the plant, and I think it actually encourages more growth.  Ours die back each winter all the way to the ground, but they come back in the spring from the roots.  The original one we have that is three years old has now surpassed 10 feet tall...that thing is huge!!

I'm 5' 5" tall and these are chaya plants Jack planted from single "branches" about 8 weeks ago in an area that is not particularly fertile...they come up to my shoulder height or more.  It is hard to get a good pic of them.  They're in an area where we've tried several different types of plants to see which are best for a fast growing hedge.  Minus the fact that they wimp out in the wintertime, for the warm season, these work well.  Hard to pass up something you can EAT that grows faster than the national debt!  :)

Sorry for the overexposed pics today...the sun's shining so beautifully and the world's all lit up!  Here's a midday shot of another area in which we planted the more "domesticated" non-stinging chaya plants we got from ECHO.  To date, we have yet to see any flowers on any of them.  They do propagate just as easily as the stinging, more feral, variety...from cuttings.  But as far as butterfly attractors, nope!  These two shown here were planted in April and then immediately feasted on by our wandering mutant Bambi zombies intent on wiping out entire species of edible plants DEER, right to the ground. I put tomato cages around their sad little remains and they did stage a comeback (the plants, not the deer), albeit a bit shyly at first. They're certainly keepers, but won't be on our Butterfly plant list.

There are some other things luring our pollinators these days.  The blue butterfly bush (clerodendrum, not shown) has consistently been repeating flushes of flowers and growth spurts throughout the hot months.  Some of the butterflies and bees love their blooms.  This (above) is a pic of a branch of the jujube tree I can see from my window.  Its flowers are, like the stinging chaya, modest rather than showy.  But they add to the pollinator buffet, though butterflies are less frequent visitors to them than the other insects.

And here is a gratuitous shot of....our first real papaya fruit, EVER!!!!   Jack has planted papayas from seed for several years now, only to get really healthy plants that never put on any fruit, and then die back in the rare freeze or two we have each winter.  We never used purchased seeds...our bad, perhaps.  We took our chances sowing seed from storebought papayas, which may have been one of the factors in the fruit eluding us all this time.  They are SUPPOSED to be easy to grow here.  Well, two of them came up after the freeze this spring from the wimpy-looking remains of the half-frozen plants.  We expected them to die.  Jack watered them a few times, but we are ruthless in our "let nature reign" philosophy of plant survival.  We do nurse tender seedlings through the transplant and rooting stages, but we don't pamper plants as a rule.  But on the south side of our house, these two plants did come back and grow, slowly.  We paired them with a bird feeder so we can watch the cardinals and doves from the office window (better than TV!)    Then we began to notice, what?? could it be??? fruits developing.  We kind of held our breaths and adjusted our expectation, waiting to see if they would be A. eaten by something deerlike  B.  die   C.  be attacked by a voracious insect  D.  rot  E.  be struck by lightning  F. be the brunt of some squirrel's nosedive, armadillo's snacking, raccoon's curiosity, or be knocked off by an overly-enthusiastic senior Australian shepherd's  glucosamine-inspired sprints around the yard.

They are fascinating to observe...and this is a bad picture, but the leaves are large and umbrella-like and the flowers branch out from the main "trunk" (which is really more of hollowish thick stem).  The flowers that are fertile change by swelling and closing at the end, and as the fruit grows, the last of the old petals are attached to the fruits end, and turn brown and fall off.  These are arranged in a spiral upward, which is so cool!  If no catastrophe happens in the interim (deer, demented three wheeler, four horsemen of the apocalypse) it ends up being a big stalk supporting individual ripening fruits (that seem too heavy for it to support, but it does) and spiraling from the trunk bottom all the way up to the top of the plant...SO COOL!! (yes, those of you who grow legions of papayas effortlessly will laugh at our amazement, but this has so so so not happened for us until now, and we're jazzed!)

This may be (knock knock knock, throwing salt over shoulder) our first HARVEST of ANY kind of fruit tree of ours, aside from a handful of raspberries one year and a random lemon and lime or two from the citrus before they died in the freezes. 

And this pic??   This pic is of my very happy moments as a pollinator voyeur, daydreaming with camera in hand,  strolling through the overgrown mini-jungle on a PERFECT day stalking butterflies.  It's delightfully toasty outside,  but with a breeze and much lower humidity, cooler nights, everything refreshed!  This is what most of my photo shots turned out like...lots of pics of the backside of the Attention Deficit butterflies.   Too beautiful a day to say a single bad thing, though...color me happy!!!

I apologize for my slow response to the comments of the past few weeks!  I did just now publish them after finding them here at blogspot but NOT in my regular email inbox (???).  Guess I'll have to be more conscious to do a thorough check instead of relying on my email provider.  Or something.  But THANK YOU for your comments, I love them always!

I'm a  little embarrassed that I know so little about the butterflies I see so often, including not knowing their names.  I'm still trying to ID them.  There are four types that frequent the chaya plants...the Gulf fritillary is the main one, but there is a pale cream version (similar to a fritillary, but I dont know what it's called yet), a sulphur colored bright yellow sort, a smaller white one, and a sharply pointed spotted brown one.  Yeah, those descriptions SO  help, right?? ha   I'll keep looking in the butterfly guides online to help identify them.

It's so interesting that different plants attract specific ones.  Makes sense.  But how very disconnected I've been from even these basic realizations, till I stop and really notice.

Do you have any favorite butterflies and reliable butterfly plants you love to watch every year?     I'd love to see your pics...if you can catch one in your lens long enough to click~!

Happy beginning of October!!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Already September!

(Can click on pics to enlarge)
I can't believe how fast August came and went!  There's about a week's delay in these pics.  We got not any more...blooms on one of the two guava trees.  That's a first!  The two trees were the only survivors of several we've planted the last few years, small ones.  This year may be different, as there was no partial shade available on that lot until the moringas this year came back much fuller due to last year's heavy pruning.  The moringas die back in the winter, but their foliage is timely for acting as nurse trees to the smaller trees around them, a mixture of types.  The winter frosts are more dangerous for the plants than the direct sun, most years.

I found that guava leaves are used as a medicinal tea in some parts of the world.  I've tried them twice, but don't want to gather too many leaves at this stage while the two trees are so young.

It's hard to get a decent picture of the thryallis.  It is very heat tolerant and just goes to town when other plants are struggling.  It's got a nice bushing habit but also looks somewhat delicate despite its toughness.  Its yellow panicles are so sunny in the landscape, a wash of yellow against green.  The plant has traditional uses in places such as Mexico, said to be effective as a respiratory tonic, but since the information is so scarce at this point and I can't find much to go on as far as how to use it safely, we'll just enjoy it in the meantime as a new favorite on our little suburban 'stead.  A friend nearby assures us it is easy to propagate from branch cuttings planted into good soil into the ground.  We'll likely test this theory when the weather is reliably in the mid to lower eighties instead of nineties.  I would love to see this naturalized nearly everywhere.  It looks to be completely disease-free and really really hardy even with big weather fluctuations.

The zinnias were planted as an aside this spring, not even from seed (gasp!)...ha :)  I had succumbed to the siren song of the garden center sometime in April when armed with some birthday money, and one or two little trays of them made their way in with some other things.  I had the idea of mixing them among the tomatoes and some other plants as a trap crop and to attract pollinators, and simply for beauty.  They sure do take a beating.  Something has been chewing on their leaves and I stopped deadheading them sometime in July, but they just keep getting taller, spreading a bit since the rains, and punctuating the trees, bushes...and weeds, ha...with brilliant color, mostly red and salmon.  They are such game plants and so delightful, we'll save these seeds and replant next year!

This is our first year to plant Jerusalem artichokes.  I ordered a small bag of the corms (is that the right term?), but later than suggested as the ideal planting time.  We planted some right away, but made the mistake of holding onto the others for later, not knowing they're best planted before the tubers shrink and dry out some.  I had sliced the tubers into smaller pieces, and we planted them at the bases of some of the moringas.  Of all that we planted out, the ones that came up are the few we planted first before the tubers dried out.   They came up with green leaves, growing taller and taller before finally blooming here in the past couple of weeks.  What a beautiful natural look they add!  The yellow glows in the shade of the moringas.  The plants could use staking, but at this point we're letting them lean since the stalks look really sturdy.  If they seem to need it, we'll probably go ahead and stake them right to the growing moringa plants, since the moringa trunks are more like rigid stalks than actual trunks.
I've become a little infatuated with the nopal cactus.  That's odd for me, because I don't really lean towards succulents or arid-area plants (at least in the past).  But they seem to do magical things overnight.  The huge nopal plant we chopped into plant-able pieces (neighbor was needing the plant removed and it weighed a few hundred pounds and was bigger than our truck bed would fit!) are simply planted in the least fertile soil on our lot next door in an area where nothing else will thrive.  These plants get HUGE down here in Florida, with some of them in the neighborhoods exceeding the roofline of the nearby homes, tumbling in a profusion around mailboxes, or just standing like single, many-armed soldiers in places nothing else will grow.  The pads are edible and have beneficial nutriotional and medicinal qualities, according to those who grow them.  We have found that the plant is basically spineless with the exception of a few fine hair-like spines that grow on the youngest a protection from being eaten as a snack by deer?...which is why they should be handled with gloves on and scraped well with a knife before snacking on them ourselves.  Ask fingers are proof of the few nearly-invisible needles on the baby pads...I've had several in my fingers and they sting, but are easily removed.  When the pads are prepared (surfaces scraped with a sharp knife and rinsed well, with gloves on), the young pads are...DELICIOUS!!  They are like the mildest lemony cucumbers, without the "burp-back" quality some cucumbers have.  In fact, they are hard to describe.  They have a (for lack of a better word) slimy quality cucumbers don't have, but when rinsed, the young pads cut into slim strips and refrigerated are just some of the best raw things around to munch on, put into a salsa, or include with a salad.  Pico de gallo, anyone?  LOVE the mild lemon flavor! 

This picture shows the new baby pads that have grown on the old pieces of cactus we planted only weeks ago.  They seem to appear overnight, and really REALLY mature quickly!

These succulent little fleshy protrusions remain on the pad as the pad grows wider and larger, until the pad is big enough that the pointy things here will appear, when mature, as mere bumps on the mature pad.  I love this tiny stage of growth, the first beginnings, when these little many-armed baby pads appear from little dents in the big "mama" plant.  Look at the "fuzz" at the base of the little fascinating :)

Another gratuitous shot of the Jerusalem artichoke.  They have the cheeriness of the sunflower and a graceful foliage.

This is a shot of the VERY first beginnings of a new nopal cactus pad, growing from what appear to be injuries to the old plant, or little scabby fibrous areas.  Were these little dry brown areas originally succulent little points in their youth, drying out later as the plant expanded and weathered?  These little fingers of succulent here are a single pad in its infancy, soon to show itself grown into a firmly attached pad all its own.  To harvest when they do become pads of 8 to 10 inches, they can be snapped from the plant very simply.  With gloves on, just in case :)

More friendly Jerusalem artichokes.  Some folks think of them as too hardy, almost invasive.  But we really are going for a naturalized and casual mixed planting of trees, shrubs, natives, perennials, and planting other annual things among them.  Anything that prides itself on being a survivor and also yields edible food or treats is a keeper for us.

I'll give a more comprehensive update soon.  Jack had surprise success in burying milkweed fluff (with the seeds, ha) in a bucket just to see if they would germinate, and now he has about a hundred all jammed together to transplant.

We have anything BUT a showcase garden.  In fact, our plants are naturalized into what others might think of as one continual growing mess...ha...but it provides such joy for us every day as the seasons change and the droughts and the rains come and go.  We added some bird feeders throughout, and it's our favorite entertainment to see the insects and birds and animals all bustling about in the little jungle.  The plants seem to have personalities of their own.  And the butterflies crowd to the chaya plants.  But more on that later!

What's making you smile and take notice at your place?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

August Update

(clicking on pics will enlarge)
I haven't been here much for updates, but thought I'd post some pics of our jungle.  These are from last week, and Jack was just beginning to catch up with mowing after our mower was in the shop for almost three weeks.  Since the rains began in earnest (hooray!!!), any delays in mowing made for some pretty thick growth.  Just another reason to either have the right equipment or live in a place not requiring a lawn and neighborhood scrutiny.

This pic is of the stinging chaya, which is now topping 7 feet in height.  The leaves are delicious as a cooked green, and are inedible (and sting!) if uncooked, but lose any unpleasantness after being chopped and boiled.  It dies back all the way to the ground in the winter here, coming back from the roots the following spring.  The modest white flowers are prolific and butterflies LOVE them.  In fact, Jack has taken cuttings and rooted them directly in the ground, and the flowers appear quickly on the "new plant," even after sticking a cut limb into the ground with no fuss.  It's definitely a keeper!

This is the first year we have grown tomatoes with any real intent.  The purple-ish one here is a Black Prince, and they are delicious within a day or two of picking, but turn to mush thereafter.  They have also been very prone to splitting, and we have lost almost half of the VERY prolific crop to deep splits, meaning we pick them green now and lose the peak flavor that comes from sun ripening.  But makes for great fried green tomatoes... :)

This pink variety is a German Johnson.  They usually ripen into a shape somewhat like this, usually with two pronounced "cheeks," but we've also had some trouble with their splitting, though it's mostly at the top of the tomato.  They are good sized, larger than the Black Prince by about double, and are good slicers.  They're a potato-leafed variety.  Both types are heirlooms.  We're trying to figure Florida seasons out...maybe we should have tried these for a fall harvest when the temps drop a few degrees?  Dunno...trial and error.  Regardless, there have been enough, after cutting around splits, for some fantastic tomato sandwiches, salads, and eating out of hand!

The other little guys shown here are the yellow pear cherry-variety tomatoes, and the orange cherry tomatoes.  Our favorites?  Jack likes them both and I prefer the orange, because they never split, are prolific and pest-free, and have this amazing zingy flavor that's both sweet and tangy.  We WILL be planting these again, at least the orange ones.  The yellow ones are mild and sweet, but sometimes split even as small as they are.  They're sure pretty in salads.

The Black Prince before ripening...and splitting...they are bigger than a golf ball and smaller than a baseball.

Another pic of the stinging chaya.  The flowers have no scent.  The deer have left the plant alone after eating it nearly to the ground when it first was regrowing in the Spring.  There are nearly always butterflies clustered or airborne around this plant.  It is EASY to propagate from cuttings!

We have bets on this plant.  I thought it was an older soapberry plant that had matured some.  Jack thinks it's a native plant.  Well, it's near where he is trying to root soapberry plants, which are mostly all small.  This is at least year three at his attempts with the soapberries.  But they seem to soldier on.

Moringas, loquat, chaya, etc.  Our little jungle...the moringas are about 12 to 15 feet tall.  The remarkable thing is that the landscape looks SO different in the winter.  The ONLY plant that would show in this pic in the winter is the loquat, which remains green.  ALL the others die back completely to the ground, and it would be nothing but flat ground till the Spring.

Another view of the annual jungle.  Jack has had much success at clustering several moringa cuttings in a single hole in the ground, having worked a little compost around, and keeping them watered regularly...and then they take off like you see here.  Most of these are two year old plants. They can be cut to within inches of the ground and their branches/leaves harvested for greens or fodder or green manure/mulch for other plants, and they will re-grow this way several times in the long warm season here.  I think we could get anywhere from 7 to 12 full cuttings a season this way if we were disciplined enough to keep at it.  As it is, there is more than we can eat, and in our humidity I have not found a workable way to dry such a large amount of it.  So I am harvesting some of the best of the leaves and tips and am making extract/tincture by chopping those and putting them in 100 proof vodka so we'll have a way to utilize the leaves even in the winter months, but putting drops in tea or juice.  Letting medicine be our food and food our medicine, indeed!

When the moringa leaves get a little stressed, they turn pale yellow.  This is not a sign of disease, but of widely varied periods of drought and deluge...our rains and dry spells are very uneven sometimes.  But the stars in this picture next to the moringa are the Jerusalem Arthichokes (sunchokes) that FINALLY came up despite my very late planting.  This pic was taken last week.  This week they have surpassed me in height, so they're headed to about five and a half to six feet now.  Maybe we'll see blooms soon?  I found a few tiny buds forming.

Another pic of our weedy Eden :)

These naked and fairly homely specimens are our HUGE blessing from God (as are all our plants!)...the spineless Nopal cacti.  These are all the survivors of one HUGE Nopal plant belonging to a friend of ours, a very old lady who has a lot of herbal wisdom she passes along.  She needed the plant removed because of some house renovation that was requiring a plant bed to be relocated.  She was going to just have it hauled off, but was happy to give it to us when she found out Jack would volunteer (or BE volunteered, ) to remove it.  Jack and I both worked to remove it and the surprise to us was that the SEVEN FOOT cactus (and almost that many feet wide!) turned out to weigh somewhere in the range of 300-400 lbs!  It was HEAVY, so heavy it had to be chopped into more manageable chuncks to even collect it and haul it in the truck bed.  Each SINGLE cactus pad becomes an enormous cactus that size, if left to itself for about 3 years.  And these are edible cacti...the reason we are bothering to transplant them.  This has turned out to be a labor of love....of Jack for me...because we learned the Nopal cactus is another really great plant for diabetics.  I am still exploring the uses, but the young cactus pads, which are usually completely spine-free (but we use gloves and scrape the pads well after cleaning just to be on the safe side, because there is an occasional spine) are delicious when scrubbed clean of spines (or scraped) and sliced and chilled.  They are a clean, lemony cucumber flavor, minus the cucumber's tendency to leave an aftertaste or make for burps.  In fact I prefer them, now that I've tasted them.  They do reduce blood sugars and their fiber greatly slows sugar absorption.  I have yet to bake the older pads, which are very hard to slice through and are fibrous, but I've heard they back well and I'll be doing that as an experiment soon.  I can see the young pads being chopped and chilled and tossed with a fresh pico de gallo, or in a salsa (yum!!).   I used the peels and some chopped pieces of Nopal pads and jarred them, topped with 100 proof vodka, to make tincture.  Again, said to be good for diabetics (I'm my own guinea pig)

Looks can be deceiving.  You might think these "arms" would snap easily off...nooooooo...they require a hatchet!  These arms have grown from one single pad stuck into the ground in poor soil.  There are no fussy requirements as far as the soil goes and we put them in the sandy area where nearly nothing else will thrive.

Here's a closeup of one of the buds that formed in a single week since the pads were planted/relocated.  This was last week.  The interesting thing is that as it grows (quickly!) it flattens out and the spikes become the little prickles you find on young pads.  So fascinating to watch!

Another chunk showing where single pads grew their own "arms" and places where some had been snapped off to harvest (or to move them!)

Parts are so woody, they are thick like a tree trunk.  These little "babies" appear nearly overnight.

Another section.  Jack worked in the punishing heat that day just to get them all in the ground.  It was an incredible gift out of the blue for us...clearly God is giving us gifts to get rid of this diabetes!

This is another happy success, one we weren't sure about the outcome and have pleasantly surprised.  This is the mulberry sapling we bought at the ECHO nursery in early April for my birthday, along with two plum trees.  The plums are suffering a bit in the heat, but holding their own.  The mulberry at first was looking very peaked...leaves browning and only a little new growth at the very tips, until our rainy season began.  WOW, the leaves have come to life with all this rain.  It is thriving!  We sure hope it makes it through the winter, and we do have high hopes to one day enjoy some fresh mulberries..I've never tasted a mulberry in my life, and it's always been on my wish list of trees.

Well, that's about it for now.  I'll be back with more pics.  I hope everyone is having a great summer ...I guess summer is headed into school days for some.  If you're like us, you've got a LOT of heat right now.  Stay cool, and let me know what's growing best for you this year!  What plants have been pleasant surprises..and which ones gave up the ghost?

Ever made tinctures and extracts?  I'd love any tips, from those of you who have.

Be well!  And blessings from our place to yours   :)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Green July

(clicking on pics will enlarge)

Here's a pic of one of our cherished loquat trees. We simply love them...they give so much back for so little effort on our part, and they are truly lovely! If you've read one of my recent posts, we are harvesting their leaves for use as a home medicinal.

Here is one of the groupings of moringas, most of which are in their second or third year since being started from cuttings rooted right in the ground. They are a steady source of greens for us, and if we ever have animals, will be for them, too. They are so prolific we can't begin to keep up with them (they are long overdue for a good trimming back even now) but that is more profit than problem for us since mulching with their branches and leaves is a great fertilizer for our other plants. One of our favorite uses of the moringa is as a hot weather nurse plant/partial shade plant for other young trees. Our potted fig never found a comfortable location until we planted it right beside a moringa, which in the spring grows slowly but with the heat leaps skyward and mitigates the intensity of the sun glare for more tender plants. They die back in the winter, but come back with a vengeance with warm weather. We call this section of our lot "the jungle"...but it's more a feathery-ferny waving tunnel of green.

The stinging chaya plant is now topping seven feet in height! After a lusty pruning by the deer, it sprang back with a vengeance and is covered with butterfly-luring white flowers, unspectacular individually but grand food for pollinators! It is hard to capture the flowers well on camera, as the sun on the pure white makes for overexposed blobs...but up close, it's a star-studded display of white against a deep green foil. These leaves are simply delicious as a cooked green (they must be cooked, they contain cyanic properties (is that the right term?) that disappear with cooking, as do the "stingers" ( fine nettle-ish
"hairs") which are rendered non-stinging (and the texture is nice, not weird) as a cooked green. Anyway, as a pollinator-station alone, this plant rocks :) This one now is, I believe, three years old. Wow, has it been that long??

Thunderstorms have been GRATEFULLY received here in the past few weeks, which is now cutting today's computer time short. But I'll have more pics soon (they're already taken) I'll also respond to recent comments that I've neglected (sorry!). Just had to pop in and post at least a couple pics during this hot is your summer going, and what do you have growing??

MISS you guys! Sometimes it seems a lot happens between posts, and other times what's exciting to me doesnt exactly equate into dynamic updates, ha :)

More later...everyone enjoy the heat while we can!