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   :)