Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Honey is made from bee throw up"

We recently went to a UF/CALS Alumni event where each of the department's had displays. Will's favorite display was the honey bees. He spent most of the two hours we were there in front of it. Dr. Ellis (the bee guy) gave Will quite a bit of attention and explained to him the process of how honey is made. If you ask Will, he now tells you it's made from bee throw up. Yuck. Kaity also really liked them (especially the queen bee).

Maybe Will is a Master Bee Keeper in the making! I think the Master Bee Keeper program is one of the coolest that IFAS has to offer. We've been talking about getting bees in the next couple of years and this would be a great place to learn more. During squash season, I really appreciate the bees and other pollinators because when they're there I don't have to hand pollinate. They've also got a 4-H division where youth write 4-H Honey Bee Essay Contest. 2009's topic is "the dance language of bees." I've got some really creative young writers in my 4-H club, so this could be a really interesting project for them.

PS - I'm sorry for being absent. It's been a crazy fall and it's about to be an even crazier holiday season! But, I do have some Christmas cactus photos to share with you.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

State Botanical Gardens of Georgia

Yesterday, I attended a regional Garden Writers meeting in Athens, Georgia. The meeting was held at the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia. I'm not sure why we don't have something so fancy. The meeting was really interesting and I learned some new things. We got to tour the garden also, but unfortunately it was a dreary, rainy day. Much of the garden is in transition from summer to fall, but it's going to be beautiful next spring. They added a new flower garden that has a lot of potential. I only got a few pictures in before the camera battery died. I was too lazy to go back to the car to get the extra.

This was the prettiest thing in the garden at the moment. It's a Confederate Rose in the Heirloom Garden. The Heirloom Garden only has plants in it that were popular before 1900. Lots of plantation garden plantings and so on.

They've got a serious deer problem in the garden as well. They've just planted some fall vegetable crops and are covering them to prevent the deer from getting to them.

I liked the way this looked with the flowers cascading down behind the bench.

Felder Rushing was one of the speakers. He's pretty famous in the south as a garden writer. He usually talks and writes about how gardening is really easy and anybody can do it. As an example, he plants a garden in the bed of his truck and drives around with it. He figures if he can garden at 70 mph, then anybody can garden. His truck garden is seasonally decorated at the moment, too.

Friday, October 17, 2008

"Froggy" Payne's Prairie

The last couple morning have been really "froggy" as it's known in my house. The fog's been so thick that I can barely see the car in front of me on the way to work.

This morning, Kaity and I took Will to school and were coming into Gainesville a different way - across Payne's Prairie on 441. We live on the prairie, just a different side of it, so it looks pretty similar to my normal drive to work. Lots and lots of fog. Since I wasn't in any hurry to get to work and Kaity doesn't get to do many special things by herself, we stopped at the boardwalk overlook for a few minutes.

Here's what it looked like as we started walking down the boardwalk. You can barely see the end of it.

The fog was masking the sun rise.

A different direction. The prairie is so interesting to me. There's trees all around and the all of a sudden this open space.

We've had a lot of crows at our house lately. I think there were 50 or 60 in our tree last night. I'm guessing that the prairie has just as many (or maybe it's the same flock.) Kaity was hoping to see a gator, but this was all the wildlife we saw.

Kaity really enjoyed the quick 5-minute stop. It was quite the treat and out of the ordinary for a school day.

She also requested a take a picture of the dead "pine" tree, so here it is. We're going to start working on tree id soon.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fall is (sorta) here...time for the veggie garden!

Fall has finally arrived in Florida (kinda). Temps have been in the high to mid 80s all week. And, the humidity is still brutal...but I've never known a day in Florida when the humidity hasn't been brutal.

Anyway, we finally got around to putting the fall vegetable garden in the ground. I'm a little late in getting started this year, so we planted mostly store-grown seedlings and not as many seeds as we have in the past. It's actually helped me a lot. In the past, I have a tendency to "overplant" my seeds (and not by just a little) and then I have trouble thinning them. Having seedlings really limited what I put in the ground. And because I didn't grow my own, I didn't have 10 million seedlings of any one thing.

My garden helpers were out in force with us.

Run Tebow, Run! Throw a jump pass! ... Wait are we watching Florida football or the lab puppy? I forget - they both barrel ahead at full force.

Will directing Kaity in the fine art of turning up soil.

And, actually helped himself. We turned everything up first and then added a couple bags of new potting soil to refresh and fill in the beds.

Will's really getting into this vegetable gardening thing. But, it's only cause he can use tools like shovels. What a boy.

Kaity planting the pepper seedling. She's trying to clip off the plastic part of the pot like I was doing and is a little frustrated that I keep interrupting her to take pictures.

Any guesses on the next garden task? How about irrigation? Until then, John will water by hand. He's a better farmer than I am and actually remembers to water. Oh, and here are the finished beds. Vegetable gardens look so much better with flowers in them, don't you agree?

This bed has a straight neck squash plant which I'm going to try to trellis, lettuce, collards, and mums. The rows behind the bed have more collards and broccoli (I ran out of room in the beds. Remember what I was telling you about overplanting?)

This bed has three varieties of tomatoes, two varieties of peppers, a few lettuce and some mum. John's watering in the squash (butternut and acorn) and pole bean seeds which are planted behind this bed.

Until we're able to put up a real fence around the garden, we had to make do with an invisible fence for the dogs. They love the garden, upturned soil, and easy claim to veggies. I'm not having any of that this year.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Squirrel Antics

While I was in Portland last week, we visited the amazing International Rose Test Garden. They had a nice little snack stand, so I purchased some peanut M&Ms to hold me over until dinner. About that time, along comes the most obese squirrel I've ever seen!

Photo courtesy of Natural Gardening who was also at the conference.

He, of course, spotted my treat and lumbered over to see what he could coax out of of me. Now, I was raised not to feed the animals and especially squirrels (rabies, anyone?), so as he got closer and closer, I realized he wasn't going to stop. I had visions of squirrels at Historic Bok Tower (I'm going to add that this is also the highest point in Florida) where the squirrels are actually so aggressive that they jump on your leg. I also had a flashback to elementary school when a squirrel attacked my best friend and she had to get a rabies shot. So, of course, I'm backing up and weaving in and out of people to get away from him. He would get distracted for a few minutes, but ultimately would find me in the crowd and come my way. Someone finally fed him some crackers and he left me alone. Everyone then thought he was really cute and continued taking pictures of him. I wasn't going to get close enough to get a picture, so I had to borrow one. After we got on the bus, I actually had one old lady say to me "was that you the squirrel was chasing? That was so cute!" I didn't think it was cute. And, fat squirrels like this sure don't endear the species to me.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Northwestern Nurseries

I love visiting nurseries, but being as plant illiterate as I am, it's really hard to do that anywhere. But, especially 3,000 miles out of your home range. Yesterday, we visited two fantastic nurseries here in the northwest. I followed my plant nerd friends around for most of the day so I knew what things were. Iseli Nursery is know for conifers and Japanese maples and Terra Nova Nursery specializes in plant tissue culture and actually some tropicals, too. Portland is actually in Zone 7b-8a, so it should be very similar in plant material to us, but it's not. They lack our humidity and fall comes much earlier and stays cooler much more consistently. I did take some pictures of my own yesterday with Kim's point and shoot which was nice of her. We attended a session yesterday on making magic with point and shoot digital cameras, so I was inspired to try. I'm not sure I really have a photographer's eye, but maybe practice will help.

This is a Picea abies - which to me just means a conifer we can't grow. But, I thought the cones were pretty.

More conifers

I liked the contrast of this one between the brown and green. The texture in the tree bark is also cool.

Iseli Nursery

Hydrangeas are one of my favorite flowers. We can grow them, but they take more care than I usually give. Mine keep petering out from lack of water.


This is a new Coreopsis. I love coreopsis. Not only are they Florida's state wildflower, but they do awesome in my yard.


Echinacea is one that I would like to try in my yard. We saw many new beatiful cultivars and I actually caught one with a friend in it.

Echinacea & Bee

I'll finish this post with a very gatorish canna.


Today, we visit the Portland Rose Garden (it's supposed to be the best in the world), the Portland Chinese Garden, and the Portland Japanese Garden. We finish the day up at the Portland Zoo for an awards ceremony. Gardening in a Minute is up for a gold award for on-air talent. It should be a great day.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Gardens, Books, and More, Oh My!

I'm here in Portland, Oregon attending the 60th annual Garden Writers Symposium. I love that my job lets me do things like this. It's an awesome conference with great people. One of my favorite parts of the conference is the garden tours. Yesterday afternoon, we spent touring private gardens and a retail nursery. While I didn't get to see as many as I would have liked. (Kim took all of these pictures. She's in charge of the camera while we're here since she's the better photographer.)

My favorite private garden was Bloomtown. It was a great little house that was jam packed with different garden settings. She'd also turned her driveway into a kitchen garden with raised beds. It was really cool.

Kitchen garden at Bloomtown garden in Portland

This garden gate was an old window door. I fell in love with it and made Kim take a picture of it.

Unique recycled garden gate

My other favorite stop was Garden Fever. It's an urban specialty retail garden center and it was so cool! It had a great gift shop area and the nursery plants were displayed really nicely. It's right in the middle of a neighborhood. I wish we had something similar in Florida. Kim took a picture of me in the garden center. Obviously, I was cold.
Emily in the plant center

Last night, we did a little exploring of Portland. We ate at a local Brewery, hit REI, and then stopped at Powell's bookstore which Portland is famous for. One thing that really impresses me about Portland is there public transportation. It's amazing how well it runs. Luckily, Kim and Erin kept track of where we were at because I was really tired and I can't read maps. I hope to post more pictures later today or tomorrow morning, so be on the lookout.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Second Week of TV Shooting

We spent our second week filming for our upcoming TV show. I couldn't be there all week, so I didn't get too many pictures. It's been crazy at work lately and my blogging is suffering for it.

There is a great rose trial garden at the Plant City Campus. I really liked this rose. Sydney Park Brown did a segment on low maintenance roses. I have a knock out in my yard, but I love these old Florida varieties.

Here's our American Gothic Gardeners - Walter Reeves, our show host, and Sydney Park Brown, our consumer horticulture specialist. I love this picture of them.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

More Fay Mess

We continue to have lots of standing water. Because of our proximity to Payne's Prairie, I imagine it used to be like this a lot. Kim asked if we've seen a lot of alligators. No, but we have seen lots of water moccasins crossing the road. The rain drives them out and they try crossing to higher ground. John saw four yesterday. One summer when there was a lot of rain on the farm, they saw 35 moccasins. That's a lot of cotton mouths!

Here's the seasonal pond. It quadrupled in size from before Fay and actually takes up most of the horse pasture now.

Here's the tree we lost. I think it's a water oak, but honestly I haven't waded out there to look. You can see it fell away from the fence which is a good thing. Kim also had problems with water oaks. They're actually one of the trees that's not usually recommended by UF because of their susceptibility to wind damage.

Our driveway is a complete muddy mess. I now have almost gotten the truck and the car stuck in it. John's actually forbade me from driving down it - I have to park at the road and he'll move the vehicles in and out for me. This has forced us to think about getting a load of lime delivered. I was hoping to hold off on this for a little while longer, but I have to be able to drive groceries and kids closer to the house. John made me take a picture of how I covered the car in mud yesterday trying to get in the driveway. After this was when he forbade me to drive down. I think you can see why.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Post Fay Mess

We got 7+ inches of rain this last week from Fay and we're really under water at our house. Here's a couple photos to show how the water is standing. There's not normally a pond here. You can't tell from the photos either, but there's a good inch of water standing throughout the rest of the yard - the grass is just covering it up. I almost didn't make it into the driveway yesterday - it was a fish tailin', mud slingin' adventure. I have more photos to show (lost tree, seasonal pond, etc.), but I'll post those tonight hopefully.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Seasonal Pond Pre-Fay

We have a seasonal pond (aka - low spot) behind our house. It rained a little last week, so here's what it looks like before Fay really gets here. It's got some water in it, but mainly looks like standing water in a low spot. When we get a good amount of rain, it could potentially be three feet deep. So, this is what it looks like now.

And, I'll take a picture after Fay passes through.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Here Comes Fay!

It looks like Florida is in for its first hurricane in three years. And, of course, we haven't done much to prepare. We have most things on hand normally (being good seventh generation Floridians makes you wary during any hurricane season), but we've only got about 6 ot 7 gallons of water right now and just a few batteries. And, no charcoal. Because we live in Wacahoota (Payne's Prairie), we're on a well. And, if the power goes out - which it will - we have no water. We're also the last to get power restored usually because so many resources have to be diverted to Gainesville and the university first. So, if the power goes out, we'll camp at my in-laws next door. They have a generator. And, we'll try not to open the fridge and freezer.

My 5-year-old starts kindergarten at the charter school in Micanopy tomorrow, so this storm could really make his first week of school really exciting. I've got to get him prepped tonight - pack his lunch and backpack, pick out his clothes, soothe his worries. And, then it'll be more hurricane prep. Come to think of it, we should probably fill our bathtubs up. If you lose power and water, you can't flush the toilets. But, if your bathtubs are full, you can use this to flush. And, you could always boil the tub water to make it clean if need be. So, I'm off to get the kindergartner ready and batten down the hatches at home. We'll be ready for Fay when she gets here.

PS - sorry for taking so long to post. It's been a crazy couple of weeks at work and trying to get ready for school.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Urban CSAs

This is a really interesting take on CSAs (community supported agriculture). Normally, CSAs allow a person to invest in a farming operation and reap the benefits. This company has started retrofitting people's backyards into vegetable gardens and then the CSA operates on a very local level.

Read more about this in The New York Times.

As someone who grew up on an orange grove, but now mainly works with urban gardening, I love this concept. I really think people should be growing more of their own food anyways. It may not be as efficient or economical, but there's something very satisfying (and educational!) in saying I grew this whole salad in my backyard.

Over the years, I've volunteered quite a bit with Ag in the Classroom. The purpose of the organization is to educate youth about where their food comes from and help create well-rounded, critically thinking consumers. Many of the third graders that we would work with often said their food came from grocery stores. If you asked what they had for breakfast (usually orange juice or milk and cereal), and asked where the orange juice came from, it was always grocery stores. Sometimes they could make the connection back to the orange, but almost never could they make the connection back to the tree.

I know most people are now two to five generations removed from a farm, but this is still really sad. I want my kids to be very concerned with where their food comes from and how it's produced. I want them to think critically about production, processing, and marketing of food and make their own decisions. I think it helps when we are able to grow even a little bit in our backyards.

So, I guess what I'm saying is these urban CSA programs are great. If the vegetable garden is right in your neighborhood, you can visit it, ask questions of the homeowner (and the farmer who's helping), and still reap the benefits. It may even inspire you to try a tomato plant or two in your own yard!

So to inspire you, here's a picture that Kim took at the Garden Writers conference in Oklahoma this year. It's okra that was grown locally in a home vegetable garden. And, it's a great picture.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mammalian Lawnmowers (aka Goats)

So, we did it. We got some goats. Three to be precise. They're Spanish meat goats about six months old. Two does and a buck. Two of them were bottle fed as babies, so they're pretty gentle. They're going to be great for my little kids and for my urban 4-H kids.

The best thing about the goats is that they prefer to eat briars and weeds over feed. That makes them very cheap to feed.

These are the little girls. You can't tell from the picture, but the one in front is black with a white face. They're both very pretty.

This is the little boy. He came with the name "Cinder." His twin sister was "Ella." Get it? Cinderalla? We'll probably change his name. He was bottle fed and quite the baby. And, he really took to Will. He's following him all around. And, he's quite noisy wanting some more attention.

Here he is again. He's a very nice looking tri-colored goat.

Here's the other little girl. She was a single birth, so she's quite a bit bigger than the other two. She was also bottle fed, but is very smart, so she doesn't come up quite as much. She's very good looking.

All of them need names, so I'm taking suggestions. Will wants to name one "Sticky" because they like to eat sticks. If someone comes up with something better, that wouldn't bother me at all.