Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Service Gardening

My 4-H club has been given a great opportunity - installing and maintaining a butterfly garden at a local library! My kids are so excited. They love the butterflies and the opportunity to do something for the community. We'll be able to teach our kids about giving back to the community and helping out where you can. This will be a long-term service project for the club. They'll be responsible for maintaining for a long time to come.

I went to visit the library and sketched an outline of what the garden looks like. We're also working with our county horticulture agent, Ms. Wendy.

Here are the plants we'll be asking for donations for.

Nectar Plants
--Fire bush
--Mist Flower
--Tropical Sage
--Snow Square Stem
--Fire Spike
--Mexican Sunflowers

Host Plants
--Passion vine
--Wild Cherry Tree
--Wild Lime or Citrus Tree

I'll keep you updated on the progress of the garden and the learning that my club kids are getting.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Garden Contest Update

So, my bed is doing better than John's but I'm still losing. The reason you ask? Because he does a better job of caring for the whole garden (including my bed) than I do. I guess I'm going to owe him a date.

I did buy him some bare root sweet potato plants and he finished planting the corn. The tomatoes and peppers are blooming and the squash are amazing. I don't know why anyone would buy squash starter plants. They're so easy to start from seed!

Now, if only we could keep Tebow out of the garden and stop him from chewing through hoses!

Free Plants

One of the benefits of working in the environmental horticulture department is that we sometimes get free plants. These are usually leftovers from plant trials or research studies. I don't care where they came from - I get free plants!

Here's what I was able to get this time. I chose a lot of butterfly gardening plants because my 4-H club is getting ready to install a butterfly garden at the local library. I was going to ask for donations anyways, so this works pretty well.

I did get quite a bit of lantana. We won't be putting this in at the library because of the negative views of it. It actually was a plant that I had a really hard time putting in my landscape the first time. I grew up on an orange grove and, in orange groves, native lantana is very invasive and weedy. I spent much of my childhood spraying or pulling up lantana. Now, I love it (when it stays where it's supposed to) and appreciate it as a butterfly plant. We actually have several faculty members working on breeding a sterile version which is very exciting!

I love geraniums. They're so pretty and are great bloomers.

Zinnias for the butterfly garden. I didn't realize there were so many different cultivars and shapes that they came in!

This is the coleus everyone was jealous I got this year. Not sure which cultivar it is, but it's gorgeous! It's burgundy on the top of the leaves and lime green on the bottom. I've been told that it roots really easily from cuttings, so I'm going to to give it a try. Everyone's requesting a cutting once I get them going.

This is the sweet potato vine I was going to put in the container with it. Erin helped me out with picking it out. She's created a lot of awesome containers and has quite an artistic eye for them. I would never have chosen this to go with it, but I think it looks great.

Native Maples

Maples are a common sight around the farm. They grow very easily here in north central Florida and make great trees. My mother-in-law digs them up when they're small trees and pots them. This way, we can use them in our yards. Last year, she "rescued" probably 8 or 10 of them. They've been in the pots way too long and have rooted into the ground. We finally got around to planting a few. Joh dug up four of them - three for me and one for his mom. We got ours planted on the porch side of the house. They're all about 6 feet tall. I put two on the inside of the fence and one on the outside. I'm hoping to create a garden on both sides of the fence. The one on the far right isn't doing so well now. The leaves have all turned brown and Tebow has stripped some of the bark off. Imagine that. The others are doing okay. They're suffering a little shock from the transplant, but not too much.

This is the one on the outside of the fence away from Tebow. We're propping it up a little bit right now, but it's doing well. I sprayed a big area around it this weekend, so we can start turning it into a flower bed.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Spring Vegetables and Garden Contest Update (I'm Winning!)

So, here's a picture of my raised bed. I've chocked it full of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, pole beans, and okra. I think it's looking pretty good.

Here's my husband's bed. He's only got tomatoes, peppers, corn, and a little okra planted. He was planning on planting more corn and some watermelon seedlings. But, he's run into a little problem.

Here's the problem. See how the new growth on the tomatoes is curling up? We've been watching it for a couple of days and it's just getting worse. He did a couple of things different in his bed than I did in mine. First, he added composted horse manure. I just added new potting soil. He also planted his tomotoes about a week before me. Mine came from the same six pack, but don't seem to be affected.

Last night was our 4-H meeting and we're lucky enough to have several very expert parents in our group. The UF nematologist is one of the dads and he took the first look at them. Definitely not nematodes, maybe herbicide damage. John hasn't sprayed anything since last fall. One of the moms is a doctor of plant medicine (DPM) student, she thought it could be something viral, soil based, or herbicide also. Our speaker last night was our county horticulture agent. She thought it might be tomato curly leaf (or top - I'm not sure which) virus. They all took samples back and we'll see what they say. I have to say, it comes in pretty handy being in a university town sometimes. The DPM student did tell him that if this is happening to his new growth, then that's not a good sign and he would be best to rip them up and start over (just in case it is viral). So, John did the only thing he could do and ripped them up. He also ripped up his peppers since they also were starting to look a little affected. I don't think he'll be planting anything in the Solanaceae family (tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, potatoes - just about everything that we put in the spring garden) just to be on the safe side. So, he's going to plant more corn and watermelon.

So this means, I'M WINNING!


Last fall, I planted a small area of coreopsis seed. I've been watching them (and making sure my husband mows around them) all winter. They're finally blooming. They're gorgeous and they're Florida's state wildflower!

Easter lilies blooming

My free Easter lilies are blooming!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Swingin' in the Hammock

Hammocks are great for everyone, especially kids. Kim recently gave us a hammock and my husband put it up for us. Will has really enjoyed it, but he hasn't really gotten the hang of climbing in or out yet.

Friday, April 4, 2008

U-pickin' with kids

There is a small u-pick strawberry farm just north of us. John stops in there regularly since they're on his customer route. He was asking the owner about bringing Kaity out. If I haven't mentioned it before, Kaity LOVES strawberries. The owner tells John to bring her out.

His response: "I'll have to weigh her in and then weigh her out."

I thought this was pretty funny. I grew up going to the u-pick strawberry farms down in Tampa and loved this time of year. Here in north Florida, we have a lot more small u-pick sized operations up here. The kids and I are going to try and visit a blueberry u-pick this year and there's a very nice muscadine grape u-pick just down the road from us. If you've never gone u-pickin before, now is the time to try out. For farms in your area, you might check the Local Harvest site.


I bought vegetable plants on the way home today. I got a 9 pack of silver queen corn, 9 pack of black beauty eggplants, a 6-inch ichiban eggplant (which I've been dying to try), and a 6-inch Mr. Stripey tomato. I was especially excited about Mr. Stripey. I also got some citrus fertilizer and a couple of large tomato cages. I'm trying to get ready so I can be a challenger in the First Annual Wacahoota Guy vs. Girl Gardening Contest. I put all the plants on the picnic table in the backyard with the rest of the seedlings that John's already started. We're borrowing Tom's rototiller this weekend, so I was planning on putting them in the ground tomorrow.

So, I was sitting at my computer catching up on my blogs and talking about my day with John, and I looked out the window.

Me: "AAAAAHHHH!!! He's eating my plants"

I rushed outside. Tebow had gotten Ichiban off the table and was eating the pot. I was able to rescue Ichiban and quickly replanted him. Tebow got a good scolding. And, everything was good.

Not 20 minutes later, I again looked at the window, and...

Me: "AAAAHHH!! He's eating more plants"
John: "Hurry, get them!"

I rushed out the door and into the backyard with John on my heels with the broom to swat the dog. The corn, eggplants, and Mr. Stripey were all over the ground. I was able to rescue most of the corn and eggplants, but Mr. Stripey bit the dust. I'm very upset over it. John is currently outside potting the corn and eggplants into small containers (outside the dog area), so that they don't dry out before we have a chance to plant them.

John: "It's just a stage. He'll grow out of it."
Me: "He better. Poor Mr. Stripey."

Gardening Through Books

As I've been researching secret gardens, I came across a neat article by the National Gardening Association - Planting a Love for Literature. I really like some of the ideas mentioned in this article. I've already used the JMG Literature in the Garden curriculum (which by the way is some of the best curriculum I've seen so far), but that's more on a book by book basis with small activities. I like the idea of reading the Beatrix Potter books and then getting my kids to help in the vegetable garden. Especially since we just got a couple 4-H rabbits. I could see them identifying with the characters in the book also. Peter Rabbit is one of my all time favorite characters and I hope to be able to pass on that love to them.

Secret Gardens

As we're really starting to think about summer projects (yes, it's already summer here - high of 85 today), I was thinking of building a secret garden for my kids. I remember playing in our plants when I was little and having all kinds of tea parties and such in there. But, the yard I grew up in was an established yard, and ours is not even close. I was talking with Tom about it and he brought up some good points.
  • How big do you want it to be?
  • What do you want inside it? Table, playhouse, creek?
  • What kind of look do you want it to have? soft, textured, etc?
  • Do you want a gate or arbor?

He did give me a good suggestion, though. He thought using wax myrtles (Myrica cerifera) for the walls would be really good. They're native here and I can probably dig them up from the farm. Pluse they make great shrubs or small trees, depending on how you prune them. And, they fill in pretty quickly. All good things when thinking about the walls.

I did a little Internet serching on secret gardens for kids and didn't come up with much. Anyone have any ideas? What other plant material should I think about using? It has to be sturdy enough for the kids and the massive puppy. My kids are yound and could play in this for many years. Should I think about putting a playhouse in with maybe a creek or pondless water feature? How big do you think it should be? Any suggestions would be helpful...

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Chasing Dragonflies

When we got home tonight, the kids spent the first few minutes checking on the bunnies. Kaity soon spotted a dragonfly and went and got her butterfly net she got for her birthday. She spent quite a few minutes chasing the dragonfly, but "it's too fast, mommy."

"I don't know where it went."

I sat on the porch steps watching her and thinking how free and innocent she is. It's been a long time since I felt that way. But, I do remember being her age (or maybe a little older) and chasing dragonflies also. But, eventually we all have to grow up.

We finally went inside when the mosquitos got too bad.

Citrus Trees

It's time to fertilize those citrus trees! Most of mine made it through the winter with a little damage, so now it's time to prune off the dead wood and fertilize them.

I actually grew up on an orange grove, so I should now about these things, but instead I asked my mom who was a citrus grower for many years. She told me to use a citrus fertilizer and use one pound every 6-8 weeks. Then she says, "you do remember how to fertilize a citrus tree, don't you?" It's been awhile, but, yes mom, I do. Scatter it like chicken feed; don't clump it up.

I also asked Tom about it and he basically told me the same thing except every 4-6 weeks. He also recommended that I look at Your Florida Guide to Dooryard Citrus - Young Trees. It's a good reference for people with citrus trees in the backyard.

More on my citrus trees in a later post.

On another citrus note, I gave Kim a variegated pink lemon tree for Christmas as her secret santa. Well, it seems that she's let it go a little crispy. I bought myself one, too. I checked it last night and it seems to be okay.

Caladiums and other garden updates

I finally planted my caladium bulbs. I've had them for about 6 weeks now and haven't been able to decide where to put them. I put them in a front bed that receives morning sun and a little afternoon sun.

I have a few caladiums from last year struggling to come up. We'll see how they do. Tom's told me that caladium bulbs in Florida get 50 percent smaller every year because of the poor soil.

I'm giving away the last of my lettuce. I brought most of it into work today. I have a little bit left in the garden, but it needs to leave soon. I can't start my garden for the guy vs. girl contest until the bed is empty.

We've got a couple new additions at our house. April and Sawyer, Holland lop bunnies, are joining us. They're going to be my son's new 4-H project. I'll have to keep them out of the garden, but they are so cute!

By the way , I love this idea - cattle panel arch trellis. I'm going to try to talk my husband into making this for me. I think we have all the materials at the house already and it would be a great way to repurpose other stuff.