Friday, June 28, 2013

The Blue Heron and the Pond

Finally, we can sit back and enjoy the pond.  The water lilies are just about to bloom; the cardinals are twittering nearby; and the butterflies are darting in and out of the flowers by the shed.  Life is sweet:  however, we are not the only ones enjoying the pond.  The blue heron has been watching and taking in the activities around the new watering hole for him with a good food supply.

We'd seen the blue heron many times hunting and stalking his prey in the scenic creek.  We have also seen him sitting on the railing on top of the trellis watching the pond.  I didn't think much about it until I found him in the pond early one morning.  I shooed him out in no uncertain terms.  He flew off high above my head and over the house.  He squawked as he did so.

The blue heron came back several times for an easy breakfast and we felt that we had to do something and fast.  We decided to put a netting of some sort over the pond.  But we couldn't just lay it down on the water or the heron could walk over it and help himself to the fish or kill the fish.

My husband built a frame of PVC pipes that he covered with bird netting.  We tied the netting down at the edges.  We also put pretty ribbons here and there on the netting to warn birds and other animals that there was something floating on top of the pond.  Who knows if that was a deterrent or an invitation?

We found out a few days later that it was not a deterrent for the blue heron.  My husband found him under the netting!  When the blue heron saw my husband, he carefully eased himself back out from under the netting and flew away.  We were impressed by his ingenuity although he created more work for us.

Darn!  We had to cover the sides of the frame, too.

The frame with the netting detracts from the beauty and enjoyment of the pond.  But, if we really want to see the pond without the frame, all we have to do is lift the frame out of the pond area and place it out of our vision.  However, we had better put it back before we retire for the night.  The blue heron is still watching.  That's all right:  we are watching him, too.

We talked to other people with ponds and they have have also had the same problem with herons.  Some place a heron decoy in the pond area, but is does not take long for the blue heron to ignore hat deterrent.

The blue heron is still with us but he has resigned himself to forge the scenic creek and leave the pond alone, I believe.   This is the end of the pond series.   I'm going bird watching for the weekend.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Stocking the Pond with Goldfish

The pond isn't leaking; the plants are still maintaining their colors, and the water is clear.  It is time to stock the pond with healthy and shiny goldfish from the pet store.  Some experts say that you should wait at least six (6) weeks before adding fish to the pond so that the vegetation has had a chance to root and the pond has obtained desired balance.

Goldfish are members of the carp family and they are surprisingly hardy.  They have to be to live and survive in our pond and, yes, they have proven to be hardy.  They have withstood predators and inclement weather with sudden changes in the water temperature.

When transported from the store, the goldfish are placed in a plastic bag half filled with water, tied, and placed in a cardboard box for stability during the ride.  To minimize the shock for the fish, we placed the bag onto the surface of the pond; still tied.  After ten minutes, we opened the bag and gently eased the fish into the pond.

At this time of the year, the water contains less amount of oxygen so we are on the look out for the fish coming up to the surface gulping for air. If this is the case, the water needs to be aerated.  It is also helpful to add more water to the pond.  Another factor is the vegetation:  it may be too much and cause the water to become too hot.  Happy and healthy goldfish breed readily in outdoor ponds under favorable conditions.

We prefer to feed the goldfish flaked food that floats instead of pellets that sink to the bottom.  With the flaked food, the gold fish has to come to the surface to grab the food and we can see them better.  We feed the goldfish about the same time each day, if possible.  If food is still left after five minutes, the fish are getting too much.  When we go away for a few weeks, we leave "vacation" food for the fish.  It is food in small containers.  But the fish will do well without food, too.  There is usually enough food for the fish to forage.

In the Time/Life book, Easy Water Garden, there is a chart for stocking levels and Alison B. Frances writes that it is important not to overstock the pond.  Her chart for stocking the pond reads:  "If the water surface area is 1 x 1 ft (30 cm x 30 cm), it will support a fish 2 inches (5 cm) long, from nose to tail."  To continue:  "This means that a pond of 100 sq ft (9 sq m) would accommodate 200 inches (500 cm) of fish.  This could work out to be one hundred 2 inch (5 cm) fish."

It is restful to watch the fish swim about in the pond and gracefully dodging plants.  It is a joy to be greeted by the goldfish.  Tell me that they don't recognize us and greet us.

Moisten stone,
Trickling water, 
Shimmering fish--
And the lily opens.
                                                                               --Helen Nash

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Aquatic Plants for the Pond

After completing the construction of the pond and checking for leaks, it was time to add a few aquatic plants.  I selected water lilies, cat tails, and a common underwater plant.  The plants will oxygenate the water and keep the algae under control.  Most importantly, the plants will provide shelter for the fish, provide a spawning area, and consume nutrients to keep the algae in check.

Because our pond is not that large, we choose two water lilies from the home improvement center. It was recommended that the lilies be planted with the pots near the middle of the pond because they require lots of room to grow, spreading from tubers to lily pads.  The lilies also need full sun shine some of the time and the morning sun is ideal.  Once established the lilies require little care. (This water lily opened this morning.  How is that for timing?)

We selected variegated cat tails to put on the east side of the pond, the side furthest away from the sitting area.  The cat tails were planted directly into the soil in the pond.  We used a generous handful of gravel to hold the plants down.

The variegated cat tails don't grow as tall as the more familiar green cat tails.  They have a tendency to spread and before too long we found them cropping up in the middle of the pond.  Cat tails improve water and soil quality and I have heard that every part of the cat tails is edible for humans ; however, at this time we were mostly interested in beauty.

Lastly but not least important are the fern like underwater plants.  They can be bought at pet stores. These plants are most vital for keeping algae at bay and providing oxygen for the fish.

 It is a good idea to put the submerged plants in pots to prevent excessive spreading.  It may be necessary to make a protective mesh cover (bird netting) to keep the fish from overgrazing; however, they will be able to nibble and at the same time trim the plant.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Building a Small Pond

We wanted the pond to be an escape, a natural place to enjoy, and a destination for a picnic.  We wanted to stock the pond with gold fish so that we could come out and feed them every morning.  We wanted a place for the frogs to lay their eggs, serenade us in the evening, and control the mosquito population.  The purpose for the pond was to give us pause in our walks through our Park and break up the monotony of a field of green grass.

There was an indentation in the lawn and it became a perfect location for our pond.  It received plenty of morning sun; it had shade in the heat of the day; and it was protected from winds from any direction.

During the construction of the pond, we roped off the area for safety reasons.  We didn't want anybody to wander into our Park, fall, and hurt themselves.  The pond was going to be at least three feet deep in the center so that the fish could hide from the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter.

The hardest part was to dig out the dirt.  We had to make sure that the bottom surface and the sides would be smooth to prevent snags or puncture to the pond liner.   We had the sides sloping in case someone should fall into the three foot deep pond.  This way, the person should be able to climb to safety.

We used a 6 mil black construction plastic for a lining.  The roll of plastic was 100 X 20 feet.  We only used about 20 linear feet.  It is probably available in lesser sizes at home improvement centers.

We fist laid down a layer of plastic.  Not only did the plastic have to cover the bottom and the sides, it also had to cover the edges, leaving a generous piece on top of the ground to be secured with dirt.  The finished pond is 15 feet long and about 8 feet wide.

We thought that the water was leaking out through a tear, puncture, or a rip so we added another layer of plastic; afterwards we were still losing water.  After we placed a third layer of plastic in the pond, we realized that the earth and vegetation were "wicking" out the water similar to a wash rag hanging on the side of a bathtub full of water.  That's why it is important to keep an open strip of plastic as a barrier between the water and the topside of vegetation.

Another important factor for the pond is the water supply.  We do not want the water to become stagnant which could harm the fish and vegetation.  This hasn't been a problem for us because we have a water-to-air heat pump system to cool and heat our house.  The outfall of this system provides water for the pond when the air condition or the heat is running.  At other times, we use a garden hose hooked to the pump to add water to the pond as needed.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Super Moon

A friend of mine sent me an e-mail to remind me about the Supermoon that will be most visible tonight and early tomorrow morning.  If the weather is clear, it should be an awesome sight.  The moon will be 30% brighter and the tide will be one inch higher than normal.  The moon will pass closer to Earth than any other time this year.   Enjoy the evening!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Midsummer Eve

It's the longest day of the year.  The sun is rising beyond our pine trees.  We are getting warm winds from the west and the morning is filling with humidity.  It's promising to be a sultry day at the beach.  Yet the longest day is filled with anticipation and a promise of sweet love.

We are sitting in our summer kitchen drinking Gevalia coffee and reminiscing about the many Midsummer Eves spent in Sweden.  We were young then. We stayed up all night dancing and watching the sun making its orbit. Nowadays, it's an accomplishment to cover our maypole with greenery, flowers, and hanging the two wreaths.

On our way in, my husband cut a long sprig of honeysuckle and handed it to me.  It smelled so heavenly sweet.   I weaved it into my blond hair and gave him a kiss on his cheek.  If I were a young maiden, I would pick seven wild flowers to put under my pillow so that I would dream of the love of my life who would come and sweep me off my feet.

I cannot find seven wild flowers on the Back Forty but I don't have to pick any flowers tonight.  I have already been swept off my feet.  Tonight we will share a bottle of Carolina Wildflower, a white table wine sweetened with honey.  It's from the Hinnant's Winery.  Ahh!  How nice!  Here is my clover, and honey suckle as well as jasmine--prominent features of this Carolina treat.

For dinner, I have made Swedish meatballs with a creamy brown gravy.  I plan to serve it with mashed potatoes and lingonberries.  You may get this meal in any IKEA, the Swedish home furnishing store.

In the meantime,  I have set the table with the most beautiful purple and violet colored cloth, showing the colors of Nordingra, Sweden.  We are going to have a small smorgasbord for lunch starting with herring served with small new potatoes from our garden and cooked with plenty of dill.  On new clean plates, we'll have round crisp bread with margarine and Kalle's delicious creamed smoked roe.

Let's raise our glasses of wildflower wine and make a cheer for the solstice.  I wish you a Happy Midsummer's Eve and  great weekend..

Love, the meatballs have to wait until tomorrow.  My plans for the rest of this long and wonderful Midsummer Eve are . . . .

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Last Thursday, the temperature reached 100 degrees F.  It hovered around that unbelievable number a short time.  When my husband came home from Silver Sneakers, I put my foot down and declared:  "No cooking today!"  After a short discussion, we decided to go for Bar-B-Que.

I hopped into the car and made myself comfortable.  I fasten the seat belt, checked my lipstick, and changed my reading glasses for some spiffy sun glasses.  We almost made it out of the neighborhood and through the green light.  Oh, wait!  I better check on the cell phone and plug it in to be recharged.

I started to look for the cord.  It should be between my seat and the console.  Hm!  What is this?  The cord isn't coiled.  What the heck is this?  Holy smoke!  Stop the car!  It's a frickin' snake!  A snake!!!  I'm otta here.

Luckily, the light was turning red as I was reaching for the door.

What is it?  What's the matter with you, woman?  My husband was yelling, too.  It was full blown panic in the car, the kind of panic that is detrimental to your heart.

He pulled over to the soft shoulder and I was out.  Again, my husband wanted to know what the heck was going on, what was causing the commotion.  I told him that I was reaching for the cord and almost grabbed a snake.

My very brave husband managed to shoo the snake out of the car and onto a grassy area.  We could not figure out how in the world the snake got into the car.  Where did it come from and how long had it been in the car?

It was no reason to hurt the snake or even worse, kill the snake.  It was not poisonous.  It was a long but slim snake, about 15 inches.  I've come across this type of snakes when weeding around the red top hedge by the garden.

After much research, I found out that the these snakes are "burrowers" spending much time in soil under logs and bushes.  They have a sharp tip on their tails that is used to help them dig.  The Eastern Worm Snake as they are called eat slugs, snails, and soft-bodied larvae.  The snakes are found in meadows, backyards, and at the Back Forty.

I am wondering if Eve screamed when she found a snake in her Garden?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How to Build a Low Border Fence

We are marking our territory by installing a home made low border fence somewhat reminiscent of a picket fence.  It's low enough for small animals to jump over and plenty of room between the pickets (shims) to crawl through.  It is simple to build but a bit time consuming and then there is the pride of doing it yourself.

The following is for a 40 foot fence and the material may be found at any home improvement center.  You may want to take a look at their ready made low border fences, too.

Instead of wood that decomposes too quickly, we used PVC pipes for posts going into the ground. We used four (4) 1/2" schedule 40 PVC Pipes that comes in 10' lengths.  The pipes were each cut into 4 pieces per pipe, 30" long.  A total of 15 pieces are needed for the 40' fence.

A post is attached with sheet metal or wood screws at each end of the 8' section and one in the middle for stability.  Pipe shears or a hack saw could be used for cutting the PVC pipes.

Ten (10) 1/4"x2"x8' Furring Strips were used for rails and two (2) bundles of Dry Cedar Shims placing the narrow points downward were used for pickets.

If you like to paint your fence, lay the wood out on a table or other flat surface that is convenient and paint as many strips as possible at one time.

We used a staple gun with 1/2" narrow crown staples (1/4" wide) to put the wood furring and shims together.  Sheet metal or wood screws were used to attach the finished fence to the PVC posts.  The two rails were spaced so that they are 7" apart (from top of one strip to the top of the other or 5 and 1/2" between furring strips, the rails).

The pickets were spaced approximately 7" apart by using a cutting board to place between the pickets/shims.  Anything rectangular may be used to set between the pickets to determine the space.  The pickets were placed with the thick side up extending 2" above the upper rail (furring strip).

Assemble the sections before installing.

Prepare holes by hammering a rod or wooden stick a foot into the ground, remove it, and then insert the posts and tamp them down.  Voila!  Now, you have a cute and durable home made fence marking your territory.

Not so fast!  It is strongly recommended that you ask your city fathers if a permit is required.

Monday, June 17, 2013

If the Buddha Came to Dinner

Front Cover
I was having lunch with my family at the Beans of the Belfry in Brunswick MD, an old restored church building, when I spotted the If the Buddha Came to Dinner in paperback.  I thought it was part of the antique decorum of the restaurant.  It's written by Hale Sofia Schatz and copyrighted in 2005.  It deals with "How to Nourish Your Body to Awaken Your Spirit."  It is such an intriguing title.

One of my favorite authors Lama Surya Das writes that Schatz "has developed a truly unique approach to nourishment.  The profound practice she teaches is both pragmatic and highly effective."  Who can argue with that statement?

I have underlined many nuggets of wisdom in the book such as "If you can listen and respond to the inner messages of your spirit, then you're in a state of nourishment" on page 5.  I have also inserted small bookmarks, strips of paper, and stickies in various colors to mark pages of self awareness and how to nourish the body and the spirit.  Get this:  "When you feed yourself according to the seasons, you are connected to nature's life cycles--the earth, climate, and the growing seasons."  I agree.

It has always been my intention to go on a "cleanse" and Schatz provides an excellence guide for a cleansing program and she maintains that "to cleanse is a retreat into yourself" and to begin the cleanse is to first clean your house in preparation for the cleanse that you ease into, no abrupt and sudden changes.

In her book, she prepares you mentally and physically for the cleanse.  She has provided an overview, a time frame, of the various phases of the cleanse and she provides you with several listings of "cleanse foods"consisting of fruit and vegetables for easy digestion.

What got my attention is the over 60 recipes for soups, salads, and main dishes with many vegetables grown in your garden  She suggests rutabaga, collard greens, and beets to name a few.  She combines the vegetables with a lot of exotic but common spices such as cardamon, coriander, and cinnamon.

But the question to ponder is:  What would you do if the Buddha came to your home for dinner?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day

Wishing all the grandfathers and fathers a Happy Father's Day

You so loved!

Thank you for all that you do.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

BEAM's Garden by Sea

The Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry (BEAM) has found a way to provide fresh vegetables for its "clients" in Jacksonville Beach FL.  A weed choked unattractive piece of land near their facility has become a flourishing garden with a grant from Home Depot Foundation for picket fencing, seedlings, and raised beds.  Other organizations and groups also participate in this community project where  a huge variety of herbs, vegetables, flowers, berries and fruit trees are growing.

It is BEAM's mission to "keep families in their homes and help them become self-sufficient.  Sometimes families just need groceries to help them get through the month.  Sometimes they need help paying their power bill."

After reading in the local newspaper about BEAM's gardening, I wanted to see for myself.  So early this morning, my husband and I paid them a visit.  We met Marilyn, the garden director, and she told us that the fresh vegetables did not remain long in their pantry.  BEAM has a grocery store for "clients" with a large cooler and a freezer on the premise.

The garden beds are raised and volunteers are each responsible for assigned beds.  Some are high enough and available for wheelchair bound "clients."  The vegetables are planted very close together in these boxes and producing an abundance of tomatoes, eggplants, okra, squash, and so much more.  Needless to say,  I was impressed.

With the help of scouts BEAM is planning to build a Serenity Garden, according to Marilyn.  She said that so many of the "clients" are in crisis and a peaceful garden under the tall shade trees would give them some solace and escape.

Interestingly, PVC pipes were put together to form squares, rectangles, and triangles with strings threaded horizontally and vertically for the pole beans, butter beans, and other vegetables to climb.

There was a well already on this lot, so BEAM was able to take advantage of it.  An extensive drip system is provided for each raised box and the surrounding fruit trees and berries.  This prevents black spots from developing since the water does not actually touch the vegetation.

Gardening on the Back Forty has come to a lull.  The Dog Days are here with heat and humidity.  There is not much going on.  We are just maintaining, keeping cool, and trying to keep the weeds and the grass at bay.  My blog activities are also coming to a lull.

Thank you for visiting my blog.  
Please, leave a message and let me know what is going on in your garden.
Remember Father's Day on Sunday.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Trivia at Culhane's

The grass is cut and edges are trimmed.  The vegetables plants are fertilized.  My hair is washed and I am showered and clean.  I am even wearing lipstick and black nail polish.  The latter is to hide the stubborn garden dirt.  Sometimes, I have to leave the garden, straighten my back out, and venture out beyond the park.  Tonight my husband and I are going to Culhane's, an Irish Pub in Atlantic Beach FL to play trivia with the ladies from Silver Sneakers--an exercise group for senior citizens.

Trivia is on every Wednesday night and most of the ladies attend to play some serious game.  I don't like to play trivia:  it is so trivial.  Who was the 35th president of the US?  That is the type of questions in trivia.  There are many questions about music, movies, sports, and literature.  I have never heard of the people or events involved in most of the questions asked.

Culhane's is a place where we can meet and socialize, tell about our families, talk about trips we have made or plan to take.  We show clippings from the local newspaper and voice our opinions about the elected officials in City Hall.  Some of the ladies enjoy their beers and I enjoy my Chardonnay.  My husband is the designated driver so he drinks soda and takes me home.

In his recent book, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, Guy Fieri, star of Food Network, cautions the readers about letting the strip mall appearance fool you.  Fieri writes:  "You walk in the front door and you are transported to County Limerick, Ireland."  He favors the Guinness Stew which is "funkin' unbelievable."

Neither my husband nor I have any Irish roots, but Culhane's is a popular place for dinner, a glass of wine or beer with friends, and a game of trivia.  We once had a generous serving of fish and chips in the dining room.  It was delicious.  We've also had potato skins and finger food while pursuing trivia.

The ladies and my husband are very good trivia players and they have been known to take home a first place now and then.  This is without any input and helpful suggestions from me.  Now, what does Trivia at Culhane's have to do with gardening?  That is a trivial question.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Watermelon Rind Pickles

Lately, I have been trying out recipes from the first The Foxfire Book.  This book came out in 1972 and the material (oral histories) collected and put together almost entirely by high school students in Rabun Gap GA in the Appalachian Mountains.  The books are introduced and edited by Elliot Wigginton, the teacher and inspiration for the books. There are many interesting recipes for breads and cakes and how to preserve fruit and vegetables.  I have used the recipe to make Watermelon Rind Pickles.

To make four pounds (1.8 kg) of watermelon rind pickles, here it goes:

Remove the pink pulp and also remove the green peeling any way you can.  Weigh out four pounds (1.8 kg) and cut the rind into 1-inch (2.5 cm) strips or cubes.

Combine 8 cups of water with 2 full tbs of baking soda.  Pour over the rind and let stand for on hour.  Drain.

Cover with fresh cold water and simmer for 1.5 hours or until tender.  Drain.

Wrap up 2 tbs whole allspice; 2 tbs whole cloves, and ten 2" (5 cm) pieces of stick cinnamon in a clean small cotton cloth.

Combine 4 cups of cider vinegar with 4 cups of water and 4 pounds (1.8 kg) of sugar.  Heat until sugar dissolves.  Add spice bag and rind.  Simmer gently for 2 hours.

Pack rind and liquid into clean (sterile) jars.  This watermelon rind pickle recipe makes about 6 pints (12 cups)

I cut down on the initial cooking time by 15 minutes because I wanted the rind to remain crisp.  I had some trouble with peeling. I ended up using the big knife.  I didn't have allspice so I used whole dill and celery seed along with the cloves and cinnamon sticks. I am storing my pickles in a cool place.  (1 cup = 2 dl.)

Eat and enjoy.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Peanuts as Cover Crop

For many years, we have used Southern field peas such as crowder peas and black eyed peas for a cover crop during the hottest time of the year when nothing but weed seems to flourish.  For a change here at the Back Forty, we are planting peanuts this summer.  It is a cover crop with "nitrogen-fixing" properties that is basically adding nitrogen to the soil.

Peanuts are also known as groundnuts and they grow best in full sun in highly loose, well drained fertile soil.  The peanuts develop small yellow flowers that grow on long stems called "pegs."  After pollination, the pegs drop and push into the ground to produce new peanuts on the buried tips.

Each peanut plant may produce 25 to 50 peanuts after 90 to 120 days from the planting.  At the seed store, we bought a pound, approximately 75 peanuts, which should cover a 100 foot row.

When we came home from the seed store, we shelled the peanuts, planted them 2" deep and 3 to 4 inches apart, and then covered them with soil.  Mostly, peanuts are planted in the spring but for Northern Florida they should do well as a cover crop.  To harvest the peanuts, dig or pull the plants when the kernels fill and the interiors of the pods are still light in color.  A spot check now and then is recommended and necessary.

When the plants with the peanuts are pulled, dry the pods still on the plants in full sunshine for 4 to 7 days before separating the pods from the plant.  It is suggested that the peanuts be stored with their shells intact.

The peanuts or the groundnuts are high in protein and vitamins E and B.  The peanuts can be eaten raw or roasted.  To roast, place the peanuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast in a 325 degree F oven for 25 minutes.  It is not necessary to shell them before roasting.  With a grin on his face, my husband strongly suggested that the peanuts be shelled before eating.  (Sigh.)

Source:  Encyclopedia of Plant Care by Miracle-Gro

Friday, June 7, 2013

Tropical Storm Andrea

It didn't take long for a storm to develop shortly after the start of the hurricane season.  Andrea blew in.   We stayed put yesterday,Thursday, and watched television in the summer kitchen.  We had lots of hazelnut coffee to drink while waiting for the rain to subside.  We received two and a half inches of rain.

What concerns me the most during a storm is the wind and the damage it can do.  We have some large pine trees on the Back Forty but there is no hint of root balls showing above the ground.  I consider that a good sign.  The wind does blow down cones and  branches.  It is cleaning out the deadwood.

Another concern is the "scenic creek"-- so coined by the local paper for the tourists.  Is is a tidal drainage ditch, plain and simple, bordering the east side of the Back Forty.  The city has made a lot of improvements for drainage over the the years.  So far, the ditch has been able to move the water to the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) without problems.

This time the tropical storm gave us some long awaited and welcome water.  The grass needed a good soaking and it is greening up and growing.  As soon as it dries out, it is time to cut it again.  The garden soil was bone dry and also in need of much water.  Hopefully, the corn will take off and grow.  It is struggling.

The weathermen continue to talk about a long and wet evening ahead.  This is only the beginning of the hurricane season and we are off to an early start for storms with Andrea as its forerunner.  We can only hope and pray for the best.

I wish you a cool and calm weekend.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cover Crop or Green Manure

I have it on good authority that a cover crop or green manure is a plant that is grown in the garden and then turned over into the soil.  It is often a legume from the bean family such as garden peas, snap beans, and butter beans.  These plants are known as "nitrogen-fixing" plants.  To me, in a most simple term, it means that these plants restore nitrogen to the soil.  I am not sure that I would be patient enough to hear a biologist's explanation for this term, nor fully understand it.  There is, however, plenty of information on this subject on the Internet.

The UF IFAS Extension scientists, the ones with "Solution for Your Life," begin their explanation of nitrogen-fixing plants by stating that "Much of the topsoil in Florida is very sandy and has very little organic matter."  Tell me something that I don't already know.  This soil condition is one important reason for adding green manure to the garden.

This is the time of the year when vegetable production is coming to a close for summer here on the Back Forty in Northern Florida.  It is getting too hot for the vegetables to grow and too hot for me to plant them and harvest them.

I have just turned over all of the greenery after harvesting the last of the snap beans.  The remnants of the bean plants will decompose in the soil adding organic matter, biomass, and providing nitrogen-fixing elements.

For the last few years, we have planted various kinds of field peas in the garden plots.  This year, we are planting black crowder beans.  In addition to providing the nitrogen-fixing properties and providing us with wholesome food, the black bean plants will control topsoil erosion, reduce weed, pests, and disease.

This is the first time we have planted black beans and it will be interesting to see the result.  I spaded the dirt, smoothed it out with a garden rake, and made a furrow a few inches deep and sowed the seeds about 2 - 3 inches apart.  It will take 63 days for the beans to mature according to information above the bean bin at the seed store.

Letting the cover crop do its work should give us plenty of time to enjoy the summer before we start gardening in the fall again.

Source:  University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How to Make Peach Jam

The other day, my husband and I made a trip to the Farmer's Market in Jacksonville, Florida.  My husband went one way and I went the other but we were still within eye sight of each other.  I wanted to find out if the peaches were in yet while my husband had already bought 1/2 bushel of South Carolina peaches and loaded them into the car.  They were the smallest peaches I have ever seen but they tasted pretty good.

After we had our fill of peaches and cream, it was time to make jam.  I decided to make one batch without  pectin and another with pectin.  In either case, I rinsed the peaches and removed the pits while slicing and dicing the peaches.

For the batch without commercial pectin, I poured the required amount of sugar over the peaches in an enamel pot and let it stand for two hours.

In the meantime, I washed the jars and lids in hot water.

For peach jam without commercial pectin:  I used 4 lbs of peaches including the skin, 2 tbs fresh lemon juice, 3 cups of sugar, and 1/2 cup of water.  I also tossed in a small piece of a cinnamon stick.  I added the sugar, lemon juice, and water to the peaches in the pot and put it on the stove.  It is important to stir often to keep the peaches from sticking and burning.  I let it cook/boil/simmer for a good hour.  At this time, it should be thickened.  If not, keep cooking and stirring.

You can test the readiness of the jam by placing a spoonful of jam on a cold plate.  If it gels, it's ready.

For peach jam using commercial pectin:  I followed the direction on the pectin box and used 3 lbs of peaches which should equal 4 cups of finely chopped peaches.  I let the chopped peaches, 2 tbs of lemon juice, and the one box of pectin come to a full rolling boil while stirring constantly.  At this time, I quickly stirred in 5 and 1/2 cups of sugar, let it again come to a rolling boil and let it boil for one (1) minute.

When the jam has thickened, I ladle the jam into the clean jars.  I like to seal my jars with hot wax after they are filled.  This way the jam does not have to be refrigerated.  According to the pectin recipe, this should yield about 7 cups.

Using the pectin does cut down on the cooking time but it does not make any difference in the taste.  The chopped peaches show up more clearly when pectin is used and the color is lighter.

Have a peachy day!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Purifying Water for Drinking

The hurricane season was ushered in with gentle sea breezes and plenty of sunshine but after a few days the heavy rains came and it is going to stay with us for the coming week.  The weathermen did not have a promising forecast.  It bothers me to hear of the severe weather and possible hurricanes that we may encounter.

I was having coffee in the summer kitchen when I pulled out the Hurricane Guide for 2013 from the morning paper.  I became quite concerned when I saw one list after another of things to do in case of evacuation.  Another equally long list had things to do if I decided to stay put and weather the storm.  Not to mention the grocery list and the list for the hardware store.  It was clear to me that I was not ready to stay nor was I ready to leave.

An interesting piece of information in the Hurricane Guide told how to purify water for drinking as specified by the Red Cross.  For a gallon of water (about 4 liters) add sixteen (16) drops of liquid chlorine bleach. "A sodium hypoclorite concentration of 5.25 to 6 percent should be the only active ingredient in the bleach." I had to go and check the bottle of bleach by my washing machine and it qualified.  Also, no added soap or fragrance should be in the bleach.

Let it stand for 30 minutes.

This is important:  If it smells of chlorine, you can use it.  If it does not, add 16 more drops to the gallon/4 liters of water.  Let it stand another 30 minutes.  Use it if it smells of chlorine.  If it does not, discard it, and find another source of water.

The guide recommended that we have seven (7) gallons of water for each person for a 72 hour period if we should decide to stay during a hurricane.  Now I wish that I had saved all those milk bottles.

Source:  2013 Emergency Preparedness Guide prepared by The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville FL

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Soil Solarization

When I was preparing the garden plot for planting the sweet corn and at the same time digging and pulling out the dollar weed, the idea of soil solarization occurred to me.  It seemed so promising.  Wouldn't it be quite marvelous if it would work and destroy the dollar weed in particular as well as soil borne pests and insects that are not beneficial for the vegetable plants?

The idea of soil solarization is to "reduce pests, diseases, and weeds." and even nematodes, a foe for Florida gardeners. Solarization is the process of using heat from the sun to solve, "to kill," soil problems by prolonged exposure to high temperatures.  To be most effective in North Florida, this procedure should be carried out during the hottest time of the summer.  Not only that, but it will take six to eight weeks to be successful.

To prepare the soil for the solarization process, all plant debris need to be removed, the area should be tilled, smoothed out, and moistened.  After this is done, the area is covered with a clear plastic and the edges should be tightly secured.  The thinner the plastic is, the more heat will penetrate.  Clear plastic produces higher temperatures faster than black plastic.

We tried this at the Back Forty a few years back.  We had a small area in the garden free of vegetables--a bare spot with nothing growing.  We followed instructions for soil solarization and removed debris, tilled the area, smoothed it out, and wet it down, and covered it with clear plastic.  To make sure that the plastic would stay in place, we covered all the edges with dirt.  We let it sit for at least six weeks which is a long time.

I overheard a lady at the hardware store with the helpful people telling a salesperson in the garden department about soil solarization.  She liked it very much and thought that it was working for her.
She highly recommended this process.

Soil solarization may not be necessary or advisable in color climates where pests and disease may not be as prevalent and obnoxious as in humid and warmer/hotter areas.  Some claim that vegetables or any other kind of plants will grow better in soil that has been treated by solarization.  What do you think of this idea?

Source:  "A New Leaf," a publication sponsored by University of Florida IFAS Extension, July/August 2006.

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