Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hot Buttered Rum

I don't have to tell you that it is cold outside.  It's cold up north, it is cold down south, and it is cold on the Florida panhandle.  It's actually freezing cold.  I am not going outside today.  The Back Forty Garden and Park is a mess. 

I usually don't feed the wild life on our property, but this season I have made an exception.  The bugs and insects are frozen and the seeds on trees, bushes, and flowers are also frozen and spoiled.  My husband fixed up a bag of popcorn that I put in a mesh bag and hung on a branch on a tree near the garden.  I toasted old bread and heals and crumbled them up and rolled them into peanut butter on pine cones and hung them up on a branch too. 

Staying inside, I decided to clean out my news paper clippings about gardening.  I also have saved recipe clippings that I like to read but not necessary make.  I found a recipe for Hot Buttered Rum that I clipped out from a November issue of last year's Esquire. 

In the microwave oven, I heated an 8 oz cup of water and used some of it to dissolve 2 packets of sugar in a mug.  I added 2 oz of rum and the rest of the hot water to fill up my mug.  Finally, I added a pat of margarine (I didn't have any butter).  It tasted surprisingly good on a cold day.

Warning:  Please, don't venture outside after drinking alcohol thinking that it warmed you.  It may feel that way.  You may not know how cold it really is and the consequences of such an outing are not pleasant.  Be careful with alcohol in cold weather. 

Stay warm.
Thank you for visiting my blog.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


I was first introduced to the Florida avocados at a small Farmer's Market in the beach area.  They were large, shiny and green. and I walked away from them.  The only problem was that the avocados were hard as rocks.  The farmer told me to take one home, wrap it in newspaper, and let it sit on the kitchen counter for a few days or until the avocado felt soft to the touch.

I asked the farmer if avocados grew in Northern Florida and was told that it was too cold.  The Florida avocado is grown commercially in Miami-Dade and Collier counties.  The trees are evergreen and may reach 30 to 60 feet, but not in my Back Forty. 

The avocado fruit tree is not grown from the seed but is grafted and grows best in sandy and limestone soils that let the water drain quickly.

The fruit is a berry with the large stone surrounded by a light greenish buttery pulp.  At maturity, the fruit may be green, black, purple or reddish depending on variety.  The Institute of Food and Agriculture Science (IFAS) of the University of Florida has extensive  information on avocados.

The avocado with the dark purplish and crinkly skin is known as the Haas avocado.  It is grown in California very much under the same warm conditions as the Florida avocado.  The Haas avocado is much smaller than the Florida avocado but it taste just as good. 

The Haas avocado may be grown in a barrel size container and some garden centers and nurseries may carry small trees for sale to home growers.  It takes about three (3) years for Haas to bear fruit when grown in containers.

To peel an avocado, cut lengthwise and break apart.  To remove the large seed, give it a good whack with a large and sharp knife and pull it out from the pulp.  On the other hand, scoop the stone out with a fork or a spoon.  After the avocado is halved, slice or dice the pulp while it is still in the shell and then scoop it out.

With this healthy monounsaturated fat pulp make a salsa by adding diced tomatoes, celery, and onions.  Leave it chunky or creamy.  Slice the avocado and add it to any sandwich.  It goes very well with just about any dish.

Unfortunately, this buttery pulp turns brownish after a short time so it is best consumed within a short time.  Eat and enjoy.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Planting Trees and Bushes

This time of the year is excellent for planting and transplanting trees and bushes because they are dormant.  They will have a chance to settle into their new environment and grow into the hot summer without too much of a shock.  The larger and more expensive trees and bushes in nurseries and garden centers may be balled and burlapped (B&B) which makes it easier for transportation.

A tree with burlap around its roots fastened with rope or wire will hold the roots in place and protect it during shipping.  It is however necessary to remove synthetic and plastic burlap along with strings, ropes, and wires because they do not decompose in the soil.  Furthermore, if left around the root ball or only loosened, it will hinder the spread and growth of the roots.  The wire may decompose in 20 years.

There are usually smaller trees and roses in particular that are often shipped bare rooted which means that there is absolutely no soil covering the roots.  The trees and roses are usually in a dormant stage.  As soon as the shipment arrives, it is recommended that the roots be soaked in water before immediate planting.

When planting these trees, a hole is dug, and soil and mulch are mixed to provide an ideal growth medium.  The hole, of course, should be large and deep enough to cover the tree roots but the graft of the tree should remain above ground.  Water is the key in planting bare root trees and bushes.  If there is no rain, water every day for a week, taper off, and keep watering when necessary.  I usually add fertilizer after the plants have established themselves.

My preference is to acquire a tree or a bush packed in a container.  When buying such a plant, I check to see if the plant is root bound.  This is easily detected when roots are sticking out through the drainage holes in the bottom of the container.  I also check for roots growing in circles on the top of the container and spilling over the rim.

It is not necessary to plant the tree grown in a container as soon as you get it home.  It will survive  for an extended time given food, water, and set in a somewhat sunny and protected place.  A container grown tree or bush may be planted any time of the year.

When planting, dig a hole larger than the plant root, mix soil with compost, and set the plant with the graft above ground (if the plant does have a graft).  I have found that the late winter in NE Florida is the best time to plant and/or transplant trees and bushes. 

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Parson Brown Ambrosia

Parson Brown is sweet, round, and tall.  Parson Brown is a common orange tree that may reach 25 feet in optimum growing condition, climate, and soil.  It is said that this very sweet orange originated in Asia. The Parson Brown oranges were carried by traders to the Mediterranean around the 1450's.  Two hundred years later, it was a widely known luscious fruit, a fruit for the gods, and arrived in Florida via South America and Mexico.

It is one of the most commonly grown orange in Florida with 200 million boxes annually; however, a freeze may reduce the crop by 20 to 40%. 

The one Parson Brown tree in the Back Forty Garden and Park has been covered up with a frost blanket the last few nights and a utility lamp has aided in keeping freezing temperatures and frost from damaging the fruit.

The Parson Brown orange has a thin tight peel covering its round body.  It is not free of seeds.  It is best cut up in quarters and eaten over the sink.  It is a most delicious juicy orange. 

When preparing ambrosia, I have found that it is rather easy to thinly slice both ends of the orange with a paring knife and to stand it on one end and cut away the peel including the white pith that is bitter.  Then I cut the orange into bite size wedges over a bowl to save the juice.

It is my understanding that Ambrosia is a Southern addition to any festive table.  In its best and most simple form, the Ambrosia consists of cut up orange wedges layered with coconut flakes, no sugar needed when using Parson Brown.  The oranges provide enough of their own juice to make it moist and luscious.  To make it sinfully luscious, add a few table spoons of Orange Liqueur.
Parson Brown Covered Up

Some folks add pineapple, bananas, apples and heaven knows what other fruit along with the coconut to make their ambrosia.  I like pineapple and bananas and I sometimes do add them to the Parson Brown Ambrosia.

The Parson Brown tree is full of bright yellow oranges that are now ready for picking as soon as the weather gets warmer and I can remove the frost blankets.  They store very well in the fridge or in a cool area but they don't last very long in our house. 

Stay warm.
Tank you for visiting my blog.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Water Pump

The pump used to run the irrigation system on the Back Forty Garden and Park fizzled and died a few weeks ago and my husband and I struggled with wrenches and torques to loosen bolts and nuts to break away the casing that held the pump together.

After the pump casing was finally loose, we carried it in the car to our most valued, technical and mechanical handyman at the ACE Hardware store.  He shock his head and confirmed  that the pump was beyond repair.  We walked away from the store with a new cast iron pump and hoping that most, if not all, the existing PVC pipes would fit the new pump.  Of course, we needed new couplings, adeptors, and cement that required additional trips back to the hardware store.

The pump is a one horse power ACE Jet Pump for Shallow Wells and it must be primed before running, meaning that it should be filled with water.  This is easily done by adding the water to the PVC pipe connecting the pump to the "bladder," or pressure system tank, sitting on the top of the pump.  Once running, the pump is self-priming.

To test that there is sufficient water, run the pump, and cover the pipe with your hand or you will get splashed. If the pump is being replaced, the old tank may be used again.

It is also imperative that the valves for the inlet and outlet lines are open or the pump will be running dry. Failure to prime the pump and open the valves will result in damage to the pump.

Pumps for Shallow Wells

The pump is wired for 120 or 230 volts and, of course, it is important that the correct setting be selected.  For safety reason, turn off the electricity using the switch above the pump, usually on the outside wall.  Also, turn off the circuit breakers  in the breaker box usually located in the garage or the utility room.

There is more than adequate information in the manual for the tank and the thirteen (13) page manual for the pump that should be kept along with the receipts.  The manual for the new pump contain explicit drawings, lists of parts, and most importantly shows how to install the pump.  It also contains the information for safety that should be read carefully..

Everyone should be somewhat familiar with the workings of various equipment and machinery to run a household, including the garden and yard.  If my beloved husband should become incapacitated, I won't be so vulnerable to "professionals" who will be more than happy to help me at a price and even sell me a bill of goods that I don't need.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Winter Gardening

I recently made a check at a couple of garden centers in NE Florida to see what vegetables they had available for planting in a winter garden.  They both had a fairly good selection of herbs, especially rosemary, at hefty prices.  One center had no vegetables at all while they had fairly healthy looking plants more suited for fall.  Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and collards were available.

Those vegetables should be ready for harvesting at this time, not planting.  Planting these vegetables now will interfere with the spring garden in the April time frame.

At this time, I am busy spreading as much as possible of the compost from my pile, removing dead vegetable plants, and turning the soil.  To prevent nematodes, I have scattered sulfur on the areas that I have tilled.  No, I don't exactly have an organic garden.

I am also removing the red cabbage that did not head up well.  The green cabbage became food for worms, insects, and bugs.  I have left two healthy broccoli plants to bloom and attract the neighbor's bees.

This is the time to plant potatoes, red and white, and it is also a good time to plant various sets of onions.  Both potatoes and onions are now available most garden centers.  The potatoes will take 60 -  90 days to mature and onions will take 140 - 180 days to mature which is a long time for the onions indeed.

Red Potatoes Ready for Planting
I bought five pounds of red potatoes, cut them up, and set them out with the eyes up in three furrows in the garden.  I covered the potatoes with a thin layer of soil saving the rest for later.

I will later hill the potatoes up as they begin to sprout.  This will give the potatoes more room to grow.

Potatoes are heavy feeders requiring fertilizer, not necessarily a large amount at one time but more often.

I planted the onions among the carrots that will give way for the pole beans later this spring.  Right now, the carrots are being harvested as needed.  I have also recently planted onions outside the rows of the Oregon Sugar Pod that will give way for the okra when the weather warms up and the danger for frost and freeze is over.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Peace Pilgrim

The other week, I was waiting with my husband at the doctor's office and there was this book on the coffee table that i couldn't resist picking up.  It was Peace Pilgrim, a book written by her friends.  From 1953 to 1981, this silver haired woman dressed in navy blue slacks, shirt, and a short tunic with pockets all around the bottom in which she carried her worldly belongings and her pamphlets, walked for peace.  She walked for peace among the nations and for peace within an individual.

Her philosophy: when enough of us find inner peace, our institutions will become more peaceful and there will be no more occasions for war.  Her most outstanding message to achieve inner peace:  Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.

I became aware of the Peace Pilgrim from my travel books that did not promote a particular destination nor did they have any maps.  They contained stories and tales about pilgrimages that signified internal travels.  What is the purpose for travelling?  What is the call for travelling?  What is the reason for travelling?

This is from the Peace Pilgrim: still....and know....that I am God. still....and know....that I am. still....and Know. still.

The Peace Pilgrim was copyrighted in 1982 by the friends of the Peace Pilgrim.  It was copyrighted only to prevent its being misused.  People working for peace, spiritual development and growth of human awareness throughout the world have their willing permission to reproduce material from the book.

There was also a note attached to the Peace Pilgrim that encouraged the reader to leave the book somewhere for some other person to pick it up, read it, and in turn pass it along.  I read it, enjoyed it, and passed it along.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Starting Common Herbs from Seeds

Do seeds differentiate between commercial planting soil and soil from the garden?  Maybe.  It depends.  The seeds need good quality soil to grow their roots, sprout, and become strong and healthy cultivars for transplanting.  When the soil is full of stones, sticks, and lumps the seed have nowhere to go and the debris stumps the sprouting.

I have taken the best soil from my garden mixed with compost from my pile for the herbs to germinate and grow in until they are large enough for transplanting into the garden.  It will not be such a shock for the tender plants when transplanted to similar soil as they began their growth cycle..

In a bucket, I added a shovel full of soil from the garden, mixed it with two handfuls of Black Cow, and two handfuls of commercial water retaining compost.  I removed the debris that would hinder the germination and growth and ended up with a rather smooth soil.

I filled the cells half full with soil in the planting containers, gently scattered some of the very small seeds into the soil, and then covered the seeds with additional soil.  I had written the names of the herbs and the germination dates on jumbo sticks used for craft projects and inserted the sticks into the soil .

Cell Containers

The following herbal seeds from Ferry-Morse were propagated:

Basil, germinates in 5 - 10 days, is a good companion for tomatoes and is used in sauces, soups, omelets, and cooked with corn for added flavor.

Dill, germinates in 7 - 10 days or may take as long as 21 - 25 days, is one of my favorites when boiling potatoes or steeping in vinegar and making pickles.  Does not grow well in the heat of the summer.

Sage, broad leafed, germinates in 10 - 20 days, is a perennial that is used in stuffing, for pork and cheese dishes.  With its gray leaves, it may also add an interesting accent to a flower garden.

Tarragon, germinates in 10 - 14 days, is a staple in tuna salads and beautiful when steeping in vinegar.

The cell packs were placed in a tray and put out in a sunny location in the yard and protected from the wind.  I will bring the tray inside when the temperatures are cool.

Be patient:  it may take longer for the herbs to germinate and consider that it will take at least six (6) weeks until the the tender herbs are ready for transplanting.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Plants Recovering from the Freeze

After two nights of the recent hard freeze, I have recovered my blankets and other bed linens from the small orange trees and sub tropical plants.  I have folded them ever so neatly but I have not put them away.  I am waiting for several other freezes.  We still have a couple of months of unpredictable weather, including freezes, before spring arrives.

The professional gardeners around the NE Florida strongly suggest to leave the freeze/frost damaged trees, shrubs, and plants alone.  Do nothing and give them a chance to recover.  If you want to check on the recovery or damage, scrape away a small portion of the bark with a sharp knife and if you find greenery, the plant is still alive.

The tall hibiscus with beautiful red flowers took a beating.  It looks terrible with wilted brown leaves and closed blooms that are ready to drop to the ground.  However, this is not the time to prune it.  The pruning may do more harm than good.

The Plumbago against the shed and along the scenic creek doesn't look too healthy but I am going to wait and see what develops.  I understand that the plumbago will come back from the roots.  If that is the case, I may have to trim the plant to clean it up and make it presentable.

It looks like the Mexican Petunia used to block the northern entrance to the Back Forty wilted and keeled over.  If that is the case, the State of Florida is smiling.  "They" consider the petunia to be invasive.

The schefflera or the umbrella plant under the cedar trees may have fared well but is sporting brown and wilted tops.  The blanket covering it blue off.  It is still a large and somewhat healthy looking plant and may have survived this freeze without damage.

A few beneficial things about the freeze:  It may have killed off some of the mosquitoes that delight feasting on us.  They may not be completely eradicated but the population hopefully have decreased.

Another benefit of the freeze may be that it killed off the air potatoes.  The vine is wilted and brown but I am sure the potato itself will live on, prosper and grow.  By the way, I read that there are some insects that feast on the air potatoes but unfortunately have not arrived in my neighborhood yet.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

First Aid for a Gash

I can't remember when I first got my First Aid Kit, but it has been a most valuable and important tool in my garden.  Consider the lawn mower, the clippers, and the trimmers that are used and the damage they may do to you or your loved one if used improperly.  Consider cutting the grass and brushing up against woody branches; consider trimming bushes and trees; and consider chopping up a fallen tree with a motorized saw; and consider digging in the soil with your bare hands.

First Aid Kit
Furthermore, consider bumping into the tractor and its trailer.  Ouch!  Also consider the trailer hitch attached to your car and you walk right into it.  It hurts but it is no big deal until you pull up your pant leg and discover a big gash.  That's what happened to my husband.

Although it may be thought as a "clean" cut, it still needs attention.  It may not bleed profusely, but it is still a big gash and I do not want it exposed and/or become infected.  This is where my First Aid Kit with its supplies  comes in handy.

I do not even attempt to clean the gash but I do apply a generous amount of generic triple antibiotic ointment, cover it with a compress, and wrap it with gauze.

I continue to wrap the the leg with an ACE bandage because with the gauze alone I know that it will slip off the affected area.  The ACE bandage will provide the right pressure and will keep the compress with the antibiotic and the gauze in place.  I change the dressing at least once a day.

If the gash is severe and you are on blood thinning medication, a visit to your doctor may be prudent.  He may prescribe another kind of ointment for you.  While you are at the doctor's office, ask for a tetanus shot, too.  It should be good for 7 - 8 years in Florida.

The most important thing about tending to a gash is to keep it moist.  It may be easier said than done.  If the compress has attached itself to the wound, apply a squirt of saline to loosen the compress.  By keeping the gash moist with the ointment/salve and/or saline, the gash will heal from within and eventually heal.

Today, the local drug store had a good deal for stocking up and refilling my First Aid Kit with antibiotic ointment, gauze and gauze pads, and various tapes.  I also have a strip of of plastic to use as a tourniquet.  Furthermore, in the Kit I have a pair of scissors and a tweezers, bandages, and a pair of gloves.  It's amazing what the First Aid Kit will hold.

Take care of yourself.
Thank you for visiting my blog.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My Garden Tools

Nowadays, the handles for rakes and hoes are made out of plastic which requires no attention.  The handles are nice and smooth, no splinters to hurt a bare hand.  They also retain their colors, usually yellow, and are easy to find in the shed or in the tall grass and among the weeds.

Garden Tools
To keep the wooden handles from rotting, it is a good idea to give them a good rub down with linseed oil obtained at the hardware store.  The linseed oil penetrates the wood, will prolong the life of the handles, and keep them from becoming brittle and develop splinters and cracks.

The most durable and dependable tool used in my garden and lawn is the spade with a slightly rounded bottom edge.  I use it for turning the soil, for loading the compost for transporting, and for cutting through the tough St. Augustine grass.  I also use it for digging up bushes and small trees for transplanting or disposal.  Furthermore, I use it to dig up large weeds in the lawn.

Because the spade is the most used tool, I should take better care of it by sharpening the blade and therefore make it easier for me to dig and turn the soil.  To sharpen the blade, I attach a grinding stone (a small wheel) to the hand held drill. It is also important to wear safety glasses when undertaking this task.  By all means, wear a mask to cover nose and mouth.  Also wear garden gloves and a long sleeved shirt.

Another important tool that I often use in the garden and yard is the hoe.  I use it to make rows for planting and I use it to cover the seeds and plants with soil.  I use it to gently pat down the seeds into the soil.  The same care I use for the spade applies for the hoe.

I use a hoe fork to turn the compost pile.  I found that the hoe fork works best to move and turn the compost in its designated area.  It works very well to hill up the compost into a pile.

My rake does not need much attention:  it is plastic!  It is easy to handle and maneuver.  It is light weight and wide enough to handle a large area of pine straw and fallen leaves.

The spade, the hoe, the hoe fork, and the rake are the most important tools that I regularly use in the garden and yard.  Of course, after each use I put them away into the shed.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Hard Freeze

The other day I took the car for an oil change and the thermometer in the car registered ICE for the outside temperature.  What is this?  This is supposed to be Florida but this part of the Sunshine State had only nine (9) days of sunshine last month.  Now we are waiting for a Hard Freeze that won't let up until midday on Wednesday.

Winter Landscape
So, we take care of people, pets, plants, and pipes.  It is important that the wild animals do have shelter away from the cold wind, a safe place where they can burrow down and make a nest for themselves. It doesn't hurt to set out a little feed:  sliced oranges on strings, dry cat food in peanut butter and rolled into a pine cone.  Be sure that the animals and birds have water available, water that is not frozen.

Of course, your pets are inside, well cared for and well loved. My husband and I took the tractor cat for her shots today and when the veterinarian entered the exam room he exclaimed: "Oh, that cat!"

Take care of yourself, too.  If you need a space heater, be sure that it has a cleared radius of at least three (3) feet and do keep it away from your bed and bed linens.

We wrapped two small orange trees in frost blankets this afternoon and put up a utility light inside the tent. We did not have enough blankets so we used sheets and light weight blankets and we tied them all together with clothes pins.  We also covered sensitive greenery with blankets and I covered some of the plants with flower pots.

To heat (and cool) our house we use a Florida heat pump that pulls water from the ground and removes the heat (or cold) from the water, circulates it, and forces the heat (or cold) into the house.  Some say to close off the rooms that you do not use and others maintain that it puts the forced air into an uneven distribution or something to that effect.  Any way, we covered the pump and the pipes with a rug and put a utility lamp under the rug.

If you are not sure about your pipes: wrap them with towels and blankets.  David Gray Plumbing recommends that you leave the water flowing.  In other words, let it drip ever so slightly.

Finally, be sure that the kids at the bus stop is covered up.  With the wind chill factor, it won't take long to develop frost bites.

Hang in there; spring is on its way.
Thank you for visiting my blog.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Beginning of the Winter Garden

There are a lot of things to do during the seemingly long and cold winter season.  One of the most important tasks is to keep the compost pile active by adding organic kitchen debris including coffee grounds and egg shells.  It is also important to turn the compost pile ever so often.  It looks better.  Keep it moist and give it a handful of fertilizer now and then.

Another important thing to do is raking up the leaves and pine needles from your grassy area also known as lawn.  Add this debris to the compost pile, mulch around azaleas and roses.  I heard a cute saying for the reason that leaves are called "leaves:"  leave the leaves where they fall.  Not.

In the north eastern part of Florida, it is also time to prune roses unless they are still retaining a lot of greenery and are still blooming.  When pruning, try to shape the roses in the manner you want them to eventually grow.  The roses should definitely be heavily pruned for the next growing season no later than February.  Remove the leaves that are spotted and remove the leaves on the ground.  They are in all probability disease carrying.  Finally remove the weeds in the rose beds, fertilize, and mulch.

Also, Cassia has bloomed out and is dropping its leaves.  It is time for a severe pruning to promote new growth for the upcoming season.  Cassia is a fast grower.

In case of a prolonged deep freeze, pick all citrus fruit that are ripe for harvesting.  Remove all weeds and debris around the trees.  Trim the dead branches and trim away branches that touched the ground during this past growing season.

If I must at this time of the year cut the grass, I use the highest setting and the grass catcher bags to catch those blooming plants (weeds) and seed heads.  Some of the larger weeds are best removed manually.  I simply use the shovel to dig up the roots.  It does leave pocks in the lawn but I consider the ground as being aerated.

Keep an eye on the temperature and protect your sensitive plants with frost blankets or bed sheets.  Avoid plastic and tarps directly on plants because their sides are freezing cold and they do not trap the heat.  If possible, deep water areas that you especially want to protect from frost and freeze.  The soil retains the water and the heat.  We have a small orange trees with its fruit that we are going to cover with frost blankets and hang a couple of utility lights inside the frost blankets.

Happy Gardening.
Thank you for visiting my blog.