Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Legend of the Dogwood

The legend has it that Jesus Christ was crucified on a tall and sturdy dogwood tree.  This cruel event caused much distress for the dogwood tree and when our Lord noticed that, He promised that a dogwood tree would never again grow tall and sturdy for the purpose of a Crucifixion.

White Dogwood
Some years ago, my husband and I planted a small pink dogwood tree among tall pines.  Although it had fairly acidic soil in partial shade, it failed to grow and prosper.  We later learned that it is simply too hot for dogwoods, especially the pink dogwood, to thrive or even make it in Florida.  They may experience blight, mildew, crown rot, and canker.

The dogwoods are among the first to bloom in the spring and it is quite delightful to see a burst of white or pink among delicate deciduous trees along a road side.

There is a rather old, well established white dogwood tree growing in my neighborhood.  It is bent and gnarly with Spanish moss hanging down from its branches.

Each blossom of the dogwood, white or pink, has the form of a cross:  two long and two short petals.  The center of the outer edge of each petal has three small holes remindful of nail prints.

The top of the petals are rusty on one side and brown/red on the other.  It is not difficult to imagine that they represent the spikes that pierced the hands and feet or Our Lord on the Cross.

Finally, at the center of the flower, there is a green cluster reminiscent of the Crown of Thorns used at the Crucifixion.

At this time that is leading up to the Easter Holiday, make some time to reflect.

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Return of the Ladybugs

Almost ten years ago, my husband and I asked the good people at the Seed Smith if they had any ladybugs.  They looked at us and wanted to know where we were from, meaning from what planet.  I was quite surprised to find that a garden center on the beach in NE Florida had ladybugs for sales and this is the time to release them.

Did you know that one in every four animals is a beetle?  Ladybugs don't like to live where it is cold, who does?  This information I learned from my granddaughter's Draw and Write book for grades 1 - 3.

These are steps on how to release you ladybugs into your garden:  Water your garden before releasing 1/3 of your ladybugs the first night, another 1/3 two nights later, and the rest two nights after that.  Refrigerate the remaining ladybugs in between.  You may also choose to do lots of small releases over  a 2 - 3 week period.

It is important to release the ladybugs after sundown, since ladybugs do not fly at night.  This gives them all night to settle in and find food and water.  If you release the ladybugs during the day, they will immediately fly away.  That's what I did last year and all 1,500 vanished.

If you choose ladybugs to combat aphids, shake the bugs out of the cup (or whatever container they may come in) in groups at the base of the plant.  Ladybugs always crawl up, I've bee told.

When storing the ladybugs, always keep them out of direct sunlight and as cool as possible.  They may be refrigerated (35 - 40 degrees F) for 2 to 3 weeks.  They hibernate at this temperature.

If not refrigerated, the ladybugs will need a little water.  Once each day, or two, or three, depending on the temperature.  Two or three shots of a fine mist is about right.  You want to moisten the wood shavings but not allow puddles at the bottom of the cups.

The above information is different from what I wrote last year.  To obtain ladybugs, ask your garden centers or check on line.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

My Red Room

 I was inspired by a recent critique of Fifty Shades of Gray and I realized that I have my very own Red Room.  It is not as elaborate as the room described in the book but I assure you it is just as dangerous and filled with drama.

It always starts with an innocent tease, a suggestion, even a smell and end with complete capitulation.

The tease is the beautiful red flower, a gift to soften my urge to say no! no!  It is always Yes! Yes! and a wish for a second cup of coffee before my day begins with a walk through the garden to find out what needs to be done.  What requires my immediate attention?

I see that my work in the Red Room is not done.  The wooden spatulas placed in a deep red pitcher have been added. Hint, hint!  Woman, stir up some oatmeal porridge for breakfast.

One time my husband and I had a heated domestic discussion in the Red Room.

My husband was demanding too much of me.  I have to cook and clean and do the dishes.  I am always tied to the stove with apron strings or so it seems.  I broke down and cried.  I told him that he treated me like a slave.  "I'm nothing to you but a kitchen wrench!"

I am currently on Spring Break with my granddaughter; however, I am too old to go to Daytona Beach and she is too young.

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Go Green for St. Patrick

You may have seen a beautiful slim woman (me) drinking a glass of something green and seemingly enjoying it while the companion is winching and grimacing at the taste.  It seems to be so popular to "juice" vegetables and fruits to come up with colorful concoctions.

For St. Patrick's Day, I juiced freshly picked kale from my garden.  The sun kissed kale is such an anti-oxidant powerhouse of a vegetable.

This is the green drink I made:  To soften a healthy handful of kale to make a rather full cup, I cooked it for a few minutes and saved the liquid and added water to measure 1 and 1/2 cups.

I finely chopped celery to make about 3/4 of a cup along with 1/4 cup of finely chopped parsley and topped this off with a handful of chopped spearmint.

To this mix, I added a coarsely grated apple (Granny Smith), squeezed the juice of a small lemon, chopped some of the peel, and added to the fruit.

In my blender I juiced the kale and water, celery, parsley, mint, apple, and lemon with some of the peel.  I used my hands to squeeze the emerald green concoction into a sieve over a small bowl.

The final result was two servings of juiced kale that I poured over ice in crystal glasses so that my husband and I could make a green cheer for St. Patrick.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Sweet Green Bell Peppers

A few more days and spring is officially here.  Does that mean that there won't be any more frosts and freezes for north east Florida?  Yes! Yes!  But the weatherman is still talking cold weather.  Let's be optimistic and hope for warmer weather.

The home improvement centers have their shelves loaded with vegetables and herbal plants along with trees, bushes, and colorful flowers.  At my last visit, I bought four succulent green Bell pepper plants that I have already planted.

For the sweet Bell peppers, I prepared an area in the garden by adding compost and turning the soil, smoothed it out with a rake, and dug four deep holes for the peppers.  The designated area for the peppers receives full sun most of the day.

According to the directions for the peppers, I was supposed to plant the peppers 18 to 24 inches apart to give them plenty of room to grow.  Once established, these Bell peppers are known to be heavy producers growing long into the fall and may even survive the winter.

I put a PVC ring around one of the small pepper plants to ward off cutworms.  Any ring around the plant will stop the cutworms from reaching the slim stems and biting/gnawing them off.

I gave the peppers a good hand watering and when the peppers start taking off, I plan to give them 6-6-6 regular garden fertilizer.  The estimated time to maturity is 75 days from planting time.

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Rings around the Eggplants

Today I plan to write about rings around my newly planted eggplants but sometimes my mind takes to free association.  In this case, I thought about a simple and cute nursery rhyme about rings around the roses and a pocketful of posies that turn out to be rather grim.  Life and gardening is not so easy but interesting.

The nursery rhyme dates back to the London Plague of 1665:  the ring of roses describes the red "buboes" around the neck of a person stricken with the disease; posies refers to the herbs that people carried in their pockets to help with their breathing and ward off the illness; at-choo signifies the sneeze that is the first indication of the oncoming illness. (Check out "Ring around the Roses" on the Internet)

The cold weather is still with us but I am pushing and hoping for a warm and sunny spring to come soon so I bought four eggplants and planted them in the garden.  They seemed to be doing fine but the other morning I found one plant broken off as if somebody had just broken it off and left it.  Aha!  Cutworms!

To ward off the cutworms, I cut a small plastic tube into four circles.  I checked the recycle bin for coke bottles or milk bottles that would have served this purpose too.

I further had to cut open the circles to slip them around the bottom of the plants and fasten them with tape.  Don't you think that will work?

These plastic bands need to be anchored into the ground and placed close to the stem of the plant whither it be eggplants or some other plant.

If you think you have problems with cutworms, it is so much easier to slip a round shield around your plant at the time of planting.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Sweet Buns for Fat Tuesday

Fat Tuesday is the last hurrah before the season of Lent with fasting and serious reflections begin.  When I was a young woman living in Sweden, Fat Tuesday (Fet Tisdag) and the following Tuesdays leading up to Easter, were celebrated by eating Sweet Buns with an almond paste and whipped cream, each served in bowl with warmed milk.

This is a basic recipe for sweet buns (semlor) :

To start, melt seven (7) tbs of butter or margarine--almost a whole stick.  Set aside in a small bowl and use the same pot to warm half a cup of milk, a tbs of sugar, remove from stove, and add two (2) packets of dry yeast.  Stir and set aside.  The yeast is alive and well when it starts to bubble.

Take out two eggs and let stand at room temperature while you measure out four (4) cups of flour, reserving some for the board to knead the dough later.

Measure out 1/2 cup of sugar to combine with the flour and add 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp ground nutmeg, and 1 tsp salt.

Now, beat one (1) egg and add to the dry ingredients.  Also add 1 and 1/2 cups of warm milk and the melted butter or margarine.

I used a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients well in a bowl large enough for the dough to double in size.  I covered the bowl with a dish towel and set it aside to let the dough rise for 30 minutes.

When the dough had doubled in size, I turned it onto a floured working space on my drain board and started kneading with the heels of my hands, adding flour as needed.  When the dough was somewhat firm, I cut it in half and kept halving until I had 16 pieces.  Using my hands, I quickly rolled the pieces into round balls, put them on two baking sheets, covered them with dish towels, and let them stand for about 20  minutes.

 I baked the buns in a 425 degree F oven for 12 minutes and kept a watchful eye on them.

In the meantime, I separated the other egg and beat the egg white to be used for brushing the buns when they were taken out of the oven and put on plates to cool.

While still warm, I placed one bun in a deep dish, cut off the top, and instead of an almond paste, I added chopped Florida strawberries and whipped cream.  I returned the top and dusted it with confectioner's sugar.

I had also heated milk that I now poured into the plate, presented my husband with the dish and a spoon.  Eat, my love.  He did.  He enjoyed it.

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Caring for Citrus Trees in the Spring

Here at the Back Forty Garden and Park, we had a bumper crop of citrus.  Of course, three Meyer Lemons may not fall into that category.  We had more of the Satsuma oranges than two people could eat and make marmalade to last for a long time.  We gave away oranges and we hardly noticed any decrease.  We still have Valencia oranges that should be ready for harvesting this month.

The Florida orange industry suffered because consumption of orange juice was down by 15% for the season.  People had so many other choices and the amount of sugar in oranges adding calories also added to the decrease.  The industry is also blamed for killing the bees by using pesticides.  With research, I'm hoping there will be a change forthcoming and better years ahead for Florida oranges.

In our small orchard, we have trimmed the Satsuma trees.  Some of the branches were reaching the ground, so we cut them back.  We cut out dead limbs. We cut out limbs growing on top of each other.  The Satsuma trees don't grow very tall; they are more like umbrella shaped trees.

One of the more important tasks in caring for the citrus trees is to keep the ground free of weeds.  For each tree, I (not we) have been on hands and knees pulling and tugging at weeds that so quickly invade the orchard.  The citrus trees have roots that grow very near the surface, so care must be giving not to hack away and thereby doing more harm than good.

Each of the citrus trees grows in a circle ending at their drip lines.  This makes it easy to mow with the tractor to cut in crazy eights when tired of going around in just one kind of circle.  It is also easy to remove grass at the edge of the circle with a weed whacker.  It looks very nice and clean when the trees are trimmed and the circles free of weeds.

At this time, we liberally sprayed the citrus trees with horticultural oil. The trunks were soaked and the branches were wet down.  We sprayed the the tops and undersides of the leaves.  We sprayed the trees just as new growth were appearing and more importantly we sprayed before the trees started to bloom.  This way, the neighbor's bees are welcome and they won't get hurt.

When new growth appears, it will be time to feed the trees with special fertilizer made for citrus trees.  The fertilizer instructions on the package give instructions on how much and how often to fertilize depending on the ages of the trees:  new trees, fruit bearing trees, and well established trees.

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Drink more orange juice.