Thursday, January 29, 2015

Starting Tomato Seeds Indoors

This year I am giving the tomatoes a head start by sowing them indoors.  I am counting on nursing these seeds and plants for about six weeks and hopefully I will be able to put them out in the beginning of March.

My friend gave me about two dozens seeds for Sweet Million Cherry Tomatoes and he couldn't stop raving about them.  He said that the fruit grew in long clusters which should make for easy harvesting.  They should be ready for picking in 65 - 75 days and the plants may grow to about three feet tall.  They are also disease resistant.

I mixed good soil from the compost pile with perlite to keep the soil from becoming too compact.  The perlite keeps the soil aerated and it also absorbs the water.  Some gardeners recommend that only store bought soil be used.  I figure that the seeds/plants are going to grow in the soil provided and they ought to get used to it.  This may be called 'tough love.'

I filled the pots half full and added a seed or two in each pot and covered them with a very thin layer of additional soil.  I then watered the seeds and have kept them soil moist.

I set the pots on a tray and covered the tray and pots with a plastic bag.  This is removed when the seedlings grow to avoid breaking the tender plants.

We happened to have a grow light and when I take the tray inside, I set it under the light and keep it on for most of the night but I turn it off when I go to bed.

The tomatoes have made it but unfortunately they are growing tall and spindly and I understand that is a common problem.  Some say that it is due to lack of sunshine/light and/or nutrients.  I plan to add a few morsels of fertilizer as soon as the seedlings are a little larger.

I didn't have any more commercial biodegradable or plastic pots for growing seeds but I surfed the net and came upon the very neat idea of "Creating Newspaper Pots for Seed Starting".  I thought it was an excellent idea:  it doesn't cost anything and I don't have to go shopping and I am also recycling.  I rolled newspaper around a tumbler and tucked the bottom in, removed the tumbler, and folded down the edges.  It will be sturdy once it is filled with dirt.

The tractor cat is still with me and she likes to check out the garden.  I put some basil in the newspaper cups.  I use the tumbler to water the seeds and the cat has to check that out.  She is one of the reasons that no pesticides or herbicides are used.  I want her, birds, and animals to be safe.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Building an Arbor

Gardeners, fruit growers, and landscapers must be optimists.  I believe that every seed I sow, every tree and bush I plant will grow and produce.  The latest new experiment at the Back Forty is trying to grow muscadine grapes.  We have visions of lush and beautiful grape wines running up and down and across our 4 x 6 foot arbor built from PVC pipes and plastic lattice.

Arbor made with PVC pipes and plastic lattice

Material Used

The base for the top consist of four (4) half  inch PVC pipes using 1120 SDR which is more pliable than sched 40 and thinner.

Nine (9) 1 and 1/4 inch PVC sched 40 were cut from three (3) 10 foot PVC pipes bent and spaced evenly to form  the "dome".

Ten (10)  1 1/4 x 1 1/4 x 1/2 inch tees.

Four (4) 1 1/4 inch L's (elbows) for outside dome arches.

Four (4) 1 1/4 x 1/2 inch reducers used to reduce 1 1/4 inch diameter to 1/2 inch.

Sixteen (16)  1 1/4 inch tees
38 SS HEX HEAD TEK screws (more if you drop 'em and can't find them on the ground).  It may be less expensive to buy the box since it may cost 60 cents/screw.

Cement for PVC pipes.  Use cement on only one "strip" on the inside of tees and fittings. It is not necessary to have the arbor joints water proofed.  This will be sufficient and will eliminate drips and you touching the cement and getting all gooey.

Two (2) 4 x 8 plastic lattice which are easy to carry in the car because of its flexibility

Tools Used

PVC pipe cutter
Drill for making pilot holes for fastening lattice with the screws
Level and Rule
Posthole digger and/or shovel

M husband first sketched out the arbor on paper.  The reason he built a "dome" was to match the PVC pipes used with the netting over the pond to keep the heron away.  It could have been built flat or left off.

Tee, Elbow, and Reducer
We are planning to put five grape vines inside the arbor: one in each corner and another in the middle of the back side.  The arbor is in a sunny location and near a water supply.

 The most important purpose for the arbor is to provide the vines with a sturdy structure to climb on and to allow easy access for us to harvest the grapes.

We constructed the two sides first, then the backside, and put them together.  The construction took place elsewhere in the yard and was moved to its present location where the four corner poles were put about two feet into the ground.  We don't want this to blow away.

My husband used a post hole digger and made sure they were equally deep into the ground.  He used a level to make sure that the post did not lean but stood straight up.  He also made sure that the sides and the backs were level.

The reason we made an arbor from PVC pipes is although wood is beautiful it will also rot in a few years.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Muscadine and Scuppernong Grape Vines

The Muscadine Grape is native to the southeastern United States.  The Scuppernong Grape is named for the Scuppernong River in North Carolina and it is a large variety of the Muscadine Grape which fruit is greenish or bronze in color with a translucent flesh.  The Muscadine Grapes come in light and dark purple, reds and blacks, and its flesh is also translucent.

The muscadine grapes are pest and insect tolerant--no spraying of pesticides needed.  They thrive in sandy loam or loamy sand and do well in clay with added material to break up the clay; however, it does require good irrigation and drainage.  In addition, it is important to keep the area free of weeds so that you avoid mowing new shoots for propagation (if so desired).

One problem with the muscadine vines is that "animal pests" such as raccoons, squirrels, opossums, and crows also like these grapes.  It may be necessary to let these critters know that the grapes are for your consumption, not theirs.

The grape vines are also easy to plant:  dig a two by two feet hole for each plant leaving a few feet between, much depending on your trellis, arbor, fence or other contraption for the rambling vines.  Add commercial cow manure and mix it in with the native dirt in the hole.  You may have to loosen the roots before planting.  Do not add any fertilizer at this time.  Wait until the plants begin to show growth and then add 8-8-8 fertilizer along with Ironite (trace elements).  The best time for planting is now through next month.

A couple of years ago, we planted two muscadines and two scuppernongs and let them grow free and wild--big mistake.  Now we have to do some serious pruning to see if we can get one main "trunk" and train the branches to spread out from there on the two tier vertical wires.

The muscadine is asexual and one easy method  to propagate muscadine  is to "wound a low growing shoot by making successive cuts in the bark and then cover it with moist soil."  Roots should form in a few months.

The best selection of cultivars for your area is to find out what plants are offered in nurseries and garden centers.  One of our earlier cultivars was Carlos and it gets great reviews from UF IFAS.  Carlos should produce a lot of medium sized, bronze grapes that are good for wine, juice, and jellies.

At this time, the muscadines are bare sprigs sitting in the ground but flowers should show in April and the grapes should be ready to harvest in September.

Source:  The University of Florida IFAS Extension, Solutions for Your Life, has the most informative report on the Muscadine Grape that covers growth care, and cultivars complete with tables and listings on yields and weights.  They also recommend the best cultivars and lists pros and cons for the various plants.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Global Warming

It was one beautiful day yesterday.  The birds were twittering more than usual in the afternoon and I thought that our "regular" birds had come out from the deep woods.  I soon discovered that it was the robins that had arrived.  They are among the first harbinger of spring.  But, is spring too early this year?

I was sitting out on the porch and the sun was warming my face.  I was looking at the clear blue sky and the dark, lush grass (winter weeds).  It is not time to cut the grass yet and I couldn't mow the grass with all the birds making a quick stop at the Back Forty. Instead, I filled the two bird baths with clean water and the robins seemed to enjoy the hospitality.

As I was cleaning up some debris in the back yard, I noticed what I thought was a pink/red piece of plastic peeking through the azalea bushes.  The wind must have blown it into the yard.  I went to pick it up and to my surprise I found that the azaleas were blooming.  An this is still January!

Last week I wrote in my blog that December, January, and February were considered the winter months for the growing season in North Florida.  I stand corrected.  Last weekend, we went down to the Standard Feed store and I picked up a planting schedule.  Don't you know that the winter months are now January and February?

Last night, there came a frost, 
which has done great damage to my garden. . .
It is sad that Nature will play 
such tricks on us poor mortals,
inviting us with sunny smiles to confide in her,
and then, when we are entirely
within her power,
striking us to the heart.
--Nathan Hawthorne from
The American Notebooks

Tomorrow we will work.  Thank you for visiting my blog.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Citrus Care

This is the time to take care of your citrus trees that are dormant.  You may have noticed that some of the limbs are dead:  cut them off.  Trim the branches as little as possible but some of the branches may have gotten too long or too tall for what the tree can support.  This especially true for the Satsuma trees.

Some of the grapefruit is ready for harvesting.  One of our grape fruit trees has grown very large and tall but it is healthy and producing more fruit than we can eat during this season.  We are going to leave it alone.  The other tree is small and had a lot of dead limbs that needed to be removed.  It is more exposed to the elements.

If the citrus trees are blooming before its time, it may be because of lack of water in the previous months.  It may take care of itself, bloom again, and produce fruit.  The fruit may not be as large or as plentiful or as sweet as before.

At the Back Forty, we have just as many problems as the large Florida growers do.  The citrus trees do require attention at all times and it is best to address whatever problem may occur  Unfortunately, diseases do spread.

After the cutting and trimming, we sprayed the trees with horticultural oil.  We soaked the trees in oil.  It is not a pesticide but it smothers eggs, mites, insects and so much more.  As a result, the one Satsuma tree that was sprayed (so far) came out looking dark green and shiny.  The oil had a chance to soak in because there was no rain and the temperature was mild.  We used the All Season's Spray Oil that is also recommended for other fruit trees.

It is not necessary that the ground around the citrus trees are free from weeds but it is recommended.  The tree roots are shallow but it is advisable to keep the weeds out because they may trap and hold insects and create root diseases and I don't want to feed the weeds.

It is also recommended that you do not mulch around the citrus trees.  If you do, keep it light and keep it at least one foot away from the trunk.

When fertilizing, use whatever is specifically recommended for citrus because it contains trace elements that are not present in common garden fertilizer.  There are several brand names for the fertilizer and follow the instructions as to when to fertilize and how much to use.  We like to fertilize more often than a lot at one time.  We feel that it is better absorbed and less of a shock for the trees.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Work Table in the Garden

For a long time, I had been looking for a work table for the garden.  I thought about building one, but it never materialized.  So, one day when I least expected it I came across round reels at a cable company's parking lot.

I went in to negotiate a sweet deal:  How much do you want for one of those reels, I asked.  The sales person wanted to know how many I needed and I told him I only need one that could fit into the car.

He told me that it wouldn't cost me anything and I was delighted at such a bargain.  He helped me load the car, too.

It was rather easy to wheel it to the back of the Back Forty and set it up near the garden.  How convenient!  I no longer had to stoop and I no longer had to use old buckets.

The new old table didn't need any paint:  I was happy with it; but I had cans of paint in the shed that had small amount left over.  It wasn't enough to paint anything so I figured that I get rid of the various paints and spruce up the table at the same time.

It is always satisfactory to reuse and recycle items.     

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cheesy Cauliflower

According to my planting calender for northeast Florida, the winter months are December, January, and February.  We are in the middle of the winter and sometimes it feels like it too and as far as I am concerned the planting season is over simply because there are very few plants available, if any, at the garden centers.

This is the time to harvest the vegetables that were planted a few months ago.  I was surprised to see the cauliflowers peeking up among the greenery.  They were so white and so well formed.

To freeze them, I cut the cauliflowers into large bite size pieces, blanched them, chilled them under cold running water, bagged them, and put them into the freezer for later use.

Cauliflowers are the best eaten raw and maybe dipped in a mix of mayo, yogurt, salt and pepper to taste.

To prepare a Cheesy Cauliflower dish, brake up a head of cauliflower into florets and boil for about 5 minutes.  Drain.

In a saucepan, heat 2 of milk and stir in 4 tbs flour dissolved in water to make a smooth concoction.  Whisk for a few minutes until the milk thickens.  Add a generous handful of grated cheddar cheese and stir.  Pour over cauliflowers in an oven proof dish.  Scatter some additional cheese on top and finally sprinkle with bread crumbs (if available).  Bake for 20 minutes in a 375 degree C oven. It is ready when it starts to bubble.  Enjoy with any meat or fish

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Planting and Growing Sadankwa Viburnum

If you have a large space to fill, this handsome evergreen bush with an attractive form will fill the requirements for a fast growing plant that will provide privacy.  The Sandankwa Viburnum is a hardy shrub that may reach 4 to 8 feet high and become just as wide.  It may be advisable to pay attention to trimming this bush or it may easily get away from you.  The flowers are small and grow in clusters.  They are white with a pinkish tint.

We wanted a fast growing shrub and any of the Viburnum fit that bill.  We wanted to hide an unattractive wooden fence.  In order for this bush to grow fast, it is all too tempting to use too much fertilizer too soon after planting.  It will only result in a tall and spindly bush.  As a matter of fact, we don't plan to fertilize until spring, warmer weather, and signs that the bush is putting out new growth.

To plant this shrub, we dug a hole twice as wide as the pot and as deep as the pot.  After removing the bush from the pot and putting it in the hole, the top of the root ball should be even with the ground.  We used our own compost as well as commercial compost and then added native soil and covered with mulch.

We made sure that the plant got plenty of water not only at planting time but several days afterwards too and then we tapered off and now it will be watered once or twice a week depending on the weather.

Although this is an excellent time to transplant bushes and trees, be aware of plants bought at home improvement centers and nurseries because chances are that the plants are "root bound".  This means that the roots in the pot have wrapped themselves around each other in the pot and are most likely trying to escape through the holes at the bottom.  The plant may otherwise look all right.

We've gotten plants that were root bound and we untangle the roots by beating on the ball with a garden claw.  We give it several good whacks all around the root ball.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Quick Kale Salad

I have enjoyed the half a dozen kale plants that I planted late last fall.  They have really produced.  When we first started gardening, there were no kale plants to buy but we had to sow seeds.  We basically "broadcasted" the seeds and we had a bed of kale that we picked as needed.  They did not grow as large as the kale plants of today.  I'm impressed with this season's crop.

Curly Kale
I am surprised that kale has become so popular for juicing, cooking, and raw in salads.  I must confess that I found the chopped up kale rough to eat in a green salad until one night I saw a cooking show on television.

The chef chopped up the kale, put it in a bowl, and added a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  Then he massaged the oil into the kale. The result was a dark shiny salad.

I tried this and the massage and oil made a whole lot of difference. I chopped the kale, added the oil and gave it a good massage, and added salt and pepper to taste.

At other times, I have added regular chopped green lettuce, tomatoes, onions and whatever I had available for a salad.

The kale has been touted by some as the "world's healthiest food".  It is certainly one of the most nutritional vegetable and versatile too.  It is loaded with vitamins, some iron, no calories to mention, and no cholesterol.  Enjoy this healthy green.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Mole Infestation

Moles are awful looking creatures and they are even worse if they live in your lawn and garden.  Moles spend most of their time underground digging and eating worms, spiders, and insects.  They build tunnels and the dirt is pushed up to the surface and visible as small hills, one after another.

I am taking the hint from my blog's statistics to write about moles and it is not a pretty subject but nevertheless, the moles visit and stay in your yard.

With moles in the yard, they have a tendency to damage tree roots, plants, flowers, and interfere with the irrigation system.  You may even hurt yourself when walking in your yard and stepping into an indentation in your lawn that you didn't see.

You may be able to deter moles by eliminating their food supply by getting rid of the insect population by spraying and making sure that there is no standing water for a breeding ground for the insects.  You may try tossing mothballs into the strategic places in your yard.  

We have been fortunate because we have had few, if any, visits from moles.  We have a rather well established ecosystem on the Back Forty.  We have plenty of birds hunting flying insects and grubs during the day and late into the evenings.  On occasions, hawks come and search for rodents and moles and they have been seen to catch a pray or two.  At night, we have the owls that come and check out their territory for a late supper.


Talk with your local agricultural extension agent to find out what information they have or where you can turn for additional information.

There are several pest control business listed on line that you may contact to find out what they recommend.

Another source is the Standard Feed stores that carry a number of paraphernalia for pest control.  Garden centers may also be helpful

Finally, check out Mole Control HQ (  I found this to be a most informative post with numerous ways to control moles.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

January Tasks in the Yard and Garden

I thought that life in the yard and garden goes dormant in the winter time.  It may be so, but that is a busy time for us at the Back Forty Garden and Park--lots of tasks to do.  First, it's time to get those frost blankets out and cover up tender plants and bushes.  The cold weather is coming to Zone 9 in Northern Florida

A few things to do:

1.  This is a good time for transplanting in the landscape and while doing so, keep the plants out of the ground as short a period as possible, water immediately after transplanting, and continue to keep the plants moist.

2.  This is also a good time for pruning those trees and bushes that are dormant, including fruit trees.  After pruning the citrus trees, use a generous dousing of horticultural oil to spray the trees that have scale problems.

3.  If a hard freeze is predicted, water the lawn, ornamental plants, and the garden 24 hours ahead and then cover up with frost blankets or regular bed sheets. Avoid plastic since it will not hold the heat.

4.  Landscapers recommend that lawns, woody ornamental plants, and the garden should be watered about 3/4 inch every 10 to 14 days in dry weather.  Water drought tolerant plant should be watered every three weeks, if there is no rainfall.  Be your own judge.

5.  Finally, this is the time to plant seeds indoors or in a greenhouse, especially peppers and tomatoes.  It takes about five weeks to grow small transplants in the best of conditions.

The above things to do is only part of the short list.  Don't hesitate to share with us at the Back Forty what you are doing in your yard and garden.  Hopefully, we will have another successful garden in this new year.

Thank you for visiting my blog.