Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Terrible taro and other invasives

The taro removed from the bulkhead garden.

Removing invasives, sooner rather than later

Just this last April, we redid this weird bulkhead space to fix a slumping problem. At the time, I thought I'd removed all the taro roots and corms (Colocasia esculenta) and the soil we used to fill in the space was from another area of the property with no taros. So in just these few months, they've rebounded. I pulled this whole bouquet from this space which is approximately 4' x 4'.  I'll have to check for new growth more often. I also pulled out some native elderberry  (Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis) volunteers, which are small trees.

Note on taro (aka dasheen): it was brought from Africa by slaves and then again in 1910 by the US Dept. of Agriculture as a potato substitute for the south. Big mistake. Several people suggested that we include it as a crop in "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida," but I refused. If it's invasive, we should not be encouraging people to grow it. Another interesting feature of this plant as a crop, is that every part contains calcium oxalate crystals, which can irritate your mouth and other tissues. To prepare the corms to eat, you have to boil it in at least three waters and then grind it to a powder.

While I was working on the taro removal, my husband was cleaning out the area between the intake pipe for the irrigation system and the bulkhead. A nice stand of ferns had colonized the area. I decided to replant them along the bulkhead where the turf grass didn't grow well. After standing back to look at the reconfigured space, we decided to remove the turf from the whole area for easier mowing. And here I thought we got to scratch a small item from the giant gardening to-do list, but no, it became a bigger task. Has that ever happened to you?

After my husband cleared out the ferns and other plants that were growing between the intake pipe of the irrigation system and the bulkhead, he cleaned out as much of the built up soil to make this space less attractive for new plants to set up camp there. You can see the pump in the background. A few of the removed ferns with their squished roots and rhizomes.
After looking critically at this space, my husband and I
decided to remove this ridiculous chunk of lawn between our boat-lift bulkhead and the neighbor's concrete pad.
The sticky clay soil under the grass made this job much more difficult.
I had some tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) that needed to be removed from the edible gardens where I will be turning them under with marigolds in a couple of weeks. (See below.) So I added them in front of the previous garden space to make this more of a butterfly garden. There is no gutter for the boat lift bay roof, so we placed a board along the drip line for easy access to the bed and to protect the soil. We mulched the whole area with about three inches of arborists' wood chips. We've had them since September, so they are well-composted.
Testing the placement of the drip board with a hose attached to the irrigation pump. The finished product—for now. Yay!

A couple of side adventures from the bulkhead task...

Whenever we see these invasive snails in the lake, we smash them with a shovel and add them to the compost pile. Just think of all that nice calcium. Treasures found in the chip pile.

In the edible beds

Our come again cabbage is still going strong after 7 months of harvests. I first wrote about this stub of a store bought cabbage in January. I harvested four medium-sized heads and an untold number of leaves. While it looks a little moth-eaten now, the leaves are still sweet! A volunteer tropical sage amongst the okra. I allow these pollinator-attracting plants to grow pretty much where they sprout in our edible gardens. I transplanted a bunch of volunteers from a bed that's ready to be turned to the new bulkhead garden space.

Even though it's been shown to be invasive,
nandina is still for sale and widely planted.

Are you harboring this invasive in your yard? 

Get rid of it now, not only is it displacing native plants in natural habitats, it's also poisoning birds like the cedar waxwings. It's also poisonous to your pets.

I posted this photo on Facebook and it was shared by more than 100 people and seen by more than 5,000 people. There were many comments including people who said that their nandina had never hurt anything and birds even make their nests in it.

The thing is that if a plant has been determined to be invasive, it has already done damage in natural ecosystems. It's not someone's idealistic whim, but a rigorous procedure. See the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Counsel's (FLEPPC) website for more information.

As homeowners we can do our part by keeping them out of our yards so that our birds don't carry their seeds to nearby wild areas. Invasives, both plant and animal, have cost billions of dollars (both pubic and private monies) annually. Don't be part of the problem: don't buy invasive plants, and remove them ASAP from your property.

Beautiful Florida natives!

A beautiful flatwoods sunflower planted itself in my
wildflower garden.
The first beautiful scarlet rosemallow of the season at the edge of our front pond.

Summer skies in Florida!

A hazy beginning to the day after a heavy rain. This is a color photo, but you'd hardly guess that.

After a hazy sunrise (see above) the sunset over the lake was beautiful.

Summer clouds before the storms

Summer clouds on the same day...

A sepia-toned sunrise preceded a day of rain. No gardening took place on this day.
I hope to see you soon at my presentation at the Fleming Island Library in Clay County on August 12th at 10am. the Fleming Island Garden Club coordinated this event, but it's open to all.

Garden early in the day during the summer!

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Removing lawn and other adventures

Special Summer Appearance:
My presentation is "Organic GardeningYou can do it!"
Aug. 12th 10am at Fleming Island Library in Clay County.
1895 Town Center Blvd, Orange Park, FL 32003
(about 7.5 miles south of I295 & Rt 17 exit)
This event
is open to the public and has been coordinated
by The Garden Club of Fleming Island.
Clearing the rest of this section of lawn.

Digging grass...

After putting it off for some time now, I finally finished removing the lawn in front of the shed. I started removing this part of the lawn last fall when I planted the coreopsis. My post on fall seedlings shows the beginning of this project.

It's not an easy task to rip up well-established turfgrass, but I was side-tracked numerous times. I'll plant some more wildflowers in the area near the coreopsis, but this is a major traffic area for gardening work, so I'll add a thick layer of chips to form a wide access path. I'll probably add more containers as well. More on this project later. But here were some of my distractions:

A quick young scarlet snake slithered out of the grass where I was removing it and quickly slid back in. You can tell that this is a scarlet snake because of red on black "a friend of Jack." The poisonous coral snake is red next to yellow "can kill a fellow." This shy snake is quite common in this area, but is rarely seen because it burrows in the ground looking for reptile eggs to eat. A true snake in the grass!
A green darner dragonfly with a large meal--a moth eaten. Poison ivy next to the rain barrel platform. It was probably deposited by a bird sitting on the platform with a nice dollop of fertilizer.
You can't see me... ...not me either.
Ooh look, a skipper butterfly... I think I'll walk down to the lake. I wrote about our slump area repair and I thought I had cleaned out the invasive wild taro, but no... Another item on my ever expanding to-do list. :-) Maybe I'll see something interesting down by the lake when I tackle it.
Planting the walking onion scapes.

Walking onions

Last year, my walking onions were dying out after 5 or 6 years in one location, so I moved what was left of them to my herb garden. I rinsed the bulbs totally clean before planting them and I have not harvested any of their leaves. This spring they produced some scapes with groups of new bulbs. I divided them so I could plant the single bublets. This fall, I'll divide the adult plants to further expand the crop. Then I'll start cutting the leaves again. I will mulch the area with pine needles this week before the weeds come.

I moved the walking onions to herb garden last year--that's our back sidewalk at the bottom of the photo along with a sprinkler head. At the left you can see the Greek oregano, some scarlet sage seedlings that I left, and to the right, and not seen here is a large rosemary bush.

A revisit to a roadside meadow in Putnam County

In May this scene was yellow with tickseed, now it's mostly red with blanket flowers. The farmer's flowers have been made into hay.
On May Day, I stopped by this roadside meadow that was totally yellow with tickseed coreopsis. See my field trip post for photos of what it looked like two months ago. On July 4th, this meadow was still beautiful, but different.

A blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella) hosts a wasp killer.

Storm's a-comin' at a roadside meadow in Putnam county.

A painted lady butterfly visits the black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia mollis) in that same roadside meadow.

A Jacksonville sunrise

A subtle sunrise over the St Johns River with a pink seashore mallow coordinating with the show.
The moonflowers fade at sunrise, while the mallows are ready to welcome its daytime pollinators.

Closer to home...

The summer sky is fantastic this year. What you can't see in this photo are all the bees and wasps working the cabbage palm flowers. There must have been a hundred or more. This is across the street and a good place to take sky photos without wires.
Our front pond a few years ago. Looking from our end of the pond toward the neighbor's end. I have replaced the turfgrass that grew right down to the edge of the pond with a buffer zone of mostly native plants.
See my latest post over on Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens blog The joys of a Florida Pond for more photos of the pond and its visitors over the years. Next month I'll continue the pond adventures with the actions we had to take to save our pond. I hope you are enjoying the summer as much as I am.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Harvest-based tempura and more...

The harvest for some tempura.

The harvest & recipe

I had some okra, but not enough for good-sized batch of fried okra, so I supplemented it with 5 little sweet onions, some zucchini, and not shown here, about half of a garlic bulb.

I don't have a deep fryer, but this method for tempura works pretty well.

12 okra pods sliced
1/2 zucchini sliced
5 really small sweet onions sliced
1/2 garlic bulb (about 4 cloves sliced).

2 large eggs
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
1/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon of freshly-ground black pepper

Yellow cornmeal
Grated Parmesan cheese
About 3 parts of cornmeal to 1 part cheese in a wide bowl with a flat bottom.

Whip the batter with a fork until fully mixed in a small, steep-sided bowl. Heat a large frying pan with about 1/4" of olive oil covering the bottom on medium high. Drop about 1/4th of the vegetables in the batter, lift  them with a slotted spoon, and then dredge in the dry mixture until coated. Spread the vegetables in the pan and turn after a few minutes. When first batch is light brown, slide it to the side of the pan away from the heat before adding the next batch of vegetables. When the second batch is light brown, turn over the first batch and slide all of them to the cool side of the pan and repeat for each batch.

After all the veggies are done, lift them out with the slotted spoon and drain on a double layer of paper towels on a plate and turn after a couple of minutes. Serve with soy sauce.

Crop-based tempura. It was yummy.

My Swiss chard looked like Swiss cheese!

The Swiss chard had gone by and was being eaten by bugs or slugs.
Chard is a beet and has a good tap root.
I checked them for nematode damage and there was none.

It was time to take action to extend the Swiss chard season. Some of the chard plants were really large with stems that were 2" across, but I chose 7 smaller plants and put them into a pot. This way I can remove them from their hot, sunny location to one with more shade and also remove them from those hungry herbivores.

Chard is a beet that has been bred for foliage and not the root, but that meaty tap root will provide the energy for regrowth for a few more harvests. I harvested the leaves that had not turned brown and rinsed them well before bringing them inside. They are holey, but that won't matter once they are finely chopped for salads or cooked for greens.  Stay tuned and I'll let you know how they grow.
I trimmed away all the leaves and soaked the pot in rain barrel water overnight.

More on my nematode experiment

Someone asked for a better photo of the roots, so here's a closeup of nematode-free broccoli roots.
I posted the results of my experiment that I wrote about last week on The Garden Professors' page on Facebook. People had some great questions and wanted more information on where I had found this information. So here is a summary of my answers:
I found out about using marigolds as a cover crop during a discussion with several UF professors when doing my research for "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida." There is a whole group working on organic agricultural practices and they were quite generous with their time as we were writing the book. Here is the article on cover crops: Cover Crops for Managing Root-Knot Nematodes, and more specifically, Marigolds (Tagetes spp.) for Nematode Management.
One of the commenters said that it didn't make sense to him that if inter-cropping (planting together) didn't work to reduce nematodes, then how could growing marigolds for two months before planting be effective. What he missed in reading the article was that, by definition, a cover crop is dug under after growing. I learned from the professors is that most of the nematode repellent chemicals are in the leaves, so the marigolds work only when used as a cover crop and dug in before planting the next crop. It was an interesting discussion and several people said that they learned a lot, which makes me feels good.
A dark force lurks over the pollinators working the coreopsis.
The large dragonfly is probably a black pond hawk (Erythemis attala).

Pale meadowbeauty lives up to its name.

Summertime in Florida means great cloud formations. They were interesting in every direction on June 24th.
The summer skies in Florida can be amazing. Be sure to look up!

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Friday, June 20, 2014

Results: the nematode experiment

In looking at all the broccoli & parsley roots, there was very little damage
by root-knot nematodes. Yay!

The problem...

For the last several years, the root-knot nematodes have damaged roots of several of our crops, but we were not aware of it until they were pulled up. Most of the time the crops had been producing well anyway, but why not take all the organic precautions we could to prevent the damage?

I took action last year and planted a dense cover crop of marigolds and dug them into the soil. See my post Nematodes, marigolds & crop rotation for the details. Last fall I planted my cool weather crops hoping for the best, because previously marigold plants scattered around the garden had not had any effect.

Success! Today we pulled the parsley and broccoli, both of which had been seriously affected the last few years. The roots were clean! No lumpy knobs caused by the nematodes.

While the experiment had a good outcome, this was a small test in my own garden. I'd be interested to hear results from your gardens, too.

Surprise visitor

My husband found a small black swallowtail caterpillar on the parsley as he was pulling it. Fortunately, I had planted some parsley in a pot and had only pulled out the one plant that had bolted. We transferred the cat to its new location. We hope it survives.

Also we had enough parsley for one last batch of tabbouleh. It's what's for dinner tonight—and the next couple of nights, too!
We found a small black swallowtail butterfly on our parsley as we were pulling it out. Fortunately we hadn't pulled the parsley in a pot.


I had harvested the garlic a couple of weeks ago and had hung it in the garage to dry. This week my husband cut off the leaves and roots and pulled off the papery outside layers of the bulbs.

Both the hanging and this cleaning process prolong the shelf life. The garlic bulbs are now stored in a paper bag in the bottom of the pantry—a cool, dry, and dark place. The top of the bag is folded over and held in place with a clothes pin. The onions are also stored here.

In a few weeks we'll go through the bags and pull out any bulbs that have softened or sprouted. The onion harvest should last us a few months, but the garlic will last us longer than that. It's been a very good year.

Oooh garlic. Cleaning up the bulbs.

Zucchinis & salads

A salad harvest plus some okra. We harvest the unfertilized zucchinis as soon as we know that they are not going to grow.
The lettuce has gone by, so we are using store-bought lettuce after a winter & spring of beautiful fresh-out-of-the-garden lettuces. The salad harvest in the above photo includes some Swiss chard, parsley, the last of the come-again broccoli, basil, rosemary, oregano, garlic chives and the last of the carrots. I also picked the okra, but that was saved for some other use. So I used half of the zucchini, 3 previously-harvest cabbage leaves and the remainder of this harvest along with a few leafy green lettuce leaves from the store, for a lovely crunchy salad.

We've been having fun with out tiger zucchinis. They change how we cook while they are in season.

Squash flowers (zucchinis and otherwise) have male and female flowers. The female flowers have little pre-formed fruit under them. If the flower has been visited by at least 8 or 9 pollinators, it will start to grow, but sometimes that doesn't happen—too much rain, not enough male flowers in bloom, or not enough pollinators—the fruit does not grow and the blossom end starts to turn yellow. I look for these undeveloped fruits and use them wherever we'd use the fully formed ones. If the unfertilized fruits are left in place, they will rot, so it's good practice to remove them.

We've been enjoying the yummy zucchini bread.

Bottoms up! Small native bees go crazy in our blazing stars and seemingly never come up for air.

Front meadow & pond work

Yummy blackberries in the front meadow. Yucky trash in the front meadow. It looks like Halloween candy.
The other day I was out in out front meadow removing some small trees and trimming low-hanging branches from the path. (See From lawn to woods: a retrospective for details on this area.) I rewarded myself with some of the blackberries that have grown out there, which was nice. I also found an old bag of Halloween candy that someone had thrown into the meadow over the fence. The animals had worked it over and all that was left were the foil wrappers and plastic bag, which was not so nice.

I also built up an area at our end of the pond to replant some Dixie irises I'd removed when we treated the pond with herbicide to get rid of the infestation of water spangles. (More on the pond later.) I used an iron rake to gather muck and sand from the bottom, piled into a mound and compressed it with the rake and my foot. I hope the irises grow roots quickly to keep the mound in place, otherwise it will slump into the bottom again.

I've been muckraking out in the front pond. More on that later...

The wet season in Florida (June through November) means great clouds.
I saw this is a morning thunderhead on my morning walk a couple of days ago.
The summer solstice is tomorrow. I'll be celebrating the official change of seasons out in my gardens, but of course it's been pretty summery here in north Florida for a while. Happy summer.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt