Thursday, December 2, 2010

Worm tea and orchids

The worm bin in the photo is the second I've had, having first started with a simple plastic container. I like this stacking one better because it allows the liquid to collect and be drained easily. And, as any worm compostor knows, the liquid is the best fertilizer you can find.

Worm tea can be heavily diluted, and used as a drench or a spray, but I like to add about half again of water. Since the beginning of the year, I've used it exclusively on the orchids, with some very gratifying results.

I don't feed my orchids as often as I should, but most of them flower on and off regardless. However, for years I've had a large cattleya growing on the north side of a coconut palm trunk. It flowered once, nearly 10 years ago, but now it's got two huge blooms! I was stunned to find them a few days ago.

And a vandaceous orchid that's not flowered before produced some delightful blooms of the palest purple, a color I've not seen before.

Here are the pix:

An indication of the size

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Random pictures

It's been ages since I posted. I had computer problems and after they were fixed, I couldn't decide what to write about, what a friend back in England used to call a "rictus of indecision." While I sort out my rictus, I'll post some pix, with comments.

First, a couple of disasters:

This is my wonderful Souv. de la Maison that I heaped praise upon in my last post. I woke up one morning to find it completely wilted. I figured out that a certain dog had attempted to catch a squirrel or rat that must have run across the string of garden lights immediately above the pot and pretty much flattened the rose. There was an indentation of a paw print that gave the game away. Still, I think it will live to see another day. (Why do I still love my dogs?!)

The sky blue cluster vine, Jacquemontia pentanthos, is an endangered native, but can be found in a few nurseries. Two days after planting, it turned brown. Rats! With its little bright, bright blue flowers, it's such a pretty vine in the morning glory family. Click here for a close up of the flowers. I'm hoping that it isn't entirely dead, not least because it was an expensive plant and the nursery is 30 miles away.

But onto happier things:

This is a very old vanda that belonged to my husband's late aunt. She died in 1986 and she'd grown it for many years prior to that. It has a lovely old-fashioned look to it, and must have wowed orchid enthusiasts back in the day. I'm so glad I'm able to keep it going.

How do you tell if bananas are ripe? These only look yellow in the late afternoon sun, and they haven't done much for a couple of months except get a bit fatter. What gives? Tips and explanations are welcome.

I found these lovely Neoregelias, above, at a garage sale, while ...

... somebody threw these gorgeous broms onto a trash pile. I'm always happy to adopt unwanted specimens.

The second raised veggie bed, at the rear, has been built. Thanks, Dan!

The garden cherub is still standing, although his head frequently rolls off; they were parted when I found them at an estate sale. However, the dogs (grrrr) are responsible for breaking the lute, which I keep promising myself I will glue back on. It's only been two years ...


A clump of Philippine violets, Barleria cristata, is flowering prolifically by the bridge.

The pink Jatropha flowers all year round. But, best of all ...

... my Natchitoches noisette is about to produce a million blooms.

And hasn't the weather been lovely?

Monday, October 4, 2010

In praise of roses

Souv. de la Malmaison

There are orchid people, and there are rose people. Despite having dozens of orchids, I'm firmly in the latter category. Nothing speaks to my heart like a rose.

Our garden in England was full of roses, mostly hybrid teas, and we had a gardener take care of them, a luxury I certainly can't afford. Oh, but I loved growing up with vases of sweet scented blooms around the house.

Natchitoches noisette

Moving here in '86, I was happily surprised to find that roses grow in tropical climates, too. In fact, we used to visit a nursery out on Krome Avenue, way west of the city, operated by a lovely man who had grown roses in his native Cuba. You could even buy bunches of roses, and you'd never know what you'd get as he or his wife wandered around selecting the best blooms. That was part of the charm. Tragically, he was murdered when he was depositing cash at a night safe, and his wife didn't have the heart to keep the nursery going.

Natchitoches noisette

For a while, I grew hybrid teas, but I gave up because they're a lot of work and it takes masses of chemicals to keep blackspot, mildew and the like, at bay.

While roses can take all the heat and the sun on offer, they don't like humidity. Nor do they like the nematodes in our soil, so most roses are grown on nematode-resistant Fortuniana root stock. Since I grow my roses in pots, it doesn't matter to me.

Then, last winter, I ordered three old garden roses from Rose Petals Nursery in Gainesville: Souvenir de la Malmaison, Natchitoches noisette, and Louis Philippe; I'd heard that all three did well in Florida humidity. After a rocky start, when I thought they were all going to die (and thanks to Meems at Hoe and Shovel for encouraging me to stick with them), I am simply thrilled!

This past summer has proven to have been one of the hottest and stickiest on record, and my roses have thrived! They're all in pots and I feed them rabbit pellets (because they're made from alfalfa), and worm tea.  I occasionally find leaves with blackspot, but that's the worst of it.

As soon as I can afford it, I'll be buying more OGRs.

A vintage oil painting I found on eBay

Friday, September 24, 2010

Monarch butterflies

Click on the photo to see the empty chrysalis next to the hind feet

I don't have much luck with monarchs. Not because I don't have the right plants, and not because adult females don't lay eggs on those plants, but because damn great nonnative bufo toads (Bufo marinus) sit under them and feast on the growing caterpillars. So, when I found a solitary large caterpillar on a milkweed, with a toad waiting underneath, I took action.

I've never raised a butterfly in captivity before, and it turned out to be a successful endeavor. The caterpillar turned into a chrysalis two days later and about nine days after that, a beautiful, and good sized, monarch emerged. After being released, it spent a few hours flexing its wings before finally disappearing, and, ideally, getting ready to produce another generation.

The newly released monarch gathering strength
Nearly ready to fly away

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I'm certified!

Hooray! The sign says it all. Note the gold label, which is the higher of the two classifications. (It's not difficult to qualify if you're an environmentally aware gardener.) 

The extension office in most Florida counties participates in the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program.

My next goal is to have the garden certified as a Florida Backyard Wildlife Habitat, which is more complicated since there are forms to complete, a property survey -- with bird feeders, native trees, shrubs, and the like, all marked out -- to submit. Plus it will cost a whopping $5 for the sign.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fall migration

Credit: Mark Jones, Painted Bunting Observation Team
Realizing that the migration must be well under way, and also being located under a major flyway, I Googled for information about what I could expect to see at my feeders.

I came across the website of the North Carolina based Painted Buntings Observer Team. It's latest blog entry, dated Aug. 31, said that the buntings had already been spotted in north Florida, which is quite a bit earlier than usual. (The redstarts appeared in my garden in August, which is also way earlier than usual; I wonder what they know that we don't?) Anyway, it means that painted buntings should be arriving in South Florida any day, if they're not already here. Time to make sure there's plenty of white millet in the feeders.

(For those who are not familiar with it, the painted bunting, Passerina ciris, is one of the continent's most colorful birds.)

I'd also read somewhere that migrating birds show up on radar, so I asked a friend, a meteorologist at the Miami National Weather Service office, if the NWS ever tracked migrations. His answer was no, however he did say:

"... the Doppler Radar imagery right around sunrise can give you an idea if there's an increase in bird population. There is usually a small ring or circle that expands outward in the area of the Everglades which occurs for about 10-20 minutes in the early morning. If you play a movie or loop of the base reflectivity radar imagery, you'll probably see it."
I got up too late this morning to catch it, but if you are an early bird, pardon the pun, please let me know if you see anything. Don't forget to hit the "refresh" button on the lower right.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

An unwelcome visitor, or the very hungry catarpillars

Credit: Wikipedia, Bugboy52.40
It's odd how attitudes will change. I spend a lot of time in the garden encouraging butterflies to visit and to lay eggs, but when an unwanted one arrives, I'm furious!

In this case, it's the oleander -- or polka dot -- moth (Syntomeida epilais) that's got my dander up. How dare it (they) lay eggs all over my Adeniums!

The harmless caterpillar looks a lot like that of the gulf fritillary, and the moth itself, which is actually rather beautiful, gets its name because, well, it likes oleanders. I no longer have oleanders, which are in the Apocynaceae family, along with Adeniums and my Mandevilla splendens that the caterpillars have also eaten back to the stems.

Since I do my best to stick to a no-kill policy, and because I do encourage wildlife to visit, this presents a dilemma, especially with at least eight much prized desert rose plants.

So, early in the week I went to a fabric shop and bought several yards of white nylon netting, the kind of material used for the underskirt of a wedding gown. The photo illustrates the first attempt of wrapping up a plant after picking off any caterpillars.

Fingers crossed this will do the trick. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A visit to a native plant nursery

Native blanketflower, Gaillardia pulchella,
I'm planning a little guerrilla gardening on a tiny, tiny plot of city-owned land by my house, so over the weekend I went to Casey's Corner, a native plant nursery, near Homestead (Ground Zero in Hurricane Andrew). As would be expected, there were butterflies everywhere. It was glorious!

Susan, the owner, specializes in butterfly garden installation. (She provided the plant material for the Smithsonian's Butterfly Pavilion.) She told me that one of her clients called to say the garden was a disaster because caterpillars were eating everything! After wondering how someone could be so clueless, I moved on to wondering how it's possible that someone was never taught that caterpillars become butterflies.

Anyway, I spent more money than I intended and have decided that most of the plants are going to stay in my garden. It just goes to show how selfish I am.

Disguising itself as bird poop, the caterpillar of the giant swallowtail languishes on top of a leaf
A gulf fritillary caterpillar feeding on a corky stem vine (Passiflora suberosa)
Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

This sunflower is remarkably similar to tickseed; I have trouble telling them apart

I think this one is the Helianthus

Butterflies, including queens and white peacocks, were all over these shrubs
One of the numerous white peacocks
I'm amazed that anyone would pay for this; I keep pulling it out of the lawn!
Rows of (mostly) native plants, with blanketflower in the forefront
Storm clouds roll in; it's time to leave

Monday, August 23, 2010

Lawn care

This has been around for a while, and it's always made me laugh. It arrived in my inbox again today, so I'm posting it here in case you've never seen it:

GOD: Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.

St. FRANCIS: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers 'weeds' and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But, it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It's sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS: Yes, Sir.

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

ST. FRANCIS: You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It's a natural cycle of life.

ST. FRANCIS: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD: Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

ST. CATHERINE:  'Dumb and Dumber', Lord. It's a story about....

GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Spider gets Good Housekeeping award!

While I was taking pix of this golden orb-weaver spider (Nephila clavipes) at Fairchild Garden yesterday, a man gently threw a few tiny bits of trash (leaves, twigs) into her web, where they stuck. Immediately, she examined the nearest one and dropped it from the web, doing the same with the other pieces. She was not having any trash clutter up her nice, tidy web.

Years ago, I heard that the silk of this Nephila had been used as cross hairs for WW2 rifles, so for one of my son's dreaded middle school science projects, I helped him (hey, isn't that what all parents do?) design a plan to test the relative strength of spider webs. We  carefully gathered the dragline silk -- the silk that forms the web's structure -- of different species, including the golden orb-weaver. The silks were taped to a bar and lead fishing weights were attached until the silk snapped. I don't remember all the details, but the Nephila was vastly stronger than anything else, and I have a vague memory that we were able to attach 26 weights before it finally snapped.

It was a cool project. Feel free to use it!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ae ae bananas

TOG with one of his clumps of ae ae bananas
A few weeks ago, fellow blogger, TOG of Coral Gables, generously gave me a pup from one of his ae ae bananas. These huge, beautiful plants produce not only variegated leaves, but also fat, variegated fruit, which, TOG assures me, tastes wonderful, and can be treated as bananas or plantains, depending on their ripeness.

The ae ae comes from Hawaii and is difficult to grow anywhere on the mainland, although TOG has grown them successfully for 40 years. In fact, just after he gave me mine, folks from the Montgomery Botanical Center (closely related to Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens) were coming to get replacements for theirs that had died.

I was expecting a small pup, but I was given one that was about seven feet tall. TOG cut back the leaves to lessen the stress on the plant, and I planted it close to a coconut palm, where it seems to be quite happy. Fingers crossed it will survive and thrive!

My newly planted ae ae

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Passionvine virus warning; Pest Alert website

Collier County's Extension Office has just put out a warning about passionfruit crinkle potyvirus. The concern is that if it gets established, it will ultimately affect butterflies, such as the gulf fritillary and the zebra longwing, for which it's a host plant.

I learned about this today from Thomas Fasulo, who runs the very useful Featured Creature page on the University of Florida's IFAS website. He also maintains the Pest Alert listserv, which also provides invaluable info for Florida gardeners.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Eastern lubber grasshopper

Adult Eastern Lubbers
In South Florida, you can find these critters all year round, with a peak in early summer. In most of its range (the rest of the Southeastern US) they are seasonal.

I was surprised to learn that despite their size (3" or 8 cm -ish), lubbers (Romalea microptera) cause less damage to crops and plants than smaller grasshoppers. In the home landscape, they're particularly fond of plants in the Amaryllidaceae family. I've seen them decimate crinum lilies used in public parks, for instance, as the smaller photo illustrates.

Lubber damage on a crinum lily
The best way to deal with them is to look for the young black-with-yellow nymphs, which like to cluster together, and dispose of them, because once they're large adults, they are much harder to find and kill, by then being resistant to most backyard insecticides.

If you need more info, check out the University of Florida's Featured Creature page.