Category Archives: Florida

Garden after the rain

We had a nice long rain on Tuesday, though when I got to the garden in the late afternoon only about the top two inches of soil was damp. It’s been a pretty dry winter, and once again the garden’s irrigation system is saving us a lot of work.

Water beading on the not-collards.

Water beading on the not-collards.

It had just stopped drizzling when I got there, and the birds were making up for lost time and being really energetic. One robin was really going to town on the bugs in the topsoil, while a big flock of yellow-rumped warblers was picking through the grass nearby. I also saw catbirds, northern parulas & cardinals, tufted titmice, a chipping sparrow, and three woodpeckers: downy, yellow-bellied sapsucker, and northern flicker. So a nice mix of birds.

Our lavender has a single flower spike.

Our lavender has a single flower spike. In back is the neighbor’s broccoli- as you can see, it’s flowering, unlike ours.

The remaining misome that’s been blooming is now really enthusiastically developing seeds. It’s a hybrid, so I think the seed will be non-viable, unfortunately.

Misome seed pods.

Misome seed pods. They’re about an inch long.

The few beets that have survived the cold weather seem to be doing okay, though they’re a bit battered looking.

Next time I'll wait a bit later to plant beets- they're not super-hardy.

Next time I’ll wait a bit later to plant beets- they’re not super-hardy.

Our cilantro is really shooting up as it blooms. I think the cold must have triggered it. The flavor has changes quite a bit- it’s much more buttery now.

The cilantro is about waist-high now.

The cilantro is about waist-high now.

Cilantro flowers.

Cilantro flowers.

There were some visible insects out too- I saw the first few lovebugs flying around, as well as some ladybug relatives.

First time I've seen this type of beetle in the garden.

First time I’ve seen this type of beetle in the garden.

I also ran into this critter on our neighbors’ fennel. I left it in place- though given the avian density it’ll be a bit surprising if it survives to adulthood.

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Probably a Black Swallowtail.

Finally, the lettuce and radicchio are still doing well! I wonder how long it will take for the radicchio to ball up…

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Mostly radicchio, with one red-leaf lettuce and a radish in the background.

Hiking Wekiwa Springs SP

Last week, we took advantage of a warm day to do some hiking in Wekiwa Springs State Park. The park has a pretty varied landscape- aside from the eponymous spring and spring run, with its riparian swamp, there are oak savannah & pine flatwoods communities. We ended up hiking about 4 miles round-trip from the main parking area by the spring to the tiny Sand Lake.

Ferns and other plants were sending up new spring shoots.

Bracken ferns and other plants were sending up new spring shoots.

Once you get out of the swampy hammock near the spring, a few feet of elevation difference is enough to make the landscape very dry. I’ve heard peninsular Florida called a desert with a monsoon season, and we’re definitely in the dry season now (though it’s ironically raining as I write this- but the first rain we’ve had in over two weeks).

Pine-palm savannah.

Pine-palm-oak forest.

We did see a few flowers blooming, but I think the majority of the floral action happens a bit later in the year. I wasn’t able to ID these plants, but they soften this log in an interesting way:

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Spring wildflowers in the flatwoods.

The trail runs pretty close to the road- other trails do go into the parts of the park where you can’t drive, and I think we’ll explore those next time we come here. Wekiwa Spring itself is endangered by excessive water withdrawal and nutrient pollution from fertilizer use and poorly-regulated septic tanks in the area. When you’re walking on dry, sandy soil like this, it’s sometimes hard to remember that only a few feet underground there’s a shallow but wide groundwater system. Any change to that water affects the spring.

Sand Lake on a cloudless day.

Sand Lake on a cloudless day.

We saw a fair number of birds, given that it was fairly late in the day- there was a lot of warbler & gnatcatcher activity in the trees overhead. We also heard a barred owl that was probably roosting near the spring area, and saw several swallow-tailed kites soaring gracefully overhead. I’ve seen kites dip down in flight to drink water from the river at Wekiwa before- a pretty neat sight.

More Sand Lake.

More Sand Lake.

One thing that would have made the experience more enjoyable was bug spray- the mosquitoes aren’t out yet, but we were unpleasantly surprised that the population of no-see-um’s was going strong already. Though at least no-see-um bites don’t itch.

Yan walking through pine flatwoods.

Yan walking through pine flatwoods.

We saw several other people on the trail, including a few people walking their dogs. Noe is definitely not the type of pet that can go on hikes with us- especially with all the aerial predators and who knows what lurking in the underbrush.

A big pine had fallen across the path and split this sapling.

A big pine had fallen across the path and split this sapling.

One interesting thing we noticed was that in places near water, the moister air was really evident. So it’s not just the soil that has large moisture variations-it’s the air as well.

Crossing a tiny stream.

Crossing a tiny stream.

I find the oaky areas generally prettier to walk through than the drier plant communities. Though obviously this is an aesthetic preference. I like the dappled light through the branches and their clinging lichens.

Afternoon sun on the trail.

Afternoon sun on the trail.

Aside from birds, we saw a few arthropods and the ubiquitous gray squirrels. We didn’t see any fox squirrels, though they’re supposed to live in the park.

Cup-shaped spiderweb in the forest.

Cup-shaped spiderweb in the forest.

The day’s bird list: Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Swallow-tailed Kite, Red-shouldered Hawk, Mourning Dove, Barred Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parula, Palm Warbler, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler

All in all, it was a nice short hike. Definitely a place to return to and explore further- both by foot and by canoe.

Unexpected frost

The Friday before last, I decided to finally take action about the mass of not-collards that are happily growing in the garden, and which are really too much for us to eat- even with large amounts of freezing and sharing. What I decided to do was pull out the four plants on the outer edge of the plot. This would leave another four plants, which I figured would still give us more than enough vegetabley goodness from our remaining mystery plants.

Because I was so eager to get started, I didn’t remember to take a “before” photo- though I did photograph “partway through.” I started by cutting off the leaves and bagging them.

Leaves denuded and ready to be pulled up.

Leaves denuded and ready to be pulled up.

As the bags of leaves piled up, I realized that these back four plants were the most luxuriant of the bunch. They’re the southernmost plants in our plot, so are intercepting a lot of low-angle winter sun. This has probably inhibited the growth of the inner plants, as well as the carrots and such in the interior part of this section. They’ve also been acting as a windbreak because of their density, and it would turn out that this was a bad day to remove them…

Imagine four more big paper bags of greens here...

Imagine three more big paper bags of greens here…

I ended up with six big paper grocery bags full of leaves, plus four or so plastic bags. A huge amount! Luckily some of the volunteers from the campus Wellness Center were there and offered to take some of the bags to the food pantry on campus. Several of the rest of the bags went to friends, and the remainder came home to be blanched and frozen.

Three big bags of greens = four frozen blanched sandwich baggies.

Two big bags of greens = four frozen blanched sandwich baggies.

So all seemed well in the garden after Friday’s work. There was definitely a different feel in the plot without the wall of greens at the end.

The blooming misome is now about waist-high.

The blooming misome is now about waist-high.

I noticed that the radicchio was starting to develop the characteristic thick, red, veiny leaves- it’s interesting to watch the dainty green first leaves change like this.

Radicchio at center, with red-leaf lettuce below and radishes op top.

Radicchio at center, with red-leaf lettuce below and radishes op top.

So on Sunday afternoon, we returned from an overnight trip to Tampa, and saw the ominous weather forecast: it would get down to near freezing on both Sunday and Monday nights. We decided to go to the garden and put hay around the fragile seedlings, in hopes of at least protecting them from the wind. This is where the lack of not-collard windbreak came into play.  It definitely got down to freezing- or at least close enough to it to kill or damage a bunch of our plants when the windchill factor was added in.

Cold-damaged misome.

Cold-damaged misome. The white is dead tissue, not sun glinting off the leaves.

On Tuesday, it was a bummer to visit the garden and see the damage- though we had enough cool-weather plants to avoid some of the damage that other gardeners apparently had. Our tomatoes (which had survived the last freeze inside the sheltering not-collards), bell peppers, and the unidentified giant mint-family plant were probably killed. The nasturtium seedlings completely dessicated (with the exception of the lone seedling planted under another plant), and many of the beet and pak choi seedlings died. The misome and lemon verbena had some damage. But many of the plants were actually fine: mint (of course), carrots, dill, cilantro, Italian parsley, turnips, not-collards, fennel, lavender, and most of the radish, lettuce, radicchio, arugula, and misome seedlings.

The bees seemed happy to have at least a few still-flowering plants.

The bees seemed happy to have at least a few still-flowering plants.

I suppose as far as frost experiences go, this was pretty mild. Part of the issue is that it’s been unseasonably warm in general this winter, so we were lulled into a sense that the frost danger was over. Obviously it wasn’t. It was still a bit sad to see those dead and dying plants (and no doubt worse for the people with large tomato bushes and strong-looking bean seedlings that were hammered).

At any rate, the next thing to do is get some more seedlings started. I actually have some sprouting tomatillos and molokhia (a North African green we’re trying out), but after this experience I want to hold off on planting those out in the elements. So I’ll wait a few weeks to see how the weather is shaping up for those. I’ve also started some new shiso, nasturtium, and beet seeds on our patio. I did take the chance and plant radishes in the ground directly, since those seem pretty hardy.

So this is a bit of a setback- we were especially looking forward to beets- but not a huge one. The frost danger should be over in the next few weeks, and we’ll be able to be more adventurous with the plantings.

Happy bug on misome flowers.

Happy fly on misome flowers.

Mulberries and turnips

Since the new semester began, we’ve been having some theft from the community garden. It’s pretty disheartening to grow vegetables and wait patiently until they’re almost ripe, only to have them stolen. At any rate, security cameras have been installed, and two of the culprits have been photographed loading up bags of produce (including one of my turnips! who steals a turnip?). I suspect those photos are on their way to the campus police. Other anti-theft measures have also been installed- I probably shouldn’t say what, except that motion sensors are involved…

Things looking good in the garden.

Things looking good in the garden.

At any rate, we’ve done some harvesting of vegetables this week. On Tuesday, we picked assorted herbs, a fennel bulb, and some not-collards. Today, I collected some turnips and pulled up one of the last remaining misome plants, which was just beginning to bloom. More misome seedlings are in the ground, though.

Flowering misome.

Flowering misome.

Most of the seedlings that we planted recently seem to be doing fine. Interestingly, the read-leaf lettuce, which stayed green when sprouting on the patio, is now turning red. A neat example of sun-protective pigments!

lettuce

Pak choi seedlings are in the foreground, with lettuce behind them.

The beets all seem to be doing well, which is nice to see. It’ll be nice to get some more root vegetables after the turnips are gone.

Beet seedling.

Beet seedling.

The fennel all seems really happy too- it looks like some of the really small transplants did take, and are now sprouting up.

Sprouting baby fennel- very cute!

Sprouting baby fennel- very cute!

The new carrots are still growing strong, and the transplanted chives seem to be much happier here than rootbound in the pot on our patio.

Carrots, and the ever-present not-collards.

Carrots, and the ever-present not-collards.

I saw quite a few birds today- some of which are probably feeding on the mulberries, which are now going quite well. A palm warbler hopped around to different perches scolding me, but eventually flew off to menace another warbler and some savannah sparrows. There were also cardinals, catbirds, a red-bellied woodpecker, red-shouldered hawk, mourning dove, a titmouse, and of course robins. I keep planning to just loiter in the garden a while with my binoculars to watch the birds, but never seem to do so.

Mulberry flowers and unripe berries.

Mulberry flowers and unripe berries.

Finally, here’s a look at today’s turnip harvest. I’ve just used most of the leaves to make a Asian-style pickle. Hopefully it turns out well.

More turnips.

More turnips.

A new year, and yet more collard greens

Well, it’s a new year, and I forgot to post the first Friday bunnyblogging for January. I’ll have to try to get some good photos of Noe for this week’s post. I did go to the garden today to check things out (we’ve been out of town for a few days) and gather some veggies for the next few days, so she got some of those to snack on.

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Happy turnips…

Weed growth is way down over the winter, though still no freeze. In fact, it’s been in the mid to upper 70s this week, and isn’t really forecast to get cold anytime soon. I’d really like to plant some of the new seeds we got- all cool weather plants- but I’m hesitating because it is after all still January. The new things I’d like to try out are red oak leaf lettuce, arugula, beets, radicchio, and nasturtium (though I believe the last is pretty weedy, so we’ll have to keep an eye on it). Speaking of weedy, the mint seems to love the cool weather:

Ominous tentacles of mint.

Ominous tendrils of mint.

As expected, the collards are also quite happy. We’ll have to do a big trimming this weekend. The carrots are not turning out as expected- they’re producing lots of leaves, but not very large carrots. Not sure why that’s the case.

Carrots and collards

Carrots and collards

Two of the remaining pak choi are blooming, and it’s neat to see how quickly they change shape. Bolting makes them tough and not good to eat, so I’m planning on just leaving them there. The bees seem to like the flowers.

Bolting pak choi.

Bolting pak choi.

The new mini-patch of radishes is being overshaded a bit too much by the collards, but two were pretty much big enough to harvest today. These are round red ones, unlike the last batch which were long and red. They seem to be doing well in the cooler weather, so we may plant a few more. Not really my favorite veggie (unless pickled) but Yan likes them (unless pickled).

Little radish, peeking out.

Little radish, peeking out.

So I collected a little bit of several things for this week, and brought them home. As I was washing them in the kitchen, Noe was napping on one of the chairs under the dining room table- her usual spot. Seems it was just too much effort to leap off the chair and beg in the kitchen, so she started to gnaw on the table to let me know that she needed a sample. Of course, I gave her something- some fragrant cilantro and a bit of pak choi. Spoiled bunny.

Italian parsley & cilantro, eggplant, misome, mint, carrots, radishes, collards, and pak choi.

Italian parsley & cilantro, eggplant, misome, mint, carrots, radishes, collards, and pak choi.

December gardening

We just returned from vacation (hence the posting silence), and weren’t sure what the condition of our garden would be. Since our plot is in a community garden, it was watered while we were gone, and we asked some of the other volunteers to feel free to harvest things- mainly the pak choy, collards, and misome.

The mint is starting to act invasive...

The mint is starting to act invasive…

It looks like they did harvest at least the first two, though maybe the misome is unfamiliar enough that people weren’t sure what it was and whether to take it. The pak choy is pretty much gone (except for 3 plants that are going to seed). But the collards and misome are still going strong.

The former gardener planted this violet, and it was just too cute to remove.

The former gardener planted this violet, and it was just too cute to remove.

A few weeks before we left, I planted some seeds, so now the turnips, onions, and radishes are coming up. The onions haven’t gotten much bigger (they’re under the mulberry tree), but the other two are growing nicely.

Yay, turnips!

Yay, turnips!

The collards are overshadowing the new radishes, so we have some competition for photons. Of course, that’s easily managed by harvesting some more greens (which we did).

New radishes.

New radishes.

It didn’t quite get down to freezing while we were gone, though it probably got very close to that. At any rate, the basil, green peppers, tomatoes, and amaranth are not doing well. The tomatoes may survive at the bases, but the basil and peppers are smaller, and unlikely to last the winter. It’ll probably briefly freeze a few times over the next few months.

Poor little pepper... the Italian parsley looks fine, though.

Poor little pepper… the Italian parsley looks really good, though.

The cool weather seems to have fooled a few things into thinking it’s spring. Our violet is blooming, and so is a cherry (or plum?) tree in the corner of the garden. The tarragon has finally stopped, and I gathered a bunch of seeds from it. Now sure how many I’ll actually plant, but I can always give them away.

Thinks it's spring.

Thinks it’s spring.

There’s lots of dill and cilantro coming up, as “volunteers.” I guess they like the cooler weather. The mulberry tree is also fruiting like crazy, and I’m surprised no birds are going for it yet. I did see a Carolina wren and palm warbler hanging around today, and heard some cardinals lurking in the bushes. There are also a bunch of robins around. Also, butterflies!

Long-tailed skipper?

Long-tailed skipper?

It’s definitely nice to see insects flying around in the winter- at least beneficial ones like these. I have to say the fire ants were still a nuisance- I was bitten a few times, but seemingly less venomously than usual. Maybe they’re lazy with the cooler weather. Though I still think of them as malevolent critters.

Zebra longwing.

Zebra longwing.

Random emu

While birding at Oakland Nature Preserve last weekend, I had an unexpected emu encounter.

Not quite like seeing one in the wild for real, but interesting nonetheless.

The property next to the preserve is owned by a ranch that raises exotic animals: zebras, emus, long-horned cows, and several types of antelope. I’d never seen them right next to the fence, though. So it was interesting to watch the emus walking around, foraging under the oak trees for food. My cell phone camera’s not very good, so you’ll have to take my word for it that they were pretty close to me. Pretty neat.

Also, I should add that hearing peacocks calling while birding the swamp by Lake Apopka is an interesting experience.

Harvesting some plants

Yesterday was pretty exciting- we got to harvest our first batch of mature pak choy, along with some radishes, and eat them!

Our pak choy (which I’ve also probably called bok choy- anyway, it’s the green-stemmed variety) is growing pretty densely, so it was definitely time to thin it out a bit. We collected about four bunches, and it really barely made a dent in the amount that’s remaining.

Pak choy- getting big!

The other vegetable we collected was some radishes. These were planted in rows with the carrots, because radishes mature earlier and the carrots can continue to grow while the radishes are being harvested. They should probably have planted in separate rows, rather than together- I think the radishes overshadowed the sprouting carrots. The lighter plants in the foreground and in the curve in this photo are radishes; the darker ones are collard greens:

Radishes are growing strongly, too.

Here’s the day’s harvest. As you can see, the pak choy is the size of the “baby” bok choy that you’d find at grocery stores. The radishes could have been left in the ground if we wanted bigger roots, but we wanted to clear them out of there to make room for the carrots which are starting to come up. Plus we eat the greens, and clearly these are some happy greens. I think I’d like to get a cute basket with a handle to harvest this stuff- clearly the clamshell arugula container we were using wasn’t big enough, and the canvas bag we put the overflow in got pretty muddy.

Yesterday’s harvest.

The misome is also ready to be harvested. We’re really curious to try this new veggie for us, which we picked because it was fast-growing, and there’s really no way to go wrong with a stir-fry veggie like this. Though I suppose there’s some chance that it will get bitter if we leave it too long. Maybe we’ll try this later this week.

Misome, with tarragon and mint.

So that’s the harvest for yesterday. Last night, the pak choy went into stir fry with garlic (yum!). Today, the radish greens will be cooked and go into a pinto bean dish. We might just eat the radish roots or make a quick Japanese-style pickle with them. And of course Noe got to sample both types of leaves.

In the garden: slime molds

I want to take more photos of the garden and post them soon, but for now, here’s a photo of one unique garden denizen that I saw last weekend:

Plasmodial slime mold.

This is a slime mold– a type of large protist that is not related to mold (which is a fungus), though they can look slimy. Slime molds are pretty cool critters. Plasmodial slime molds have two stages in their life cycle: the plasmodial form, which moves around and feeds on (generally) decaying matter, and a single-celled resting form, which is formed when the plasmodium runs out of food or environmental conditions are too harsh.

While other slime molds come in very different forms, the plasmodial slime molds (myxogastrids) are pretty distinctive in their multinucleate feeding form-these are single-celled organisms, with many nuclei, that are visible to the naked eye. These covered an area a bit smaller than the size of my palm. And they’re all one cell!

I’m not sure what species the one pictured here is. Slime molds are fairly common in temperate areas, and it’s a bit hard to tell them apart if you’re not an expert. I found these on some wood chips in the mulch. When I went back on Monday, they were gone. Either they oozed off somewhere else, someone moved them, or they broke up into microscopic spores. Regardless, they’re probably still in the garden, waiting for conditions to be right to nom on something else.

Honolulu Park in Florida?

After a recent bike ride on the West Orange Trail, we took a little detour to Ocoee, FL. There’s a small subdivision here with Hawaiian street names, so we thought we’d check it out.

It wasn’t terribly exciting. Indeed, some of the streets on our map had been blocked off by a new faux-Italian subdivision that was going up next door. But we did stop to take a photo at Honolulu Park.

It was hard to see why it had the name. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

The other interesting thing we saw that day at the Oakland Farmer’s Market was a food truck selling Hawaiian plate lunch! We’ll have to plan a bike ride to try it some time…