Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Walking the Dogs

Starting out on our walk

Ever since my Uncle moved down here from Maryland with his dog Tarzan, we've looked for places that were dog friendly to walk or spend time.  We've had some nice visits at the Beach and tried various parks, but find ourselves regularly returning to Gemini Springs Park in DeBary to spend time at the dog park or walk around the various scenic pathways.

It's a large beautiful park and with a spring that gushes out millions of gallons of water a day the water in the lake is really clear and loaded with large fish and birds that all thrive in this serene environment.

As we headed over the second bridge on our walk my uncle spotted a small alligator chilling among the duck weed.

Though Bea's been blind since losing her battle with glaucoma, she's adjusted well and with a harness on is able to do a decent job in keeping up with these walks.  Today she was a bit tired and stopped several times before our water and snack break.

Hannah, Bill, Lauren, Jake and Tarzan checking out other sites in the water


Hannah and Lauren during our snack break

Lauren with the fishing pier in the background


After we had our brief break we walked across the largest of the bridges and began our trek back through the park towards the truck.

Looking from the main bridge towards the fishing pier

A couple of Ibis resting on the fence 

There are so many really nice sites to photograph and then the surprise of various birds and animals we meet up with on our walks.  It's a great way to start the day at least a couple times a week to get some exercise for ourselves and the dogs before the girls begin their school day and my uncle and Tarzan head home to take on more projects around their new house.

Jake's getting tired and ready to head home

An original barn and house in the park that now serves as the caretakers home and equipment area

Bea was tuckered out on the last part of the walk and Bill gave me a break from carrying her - spoiled dog!

Tarzan giving me a wary look since I'm walking him and not Bill

I took this side mirror reflection of a very tired Bea hanging her head out the window

 Have a great day!!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Harvesting Begins

Seminole Pumpkins

While there is still far more growing that we've yet to harvest as well as ongoing produce that gets regularly harvested, we have a few extras this year that are new and exciting since we only planted them in May of last year.

This was our food forest last May and that little tree on the left was the Custard Apple while the Barbados Cherries are in the planting bed at the bottom of this picture.  There are two small bushes at either ends with a small Loquat in the middle.

The first are our Barbados Cherries (Acerola).  These tart cherries are different from their cold climate cousins.  They don't require the long cold spells needed for regular cherries to produce.  They tolerate the extreme summer heat and humidity we get here in Central Florida.  They are more tart than regular cherries and have 3 smaller pits rather than the larger single one and a real benefit is that they have extremely high concentrations of vitamin C and phenolic antioxidants.

The flowers on our Barbados Cherry Plants

A Barbados cherry - they grow close to the branches and don't have the long stems that regular cherries have

We have heavily pruned the cherries several times and they grow like mad, now that they are producing fruit we'll hold off pruning until the season ends. It's amazing to see the growth in only one year and the fact our trees are already producing fruit is really exciting.

Our Barbados Cherries today almost smother the Loquat tree in the center, and would be twice the size had I not pruned them heavily the past few month. They are in desperate need of pruning and shaping, but with all the flowers on them I want to let them go until I harvest all the fruit they'll produce this season.
The next tree that is producing a new fruit for us is the custard apple (annona reticulata).  We had to cover and protect this tree during the brief frost we had earlier this year, but after losing the very top branches it has come back strong, flowered and has 3 good size custard apples on it.  Right now they still aren't ripe and look like green brains hanging on the tree.

One of our little "green brains" growing
Our pineapples have produced a lot of fruit this year.  We had 11 altogether and have harvested 3 so far.  The rest are still growing and beginning to ripen on the plants.  They are still smaller, but their flavor is amazing!!  After eating them I start the process all over again by taking their tops and planting them outside to produce yet another plant for production.

The Seminole Pumpkins that came from a volunteer from last years plants produced an incredible 22 pumpkins before I pulled the vine out.  You can see some of the pumpkins in the picture at the top of the page.  They aren't large pumpkins, but they are sweet and plenty for our needs.  We still have a couple more vines that have started from our compost piles and will produce a few more, plus we have lots of butternut squash that started the same way and are really growing large squash for us this year.  We've harvested 9 (8 in picture below and the one we ate) so far with a lot more still at varying stages of growth and size around the yard.

The monster squash in the front of the picture here is 14 inches long and 6 1/2 inches wide. So that gives a bit of perspective for all the others that are smaller, but each is still a good size.

The ginger I started from store bought pieces are growing well and have beautiful flowers, so I'll do a follow up post when it comes time to dig up the roots and see the size of that harvest.

Our sugar cane is growing like mad throughout the yard as I take pieces and start more and more around so that with little effort we are adding to our production levels of this plant that makes a great wind break, provides shade for other plants and will produce it's usable cane.  Last year we just did taste samples and then replanted.  This year I'll juice it before replanting the pieces we'll cut from the upper portions of the long cane and we've found a great use for the long leafy portion that we cut up, dry and use in our wicking beds or as mulch.  I've been doing some studies of sugar production so that eventually we can make a basic sugar product with a larger harvest that we will eventually have as our cane expands throughout the yard.

Sugar cane by the bamboo in the front yard

Beautiful - thick cane

Younger, smaller plants by peach tree in the food forest area

Our figs are really producing a lot this year.  I've already harvest about 10 pounds of fruit and have frozen them for using later.  The 3 larger trees (each about 4 feet tall right now) are loaded again with fruit that we will harvest and eat when ripe.

Some of the ripe figs we picked earlier

Our experimental Giant Blue Corn grew to giant size stalks, but only produced a small amount of harvestable corn.  So we gathered this, removed the husks and are drying it to save for seed.  Though there's not a lot of it, it is a pretty dark blue colored corn and we'll research and prepare our beds a bit better the next time we plant it.  Now that we have more than the few seeds that arrived in the pack I bought, I feel free to try it in varying places around the yard to try to find the best locations for growing it.

The girls by the giant blue corn stalks

Some of our harvest

Blue corn dried for seed for next time

All of these have done well in a short amount of time and in the midst of the intense Summer heat and humidity we get here.  I'm now planning my gardens for our best growing season as we move into the Fall.  Temperatures will cool down, but still remain warm enough to do a lot of growing.  I'm finally beginning to learn how to work with rather than against the seasons here.  YAY!!!

We've been enjoying the pumpkins in the form of delicious pumpkin bread, as I cook and puree all the pumpkins we grew for later use.  My freezer has lots of the stuff that will be used in breads, soups, cookies and pies over the coming months.  Now that we're harvesting all these butternut squash I need to get busy doing the same with them. I love when I see what these are selling for a pound in the store to know the savings we're enjoying and that we are getting healthy fresh fruits and vegetables regularly to add to our diets and food stores.

We're hoping at this time next year our peach, nectarine, plums, pomegranates, avocados, olives, jackfruit and pineapple guavas will all be producing well for us.

That's it for now - happy gardening.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Too Many Roos

3 of our noise makers. Two Plymouth Barred Rocks and a Copper Maran

When we got our chicks earlier this Spring we had 28 initially all a week or less old.  At that point they're all cute and fuzzy and we had a mixed lot of young chickens from a small hobby farm that raised several types of specialty chickens as well as some mixed lots they referred to as "Olive Eggers".  With this mixture and straight run you take your chances on the sex of the group.

The little fuzz balls in the tub in the garage when we first got them

So cute

We lost one little one in the second week of having them, and managed to raise the rest to maturity. Of the remaining 27 we wound up with 10 roosters!!!  After finding separate pens for them where they wouldn't fight we had to deal with the noise contest they seemed to have going on.  There were these 3 noise makers in the pen that had served as our temporary chick pen next to our room.  They kept starting earlier and earlier until it made it clear we needed to deal with them.  The two Plymouth Barred Rock Roosters were the first to be culled.

These two were LOUD and competed with each other to constantly let everyone know they were around.

Then we had another 4 in our chicken tractor.  The Alpha Rooster who had truly ruled the roost for the longest time until he became too aggressive for our liking, moved in with 3 others in the chicken tractor the girls and I had to quickly put together.  The 4 bachelors got along as we moved them around the yard, but the two larger ones were really noisy.  So they along with the Copper Maran were next in the exit line.  I had looked at selling, but their fates would have been the same and I'd get very little for them.  I wanted to be sure that when they went it was as humanely as possible and the only way to assure that was to research it ourselves and then follow through. So one of the negatives of homesteading was to happen sooner than we originally thought, and so after processing these 5 we have them in the freezer for future meals.

The two larger roos in the tractor are the main culprits here.

Alpha Rooster

Copper Maran in foreground

Finally, we had two Polish roosters we had to separate and though the one in with the Polish hens was beautiful, he was very loud and enjoyed making his presence known continually, so I listed him on Farm and Homestead lists and sold him to a woman who has several specialty types of chickens and loves him for his beauty and sweet personality despite his vocal habits.

Our beautiful, but noisy Polish Rooster

He's a happy addition to his new home

So for now we have a remaining BLR Rooster who's sweet and quiet, and another Polish Rooster who's thrilled to be back with the hens and needs to regrow a few feathers he lost in altercations with the larger hens in the former pen he was in.

BLR Rooster with a couple of his girls

He's got pretty coloring and a sweet personality.  Doesn't seem interested in making a lot of noise

The other Polish Rooster who is now with the hens will look a whole lot better when his tail feathers come back in.

We have two remaining bachelor roosters in the chicken tractor who are content to busy themselves with clearing weeds and bugs as I move them around the yard.  We've added an adult Brahma Hen and two chicks, one Cochin and another Brahma.  So our current flock is at 24 total.  We've had our first few eggs in the last week and a half and are in the process of building another hoop coop so we can separate the Polish and Cochin in the hope of eventually breeding these and keeping their lines pure.

Brahma hen
The chicken tractor under the tree line as we have a lot of rain expected today

The Brahma and Cochin chicks

Our eggs supplied by our girls.
So that's it for now.  I'll do my next post on the new hoop coop and the harvest we've had so far this season.  We're keeping busy and enjoying a more peaceful homestead now that the number of roosters has been reduced.

This was the cloud set that showed up the day after our roosters departed.  I call it my "Rooster Rising Sunrise Scene".  Thought it was pretty and rather appropriate.

Rooster Rising Sunrise -  just have to use a bit of imagination.