Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Life After the Storm

Besides taller plants being blown over along with some pots and everything soaked, the front survived well

When Hurricane Matthew roared through Florida at the beginning of this month we had our first taste of battening down the hatches here in Central Florida.  We added extra tie downs to the chicken coops, picked up yard items that might blow or cause damage if they became air born.

Roosters in the tractor were the most vulnerable so we staked the chicken
tractor down with metal stakes and wire and placed them between heavier plants

Since we are on a well we always have stored water for possible power outages, but we stocked up on extra in preparation for the storm. We'd already topped off the vehicles with gas, had food stocked and picked up extra propane for the generator and gas grill.

Thankfully we were blessed when prayer was answered and the storm moved further off the coast and didn't take the original course of coming right up the center of Florida as it first looked like it would. It hit us at a Category 3 with sustained winds of over 80 mph and brought with it loads of rain!!!  It poured and blew all Thursday and on through the night. At 3 in the morning on Friday the main part of the storm had passed us by, but we lost power.  It would stay off until Sunday night when at 8 pm it came back on.

We were really glad we had the preparations of extra water, food, batteries and most of all the generator.  We ran it to keep the refrigerator and freezer going and some fans when the afternoons became uncomfortable.  At night we used our candles and kept in touch with news with our storm radio.

As evening arrives we lit the candles and listened to the storm radio for news updates

Cameron and Hannah in the kitchen
The propane generator operating in the back sunroom keeping the freezer and refrigerator cold and brewing our morning coffee - priorities!!

After the storm passed we were really glad to see that damage was minimal considering what could have happened if we had been hit with what they originally expected to come through. We had a smaller oak topple in the yard, so we cut that up and cleared it out ourselves.

Thankfully not a large oak, so clean up was easy.  We had been debating about whether to keep this tree here since we've planted an olive on one side and two jackfruit trees on the other.  So I guess this made up our minds.

My banana leaves were shredded and one of the larger ones couldn't handle the strong wind and snapped in half.  So I cut that down to make room for the pups around it to grow.

My poor banana bent in half and the pigeon pea near it that became too top heavy and lost some branches. The chicken tractor in the back had two roosters in it that road out the storm between the bushes that sheltered it and the extra tie downs they did fine, a bit freaked out, but fine.

Poor banana tree and  the shredded leaves of others around it

We have a large pine in amongst the pine trees that has fallen over and will have to be removed later when the tree companies aren't as busy as they are now.  Since it isn't endangering anything we're not so concerned.

We lost a couple of panels in the roof area of the pools screened porch, so that will need to be fixed.
 Then there were potted plants blown over and evidence of lots of leaves blown down, but all in all not much damage.  We've been raking up the pine needles that were all over to put on the floors of the chicken coops, because with all the wind and rain there was about 4 inches of water that made for a very muddy coop area.  The pine needles worked well to create a decent flooring as everything dried out.

Screen panels down from storm will be fixed along with older
panels that were damaged when we moved in.

Cochin pen is swampy

Main coop is a mess prior to our putting down pine
needles to help out while this dried up

Birds still walking around in the muck rather than being in the dry coop or on the roost.  There's a reason for the
phrase "bird brain".

So with the cleanup done we'll make note of ways to prepare in advance of an event like that again through storage items and as we continue to create our edible food forests and gardens so that they can take care of themselves in the future.

We are now in full swing with our Fall planting to be able to enjoy the many things that grow well in the cooler temperatures we enjoy in our almost year round growing environment here in Central Florida. I'm busy starting seed to replant the hoop house with the hydroponic systems that I've dismantled to clean and as we put down new flooring material in there. So I'll update on that as it progresses. The girls and I have been harvesting our peanuts and and preparing those beds for new plants.  Cameron wants to make peanut butter with the peanuts we've harvested.  I'll do a post on this once we've finished with this project.  That's it for now.  Will post on some of our harvest soon.

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.