Saturday, January 30, 2016

Fending Off Frost In Florida

Image of a snowed in North East after the blizzard dumped on it

Okay I know compared with our neighbors in the North East we have NOTHING to complain about weather wise, and I'll gladly leave the blizzard conditions up there. However, occasional freezes in this neck of the woods can have devastating effects on the not so hardy subtropical plants here.  My zone is on the border of zone 9B, and in our warmer months it's basically a subtropical area.  The winters are for the most part mild, but we can have that sudden drop that brings on a quick freeze.

Right now with my food forest being immature and many of the cover plantings and trees still small that leaves my more tender subjects open to real freeze damage or demise.  And with everything growing so well we didn't want to lose our investment of time and money that we have in these.  So when last weekend while the North East was dealing with their blizzard Jonas we were preparing for a sudden drop into the very low 30's here in Central Florida.

While the results of our preparations were not pretty they were effective and really that's what counts here.  We had been busy moving mulch from our tree trimming pile around the base of our trees and plants.  Then we gathered all the old drop cloths, sheets and protective yard fabrics we could find to cover plants and trees.

Hannah digging into the now steaming mulch pile

Lauren and Cameron at work on the pile
Our first nights draping over and around the fruit trees and banana circles

Another look with heater in place

Kevin and Cameron testing out the kerosene heaters

Testing the tall propane patio heater

In the front of the house we pulled potted plants and trees together next to a South facing wall to keep them warm.

Potted plants gathered by house
Our beautiful -not- coverings that fortunately worked as planned!

We covered areas of the garden with sheets and protective fabric.

Garden covered up and ready for frost

The cold coverings were put over fruit trees and barriers from the cold were built as frames to help as much as we could.

Initially we used heaters in the banana circle area and while they were effective the outer edges still suffered that first night, so the second night we put up a canopy and more sheets to help fend off the extreme cold.

Heaters on at 2 am when Kevin went out to check fuel levels 

Frost on the canopy and the extra covers we used the 2cd night

Frost on the roof near garden

Frost on the roof and amazingly the sheets worked to save the plants below

The whole yard covered.  You can see the frost on the ground, except there wasn't any within the warm circle we created

Closeup of a weed covered with frost in the yard

Our efforts and expense of the fuels burned in the 2 kerosene heaters and the 1 propane patio heater, were rewarded by a fairly frost free area in the middle of an otherwise frosty yard on the mornings of the freeze.

We did lose a few plants that we failed to protect, and some of the outer leaves of the bananas and more tender fruits showed damaged, but they survived which is what we really were aiming for.

Some of the outer leaves on the bananas were damaged, but as a whole they survived

A few of the pineapples were affected, but with some tlc I think I can save them
My Thai Basil was a total loss

The first night we didn't cover as much of the garden and lost these tomatillos as a result

The weather then quickly changed again and a major rain storm came through quickly warming things up with the cloud cover that came with it.  So just as fast as we wrapped everything up, it needed to come down.

Steam coming off the lake in the morning after the frost

In time the microclimates I plan to create with plants and trees that are hardier, will act as shelter for the more tender ones and allow them to survive without so much babying from us.  This was very apparent with my two Jackfruit trees that are planted among more established pines and oaks in our yard.  We did nothing to protect them other than adding a new layer of mulch to their base and they came through totally unscathed by the freeze.

Both Jackfruit trees in great shape after the frosty nights and no cover other than surrounding trees
The small kumquat didn't need extra protection with the protection from the surrounding trees

So we take the lessons from this and keep moving forward with the desired edible yard and food forest that I would truly like to see flourish here at our homestead.  Our latest additions are an abundance of bulbs and seeds the girls and I are preparing to plant all around to add some beauty and color to our otherwise green and rather bland plantings.  That will be for another post.

SO LONG for now-

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Time to Trim Some Trees

As the title states it is time to take care of some problem trees in the yard.  Taking advantage of this nice cool spell and the break in rain we have been trimming trees and shrubs all around the property for the past few weeks.  However, when it comes to the really large ones on the property it was definitely better to leave this job to the professionals.

The tall pine on the left next to the shed and the small oak were the trees that needed to be removed

After researching local companies I found John Davis at Davis Tree Service (Click on link to see their website) who came out to take a look at what our options were with regards to our problem trees and to give us an estimate for the work that would need to be done to solve this.  He arrived with his crew this past Tuesday and they quickly got busy taking care of the jobs we'd discussed.

The boom went up and John swung it around over the house, then after removing a few branches from the other pines that were in the way he began to take care of our problem pine

It was a COLD morning for Florida, with the temperatures in the low 40's and a chilly wind that had us all wearing layers to try and keep warm.  The first tree they set to work on was the large long needle pine next to Cameron's shed/room.  We probably should have removed this before we brought the shed in, but with all we had going on at the time it was left out of our project list and has proved to be an issues with the amount of garbage and branches that drop from it on the shed.  This included some branches that could have damaged the roof.  This tree was probably a good 60+ feet tall, so this needed the pros to be removed without damaging buildings surrounding it.

The truck John has for his business is amazing!!  The girls and I were in awe and entertained by the heights it could reach, and how far the boom could extend to facilitate the cutting of the high branches and trunk.  He would work in conjunction with the two gentlemen who assisted him as he used ropes to guide and gently lower the branches to the ground where they then made quick work of removing, cutting and chipping them up.  As an added bonus for us, we had asked to have the mulch for our yard and the trunk that he cut nicely into logs to fit the size of our fireplace all left for our use.

Mulching up the branches

After finishing off the problem pine, he cleared out a small oak that was growing next to this and some very high branches from the other pines that had grown out over the house and driveway and dropped needles and sap on everything below.

Oak with it's heavy branches hanging over the citrus and bananas

Next it was on to the oak that has too heavily shaded the citrus and bananas in the lower part of the yard.  This tree needed to be climbed as the location didn't allow for a vehicle to get near it. A pole saw was used initially to remove the lower heavy branches.  These were cut up and stacked at the base of the oak for our use.

John then climbed the tree and began using his chainsaw to take care of the additional branches.  Again he worked with his crew who carefully lowered these heavy pieces leaving my bananas and other fruit trees I've planted in my food forest all in tact.

The branches were taken to be mulched in their chipper, all adding to the load we would have at the end of this project.

The final task was taking down an unruly elm tree in back inside the dogs area.  This old established tree was in poor shape when we moved here and Kevin had been able to trim it up where it hung over the roof and some of the lower dead branches.  It's responded to the clean up and the additional nutrients it receives from the garden that's now next to it by growing at an amazing rate over the last couple of years.  This made for a very large, messy and really ugly tree.  I thought at first I might take it out all together, but it is a good tree for this area and makes a nice wind break.  So giving it a severe "hair cut" made more sense.  They topped it to a level that would allow Kevin to keep it trimmed each season when it puts out it's massive growth and to be able to enjoy the shade and protection it offers without dealing with the mess it currently created.

Our very messy overgrown elm tree before 
Then after it's major trimming.  With the main branches at a manageable height we can keep it trimmed up when the growth takes off this Spring so that it makes for a more attractive tree. 

It is rather sad looking right now, but as soon as the weather warms it will put out a mass of new healthy growth that will make it an attractive part of our yard.

Here are some before and afters.  I am pleased and know we'll reap benefits from these changes as well as from the logs we'll season for firewood and our wonderful new load of mulch!!

The area next to the shed with the pine and small oak on left, and now that they're gone it's far more open

The top picture is with the oaks heavy branches hanging out over fruit trees, and on the bottom is how open it is now.  This makes the space seem much larger and will be great for allowing more sunlight to reach the trees

I am VERY glad we left this to professionals, it was a huge project that they made look easy and made quick work of.  Anyone who may be more local I can say I highly recommend this company and when we eventually need more trees trimmed or removed I will be using Davis Tree Service, Inc
I've also asked to be the recipient of more free mulch when they have local jobs so we can continue to build our sandy soil into the rich humus that we've seen already from that huge load we had delivered last Spring. - Conquering Mulch Mountain. (Click on link to see)

My oak firewood pile

Mulch being dumped for us

Girls ready to work on the pile

For now the girls and I have our work cut out as we move our new pile.