Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Uncommon Creatures living in my Garden

I have seen some strange creatures in my life, but after moving to my current house, I see a rare one almost every couple days. I feel their presence is a gift, as if to thank me for not using chemicals in the garden.

This is the prettiest colored "wasp" I've ever seen. I couldn't capture the color correctly, but the body and wings is an iridescent royal blue. I've seen this same wasp several times over the past 2 weeks. I know it's the same because one of her wings is a little "off". She flies funny.

It wasn't until I saw this frog that I realized...I've never seen a frog in person before! I've seen lots of toads, but this guy even felt different....almost magical. I knew there was a giant frog living outside my bedroom window, I was so happy I finally have proof!

Praying Mantis....not a common sight at all. I found it perched on my new Sapote Tree, quietly looking at me as I watered my trees, as if it were studying something.

What is this? A cross between a dragonfly and a lacewing? I've only had one experience with a lacewing years ago. I was walking and decided to open my hands and in flew a lacewing. It was an iridescent seafoam green and it stayed there for awhile before flying off. It felt very friendly, as if just wanting to say "hi".

Now THIS is a special butterfly. A while before, I had rescued an Orange Dog from my dying orange tree, and placed it on my lime tree. (An orange dog is the name of the swallowtail caterpillar, if you've seen one, the name just seems very fitting). The lime tree was in bloom and full of buzzing insects. I said a little prayer for my orange dog to be safe among the bees/wasps, etc. I also thought to myself, wouldn't it be nice if I could see him again once he becomes a butterfly. One day I was out in my garden during a slight drizzle....lifted up a zucchini leaf and got a little startle when I saw bright yellow spots on the ground. I hoped it would stay put while I ran inside the house to grab my camera. I took one pic, but the colors didn't come out so well, so as I fumbled with my camera....he flew away. I knew this was the same caterpillar that I had rescued from before, just don't ask me how I know.

I have also seen a 1 inch bright green frog meditating on top of my Rollinia tree during a rain. I can't wait to see him again for a quick portrait.

I'm also waiting for some hummingbirds to come visit me. Hummingbirds are always special to me.

My Inexpensive Soil Mix

For years I've been buying Pro-Mix, really excellent, commercial grade stuff for my potted plants. But it's expensive, and I have to travel to a certain nursery just to get it.

I finally get it, I've been doing it all wrong. People who really know what they're doing, mix their own potting mix using stuff they have readily available. With experience you begin to get the feel of what is good and what's not good for your plants, so there's really no excuse for paying big bucks to have a "pro" bag your mix. 

To me, "readily available" means something I can get at my local hardware store. Something not pre-mixed and marked up. And then I ran into this...........

It's a bag of inexpensive topsoil from Lowe's. It's really pretty and fluffy, mostly decomposed pine bark and some sand. For my smaller containers I mix 5 parts of this stuff to 1 part perlite. Perlite breaks down eventually, so for large containers I add an additional 1 part expanded shale (this stuff never breaks down and it makes sure your roots have available oxygen, especially when the organic portion of your soil begins to break down.) It's an investment, so I try to buy a lot of this. The biggest drawback is the heaviness of the shale, and the fact that I have to go to one certain nursery to buy it. So now I"m on the lookout for another product that will do what expanded shale will do.

So far I'm having great success with this mix!

Dragon Fruit Updates

I bought 6 dragonfruit cuttings on ebay. 2 each of purple, red, and white fleshed. 

Dragon Fruit 9/10/10

Dragon Fruit 9/24/10. First signs of growth on the red fruited cutting.

Avocado Updates

un named grafted Avocado. Planted in the ground on 8/29/10

un named grafted Avocado. 9/10/10

Mexicola 9/10/10

to be continued...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Rollinia Updates

8/29 Took my Rollinia home. 3 gal pot (10") about 5 ft tall.

9/10 new growth shortly after I repotted into a 7 gal pot.

9/24 lots of new growth. The huge bright green leaf in the center was not there when I first bought this tree.

to be continued.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

brand new Atemoyas "Gefner" and "Lisa"

I'm almost done with my tropical fruit tree purchases. Below are my new Atemoyas "Gefner" and "Lisa". They are almost 7 ft tall in a 3 gallon pot. Miraculously, i was able to transport them home in my Honda Accord.The leaves are a foot long. Sadly, I may have to top these off to encourage side branching....ie. fruiting branches. The owner of the nursery tells me these are more hardy than the sugar apples. They will take down to 26 F. 

Instructions for transporting a tree home:

1. Place pot in a plastic bag. 
2. Place newspaper or other material on top of the soil to prevent it from falling out. 
3. Tape the newspaper down to the pot or plastic bag. 

If you have a truckbed, place the tree laying down, with the pot toward the front of the truck and the top of the tree towards the rear. .

I just had a great idea while admiring my trees. I noticed a tiny bud (I think it may be a flower) on top of the Lisa. I can't chop it off now. Instead, I will try to air layer the top portion of the trees.   I also noticed that the tree that bent downwards is sending out new growth at the bend. Maybe I can bend the other tree downward to encourage it to branch. This way I don't have to cut off the top at all and waste all those giant leaves and spent energy.

See the two flower buds? Unfortunately one of them fell off a week later.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sugar Cane in the Garden, but not How you Think

Sugar Cane 4 ft $2.99 @ the supermarket. I was curious so I bought one.

This was a learning experience for me. I was determined to use all parts of the sugar cane for something, don't know what.

I pulled out my Breville Juicer, thinking I can get this thing juiced in no time.

Well first I had to peel the sugarcane. Then I realized I had to chop the sugarcane into 1 inch chunks. The problem with the juicer is that the fibers clogged up the little grater holes:

So every few seconds,I had to open up the machine, scrape out the fibers, turn the thing on, repeat. Did you notice the fibrous leftovers? It is so pretty! The texture kind of reminds me of coconut coir. I bet I can use this as some type of soil amendment. I will try rooting some cuttings in it. 

From that one stalk I juiced about 3 cups, which had to be watered down because it's very sweet. Poured over ice, it was very refreshing! In vietnam, vendors would often add tangerine peel to add depth to the flavor.

And here is my "harvest" of natural materials to be used in the garden. The tough internodes between the stalks, I will pot up and see if I can't get new sugarcane. (They look like bamboo in the garden). I can only imagine what fresh home grown sugarcane tastes like. I believe they are semi frost tender, but I"m willing to give it a try. The fibrous frass will be used to start seeds or root some cuttings. And the peeled bark?

This is what I ended doing with the bark. I love the green color.  I have seen wooden labels sold, so my reasoning is that the bark is more rot resistant than inner wood so this might work even better. Saved myself $5 for unattractive plastic labels, which I've been searching for.

It took me 45 minutes to get that one stalk juiced. Next time I will use my high speed blender instead (hopefully there IS a next time). My H commented that I could just pay $5 for a big cup of sugar cane drink at the store and save all that time and energy.....but there is a problem with simplifying every experience down to a dollar amount. These are the things I gained from this experience:

sugar cane juice $5
plant labels $5 
sugar cane fiber $??
new sugar cane starts: $???
hand eye coordination (from chopping!): priceless
the feeling of discovery: priceless

See, I came away with way more than just a cup of juice!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

I bought these trees Today

Here is my much sought after Cogshall Mango. It is a condo mango, and quite prolific, or so I hear. $30 for 3 gal

Here is my Alano Sapodilla. It is a midget  compared to my other sapodilla. It's about 3 feet including the pot. I am about to repot it in this pic. When I slid it out of it's pot, the roots barely filled in the soil. I accidentally dropped it and a huge chunk of rootless soil fell off. I may have damaged the roots a little. It is ok, since I am placing this indoors as a houseplant, no water stress.  The soil is a mix of fine pine bark (topsoil), expanded shale ($6.99 on sale for 40lb @Cornelius), and perlite. There is no peat in this mix to bog it down (pun intended). 

And here it is in its final spot. It'll have west and northern window light.... if my H will stop closing the blinds all the time. I cleaned each water-spotted leaf with a paper towel dipped in olive oil. This is a trick I use to clean all houseplant leaves, they like it better than commercial leaf shiners.  Olive oil is good for cleaning water spots or salt crust on the pots too....makes them look shiny and new.

I also potted up a mango seed a few days ago:

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My recent spending spree at the local nurseries!

I usually get gardening fever early in the spring. But this year is a little different. In the middle of 95 degree summer days, I am absolutely hooked on being out in the garden almost every day. Here are just some pictures of plants that I have purchased recently. 

two lemonquat trees "Lemon Drops". these are a cross between a lemon and a kumquat. They will have both small and full sized lemons. look carefully for the three fruit on the tree. I bought this at HDepot of all places. A rare find. I was thrilled when I saw these, I had been looking all over for a lemonquat.

another great find. This is from Lowe's. It's a tough evergreen gardenia called "Heaven Scent". The single blooms are very fragrant, and the leaves resemble boxwood, which I plan to use it for a boxwood-like hedge. the flowers can be steeped in hot water to make a tea resembling jasmine tea, but with a much fresher taste. The label on the plant says it makes a great cut flower.

And here are the tropicals. I just bought this Rollinia at JRN's nursery two days ago. It's about 5 ft, including height of the 3 gal pot. It bears an alien looking fruit, but many people say it has a fantastic taste. We shall see! It's related to the annona's, which I love. It was the last tree left at the nursery, which signalled that it was waiting just for me. I'm still debating whether or not to plant my tropicals in the ground or keep them in pots for at least one winter. 

This is my new sugar apple. The label says "Na" vietnam. I don't know whether or not that's the name of the variety, I just found out that in vietnam some people call all annona's "Na". So this is what my mom named me after! (it's my family nickname).  I noticed the older leaves are a bit sensitive to hot sun (west exposure), but the new growth seems to adapt very well.

This is a grafted, unnamed Avocado I "ran into" at Home Depot recently. Those new leaves were just little buds when I bought it just 2 weeks ago. Very hot afternoon sun, we're talking 100+ degree heat indexes, no damage whatsoever.

Sapote "Makok" 3gal. There were some 7 gallon trees with buds and FRUIT, but unfortunately for me, they were twice the price of the 3 gallons. I plan to buy 2 more varities of sapotes, so I had to settle for the smaller pot. By spring next year, this one should be loaded with blooms. On my wishlist is the Hasya and Alano.

Wax Jambu, "shrinark red". ("Man" in vietnamese with various accent marks, pronounced "mung"). I LOVE the taste of this fruit, though some people say it is bland. It is very subtle, but very distinct. Some say it can take some frost, others say it is ultra-tropical.  I had a 7 foot seedling that died earlier this year. I will play it safe this time around and keep it indoors in the winter. The leaves of this wax jambu smells just like the fruit. I tried making a tea from some fresh leaves, and the taste was definitely there. 

Longan seedlings update

Here's that tiny longan plant, with newly developed leaves. It has grown fast. I now have 8 shoots coming up.

day 3 (from potting up)

week 1 (day 7). leaves on the largest seedling

week 1. I now have 14 seedling shoots, 4 more to go. 


Thursday, August 26, 2010

My order is here! from Edible Landscapes.com

Here is a small order from ediblelandscapes.com. They are a very interesting nursery, a selection of all kinds of random edible plants, even a few tropicals.

Left to right:  4" Jaboticaba, 4" passion fruit incarnata, Japanese flowering Ume Apricot 4", and 3 x asparagus Jersey Knight 2.5"

Overall I am extremely pleased with my order. It was well packed, and shipping cost is the cheapest I have ever seen online. The 4" pots are more like 5".

Passiflora incarnata is one of the hardiest fruiting passifloras. This one cost like $8, it will grow rampant. Jersey Knight asparagus will be used in the flowering border, cost was like a dollar! I bought them in small pots on purpose. Have you tried digging holes large enough for 2 year roots?  And the Ume, i'm not sure what i'll do with that.....it's a zone 7 plant, and I am in zone 8-9. Ume plums (apricots) are used for pickling. The jaboticaba....bonsai maybe....or jaboticaba hedge? I'll be making a second order soon, this place ships year round.

Beginning of a longan forest!

I planted about 25 longan seeds. About 22 of them sprouted within a week. The temperature was around 95 F, and the area where i planted them was under the water hose, so the soil was more moist than other areas.

I don't know if Longans will grow true from seed, but even if they didn't, they will still be good. And with 25 trees, one of them is bound to be a great one. You can always graft a known variety, such as Kohala, on your other 24 trees if you don't like them. Or maybe I'll start a bonsai forest of Longan trees. So many ideas! Most likely though, I will end up giving these away.

I dug the seeds up after a week, and this is what they looked like:

I planted them in 3 inch pots on top of a self watering tray. (that's what I had, I wish I had bigger pots, notice the long taproot). I also used regular bagged topsoil from Lowe's. It's made mostly of pine bark and sand, I hope they do well. If they do, that would be all I use from now on. I had a bag of Pro-Mix, but I'll save that for smaller seedlings. Here is a tiny longan shoot, isn't it cute?:

I installed a bright 6400K T-5 lightbulb under my kitchen cabinet last year. All my plants thrive under these lights. I have more installed in my office on a book shelf. One pot holds a tumbling tom tomato cutting, and another is an avocado pit, which has started putting out a root, purely for decorative purposes, since I already recently bought two named Avocado trees. Cost for one T-5 bulb and fixture: $35 from saviolighting.com. Watering tray at gardeners.com $15. Pots @ Veseys.com $13. 1 quart watering can, plastic $2 at Walmart.

Bouquet of bay leaves, for cooking AND for keeping the kitchen bug free. I discovered by accident when I picked these branches and placed them in my kitchen for culinary as well as decorative purposes,  that the gnats virtually disappeared overnight. It's been a year and they still have not come back. Fresh or dried bay leaves work very well.

Also on my counter is a pot that I stick small garlic cloves into, the ones too small to even bother chopping. Notice the small shoot coming from one of the bulbs! Garlic shoots can be eaten raw in salads.

You won't find this at your local hardware store! A Pink Wheelbarrow!

I bought this at Amazon.com. It was $80 with free shipping. It has two wheels instead of one, which makes it very easy to use. It took me 15 minutes to assemble. Oh, and did you notice it was PINK!!  I HAD to get it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Carambola, Star Fruit

Carambola, Star Fruit.

This tree was 5ft tall in a pot when it was given to me. It seems to be deciduous in our zone (8b-9a). The only problem was that it's flowers bloomed in February, and was often killed by late freezes. In 2009, the last year that I lived at my old house, I came to check on my star fruit tree and discovered loads of fruit. They were huge, but hidden.  Look carefully at the pictures and you will see them. I wish I knew what to use them for, a lot of them dropped to the ground, the birds didn't even eat them. They were the sour kind, so many people don't value these fruits.  If only I was into the raw foodie recipes back then or had a Vitamix, I would have been able to make smoothies or something. I buy lemons constantly, these would have been a great substitute.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Fantastic idea for using water drainoff from potted plants

I love ideas that find ways to change waste into usable stuff.

Problem: when watering potted plants, the water comes out of the drain hole and stains your patio. That water is full of nutrients and it's being wasted.


the gardener in this post places 1/4" tubing in his pots and diverts the water into the ground where a citrus tree drinks it up!


Cut Flowers, Arrangements

I need to take a class on flower arrangement. I can never get them to look the way I want them to. What's the secret?

These are my arrangements, the plants that stand out the most for me are the ones I get from my garden.

My magic petunias mixed with store bought bouquet. I call them magic because they bloomed constantly from October through May of the next year. My then 2 year old daughter chose them from Home Depot, she refused to get any other flat of flowers but these petunias. It HAD to be these. These turned out to be fragrant and last a long time as cut flowers too. I even had a pleasant visit from a hummingbird one night as I stepped out to get groceries. Yes, these are "magic" petunias. I wish I had taken a picture of them growing in my front yard, it was a MASS of pink.

the grassy leaf, i took from my garden. the arrangement didn't look complete without it.

grassy leaves and Asparagus Meyerii, foxtail fern are mine. the rest was from Central Market. 

I grew everything in this arrangement, except for the green chrysanthemum.

the leaf in the glass is from my wax jambu tree

The orchid is called Princess...something. For some reason, everything with Princess in the name grows amazingly well for me. This orchid bloomed from Valentine's day until June, when the last flower dried up. 4 months, is that normal? It was already in full bloom when I received it.