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: