The Way of the Pineapple

March 7, 2012

It’s pineapple season!

My first pineapple plant

Usually I just see pineapples at the supermarket but last year I noticed they were growing on the grounds of the Jupiter Lighthouse. That made me curious. Can they really be grown here in Florida? Shortly afterwards, my Mom mentioned she had saved the top of a pineapple she bought at the grocery store, and potted it for me.  I finally got around to planting it in the backyard this past weekend.  

Each night now, I head into the backyard, flashlight in hand, to check on it, and make sure no nutcase squirrel, armadillo or mole has attacked it. And I’m kinda addicted to the thought of it.

Apparently pineapple plants adapt to the warmest areas of Florida, along the SE and SW coasts.  But lucky for me they can also grow in protected locations/landscapes throughout Florida.  The optimal temperature for growing pineapples is 68-86 degrees (F).  Temperatures below 28 degrees (F) aren’t tolerated, and slow plant growth may occur as a result of temperatures below 60 degrees (F) and above 90 degrees (F).

How to Grow Your  Own Pineapple

According to the FloridaGardener, it’s easy to grow pineapples from store-bought fruit.  Simply:

  1. Cut or twist off the pineapple crown.
  2. Allow it to dry for a day or two.
  3. Plant in sandy, well-drained soil (or container; see below), and in full sun if possible.
  4. Water weekly. Pour water into the vase-like top.
  5. Once plant is established, pour a cup of balanced, diluted water-soluble fertilizer into the top of the plant monthly. Avoid getting dirt or sand into the buds at the top of the plant as it may kill it.

Container Planting

  1. Choose a 3-7 gal. container with drainage holes. The larger the container, the greater the potential for a large plant and fruit.
  2. Fill container to within an inch or so from the top with well-drained potting soil mix.
  3. Water the soil mix before planting the plant (you should see water draining from the drainage holes).
  4. Plant pineapple crown in the center of the container, then water (in the vase-like top of the crown).
  5. Place container in full sun for best growth.

Pineapples are slow-growing, but if you’re going to buy a pineapple to eat anyway, instead of throwing the top out, why not give this a try?


Meet the Gator Boys

January 11, 2012

After a busy Sunday I slid onto our leather sofa with the intent of finding a thirty minute show to watch for mindless entertainment. What I found instead was a reality type show called Gator Boys.

Animal Planet's Gator Boys in Action

Nuisance alligators in South Florida neighborhoods are not new and, although I’ve seen other shows where gutsy individuals go out and capture them, this one was different.  

When one of the Gator Boys donned a  wetsuit, snorkel and mask and entered the water in the Sunday night episode, I was truly taken aback. I have never seen or heard of anyone going underwater to trap an alligator. What if that gator is 10 feet or more? He can eat you, or rather clamp on to you and take you on a death roll that I’m pretty sure you won’t survive; that is unless he has clamped on to a limb and rips it off during the roll, and you manage to get away and receive medical attention pronto!

The Gator Boys capture these nuisance alligators then take them back to their park where they perform shows for visitors.  I don’t know about everyone else, but I think taunting alligators for a live audience (and for money) is pathetic.  Maybe you can learn something about the creatures this way, but why not learn from biologists out in the field, or in a natural habitat for “lost” gators? Why should animals be slaves to humans thirst for entertainment?

Since development has so encroached on nature that we have alligators in our backyards, it’s no wonder we need services like those offered by the Gator Boys.  Now if only they would find a place to release those  beloved gators, I might become a true fan.


Herculean Cures

October 12, 2011

It has been called a natural oddity, and I find it fascinating.

I’m referring to a tree I discovered on a hike recently, but not just any tree, the spiny Hercules Club, sometimes called a prickly ash (or more formally a Zanthoxylum clara-herculis).

This tree can only be found in the Southeast; in areas marked in green on the map below.

Source: Wikipedia

The most useful part of the tree is its bark which serves as a circulatory stimulant and is said to relieve muscle and joint pain, as well as strengthen digestion. Some even say it’s an efficient blood and gastrointestinal cleanser.

My favorite fact about this tree, however, is that it is often referred to as the toothache tree. As someone who has had more than her fair share of toothaches, this is the second thing, after its dinosaur like spiny protrusions, that fascinates me the most.  Apparently chewing on its bark numbs the mouth, teeth and tongue. 

I wouldn’t mind having this oddity growing in my backyard.


Enchanted Forest

October 5, 2011

With the first hint of Fall in the air, hiking has become a desirable activity once again.  And the first hiking of the season took place in an Enchanted Forest. 

The Enchanted Forest Sanctuary in Titusville that is.

The 462-acre forest is part of the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Land (EEL) Program.  This EEL Program consists not just of one designated location but several. According to their website, an EEL Sanctuary is:

  • A place of wonder, contemplation and discovery
  • A resource for environmental education
  • A preserve to protect biodiversity and natural resources
  • An opportunity to experience Florida as the early inhabitants did

I agree with all of these, and more. For several years I lived in apartments and my only sanctuary was out in nature, mostly in parks. So I’m a strong advocate of outdoor areas being preserved, yet open to the public.

The hiking around the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary is more of a walk than a hike, as the trails are easy, and if taken separately, relatively short. We explored five of the trails, walking a total of just over 3 miles. 

Our Titusville Forest

Near the intersection of two trails, we came across this unhurried soul, fresh from his underground abode (if the sand on his back is any indication).

The Education Center located at the Sanctuary provides interactive exhibits on the  biodiversity that makes up this small pocket of Florida. In one, you choose an object and place it under a microscope. In others, you test your knowledge with trivia.

This is a new find, and I’m excited to explore the rest of the locations being preserved by the Brevard County EEL Program.  It seems there really is more to Florida than just concrete jungles full of flashy rides and rows and rows of junk food.  Floridians do care about what’s in their back yard. Brevard County is proving just that.


Fall in Florida

September 28, 2011

Now that it’s officially Fall (at least on the calendar), what does it mean for Florida?

FESTIVALS

Starting this weekend, festivals abound across the state. Not all seem Fall-related, but are festivals none-the-less.  These include the Central Florida Peanut Festival (Williston), Rattlesnake Festival (San Antonio), Fantasy Fest 2011 (Key West), McIntosh 1890s Festival, Mount Dora Craft Festival, and the Miconopy Fall Harvest Festival.

FALL LANDSCAPING

Blooming Oakleaf Hydrangea

There are certain plants that react to the Florida Fall by changing colors, producing berries or flowering.  These include Goldenrod, Beach Sunflower, Cigar Plant, Lion’s Tail, BeautyBerry, Muhly Grass, Mexican Sage, Forsythia Sage, and Silver-Leaved Aster.  Another, the Oakleaf Hydrangea, sounds perfect for a shady spot in our backyard where nothing ever seems to grow.

FALL GARDENING

I’m  a big fan of Fall vegetables, including beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, kale, mustard greens, onions, radishes, squash and turnips. Floridians can plant them for themselves, or hold out for the bounty at a local Farmers Market.  Apparently Fall is also the best time to plant strawberries in Florida.  As for the flower garden, it’s time for chrysanthemums and marigolds.  And, if you live in South Florida and are up for the challenge, it’s time to plant those high-maintenance rose bushes.

FALL HUNTING

I’m not a hunter, and rarely think of hunters inhabiting Florida.  But Florida apparently does have hunting seasons.  It appears to start with Fall Archery Season (Sept. – October), followed by Crossbow, Muzzle Loader, and General Gun seasons.  There’s even a time for hunting alligator, which is something you won’t find me participating in.

LEGO MY LEGO

Another event taking place this Fall in Florida is the opening of the LEGOLAND park on October 15th.  Although I’m not a fan of theme parks, for a kid (big or small), this one might be worth at least a visit.


Swamps, Surfers, Cheeseburgers and Politics

August 31, 2011

Labor Day weekend is always synonymous with the end of summer, although that’s highly debatable here in Florida.

So, what’s going on around the state  this holiday weekend? Here are a few events that caught my eye.

Swamp Walks:  Take a swamp walk into The Big Cypress Swamp with nature photographer Clyde Butcher.  The walk begins behind Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery in the Everglades. All you have to bring with you is a pair of long pants, a hat, old shoes and a sense of adventure.  Oh, and be prepared to get wet.

Pioneer Florida Days Festival 2011:  Check out the celebration at the Pioneer Florida Museum in Dade City,where you can experience early Florida history.

26th Annual NKF Pro Am Surf Festival:  Cocoa Beach is the place, National Kidney Foundation is the cause.

Jimmy Buffet-Style Music in Jacksonville:  Throughout the Labor Day weekend, the “margarita-flavored tunes” of Jimmy Buffett can be heard at The Jacksonville Landing courtyard.  On Saturday, come “decked out like your favorite Buffet song.” (Cheeseburger in Paradise anyone?)

Flashback, the Classic Rock Experience:  Experience the re-creation of the classic performances of  Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and many more, by Mystic Orchestra, a group comprised of 14 rock musicians and singers, and an 11-piece string and horn section.

Spirit of the Suwannee River Music Park: Pull out the tent, or pack up the RV, and head to this music park just north of Live Oak for a weekend of musical celebration. Listen to Southern Ruckus on Friday and Honkeytonk Hitman on Saturday and Sunday.

Fight for Florida:  Apparently a new movement is organizing here in Florida and its called the Working Families Movement. The movement will be hosting Labor Day weekend events across the state, including ones in Palm Beach, Ft. Myers, Tampa, Orlando, Daytona, Ocala, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Pensacola. If you’re looking for “a little fun, a little politics” and want to build the camaraderie needed for “the struggles that lie ahead,” check out one of these events.

It’s a great weekend to get out and do something a little different.


Florida Land Lubber

July 20, 2011

What is it with the grasshoppers?  I remember them being much smaller and blander than what I’ve encountered lately here in Florida. These Florida jumpers are big, colorful, and bold.

The Eastern Lubber Grasshopper

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper

This large, uniquely colored grasshopper is known as the Eastern Lubber Grasshopper and it’s rampant here in the southeast. It won’t be winning any Olympic gold medals for its long jump ability, however.  These Lubbers are quite clumsy and apparently can only jump short distances.

On a recent hike I saw so many of these grasshoppers that I finally stopped counting. I did my best not to crunch them beneath my feet, and many times just barely managed to dodge them.

Here are a few bits of information on these land lubbers:

  • The Eastern Lubber grasshopper only appears in the southeastern to south central parts of the United States, including Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas.
  • The highest number of adults can be seen in July and August
  • That bright coloring is eye-catching in more than one way. It serves as a warning to predators that the Lubber contains toxic substances. (If you come across a vomiting opossum, it might just have failed to heed the warning and dined on a Lubber for lunch.)
  • This particular grasshopper has been known to cause quite a bit of damage to crops in Florida. 
  • Lubbers are known to occupy residential neighborhoods and feast on such ornamental plants as Amaryllis. If they become too numerous the best way to control them is to “hand-pick and kill them.” How exactly are you supposed to kill them once you catch them? Try throwing them into a bucket of soapy water or a trash bag.

Just yesterday I spotted one above the garage door.  Even though we don’t have Amaryllis, I’m wondering if they’re moving in anyway, just like the armadillos.

For more information on these grasshoppers, check out University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Department of Entomology and Nematology or the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.