Earth Barrels

March 28, 2012

The days are getting longer and longer yet I’m still focusing on growing rather than wandering.  In addition to the Square Foot Gardening which I mentioned in my previous post, the concept of “Earth Barrels’ has snagged my attention. This appears to be a different take on the Earth Box which has been around for a while.  Both are self-watering containers.  

I was first introduced to the barrel version at a small local nursery and was immediately convinced it would work. I have a tendency to over-water or neglect to water anything and everything plant-like.  That, along with the notoriously long, hot, dry weather here in Florida means disaster for any plant in my care. With tomatoes in particular being thirst driven plants, my luck at growing them would be non-existent without a little help.

The Earth Barrel is made out of a plastic barrel and a PVC pipe.  You fill the container with soil (in my case, 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 compost), then place the hose in the PVC pipe to fill up the reservoir.

When water starts to run out of the small spill hole drilled into the side of the barrel, you know the reservoir is full. Then plant your plant.  It’s that simple.  Just be sure to add water to the reservoir via the pipe on a regular basis.

Although we purchased these ready-made for $30, if you feel up to the challenge, the Instructables website has step-by-step directions to make your own.  Or, for a simpler project, you can go the route of a Tomato Pail. Find out how at the Full Moon Native nursery website.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.