How I Got Started

I started Butterfly gardening many years ago. My yard has been a progression over the years, and has made many transformations. Twenty years ago I experienced Hurricane Andrew. My yard and house were destroyed. We decided not to replace the pool screening and open up the backyard and put in some landscaping. That was the official beginning of my love for gardening in South Florida. I added a beautiful water garden years ago, and have been adding host and larvae plants for pollinators, mostly for the butterfly, for as many years as I can remember. I had my yard certified as a Natural Habitat, through the National Wildlife Foundation. To have a natural habitat you need to provide and meet certain requirements: 1. Provide a food source, 2. Provide a water source, 3. Cover, 4. A place to raise young. I try not to use any pesticides in my yard. I vermicompost and recycle as many of my food scraps as possible. If I had more land I would have a huge compost bin to recycle all my yard cuttings. Basically, I try to lessen my carbon footprint on this earth. In my own little world or backyard I try to provide an ecosystem in my water garden, provide birdbaths, birdfeeders, hummingbird nectar sources, feeders, puddling areas, host plants and nectar plants for butterflies and other pollinators. I am hoping to raise everyone’s awareness of the importance of saving our Butterflies, Blooms & Bees. Without them our world and food source will be in trouble. I hope you all enjoy my journey. I am not a Master Gardener, or Master Beekeeper, an Entomologist, or Journalists. I am simply a Backyard Gardener who is trying to lessen her Carbon Footprint of this Earth.

I hope you enjoy my blogs.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Native Wild Everglades Tomato

It has been a week since I planted my garden. The plants are just starting to poke their little heads above the soil. Not all the seeds have germinated but most are starting. The different lettuces were the first to appear, followed by the beets, swiss chard, broccoli, and cabbage. I go out every day (ok several times a day) to see what new addition has presented itself. Today I finished planting the rest of the heirloom tomatoes. I was a little concerned about planting them as these heirloom seem slow to grow tall. I would have liked to have seen them slightly bigger before transplanting. I hope being over anxious doesn’t come back to bite me in the butt, but I was definitely concerned about getting the rest of the tomatoes in the ground. After all, it is the end of November and the weather has been plenty cool. I think they will grow better with more soil to expand their root system.

Last week, when I went to my local nursery to get some of the herbs that I wanted to plant, I discovered they had several varieties of heirloom tomatoes. I bought two, the Wild Florida Everglades Tomato, and The Black Prince. The Florida Everglades tomato intrigued me the most as I never knew Florida had a native heirloom tomato. Obviously we do and it will grow year round here in Florida. It is an indeterminate variety with penny sized cherry tomatoes. These little tomatoes are sugar sweet, with a true tomato taste. They will grow in Florida most of the year. Seeds germinate almost 100% so you should plant only what you want to grow.

I am excited to see how well this Florida native grows and what the fruit will taste like. Here is a video that I discovered on YouTube about the Florida Native Everglades Tomato. It is presented by John Coller from I have watched many of his videos. He is full of enthusiasm and is very informative. He has converted his entire property to growing edible greens and travels the country to educate and discover different plants and gardens while sharing them via YouTube videos.

Also here is a thread from “Tomatoville”, a forum for growing tomatoes; there is a discussion about the history of the Native Wild Everglades Tomato. They seem to think that they were brought to Florida by pirates from South America. It is very interesting to read the history, although it doesn’t really sound like anyone is 100% sure of the tomato’s beginnings. No matter where the tomato originated, I have now planted one in my garden and am anxious to see the results.

Here are a few pictures of the progression of my square foot garden and specifically the Native Wild Florida Everglades Tomato.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

First Hummingbird Sighting 2012

I hung my hummingbird feeders several weeks ago when we got our first cool front. My friend Inese said that she has seen several hummingbirds on her property several weeks ago, and she only lives a few blocks from me. I however did not see my first hummingbird until today. Hummingbirds have a very distinctive song and once you have heard it you will not ever mistake it. As soon as I heard the familiar sound I was able to locate my first sighting of 2012.

Hummingbirds live only in the Americas. Of the 338 species known, 16 are found in the United States and 3 occur in Florida. Black-chinned and rufous hummingbirds occasionally can be seen in Florida during the winter. The ruby-throated hummingbird is by far the most common hummer in the state. This feathered jewel is about 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) long and weighs as little as a penny (¼ ounce). Its name describes the most brilliant part of the mature male's plumage. The throat feathers contain air bubbles that give off an iridescent red tone in full light. Their backs are metallic green and they have two sets of tail feathers: two green ones in the center that cover eight outer black ones when they're folded. In females and juveniles, the black feathers have white tips; males lose the white tips as they mature.

Most Ruby Throated Hummingbirds arrive in South Florida in October and stay until May. I am surprised it has taken so long to notice one this year. I am always busy doing something in the garden, so I thought I would have seen one sooner. Today was so enjoyable because the whole time I was putting in the drip irrigation system several hummingbirds were fluttering over my head enjoying the different sources of nectar plants that I have in the yard. Just like my butterfly garden I have been planting for hummingbirds for many years. I have so many different nectar sources for them to choose from. Red is by far their favorite color. They are most attracted to red. Today the hummingbirds were flying from the oak tree in the front yard over to the clerodendruim, and dwarf poinscianna. It was a constant path where I am putting the raised bed vegetable gardens, and drip irrigation. It was almost like they were saying, “Here we are, we are back for you to enjoy!” It is truly amazing to watch how quickly their little wings flutter. One year I was able to watch a hummer every evening roost way up in one of my neighbor’s trees. He was always there and a constant source of enjoyment in my yard.

Whether or not you see any hummers anytime during the year in Florida depends on if you have food and shelter to offer them, and how long it takes for them to find you. I am a firm believer that if you plant it, they will come! Well-kept feeders are another very enticing way to attract them. Having both feeders and nectar plants as well as large trees for shelter are some of the necessities they will be looking for. If you have a good habitat, you may very well host one or more winter hummers that will hang around your area and frequent your yard for a season or two.

Hummingbird feeders are a great way to attract the birds to your yard. I make a solution 4:1, 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. It is important to make sure you change the solution every 3-5 days, which is sometimes difficult to do. I noticed that my bees have discovered my hummingbird feeders. The hummingbirds will continue to feed despite the bees, unless there are too many. Most hummingbirds are very territorial and usually you won’t see several feeding from one feeder at a time. I don’t like that my bees are drinking from the feeders. Sugar water, although they are very attracted to it, is not the best thing to feed your bees. As an organic gardener and beekeeper I never feed my bee’s sugar water. If I had to feed them I would feed them honey. Thank goodness that in South Florida there is usually a nectar source for the bees year round. There may be some times of dearth but it is usually very short and in the heat of the summer. I digress, but bees have a memory like an elephant. They never forget. Once they discover a nectar source, whether it be a plant or sugar water, they will return until you move it. I am thinking the next time I change the sugar water I need to change the location of the feeders to confuse the bees for a day or so until they discover where I move them too.

Some of the plants that I have to attract the hummingbirds are: Fire Bush, Fire Spike, Native Coral Plant, Lantana, Justicia, Powder Puff Plant( red and pink), Dwarf Poincianna, Shrimp plant, Butterfly bush, Clerodendrum, pentas; I could go on and on. I just planted this year’s Cardinal Vine. I read about it from Margaret Roach, “A Way to Garden” . The plant originates in Mexico, so I decided I would try planting it in my garden. It had a beautiful red flower on it this morning. I am hoping that as it grows it will attract lots of hummers.

One of the best reasons to plant a hummingbird garden is that once you attract them, many of the birds will return the following seasons. I look forward every year to that first sighting, and enjoy having hummers in my garden throughout the winter.

Putting In a Drip Irrigation System

I decided to put in a drip irrigation system for my raised bed vegetable garden. It will make life easier for many reasons. Drip Irrigation is a watering method which delivers water to plants slowly and right where they need it... at the roots. Where typical pop-up sprinklers spray water into the air and onto plants, drip irrigation systems combine flexible poly drip tubing and drip emitters or "drippers" to both conserve water and save money. Drip irrigation is a great way to conserve water and only delivers water right to the roots where the plant needs it. Drip irrigation systems are not affected by wind and will greatly reduce evaporation and runoff common with traditional irrigation systems. Drip irrigation is the perfect solution for raised vegetable garden beds, hanging baskets, and potted plants. Drip irrigation is the most efficient method of irrigating. While sprinkler systems are around 75-85% efficient, drip systems typically are 90% or higher. What that means is much less wasted water! For this reason drip is the preferred method of irrigation in the desert regions of the United States. But drip irrigation has other benefits which make it useful almost anywhere. It is easy to install, easy to design, can be very inexpensive, and can reduce disease problems associated with high levels of moisture on some plants. When I visited Albuquerque NM, earlier in the year, most gardens were watered by drip irrigation. Obviously in Florida where water is abundant, drip irrigation may not be totally necessary, but for raised bed gardening, it will make my life so much easier and also reduce the disease associated with high levels of moisture that we always have here in Florida. As a sustainable organic gardener I am constantly aware of my use of resources. Water like I said, although abundant in Miami, should not be wasted. Drip irrigation is one way of conserving water.

I ordered my irrigation system from After searching the web I decided to go with this company because I have been watching “The Garden Girl TV” videos, which is how I found the “Square Foot Gardening Method”. My husband and I sat one evening and planned out the whole system for our vegetable garden. The Drip Works website was very helpful and there were many videos and resources available to plan your drip irrigation system. They even showed you suggestions of different systems so you could best fit an example to your garden. I meticulously planned out each part and connection and placed the order. I was nervous that I might not have ordered enough connectors and parts, but knew that we did a thorough job making sure we ordered appropriately. Here is a video from the Garden Girl on installing a drip irrigation system. I watched this video several times and printed out my plan as a guide. It helped tremendously.

I wasn’t able to put the system in last weekend, and I have been concerned that I am a little late in planting some of my vegetables. I had to go up to Boston, as my son Drew had meniscus surgery. He did fine, really didn’t want to leave him but I needed to return to work and life. I didn’t want to rush putting in the drip irrigation last Saturday, so I waited until today. I really couldn’t start planting because I didn’t want to disturb the seedlings putting in the system. I stopped by my local nursery yesterday and they have gotten in all their garden vegetable plants. According to them this is the perfect time to start planting, and I have read that it is important to wait just a little bit in Florida to have had at least 2 cool fronts, which we have had. In fact, the weather has gotten much cooler with most nights in the 60’s.

Putting in the system really wasn’t difficult at all. The hardest part was inserting the transfer barbs from the ½” tubing to the ¼” soaker hose. My fingers are really sore from connecting all the different parts. I still have one more box to add the soaker hose but my fingers needed a break. Tomorrow is another day. Here are a few pictures from today, really not as bad as I anticipated, in fact very easy. I haven’t really talked about cost but putting in a drip irrigation system is very economical. This is a picture from the web. My emitters are actually 6” apart.

So finally tomorrow is the day I start planting!! I can’t wait! I’ve chosen all my seeds carefully each being Heirloom, (not GMO or Hybrid) and I’ve reviewed the instructions for each plant. I am soaking a few seeds. That will help with germination. I think I have revised my garden plan numerous times, with many considerations for sun, water, companion planting etc. Tomorrow I am going to my local nursery to pick up a few of the herbs, like parsley, rosemary, oregano, arugula, mint and basil.

Let the planting begin!!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Preparing a Square Foot Garden Part 2

I am still in the preparation mode for my square foot garden. Last weekend I decided that I needed one more 4x4 raised bed to house my tomato plants. I think I got a little overzealous with the heirloom tomatoes. I have 11 different varieties: Floridade, Beefsteak, Riesentraube, which I found out, is Margaret Roach’s, “A Way to Garden” favorite tomato. I got this variety for free from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company and had no idea what type of tomato it was. Riesentraube actually means giant grape. I also have Black Plum, Hawaiian Currant, Yellow Pear, Super Snow White, God Love, Coyote, Isis Candy Cherry, and Grandpa’s Minnesota, which are all heirloom cherry tomatoes. That is a lot of tomatoes. I have watched a lot of videos about planting tomatoes and I was concerned that planting a tomato plant in 1 square foot would really be crowding them. So I have decided to give them more space and therefore built an extra box.

I have recently started exercising again and have been watching my diet very closely. I think they call that a life-style modification, as opposed to diet. Well Cherry tomatoes have become my new best friend. They are so sweet that they actually satisfy my sweet tooth. Crazy right!

I put together the carrot box that will sit on top of my grid. This will make the depth of my soil deeper for the carrots. I also put together my grids that will sit on top of each 4x4 garden. My husband Dave was a huge help as he helped me with the boxes, mixing the dirt and putting together the grids. I couldn’t have done this project without him!

I have been mixing the soil (Mel’s Mix) which isn’t difficult but time consuming. The soil is probably the most important aspect to any garden. It really will make or break how well your plants thrive. I also mulched around the boxes and planted some Sunflower seeds to add some color to the garden, distract from the ugly wall of my house, and hopefully attract some pollinators to my vegetable garden. I wish I was an artist because I would paint some beautiful Sunflowers on the wall of the house.

Here is a video I think really explains Square Foot Gardening (SFG). It is very concise, but says it all!

I found an awesome website while I was watching videos on You Tube about Square Foot Gardening. It can be found at It is a great program to actually plan your garden; they even have an “app“for your iphone. There are tutorial videos so you can figure out how to work the website. It really is very user friendly. Here is my plan below. The nice thing about the website is that you are able to go back into your plan and make adjustments, which I have done several times. You are able to plot where you want each plant; you can even keep notes on each plant as far as variety, and specific growing instructions.

So how did I decide where to plant each plant? Well first of all I considered spacing, which is what Square Foot Gardening is all about. I wanted to give the taller plants and vineing plants more room. It says to plant tall plants on the North side of your garden as to not shade your smaller plants. I actually tried to keep most of my taller plants in the back of the garden. I plan to build trellises to support these taller plants on the back of each box. Another important consideration in plant placement is Companion Planting. Companion Planting is planting plants together that may compliment or help each other. For example have you ever heard of the “Three Sisters?” The Three Sisters is a Native American tradition. After all the American Indians were our first gardeners. The Native Americans believed that corn, beans, and squash are the three inseparable sisters who can thrive only when raised together. Corn provides a natural pole for the beans vines to climb, while the bean vines help shore up the corn stalks and leave behind nitrogen for the soil. Spreading squash shades the bed from weeds and keeps the soil moist, and all three plants create rich compost after the harvest. Corn, beans, and squash not only complement one another in the soil, they also complement one another nutritionally. Corn provides carbohydrates; beans are rich in protein, and squash offer vitamins from the fruit and nutrient-rich oil from the seeds. Native Americans shared their Three Sisters planting system with early European settlers and taught them to recognize the signs that it is time to plant. Speaking of the Indians I received several Seminole squash seeds from Richard Campbell the curator of Fairchild Botanical Gardens. These seeds are actually from the Seminole Indians. The Indians used to girdle the Oak trees which would kill them and allow the squash to utilize the tree as a trellis and allow the squash to grow up the oak tree. There is an excellent article in the magazine “Edible Miami” written by Richard Campbell about the history of the Seminole Squash. I was very pleased to receive these seeds, and planted them next to my fence line so they could use the fence as a trellis.

So in planning my plant placement I will be planting my corn next to my squash. I didn’t choose to grow beans but I am sure that the corn and squash will be good together. I tried to plant aromatic plants in the same bed as the tomatoes to deter pests. There is a great book by Louise Riotte “Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening.” Information about Companion Planting is also on the garden planner

I finally have all the dirt in all four boxes and the grids in place. I am waiting for my drip irrigation system to arrive. This will make watering so much easier and hopefully make my plants thrive and keep them free from pests. I look forward to planting in the next week or so, as soon as I have the drip irrigation system in place.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Harvesting Honey!

It is amazing that so much can change in two weeks within the hives. Last time I was in the hives they were looking great! On Sunday when I went into the hives they were all Queen Right, but the populations were definitely smaller than they were two weeks ago. I think the bees know that winter is approaching, or at least what winter we have here in Miami. We are going to experience out first cool front of the season this week! Hallelujah!! A few of the hives still had some small hive beetles, but they are mostly corralled towards the back of the hives. The bees seem to be doing a good job keeping them in check. My main concern happened when I went into hive #3. There were hundreds of ants crawling up the cinder blocks, up the hive, and into the entrance. The population looked dismal and I thought for sure the hive had absconded from the ant infestation. The queen was present and the population actually improved as we got closer to the brood nest. The queen was just a little further back in the hive than normal. I found myself having to condense many of the hives, since the populations seemed much smaller than two week ago. I took several bars of capped honey to harvest. The bars in hive #3 that had ants I took because first of all there was no brood present, and also the queen had moved back into the hive to lay. It is amazing that they instinctively know that the ants are not a welcomed visitor. I need to watch this hive very closely because it is much weaker than it was two weeks ago. I did give it two bars of capped brood from hive #5, which is my brood box. Hopefully that will boost the population within hive #3, and give it enough resources to recover. Consolidating the hives and taking comb that isn’t necessary, will allow the bees not to have to protect empty comb against unwanted pests like ants, and small hive beetles. If you give your bees too much area to protect it sets them up for failure. Most of the hives are about 12-18 bars right now. With the cooler weather about to approach consolidation prepares them for winter.

As always, whenever I consolidate my hives I end up being able to harvest several bars of beautiful honey. Today I actually harvested about 12 pounds of honey. I put most of it in quart jars and have plans to make my first ever Cyser. My Joe’s Ancient Orange Mead is still fermenting on the kitchen counter; I look forward to tasting it during the holidays. No matter how often I harvest my honey it still is a precious gift given to me from my bees. Every drop is liquid gold!!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Preparing a Square Foot Garden

I have been preparing to plant my first vegetable garden for several weeks now. In preparation I have been reading many books and articles about vegetable gardening in Florida. Florida is a different animal than the rest of the country. Growing up in the north I am use to vegetable gardening ending as fall and the first frost is occurring, but here in Miami our growing season is just beginning. So what is involved in preparing to set up my vegetable garden?

First of all it is important to pick a site that gets at least 6 hours of sun and is close to a water source. The west side of my house gets sun from mid morning until almost sunset. I am slightly concerned that it may get too much sun, but many of the fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, need a lot of sun to produce fruit. I have several water faucets on that side of the house and I also have access to my well water. I have considered adding a water barrel to collect rain water, but the rainy season is almost over. This is something to think about for next year. It is the perfect site as it is right near one of the downspouts coming off the house. I could set up a water barrel to collect water right there. It is right next to where I will have the garden. Good drainage is also important. You do not want water pouring off the roof line and flooding your plants, nor do you want an area where water doesn’t drain well. You also want to make sure that you locate your garden in a convenient place. I really can’t see the garden on the west side of the house, but it is the sunniest area in the yard. It also is not in an area where my big Boxer Bandit can run through the plants. There is no traffic in this area and other than a few birds or raccoons. I think the garden will be in a great place in my yard.

Secondly it is important to prepare your beds or containers. At first I thought I would dig down and work my soil by adding compost, and organic material, but as soon as I started to dig I realize this would be a big undertaking. I did not think I was strong enough and it would take a lot of work to improve my soil. I considered getting my soil tested. Remember that most of the neighborhoods in my area of South Florida were built on Coral Rock. This is very difficult to improve. As I started researching I decided that a better idea for a South Florida garden would be to consider a raised bed garden. I discovered a method called Square Foot Gardening. I will go into greater detail in a minute. I had never heard of this method before and I think it is the perfect plan for my garden.

Now the plan. Before planting, draw a garden plan that includes the name, location and planting date of the vegetables you want to grow. The University of Florida has an excellent planting guide for Floridians to follow. Make a list of supplies and order seeds. I ordered mostly heirloom seeds months ago from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. I was very concerned about not planting any GMO seeds in my garden and also did not want to choose hybrid seeds. Heirloom seeds are passed down for many generations and are open pollinated. As a sustainable organic gardener this was an important consideration in picking my seeds.

The most important factor to consider in planning a vegetable garden is your soil. I will go into further detail about the soil when I explain the Square Foot Garden Method. Most Florida soils benefit from the addition of organic matter, such as animal manure, rotted leaves, compost, and commercial soil mixes. Adding your own compost from your own compost pile is also an excellent source of organic matter.

So what is the Square Foot Garden method and who developed it? It was developed by Mel Bartholomew. His gardening book is the best selling gardening book ever sold, with over 2 million copies sold. He was a civil engineer by profession and a frustrated gardener by weekend. When he retired he decided to attend a composting class given by his local nursery. The instructor ended up not showing up and he led the discussion and the class decided to meet again. He was convinced that single row gardening was a waste of energy and output. Single row gardening was the norm because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Mel Bartholomew condensed the unmanageable single-row space to 4x4 feet, amended the soil, and he developed a gardening system that yields 100% of the harvest in 20% of the space. His method gained popularity and strength, and ultimately converted more than one million gardeners worldwide. “Square Foot Gardening,” was the highest rated PBS gardening show to date. Launched in 1981, it ran weekly for five years.

After discovering his method I quickly bought his book. I thought this was the perfect method for my first vegetable garden. He recommends building 4x4 boxes only 6 inches high. You should be able to access your box from all sides. That is why he recommends no larger than a 4x4 space. I built three 4x4 boxes out of pine. I followed his instructions and watched several YouTube videos on how to build raised bed garden boxes. They were pretty easy to build. Here are some pictures of me building the boxes. I think I look like I know what I am doing right? I did not use treated wood as I did not want any chemicals from the wood to seep out into the soil. I chose to use 10 inches high wood because I wanted to plant carrots, and other root vegetables. One of the most important concepts to Square Foot Gardening is the grid that is placed on top of the boxes. Without this grid it would not be square foot gardening. I purchased mine through Mel’s website. It is made from wood, and the 4x4 area is mapped out into square foot sections. So, in a 4x4 box you have 16 square feet in which to garden. Depending on the size of the plant you can plant 1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 16 plants per square foot. For example, 1 tomato, 2 cucumber, 4 swiss chard, 9 spinach, 16 carrots etc. in a square foot. To conserve space he recommends gardening up.

Because you are using a raised bed he recommends the perfect soil. So no matter what your local soil conditions are in your area, you will start with the perfect soil named Mel’s Mix. It consists of 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 coarse vermiculite. I went down to Homestead, Florida to Diamond R Fertilizer and bought enough peat moss, vermiculite, and some of the compost soil. I needed approximately 14 cubic square feet per each 4x4 box. He also recommends using compost from different sources. So I bought several bags from 3 different sources, Diamond R, Home Depot and my local nursery.

There is so much that I could tell you about his method and I highly recommend his book if you are planning a vegetable garden with limited space. His method conserves resources and like I said earlier yields 100% of the harvest in 20% of the space.

I am at the point that I am ready to start planning where each plant will go. I am looking into companion planting to help me decide what plants to plant next to each other. I believe I have all my equipment that I need to start planting. I have built my boxes, I have my soil to mix together, and my seedlings are started. In fact I transplanted my tomatoes, and peppers into larger pots, so they can grow a little bigger before I plant them permanently in my square foot garden. The area where the boxes are to be located is ready. I am just waiting for the weather to get just a little cooler. Supposedly we are going to experience our first cold front next week, after we experience a late season tropical storm/ hurricane Sandy.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Happy One Year Anniversary!!!!

Can you believe that it has been one year since I started bee keeping? I know it is really hard to beelieve! For those of you that follow my blog you know it hasn’t exactly been a boring year. It has been exciting, and very eventful! Looking back I can definitely say I have learned a lot, and I certainly haven’t been bored. When I first started beekeeping I really had very little idea what I was doing. I just wanted to help the pollinators, reap the benefits of getting some honey, and thought it would be a really cool hobby. Little did I know that I would risk life and limb, so to speak, during this year to protect these very special pollinators?

Looking back over the year it has been pretty amazing and very rewarding. I started with 2 TBH and now have 5 hives. The first time I saw Sam Comfort at the Palm Beach County Beekeepers Association meeting he asked me how my bees were doing. I honestly couldn’t answer as I really didn’t know enough. Now I can answer quite honestly, “they are doing great!”

To recap the year in beekeeping my hives grew tremendously in the spring. I split the hives from 2 hives to 4 hives and then battled them over the next few months until they raised a queen. It felt like this would never happen, and of course the weather didn’t help at all. As you know we are almost ready to break a record for the most rainfall since 1959. After several months all my hives were queen right. I got to visit Albuquerque NM, and take a beekeeping class from Les Crowder. I learned a lot from that visit and thoroughly loved that part of the country. I rendered wax from my hives, have made honey Mead, and of course harvested many wonderful jars of honey.

For those of you that follow my blog you know that I experienced an anaphylactic reaction after sustaining several stings in June. That was really scary and I hope it never happens again. I am still visiting the allergist for immunotherapy, which will continue for several years. From my blog pictures I have had several run ins with the bees, and sometimes think I am practicing “Combat Gardening”, but I have survived. My bees have stung my yard and pool guys; thank God no law suits yet. Right now the hives are “bee having” and the Brazilian pepper is in bloom. That means the honey flow is on.

I have learned so much during this first year. Here’s to an exciting 2nd year!! Happy Anniversary to me and my hives! Most people would have given up, but I am determined!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Building a Compost Bin

I finally got 3 used wooden pallets to make a compost bin for my yard. For many years I have been trying to vermicompost, but it is very difficult with the heat in Miami. I have even gone so far as to freeze small water bottles and put them in the worm bin to keep it cool. I actually had my last compost bin in the tub in my bathroom to keep the worms cool enough so they would live. It worked well but I had some kind of nematodes crawling in my tub and my mom was coming to visit and I thought she would freak out if she knew I had worms in my tub, so I moved them outside. Many years ago a friend of mine told me to just dig a hole in the ground and add compost material and worms and you have a worm bin. I am finally incorporating that idea into my new compost bin.

First of all what is vermicomposting?? The simple answer is composting with worms. A more technical definition is: Vermicompost is the product or process of composting using various worms, usually red wigglers, white worms, and other earthworms to create a heterogeneous mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste, bedding materials, and vermicast. Vermicast, also called worm castings, worm humus or worm manure, is the end-product of the breakdown of organic matter by an earthworm. These castings have been shown to contain reduced levels of contaminants and a higher saturation of nutrients than do organic materials before vermicomposting. Containing water-soluble nutrients, vermicompost is an excellent, nutrient-rich organic fertilizer and soil conditioner. This process of producing vermicompost is called vermicomposting.

I started vermicomposting many years ago; like I said I have not really been that successful mostly because of the heat in Miami. I started with a simple container called “Can O Worms”. It is a simple system where you stack circular bins on top of each other. First you add your food scraps from the kitchen into the first layer, until the worms break them down into compost. Then you add the next layer, the worms are suppose to crawl up through the holes, they start processing the next layer, so on and so forth. The issue with “Can O Worms” is that the circular bins do not have enough surface area for the worms to bury. The container is too narrow and the organic matter heats up too quickly and the worms cannot stay cool enough. The earth worms that you use to vermicompost are usually red wigglers Eisenia foetid. Redworms prefer temperatures between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit and are suited to living in a worm bin, but not here in South Florida. The temperature of the bedding should not be allowed to get below freezing or above 84 degrees. There are so many days in Miami that are above 84 degrees, which is exactly the problem.

Why use worms? Well, for one, because they're cool. Not only are they slimy and neat-looking, these amazing little organisms can eat up to half their body weight in food every day. Using worms instead of a compost pile ensures faster composting and a rich, dark fertilizer. Besides -- what's more fun than getting to say, "Worms eat my garbage?" In fact there is an excellent book titled “Worms eat my Garbage” by Mary Appelhof. This is an excellent resource to learn all about vermicomposting. Red wigglers are surface feeders so the container cannot be too deep, although in Miami it needs to be deep enough that the worms have enough area to ensure that the organic matter stays cool enough.

A year or so ago my husband and I built a “Flow Through” compost bin out of a garbage can. It worked well for awhile but again because it was made from recycled black plastic it retains the heat and the worms would get too hot and eventually they died. Here are a few pictures from us building that compost bin. This one actually worked better than the Can o Worms. We put air vents in the lid to keep the unit cooler. We lined the bottom with newspaper and cardboard that eventually would decompose, and the worm casting and compost would flow through the PVC piping into the bottom of the compost bin to use in my garden. We even screened the bottom so no critters could get into the unit. I tried to place the unit where it only got a little morning sun but ambient temperature was just too hot and eventually my worms would die.

I haven’t done any composting in several months and it feels good to be collecting my food scraps and yard debris to add to my compost pile. I built a simple compost bin out of 3 used wooden pallets. It was very easy to put together using deck screws to hold the unit in place. I didn’t add a door and am leaving the unit open and hoping that I do not get too many critters helping themselves to the rich compost material. My philosophy in my yard is to be as responsible as possible by incorporating as much sustainable gardening as possible. I am trying to lessen my carbon footprint on this earth. Composting is just one more way to do this. Vermicomposting like I said is just composting with worms. I am not sure if my worms will live, but I am hoping that this new bin might be the answer to my vermicomposting troubles. It is kind of like digging a hole in the ground and adding worms. It just contains them a little better.

What do I add to my compost bin?? All organic matter is made up of Carbon and Nitrogen. The balance of these two elements in an organism is called the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C: N ratio). For best performance, the compost pile, require the correct proportion of carbon for energy and nitrogen for protein production. Scientists have determined that the fastest way to produce fertile, sweet smelling compost is to maintain the C: N ratio somewhere around 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. You can think about Carbon as Brown material like wood chips, dried leaves, newspaper and paper towels, and plant and grass clippings. Nitrogen or Green material examples are food scraps from your kitchen, tea bags, coffee grounds, nuts, and seeds. You should avoid placing meat, fish, dairy, or oils in the compost bin. Your compost bin should be moist, but not wet. The more you aerate your compost bin the quicker the organic material will break down.

Did you know?
  • Over 250 million tons of solid wastes are collected each year in Miami-Dade County alone.
  • U.S. residents produce an average of 5 pounds of trash each day.
  • 25% of the total waste in Miami Dade County contains food scraps or yard waste that could be composted.

Composting is just one way to lessen your carbon load on this earth. It is also great to be able to use the nutrient-rich soil in your garden. Composting reduces the use of synthetic fertilizer and provides natural, free, non toxic fertilizer. It helps plants grow in South Florida’s rocky soil by improving soil structure, moisture and nutrient retention. Composting diverts waste from landfills, which produce methane gas that contribute to climate change. It saves money and energy that would normally be spent on trash collection. Finally Composting provides an excellent way to recycle kitchen scraps and yard clippings.

I am hoping that this compost bin produces beautiful nutrient rich soil that I can add to my garden. I hope my worms finally thrive in this new environment and my gift in return will be a beautiful garden that provides a great environment to all the wildlife in my area.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Honey Flow is on in Florida!

It is time for the Brazilian Pepper to start blooming in South Florida. This means a good honey flow for my bees. The Brazilian Pepper provides bees and pollinators a good nectar and pollen source. The Brazilian Pepper is a highly invasive plant that originated from Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil. The Brazilian pepper tree was brought into Florida in the mid-1800s for use as an ornamental plant. Its bright red berries and brilliant green foliage are used frequently as Christmas decorations. Here is a little information about the Brazilian pepper tree, from the internet.

Distribution of Brazilian pepper tree throughout Florida is widespread, although limited to the warmer areas due to sensitivity to cold temperatures. Brazilian pepper can be found as far north as Levy and St. Johns Counties, and as far west as Santa Rosa County. It is an aggressive invader of disturbed habitats; this characteristic has led to its placement on the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council’s list of invasive species. Many plant communities such as hammocks, pinelands and mangrove forests are often invaded and dominated by Brazilian pepper trees. The family Anacardiaceae contains poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and Schinus terebinthifolius, or Brazilian pepper-tree. People sensitive to poison ivy, oak or sumac may also be allergic to the Brazilian pepper tree because it also has the potential to cause dermatitis to those with sensitive skin. Some people have also expressed respiratory problems associated with the bloom period of pepper tree. Brazilian pepper-tree is a shrub or small tree that reaches over 30 feet in height, typically with a short trunk hidden in a thicket of branches. Some trees can live over 30 years. The leaves are alternately arranged with 1-2 inch long, elliptic, and finely toothed leaflets. The leaves are also reddish, often possessing a reddish mid-rib. The flower clusters are white and 2-3 inches long with male and female flowers that look very similar. The glossy fruits are borne in clusters that are initially green, becoming bright red when ripe. Seeds are dark brown and 0.3 mm in diameter. Flowering occurs from September through November and fruits are usually mature by December. This shrub/tree is one of the most aggressive and wide-spread of the invasive non-indigenous exotic pest plants in the State of Florida. There are over 700,000 acres in Florida infested with Brazilian pepper tree. Brazilian pepper tree produces a dense canopy that shades out all other plants and provides a very poor habitat for native species. This species invades aquatic as well as terrestrial habitats, greatly reducing the quality of native biotic communities in the state. Birds and mammals are the primary mechanisms for dispersal, although seeds may be transported via flowing water. Seeds are viable for up to 2 months, losing viability as time progresses. Germination is improved by scarification. Typically, acids in an animal’s digestive tract provide adequate scarification required for germination. The invasiveness of Brazilian pepper tree in Florida can be attributed to its high germination rates and dispersal agents.

I had no idea the Brazilian pepper tree was related to the poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac. When I was young girl I was highly allergic to all poisons. I talked about all my fond memories as a child playing in the fields and climbing vines in the mountains. It got to the point that if the wind blew I got poison oak, ivy or sumac. I am not sure that this was a fond memory but I do remember being one big pustule. My parents considered getting me desensitized but were advised against it. I must have outgrown this allergy. I should be careful now that I know that the Brazilian pepper is related to the poison ivy, oak and sumac, although I don’t have any desire to go rub up against it. I have enough difficulty being allergic to my bees.

Before I started bee keeping I had no idea what a Brazilian pepper tree was. Now I actually look forward to its blooms and invasiveness. It is almost a year since I started beekeeping. I got my hives October 21, last year. That is when I first learned of the Brazilian pepper tree and how important it is as a nectar source for our bees. I quickly investigated what this tree was all about and discovered that it is really not a tree you want in your yard because of its invasiveness, but if you are a beekeeper you sure are glad if you have any within the bees foraging radius. I actually went in search of this tree. I discovered that my neighborhood is completely covered with this tree around the perimeter. I am really glad that my bees get to enjoy the pollen and nectar provided by this tree. Right now I can see the little white buds of the flower cluster starting to open.

I went into the hive the other day and discovered a large amount of pollen and nectar in the cells. All the hives had a very distinctive color about them, almost golden. My mentor Inese told me that this is the color of the nectar and pollen from the Brazilian pepper. The nectar that is in the cells has an almost iridescent color to it. I remember last year at Christmas when I harvested my first honey it was from the Brazilian pepper tree, it was very dark and delicious tasting. I look forward to harvesting this honey again this year. I took a picture of the honeycomb so that you could see the color; inside the hive box the wood also had this distinct color. The bees are busy capping some very nice honey; I look forward to harvesting this honey in the months ahead.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Homebrewing Pumpkin Ale

I wanted to give a quick update on my home brewing adventures. I have several carboys in various stages of fermentation, sitting on the kitchen counter. Several weeks ago my husband and I attended a class on how to make beer. The White House had just released the White House Honey Ale recipe. It was all over the internet; even some of my beekeeping magazines posted the recipe and video because the recipe had honey as one of the ingredients. I actually gave my Local Brew Store some honey for the recipe. He is going to give me a few bottles of beer in exchange.. Since my husband’s schedule is always so crazy busy he had not had time to participate in the beer making class given on Saturdays. I was really interested in making the Pumpkin Ale recipe they had posted on the store website. I thought it looked perfect for the fall season and holidays. The ingredients looked so good that I really wanted to try this recipe. I was busy that morning so my husband went to the class so we could make the pumpkin ale together.

Here is the recipe:

Pumpkin King Autumn Ale

  • 6oz. Aromatic
  • 4oz. Biscuit
  • 4 oz. Cara Red
  • 2 oz. Chocolate
  • 1 lb. Maris Otter
  • ½ oz. Allspice
  • ¼ oz Nutmeg
  • ¼ oz. Cinnamon
  • ¼ oz. Fresh Ginger
  • ¼ oz. Cloves
  • 3 lbs Munich Extract
  • 3 lbs Pilsner Extract
  • 1 lb Turbinado Sugar
  • 1 oz. Cluster @ 45
  • 1 oz. Willamette@30
  • 1 oz. Mt. Hood @ 15
  • British Ale Yeast
  • 30 oz. Cooked Pumpkin @ 1 week

Several weeks later we bottled our first ever beer. Not exactly in time for Halloween but it should be ready for early November. Part of the process in making beer is the carbonation that occurs in the bottles. To achieve the proper carbonation you need to add 5oz of priming sugar to the carboy before bottling. The sugars wake up the yeast and a secondary fermentation occurs. Since the CO2 has no place to escape it stays in the bottles and carbonation occurs. Bottling was super easy and really fun. The siphoning tool actually makes it really easy to add just the right amount of beer to each bottle. Capping was super easy also. We now have two cases of delicious Pumpkin Ale. The hardest part to making any of the wine or beer is the wait until it is complete. The beer needs to stay in a cool dark place for 5 weeks. We placed it in the main bathroom in the tub. There aren’t too many cool dark places in Miami, Florida.

I think the saying goes something like “Anything good is worth waiting for!” I can’t wait for the pumpkin ale to be ready to drink!

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