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.

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!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Preparing My Vegetable Garden

I have wanted to put in a real vegetable garden for the many years. I have grown a few tomatoes, and herbs from time to time but never an official vegetable garden. I think it is finally going to come to fruition. I grew up in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and some of my earliest childhood memories were of helping my dad prepare a vegetable garden. It seemed like we always had some land to farm. I have mentioned before that my dad, Charlie Schoolcraft, grew up a farmer in Indiana. His family had approximately 250 acres of land in Madison, Indiana. I remember long car trips to Indiana to visit my grandmother Bertha Schoolcraft. Her house was made of fieldstone; it didn’t really have running water, or bathrooms. My mom used to freak out because of this. She was also concerned because there were farm rats and mice in the house. The house had a distinct odor about it. I have memories of fetching water from the well in a bucket, bacon frying and being chased by a huge Tom Turkey. My grandmother was a strong woman with beautiful red hair. I believe the farm grew mostly tobacco. At some point I believe there was livestock but my memories only recall turkeys. My dad was the youngest of several children. His dad died when he was quite young, I was told he died from a head injury after being kicked by a bull. If you Google my maiden name, Schoolcraft, my ancestor Henry Rowe Schoolcraft was a pioneer of this country. My dad left Indiana as a young man to join the Marines. I guess this was his way a getting far away from the farm! In reality he could only run so far physically, but the farm never really left him, because he taught his love of the land to all of his children, hence my childhood memories of farming. I remember we lived several years in Linglestown, PA. This was right outside Hershey, PA. This housing development was right at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We had about a ½ acre of land to farm right next to our property. I have many fond memories playing in those fields, catching red salamanders, swinging from vines, bringing home all kinds of great finds. As the oldest of 4 children I was responsible for helping in the garden, and helping my mom can and preserve the fruits and vegetables. There have always been two sides to my personality, the prissy side and the tomboy side. I am telling you this because my mom always had me in a dress with a crinoline, and patent leather shoes. I didn’t own a pair of jeans or pants until junior year of high school. That is just the way it was back then. For those of you that know me well, I have a very prissy side to me, but I also have no trouble rolling up my sleeves and playing in the dirt. I thank my parents for instilling in me the love of gardening. Let’s hope that some of those memories will still be present as I start to prepare my garden.

So far I have cleared the Cat Palms that were on the west side of the property. As I stated in my last blog the wall to the house is exposed and really isn’t very attractive. I have plans to plant some Sunflowers to hide the wall and make it look a little prettier to the eye. It is also a good idea to plant some flowers in the vegetable garden as they will invite pollinators to visit. Right now things are at a standstill because I called 811 to find out what lines run under the ground in that area. I know there are several lines on that side of the house and the gas meter is on the wall. They have 48 hours to respond and mark the lines. I tried to dig down into the dirt in that area, but it is very difficult. The houses in my neighborhood were built on Coral Rock. The dirt is very difficult to work. Over the years I have worked many of my flower beds and added compost and organic material to enhance the soil. I have bought earthworms in years past and compost in hopes of improving the soil nutrients. Some of my flower beds aren’t too bad because of all the working through the years, but this area on the Westside of the house has been ignored. The Cat Palms have been there for many years and they were root bound. There are still many roots and a lot of coral rock in this area. If I find out there are gas line etc in this area, it might be easier to put in a Raised Bed garden. A raised bed garden is actually recommended in Florida, because the soil is so poor, and there are many pests (nematodes) in the soil. It may be a better idea to get some really good soil and raise the area up by about 2 feet. I took several classes earlier in the year around permaculture and preparing the soil for a vegetable garden.

Many months ago I ordered some seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. I wanted nothing to do with GMO crops or seeds in my garden. Many famous companies sell hybrid seeds but I wanted pure seeds passed down through generations in my garden. I had read about BBB Seeds in several gardening blogs that I follow and felt comfortable with selecting my vegetables from them. I started planting some seeds that I don’t want to directly sow into the ground, so that in a few weeks after I have enhanced the soil and the weather becomes a little cooler I will be able to plant the vegetables directly into the ground. So far I have planted some tomatoes and orange peppers. Ideally you shouldn’t plant tomatoes in south Florida until it gets a little cooler. Waiting just a little bit will increase the amount of fruit the plant produces. I bought several different packages of seeds from Baker Creek; several varieties of tomatoes, one called Floradade, which is right from Dade County Florida, and a beefsteak variety. I also purchased something called Riesentraube Red tomato, along with some kale, spinach, beets, lettuce mix, atomic carrots, cucumber, zucchini squash, rainbow Swiss chard, radishes, okra, tomatillos, snap peas, and eggplant. That sounds like a bunch of stuff! I need to plot out where I want to place everything in the garden. The area that I am going to be planting is approximately 25’x 4’ wide. I also need to watch the sun patterns so I can plant those plants that need the most sun in the sunniest spots, and most importantly I need to work on my soil. Hopefully I will be planting in about 2 weeks. I bought some seed pods by Jiffy to start my tomatoes, and some of my sunflowers at Home Depot. They are super easy to use and the plants are already sprouting. Here are some pictures.

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