Sunday, February 04, 2018

Reclaiming The "Garden".

We were going through some old home videos not long ago and I was flabbergasted to see how sunny and organized my garden was when we first moved onto our beloved PFHQ.
We had a toddler, a Labrador, and a new baby all in a 2 bedroom, 42' single-wide trailer.

On top of that, in August of 1988 I had walked out of the National Park Service and into a classroom without any real "teacher training".
I was working every night at the kitchen table until 11pm just to be ready for the next day.

And yet ... somehow in the videos, I had a big sunny garden with neat wide rows and actual plants growing.

The garden evolved (devolved?) over the years into raised beds outlined by PVC drainage pipe, but over time, even those became weedy monuments to gardening failure.

A recent photo shows its decrepit state of being.

In the photo above are "fossils" from the different garden eras.
  • PVC lined beds with a crop of seed grown coontie.
  • The green "Mallard Mansion" chicken/duck house.
  • A rabbit cage which doubled as a chicken tractor.
  • Fence remnants.
  • A gate to nowhere.

And, if I turn around and look South, there is the scene below.
This 16' by 16' cage is all that remains of our FFA show pig days. After we graduated from that period, I raised the fence posts higher, added extra fence height and created the only deer proof zone (all 256 square feet of it) on our 10 acres.
For years now, this is where I've grown my datil pepper plants. 
The photo shows the remains of last seasons pepper planting. I need to dump all those pots and replant.

One of the most shocking things about those old home videos was the tree growth in those 30 years.
In the videos, spindly young oaks are visible on the edges of the garden, but they cast no problematic shade.
Now ... they tower 60 feet high and in some cases branch out over the garden.

Some of this shade issue I caused.
I went through a wood carving period when the kids were little and black cherry was a favorite. So I started a bunch from seeds and transplanted them out into the woods, except for one...

Look at that straight beauty below.
I never moved her and now she is at the South end of my garden.

I can't bear to cut her down ... maybe someday for lumber, but not now.
So, I'm compromising.
I have trimmed lower branches before to reduce the shade on my datils, but now a V-notch branch is growing out over the garden.
Time for the very long ladder, some ratchet straps, gumption, and the Husky chainsaw.
That branch must go while it is still "small".

Back to the original musing ... how was I able to create and maintain a sweetly neat garden in those early days.

The answer is ... I had a Tiller.

As soon as we moved onto the property, I bought a used Troybuilt Horse rear-tine tiller from a guy in Gainesville for $800.00.

It was a beast and served me well.
Once it finally gave up the ghost, the garden slowly reverted back to wildness.
I just could not keep up.

In the picture above, I have begun reclaiming sod-covered parts of the garden.
Curse you St. Augustine grass!!
I've been able to do that thanks to the Husqvarna beast in the picture below.
160cc's of dirt munching Honda power!


Next step is Tenax Deer Fencing and some tall posts.
The good news is I can tie that into the new yard fence that is not shown, but just to the right of this photo.
I will at least get some potatoes (blue ones of course) started, I don't think Deer munch on the Nightshade family.

Updates to come. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Porch-spit Seed-grown Orange Tree Flavor Mystery ...SOLVED.

A lot of things go over the porch rail here at Pure Florida HeadQuarters (PFHQ).
Things like coffee grounds, vegetable scraps from making salads, onion peels, and a host of other plant-based compostables.
All of this is considered sheet compost for the sandy,nutrient-poor Florida "soil".

This dumping is socially acceptable here, where it might not be in your suburban yard because we have no neighbors in visual range.

PFHQ sits in a hole in our forest, smack in the center of our 10-acre kingdom.

You could sip tea on the porch in your birthday suit all day and maybe only surprise the UPS guy on rare occasions.

Every once in a while, I throw a little dirt on the composting veggie scraps and turn the soil. We call this a flower bed, but it's really made up of perennials like amaryllis, daylilies, plumbago shrubs, a lemon tree, and cape honeysuckle.

Point is, it's more green than flowery anyway and all this green hides the compostieness of it all.

But what about the Porch-spit Seed-grown Orange Tree Flavor Mystery?

I'm getting to that... just setting the scene.

See, there is one other thing that gets launched over the porch rail.


Got a juicy peach or pear?
Eat it over the porch rail and spit seeds.
Watermelon slice? 
Same SOP.
Juicy orange?

It's that last one that started the mystery.
Sometime, about 8 years ago, an orange seed arced over the rail and landed in just the right place beneath the plumbago where no weeding or tilling ever happened.
And it grew.

I remember first spotting it and thinking, "I should dig up that little guy and move it."
But I didn't.

When the little seedling survived the record-setting winter of 2009-2010, I decided 2 things.

1) This must be a sour-orange tree. They are notoriously cold hardy.
2) Any citrus that survived weeks (1-inch thick ice in the goldfish pond that lasted for 10 days!) of below-freezing temps deserved to live.

The thing about citrus tree varieties is that many are hybrids and seeds from that supermarket orange often don't produce the same fruit you ate. In fact, they seem to revert back to sour orange.

So I expected the tough little tree baby to eventually produce sour oranges.

Over the years the tree grew taller than the porch roof. It had all the signatures of the sour orange trees you sometimes find in the woods.

Those being wicked 4-inch woody thorns and being impervious to North Florida Winters. 
As it grew, I trimmed away branches that overhung the porch and all thorns below 6 feet.
If you've ever raised up after weeding and rammed your head into a 4-inch long wooden thorn, you know why.

The tree grew lush and green and I became its lawyer when it needed defending. 

 I've got your bark, tree.

"Someday it will bloom and won't it be great to sit here on the porch and smell that magic."
"Yes, it will probably be a sour orange, but there are all kinds of Cuban recipes that require sour orange, so win-win if it is."

Along the way, the tree hosted swallowtail larvae, a cardinal nest, and countless anoles.

Eventually, the tree won over everyone, when it bloomed earlier this year. 

Not just one bloom, but a host of them from top to bottom.
The green fruit soon followed. I worried that Hurricane Irma might take them with her winds, but they hung on.

Recently, after a series of strong cold fronts came through, the once green oranges completed their change to orange.

It was time.

Time to pick that first orange, slice it, taste it, and solve the Porch-spit Seed-grown Orange Tree Flavor Mystery.

I was totally sure that it would be sour as I sliced through the thin skin and quartered the test orange.

The thin skin separated cleanly for an easy peeling experience.

I raised the section to my mouth and bit into it ...


I would have been happy either way, but yes, I was hoping against hope that it would be a sweet orange tree.

Mystery solved.