Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How to tell good eggs from bad

How to tell good eggs from bad

A bad egg will float.  Throw it away.
A good egg will sink to the bottom and rest on its side.
A so-so egg will sink to the bottom and stand on its pointy end. Use it soon!

Whenever Ralph brings back chicken and duck eggs from our neighbor's flock, I clean them off in the lake. I put them in a colander and set them in the shallow water by our beach to soak while I settle down beside them.  

A colander full of eggs fresh from our neighbor's farm sits in the lake waiting to be scrubbed clean

As soon as I arrive, I'm surrounded by a school of curious minnows eager to check out this potential new source of food.

Minnows are especially interested in a glob of dried yolk on one of the chicken eggs 

Before scrubbing the dirt and feathers off of the eggs, I test them out individually by placing them one at a time in the lake.  If an egg lays on its side on the bottom it's fresh.  If it stays on the bottom but points upward instead of resting on its side, that means it's getting old and should be eaten soon. However, if it immediately floats to the top, that tells me the egg is too old and should not be eaten at all.  Two of the eggs from this batch were floaters.  I threw them out into the deeper water knowing that some critter - maybe an alligator or a raccoon - would find the eggs and gobble them up.

Maybe a young gator will eat the rotten eggs

To clean the eggs, I use a brush given to me by my friend Maria Moniz. Although the brush, made by Full Circle, is actually meant as a potato scrubber, it also works extremely well at cleaning the dirt off eggs.  Before long I had a bowl filled with brown chicken and white duck eggs ready to take inside.

Clean eggs ready to refrigerate until used

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Best pineapple ever!

What's bright yellow, sweet and juicy? The best pineapple ever, that's what!

And I grew it myself!  

Wahoo!  Look what I grew!

This wasn't the first pineapple I've grown - far from it - but it was certainly the biggest, the juiciest and the sweetest one yet.

A bowl full of sweetness!

What makes one pineapple better than another?  Each one I've grown has come from store-bought fruit.  Just your typical grocery store pineapples.  It could be the soil or location, weather conditions or a combination of those factors that enabled this most recent pineapple to develop into such a large and tasty fruit.  I suppose I'll never know for sure.  What I do know, is the delight I've found in growing (and eating!) my own pineapples.

The mother plant behind me has two more suckers on it
that might develop more fruit 

If you haven't tried growing one yourself yet, give it a try.  Pineapples are among the easiest fruit to grow.  Simply cut off the top of a store-bought fruit and place it in a scraped away spot of soil.

Lobbed off top ready for planting

Pineapples can be grown in a sunny spot or in the shade.  I've successfully grown them in both.  The pineapple top doesn't need to be buried deeply.  It doesn't need any special soil. Pineapples, which are in the bromeliad family, are no-fuss plants.  Once one has been set in the ground its only requirement is to be left alone.

To learn more about growing pineapples, check out my post from last August:

Pineapples - easy to grow, yummy to eat

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Birds or pesticides? Which would you choose to control pesky insects?

Scroll down to watch video of a downy woodpecker eating insects on bamboo

Poisonous sprays aren't the only way to prevent small sucking insects like mealybug, aphids and scale from damaging plants. Birds can eliminate insect infestations too.

As long as plants are not treated with noxious chemicals, birds like this female downy woodpecker will take care of plant-bothering bugs for you.

Female downy woodpecker feeding on miniscule insects

Mealybug, aphids and scale all excrete a sticky substance called honeydew that quickly becomes infected with the sooty mold fungus. Insect-eating birds like woodpeckers are attracted to this ready supply of food and will consume.

In the video below, watch how diligently this female downy woodpecker circles the stalk in order to devour as many tiny bugs as possible on this young shoot of Blue Timber (Bambusa chungii) Clumping Bamboo.

Since bamboo is such a fast-growing plant, it's able to outgrow any insect problem. Nonetheless, some people still insist upon using chemical controls. While there are products recommended for sooty mold, I prefer to let woodpeckers have at it. What about you?

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A celestial two-fer!

Biking south at sunrise in New Smyrna Beach. 

To my left, watching the sunrise... 

To my right, watching the moon set...

A celestial two-fer. Double the pleasure!

Friday, July 7, 2017

How many butterflies can you find?

Scroll to bottom for video 

A young planting of Mexican Flamevine, Pseudogynoxys chenopodioides, has been attracting so many butterflies to our yard lately.

Zebra Longwing, the official state butterfly of Florida, sips nectar from a Mexican Flamevine flower

The vine, in the same family as daisies, Asteraceae, is native to Mexico, Central America and the West Indies. My plant came from small cuttings my daughter and I snipped off about a year ago from a sprawling stand of Mexican Flamevine growing along Lake Minneola.

Quite the climber!

Since my garden history includes many times when my love of vines has outweighed common sense, I was understandably conflicted about adding yet another potentially overly-aggressive plant to our landscape.  I knew Mexican Flamevine would be an attractive addition to the yard if I could only figure out the right place to put it.  I also knew that due to my lazy nature, no matter where it was planted, it would probably get out of control.  Hmm...what to do?

Amber looking rather pleased with our find

My 'must-have-another-vine' me was the winner. Unable to resist the incredible color of the plant's bright, daisy-like flowers, I took home a few cuttings, stuck them in some of Ralph's potting soil, placed them in a shady spot where they'd be watered regularly and then basically forgot about them.

What a color!!

It turned out that one of my cuttings survived.  Unfortunately, I didn't realize it at the time because I foolishly neglected to label it. (Remember what I said about me being lazy?)  So a few months ago, when I decided to install a potted Beach Sunflower (Helianthus debilis) - another rooted cutting that was growing without a name tag - in the sandy soil next to our trampoline, I mistakenly planted my rooted cutting of Mexican Flamevine instead.

Oops! Took the wrong plant 

By the time I realized my mistake, the Mexican Flamevine had begun to thrive.  It had extended new stems and leaves and multiple flowers had begun to bloom.  From the kitchen window, I look right at it.  While washing dishes or working on the counter my eyes are constantly drawn to the brilliant orange blooms.

Apparently, I'm not the only caught up in the plant's allure.  Butterflies aplenty have been coming to visit!  The Gulf Fritillary and Zebra Longwing have been the most frequent visitors so far but other flutterers, bees and pollinators check it out as well.

Here's a short video I made of several Gulf Fritillary butterflies fluttering around the bold blooms on a hot summer afternoon. 

How many can you find?

I don't know yet where my Mexican Flamevine will end up, but I doubt if it will stay in the place where it's currently growing.  I only hope that at some point I'll figure out an appropriate spot for it to go. Somewhere where it can thrive without growing out of control.  Somewhere where I can see it often and enjoy the show.  Somewhere that will make us all happy - plant, pollinators and lazy gardener me.