Species Conservation begins at home

 

Species Conservation begins at home, in our yards.  Every day we walk over things we may not see because we are too hurried but if we slowed down and looked we would find below our feet (as discussed in other blog entries here) that there is a whole other World of Adventure below our upright field of view, waay down at our feet and it relies on us for its life and very existence. Why should conserving species not begin at home in our own yards?

My yard is a cacophony of tangled native grasses and plants. I have no immaculate, pampered lawn devoid of life…  This half-acre is a vibrant ecosystem that is amazing to get out and explore in.  But occasionally, I miss things..  Those little things hiding at my feet.  Sometimes it takes a strange little teeny-tiny-PINK flower to poke its head up and saying, like Horton’s friends; “I’M HERE !”  This is what happened two weeks ago.

I was walking along in the yard one early evening when I spotted this tiny beautiful little pink flower poking its head up out of the native grass.  It was under a Sabal Palm tree in part shade.  Just a small mass of low growing thick leaves with two pretty little flowers…  Excited, I hit my books looking for an ID.  I went back out into the yard to do a survey, could I find any more of the plants?  I then did several more surveys.  I didn’t immediately see any others so where did this one come from?  Did a passing bird, my hiking shoes or pants bring it in to my yard from CREW? or from other places I go hiking?  Or did one of my nature geeky friends bring it in on their clothes?  It was growing in our sitting area… One thing was for sure, I had to carefully dig it up and pot it so it would not be trampled in its current location, or fall victim of the mower or a nibbling, passing Chihuahua (I have three.)

Its Species name is   Stenandrium dulce (Cav.) Nees  Author Roger Hammer in Everglades Wildflowers states that Stenandrium is Greek for “tight anthers” and dulce means “sweet” referring to sweet-smelling flowers.  It is usually solitary but spreads quickly from seeds and will form dense colonies in container culture – as I have it now.  It blooms all year-long.  Another common names is Sweet Shaggytuft or Pineland pinklet.  It is suitable for growing in containers.  Pinklet grows from Florida to Mexico to South America.

As I was digging the plant up I noticed a root system larger than the plant composed of some tubers.  I was amazed with how large the plant was underground It was an iceberg!  I always say, if you want to learn more about Native plants, you have to grow them!  Watch them, and live with them.  At least that works for me being Dyslexic, I learn and experience things differently. I find immersive, tactile experiences help me to remember and understand things with more depth vis limiting myself to only reading about a subject.

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My section of yard the Pinklet comes from is reminiscent of Pine Uplands, with sandy, well-drained soil (sand) so I wanted to be sure to pot it in the same type medium, from my yard.  Not commercial soil.  I water my potted plants with rain water – or tap water that I have let sit out for several days.  I’ve let this little guy sit out in the rain each storm.. to get that extra Nitrogen boost that rainwater provides.  I’m so happy it’s doing well.  I’ve provided several images of the plant so you can see its interesting stem and low growth of leaves.  The little Pinklet flowers reaching out to the Sun…

I hope the next time you go out into your yard, you take a survey to see who is around… what butterflies, birds and plants.  You might just be surprised at what and who you find out in your backyard.  Have no Native plants?  Visit your local Native garden center and bring some home.

TURN OFF THAT TV AND GET OUTSIDE IN NATURE !  

Screech Owls New Diggs, up in the Bombax Tree.

Screech Owls New Diggs

The Backyard Universe is truly a hub of activity lately…   every evening the mockingbirds are giving the little Screech Owls a difficult time when they make their appearance known.  You can’t miss the disturbed calls of the mockingbirds and the hisses of the Screech owls.  It was at this latest activity that I decided to read online about Screech Owl Boxes.  They had a nest last year in an old palm snag however that snag fell over this year.  After doing some research I ran across a website for the Treasure Coast Wildlife Center located in Palm City Florida.  They actually had a .PDF file with information about Screech owls AND how to build nesting boxes for them.  It just happens that the boxes for the Screech Owls can also be used by the American Kestrel.  Click here for the Download .PDF link to make your own Screech Owl Nesting Box.

We placed our box up onto a Bombax  (African Floss) Tree, part of a stand of them that is along the back of our half acre.  Now we watch and wait to see if the box is noticed and who takes interest!  The box took only a couple hours to make and cost us $13.00 in pine.  It will weather over time.  Please be sure to follow the directions of the .PDF, don’t paint the box.  Now when I go outside I have yet another possible source of activity to keep an eye on.   We have raised other clusters of Screech Owls here, watched them grown up…  I hope you will consider placing a box in your neighborhood backyard.   A big thank you to the Treasure Coast Wildlife Center for making the easy to follow directions available.  Check out their website!     AND be sure to visit my new Photo Blog called Metta Nature Photography  Click on the images there for full page views of everything else *outside* of my  BackyardUniverse coverage.    

Eastern Screech Owl

Image of an Eastern Screech Owl sitting on a stump in the BackyardUniverse.   

Something Fishy in aBackyard Universe this morning..

I had just mentioned to someone last night, “Pay attention to birds because THEY will tell you what’s going on in the neighborhood or on the trail”   And it’s true, IF you do choose listen to Nature, she will share important things with you.  Like this morning as I was walking out onto the lanai to let the Chihuahuas out I heard this very distinctive call to my left…  

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The neighborhood Osprey was a lot closer to me than the last time I blogged about him – when he was 200′ distant in another neighbors yard…  So I quietly stood and fired off images until the Mockingbird chased him away.  That was a very narrow window I had to enjoy his presence in and I’m grateful for it!  I do hope someone else had the enjoyment of watching him with his meal, that everyone was not glued to the TV and missed an opportunity.

Seeing an Osprey close in like this is a rarity for me.  I’m not near a large body of water such as a beach or lake, so the Ospreys I see occasionally here have travelled to and from larger water sources, or perhaps fished the deep canal that runs along behind (to the East of)  Lehigh Acres Middle School, which isn’t far from me.  I do hope YOU had a chance to get outside this weekend and soak up some wonderful Vitamin N – the Nature Vitamin, and I hope you enjoy the photos.    

Picked too soon.. in aBackyard Universe.

The little garden has been plodding right along, regardless of the intermittent just-under-a-freeze-warning type temperatures we have had here in South West Florida (today it’s warm out!)  I got home last night from my Avon Rep Meeting  and hubby had decided on his own to go pick one of the tomatoes that was barely starting to turn red!    It’s sitting here on the counter  more than likely destined for (gluten free) Fried Green Tomato to go along with dinner tonight.  I wish he hadn’t picked it.  His excuse;  “I thought I’d pick it so the animals wouldn’t get it”   WELL….  The only animals likely to get it around here are an errant wood pecker, blue jay OR human.  The Nasturtiums I planted from seed last month are still coming along.  The lettuce and collards are still producing as well.

a tomato alone..

Picked Too Soon!

The rest of the tomato bunches are doing OK…  so long as no one decides to pick any or take a bite…. The above and below are Bonnie Select Hybrid Tomato, Determinate.  They get 8 to 10 oz and are a good handful.  Maturity is around 75 days.  Water Tomatoes daily!   Check periodically for worms and bugs to pick off.  Interestingly enough, my Bonnie Tomato “Mortgage Lifter” and Black Krim are undersized plants with small fruits – they do receive the same treatments with water and fertilizer.

Tomato Bunch

Bonnie Select hybrid Tomatoes

The Cauliflower is just starting to head up.  I was taught that when it starts to head up like this you take some of the leaves and you cover the head up so it stay a nice white color.  Do you do this with your Cauliflower?  (I also like to put some of the leaves in salads for a little different flavor.)  Store bought Cauliflower does not compare to home grown!  It’s easy to grow, try it out in your Zone!

Cauliflower

I had no idea that while I was planting and taking care of the garden, the birds were also planting a Sunflower Garden.  OK, they were in cahoots with the squirrels hiding seeds..  The Black Oil sunflowers are almost as tall as me (5′ 4″) and are wonderful to see every day as they track the sun across the sky.  I’ve included another photo.  The two below are the tallest.

The Birds Flower Garden

photo 2 copy

The most cool bird I have seen in the Backyard Universe  has been an American Goldfinch I sighted in the Labyrinth tree last month.  He was part of a small flock that passed through one evening.  You just never know what you might see from your backyard!  Spring is coming so get your small (or large) garden in, feed the birds and watch the magic happen around you!   Get the family involved!   If you need suggestions, drop me a note.

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2,000 words+ that flew over me in an instant….

Image

Great blue heron color morph - White

Great blue heron color morph - White

Great blue heron color morph – White

If one picture is worth a 1,000 words.  This must be at minimum 2,000 words.  

I was sitting, reclining actually all bundled up and gloved for Winter on a swamp buggy at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp   I was looking all around us, as well as overhead at the Cypress trees, the alligator flags and into that icy blue sky scanning for photo targets; gators, butterflies.. small things  when out of somewhere he flew up and over us.  What a magical moment of surprise…..  Look how the sunlight streams through his feathers…..    Looking at the photos and re-visiting the moment I can feel him flying even now…    

Image of a Great blue Heron Color Morph – White.

a Backyard Universe of Vegetables!

I enjoy veggie gardening as much as I enjoy going out on the trails or star-gazing…  not only is gardening, planting things, good for the mind and body, but also for the soul..   Gardening gets you out into the fresh air working with the soil and plants getting  your hands dirty.  You become aware that the space around your house, your yard, the little patch on earth we call “ours” is home to many other forms of life besides ourselves.  Problems become small..  issues go away quickly as you work and become one with the soil, with the earth and nature.   

GardebBlog1

My garden this year (below) is handkerchief sized  at 6′ x 6′  square..  don’t ask me how I got it square, I wasn’t trying LOL.  I spaded the area out, removed the grass, and then added some amendments to it consisting of a couple of shovel fulls of Miracle Grow Gardening Soil and  Osmocoat.   In the background of the image you can see the Labyrinth.  The big bushy plant is Lemon Grass used in my Thai cooking and tea on a hot day. 

GardenBlog3

While the garden area  is small it’s already produced several rounds of  Simpson Elite lettuce  and Georgia Collards.  The tomatoes are still coming along with blooms.  I have two heirloom varieties planted:  Mortgage lifter, and Black krim   I also planted a couple of  Bonnie Select Hybrid Tomatoes which are not seen in the image as they are outside of the garden square proper (for another blog.)   I also tried a new green this year, Burpee Senposai Hybrid.   This is an awesome green that goes good in salads with the Simpson (or bib) Elite lettuce.  The leaves are more sturdy and have a good flavor to them.  You can also stir fry it!  

Try adding fresh young Collard leaves to your salad.  They add a spicy not quite bitter taste that is wonderful!   I’ve planted another row Lettuce and Senposai since this photo for later on.  I stagger my crops and rotate them.     I have a few other things I’ve started from seed I won’t mention yet as they haven’t poked their heads up yet – I just got them started yesterday.  Other things I have growing on the lanai are mint and sweet basil..  also good added to a salad.

SO..  If you are tired of  “the same old  thing” veggie wise, or tired of  bagged veggies, consider growing your own.  It’s healthier  and you will know its Pedigree from your online seed research and choice to planting and nurturing  to your plate, and YOU and your family will have grown it yourselves.   It’s not difficult to do and it’s actually fun for everyone.  If you want the kids to eat their veggies, get them involved in growing them!  I know that works because growing up we kids worked and planted and did “pest patrol” on our own half acre garden.  We ate all the things we grew and a few of them raw right there in the field.   Overages I learned to Can and freeze or dry and sometimes we’d have so much overage we’d drive it around our  Suncoast neighborhood in North Fort Myers and sell it from the back of the truck. 

We loved being outside in the fresh air, exploring new things we’d see out among the corn tassels or twisty vines…  What’s that caterpillar?  that flying insect does it bite or sting? how does it move?   We’d look them up in the books and increase our knowledge and it was FUN.  So much fun and enjoyment that I continue to garden and grow things, and hunt critters out among the leaves –  and I’m 50!   Teach your kids to garden and explore the world and to ask questions and most importantly, have FUN!    We can do this at any age… now go get some plants or seeds and start your Backyard Universe Adventure!  Turn off the TV…

I recommend the following books on gardening:

Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting

Florida Home Grown The Edible Landscape

Herbs and Spices for Florida Gardens

Online Seed Catalogs I love

Totally Tomatoes Vegetable Garden Seed

R.H. Shumway’s has a Beautiful paper catalog!  and is online as well

The Cooks Garden 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Resolved

The first Weekly Photo Challenge of the New Year is here and the title is “Resolved.”  My resolve is to go hiking and exploring more of our South West Florida wilderness areas this year, and to do even more photography.   This isn’t to say I’m opposed to going into the “City” to shoot photos.   It’s just that if  I’m given the choice, and have the gas money to get there  (I’m still looking for that elusive Part Time Job,)     I’d rather be out on a peaceful trail not wondering how I’m going to get across an Intersection in one piece, feeding parking meters, or wondering where to eat a lunch that’s gluten free –  It’s the little things.     I’m certainly content to eat a snack bar out on a trail in a nice Oak Hammock….  To me, hiking is part of my overall “taking care of me” routine.  It is good for the body, good for the soul and it’s allot of fun.  I hope that you will get out into your local wilderness areas more this year too.

 

Me on the Prarie