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.   

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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. 

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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 

Make time to see the Stars..

A Star Gazing moment.
South West Florida, All times are in EST.

a Color Star Chart for January to Print out.

 

With the mayhem of the Fiscal Cliff and the rush of the Holidays OVER  (at least for now)  it’s time to make time and do some things to de-compress…  Things like.. take a walk in the woods at a favorite nature preserve, visit a museum, or perhaps just take time out to go outside and look up at the night sky.  Yes, just walk over, turn off that blithering TV, and go outside and look up and relax in a lawn chair or on the ground.  

If you don’t have a good view of the night sky where you are, consider visiting a Planetarium, a State Park, or a local Observatory to Star Gaze from.  Go outside around 8pm and look East you’ll see three bright stars that make up Orion’s Belt all arranged neatly, (from our perspective anyway) in a row.  They are from bottom to top, Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. The bright visibly reddish looking star in the shoulder of Orion is Betelgeuse.  Betelgeuse is one of the largest stars known, with a diameter over 650 times that of the Sun! (It’s overhead by 11pm.)

By 7:30pm as the evening has progressed and these constellations rise higher in the sky go outside again and look for another bright star Sirius, in the Constellation of Canis Major – this is Orion’s dog. Sirius is also called the Dog Star. An easy way to find Sirius is to take the belt stars of Orion and draw a line down toward the horizon. Bright Sirius is overhead by midnight. At 9:49pm the brightest “Star” overhead from Orion is not a star at all but the planet Jupiter nestled up in the V shape of the horns of Taurus the bull.

Below Star Chart image credit is SkySafari for the Mac.

Orion Taurus Jupiter

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Happy

This Gallery and Blog is in response to The  Word Press Weekly Photo Challenge.  I just felt I had to make that clear since I normally write about Backyard Nature topics  🙂   and normally include some imagery in it from my backyard – you know, spiders, mushrooms, butterflies, birds  etc..  those type of things.  Not the Happy Faced Chihuahuas, Rosie Doodles and Luna, running around in my yard while I’m out there   🙂    Word Press has rolled out a new cool Display Mosaic that I had to include with the new Weekly Photo Challenge.  I think it is pretty neat.

But back to the topics at hand!   Luna and  Rosie Doodles….
They BOTH have their own FB page  and following, and are total hams.   And very photogenic I might add.  I got Luna first she is AKC, and the most docile laid back easy going Chihuahua you will ever see.  She loves to go to Home Depot and ride in the cart  and she contrasts totally with Rosie Doodles, who is also 100% Chihuahua (big attitude)  Rosie being a feisty, bossey  little thing.  I got Rosie through my Vets office, she was surrendered to them by a gal who said Rosie “was not affectionate.”   Well I can tell you, Rosie has a HUGE attitude, typical of Chihuahuas, and she is VERY affectionate.  Rosie is originally from Oklahoma where she was used in a breeding operation.  She’s had three moms, and I’m the only one she has stuck to.

They are our fur kids and they go everywhere with us including Glamping in the Florida State Parks.  When I’m out in the yard photographing some new butterfly or a new cool insect, they are out there with me in the half acre running around with those happy smiley faces on.  If you’d like to keep up with them, join their Face Book page.

New overnight surprise in the labyrinth.

Fall is coming!   another sure sign is this little Stinkhorn (Order Phallales)  that popped up in the Labyrinth overnight.  Stinkhorns are found October through March from North Carolina to Florida, to along the Gulf Coast as well as in Mexico.  I love mushrooms, in all of their variety, both canned or grocery store fresh on my pizza as well as along the trails that I wander.  

Stinkhorns are comprised of several columns that are fused at the top.  Supposedly they stink and are “fetid”  although I didn’t get down-that-close to see if it had an odor to it  (getting up would have been another matter. )  

However I did notice that it had ants under its cap and if you click on this image, you can see the fungus up close, along with the ants.  These strange little guys rise out of the ground from a body or “egg” that is hidden underground.   Long cords help to form the arms that reach skyward with the interior of the arms covered with a slime.  It’s this slime and the smell, which attracts flies, that helps to disperse the spores.  

I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on this one today to see how it’s getting along.    Just another reason to always be looking for the little things underfoot.  What’s happening in your yard today?     This is an iPhone4S image taken with ProHDR

Weekly Photo Challenge: Near and Far

     a fledgling Owl sits in a pine bough, under a Waxing moon.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Free Spirit

 

 

This is my image submission for  the Word Press Photo Challenge of:  Free Spirit.

I love being out in nature, and I mean IN nature.. especially in the wetlands of our SW Florida swamps.  The peacefulness and variety of wildlife and plant life is amazing.   Numerous things abound to pique the senses at every sloggy turn.  Of course you’re soaking wet, maybe even up to your waist – careful, watch out for that fallen log you have to find a way to go over or under or that hole! – but that’s what your stick is for, probing ahead of your strides…  but…. the water is clear, cool and clean… I call it “refreshing” on a hot Spring day in South West Florida.  No, the water in the Swamp is not stagnant, it’s flowing along and you’re following it around the next turn and in my case, hoping I don’t fall down        (I tend to have problems with gravity.)  I feel best when I am out of doors, hiking a trail or wading in water with my camera and walking stick.

 

 

 

 

Dragons of the Air and Water

 

 

On the grand scale, Tropical Storm Isaac just missed us but on the smaller scales of things.. insect scales?  it was rough for the insects.  Butterflies are easily affected by high winds and rain.  To survive, they find areas in your yard or woods that are sheltered from winds and driving rains.  Around the house an insect may find a quiet corner to stay in, maybe go up under the eves or anywhere that takes them out of direct wind and rain.

This White Peacock Butterfly is lying down, almost flat in the green dog fennel bushes along the canal at Harns Marsh, here in Lehigh.  How’s that for avoiding bad weather?  Make like a leaf.  At first, I thought I was looking at a leaf!  Insects are affected by subtle changes in heat and even barometric pressure, everything from the smallest ant, to the largest butterfly is affected by heat, light and moisture among other things.

This Peacock Butterfly is weathering high winds by hiding out and laying low in a dog fennel bush.

 

Watching Summer dragonflies buzzing over our backyards, ditches and empty lots, we see a species dependent on the ability to respond to temperature changes in its environment through Thermoregulation.  Thermoregulation is regulating ones internal body temperature even when the surrounding temperature is different.  These animals are also referred to as being ectothermic or just ectotherms – a more common description would be “Cold-Blooded.”  Reptiles, fish and yes, even insects have to regulate their temperatures in order to function and they have learned to do it quite well, not being at the total mercy of their environments.  We see alligators moving in and out of heat and cold to “get just right” or “regulated” internally.

Alligators and lizards have the ability to regulate their internal temperatures by moving around in their environment to cool off in the shadows, or to get warm on a log or bank.   One way for dragonflies to keep from overheating on a hot sunny day is to become less active.  I’m sure you’ve seen a dragonfly perched with its wings pointing forward and down – this is a dragonfly that is regulating its body temperature  by positioning its wings so that they are absorbing less of the suns rays and that dragonflies internal temperature?  around 110 degrees F.

an Ornate Pennant Dragonfly perches on a Blue Butterfly bush in my yard. He’s hunting for other insects to catch on the wing – He’s also conserving energy.

 

Watching dragonflies, we see another highly efficient hunter capable of catching their prey – mosquitos, butterflies, moths etc.. on the wing.  They like to land or “perch” on a stalk to devour their prey.  If they have devoured a moth or a butterfly, all you may see left over on the ground are the wings.  Have you watched a dragonfly eat?  They don’t waste any time and the prey is quickly reduced to wings.  Summer brings us two Dragons to watch, one of the air, and one of the water.

Alligators and Crocs have been around for 200 million years and Dragonflies around 300 million years.  Both of them share similar adaptations that have allowed them to survive in their environments despite being Cold-Blooded.  That’s pretty cool!

 

Tropical Storm Isaac – Needed Rain.

 

As I write, Tropical Storm Isaac is moving along off our South West Florida Coast.  While thankfully not producing the damaging amounts of high wind and tornadoes expected from the initial computer models (we were looking at a Cat 1 predicted above) for my location, Lehigh Acres, which is a part of Fort Myers.  

Tropical Storm Isaac has provided some much-needed rain for our natural areas.  The rains come in occasional squalls and will probably continue to do so throughout the rest of our evening and into part of Monday.  I’ll go hiking this upcoming week and re visit the marsh  to see what wildflowers are blooming thanks to Tropical Storm Isaac.  

Composite image of ” Doves on a Wire” taken today, in my backyard.  Combined with a TV map of the Tropical Storm.
iPhone4S image, processing done in AwesomeCamera and with Pictwo app.

 

Pink Hibiscus Monday

 

It’s a Pink Hibiscus Monday here in SW Florida!   Well, at least from my Backyard Universe it is.
This Hibiscus is sporting two brilliant red and black, harmless seed eating insects, Jadera haematoloma 

Sorry but no photos of the Perseid Meteor shower from me.  It stayed cloudy and rainy the whole day
and overcast all night.  Which is a good thing as like many places, we need the rains.

Nikon D5100 image.

 

a favorite route to travel

 

             yeah, this is an   iPhone4GS   image from a truck

My favorite route to travel into Lehigh Acres from Fort Myers Florida, is along the Daniels Parkway corridor beginning from the Gateway turnoff, and heading East, into Lehigh.  Few other routes can take one through as many lush areas consisting of beautiful towering cypress domes, upland and marsh habitats.  Driving this nature corridor through out the year you may get to see:  wildflowers, turkeys, deer, hogs, alligators, otter as well as various wading birds, eagles and osprey.  Parts of this roadway have designated Panther Crossing signs at either end of it with separate day and night speeds so be aware.  During our fall and winter tourist season I often see other photographers up and down the corridor.

According to Greater Fort Myers Real-estate:  “Stretching from Gateway and Southwest Florida International Airport on the East to US-41 and the Shops at Bell Tower on the West, Daniels Parkway has emerged as Fort Myers’s  new “Main Street.”    I think of it more as the gateway to places like  CREW Land and Water Trust  and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary   Both part of the Corkscrew Watershed of which CREW alone comprises 60 thousand acres of protected watershed through Lee and Collier counties.

Should you visit Fort Myers Florida this Fall and Winter, consider spending some time along this scenic Daniels Parkway corridor.  Don’t forget to bring your camera and pack a lite lunch.  There’s allot to see and photograph for the patient imager.  And when you want more, go explore the offerings at CREW Land and Water Trust, and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (links above.)    You won’t be disappointed!!!