I’ve been “gone” a long time, and when the children kept asking about another post, I knew it was time to get back at it. I’ve been getting in hot water with some of the rest of you too! This unplanned “silence” happened as we spent time digging into sustainable agriculture and a few other new “loves.” I can’t write blogposts WITH the children, so it has fallen farther down the priority list. But they like seeing our journey documented and will hopefully enjoy looking back on it after they are grown. And yes, I know you have been waiting for this update a loooong time!
How exciting to see the herb garden planted last spring brighten with new and maturing growth. In central Florida we supposedly don’t experience four seasons, but living closer to the land we see definite differences in plant and animal life never noticed before. This winter we enjoyed herbal teas of mints and stevia from cuttings dried during last summer’s vibrant growing season. Now lemon grass and mints have sprung back to life and stevia seedlings fill in between mature flowering ones. Lavender is flowering beautifully, waiting to be used in salves and other applications. Oregano is doing great, but we miss opal basil and thyme lost in heavy rains last September.
Sustained freezes this last winter killed some tropicals, but our moringa and most other perennial vegetables were protected with fire barrels, frost covers and candles. We couldn’t save most of the volunteer papaya trees that shot up in late summer. Some were 12 feet tall with lots of fruit, but it was no use. After a losing battle the gardens looked like a plant graveyard. This summer we will start more in the greenhouse where they will be protected next winter.
There are at least 10 pineapples growing on the plants we started from pineapple tops in the summer of 2012. Now they are large and thriving, and we hardly did anything but stick them in the ground and water them occasionally.
The 12 varieties of clumping bamboo planted early last fall are thriving in spite of being decimated by escaping goats a few times. And 18 of the 22 olive trees planted last fall are thriving. Some were lost by digging armadillos which we have yet to outsmart (oh dear, I just learned we’ve lost a few more that were uprooted by armadillos and died with the high temps and no rain).
We have new slips of last year’s Okinawa sweet potatoes growing, and hope to do a better job this year of harvesting at the appropriate time. Last year was our first with sweet potatoes and we didn’t harvest till they were HUGE and ugly! The biggest one was just under 10 pounds! It contributed to three meals for our family of eight, and although it was difficult to clean and cut up because of its size, it tasted very good.
Last spring’s sugarcane planting was harvested early this year, and we had a wonderful time grinding it the old fashioned way with our neighbor who has been raising sugarcane for years. It was an educational experience and we made new friends as we helped harvest his larger plots of cane by hand just before a big freeze. Now we’ve expanded our sugarcane plot by more than double with cuttings from last year’s crop.
We put down several more huge loads of mulch from our tree trimming friend as weed barrier, moisture retainer, and soil feeder, expanding our perennial and annual growing areas. Often we put down cardboard first. The difference between mulched and non-mulched areas is quite obvious.
There are some “weeds” we welcome however, such as clover, Spanish needle, sow thistle, young polk plants, violets, wood sorrel, and Florida dandelion. They become excellent nutrient dense fodder for Evenstar’s rabbits and the chickens, so we pull or trim weeds and greens as feed is needed.
Other welcome “weeds” are volunteers from our composted barnyard scrapings and seeds fallen from last year’s perennials or annuals, such as cranberry hibiscus, Malabar spinach, roselle, sunflowers, marigolds, squash, and tomatoes. We transplant them or, if they pop up in an appropriate spot, we thin them and nurture them as though they were planned. We’ve harvested a surprising amount of food from such volunteers with very little effort.
A beautiful new addition to the gardens are bamboo trellises constructed by Silver Oak and his father last fall when his parents visited. The bamboo used was cut from landscaping customers’ yards and part of a load we hauled away from someone on Craigslist wanting to get rid of it. These sturdy trellises add so much character. I am waiting to see how this year’s Cucuzzi edible gourds grow on the biggest one.
With lots of little peaches on our young peach trees, we’re enjoying our first homegrown peaches. They are incredibly tasty! A citrus tree planted in the fall of 2012 died so we replaced it with persimmon. We’ve also added Florida apples, a neem tree, starfruit, and sea grape. We side-dress them with decomposed manures from the barnyard, never using store-bought fertilizers.
An encouraging sign of homestead growth is the increase in birds, butterflies, and other creatures attracted. We now have cardinals, mockingbirds, ground doves, ringneck doves, finches, towhees, red-wing blackbirds, hummingbirds, wrens, woodpeckers, quail, and other birds. Hawks visit, but our watchful dogs are instantly alert when they appear. Butterflies often seen fluttering around include monarchs, zebra longwings, gulf fritillaries, sulfurs, swallowtails, and viceroys. These beneficial birds and insects, along with honeybees and ladybugs, frogs and lizards, help with pollination and insect control. Less noticeable are the abundant earthworms living in our once pure sugar sand, speaking of great changes in soil matter.
Next week I’ll update you about our attempts to raise chicks sustainably, new members of our homestead, our bio-shelter (greenhouse), the off-grid power supply and windmill pump, and new skills we’ve learned.
PS. Click here to see the list of “beyond organic” foods available through Full Circle Farm, and sign up for email notices of when and where in FL they will be delivered regularly.
Linked w/Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Barn Hop, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Frugally Sustainable, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, and Heritage Homesteading.