Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Do we have Florida Native Milkweed?

In the fall, someone gave us a couple milkweed plants with monarch caterpillars already on them, so we planted these in our flower garden.  The caterpillars ended up eating every leaf on the plants and then disappeared.  I'm not sure if they were eaten by predators or the caterpillars just left to find a place to create their chrysalis.  Since then, the milkweed survived the winter and has grown back very strong.  Yellow blooms have filled our garden and now seed pods are hanging from the milkweed.  These are very healthy and pretty plants but I haven't seen a caterpillar since the fall.  Do we have the right milkweed species?

Which species of milkweed do we have?

Here are some pictures of the milkweed growing in our garden:

Older picture showing off the leaves

Yellowish orange blooms

Notice the seed pods

My first thought was that these plants were Asclepias tuberosa or commonly called butterfly milkweed, but after some research I found that the flowers and leaves were very different.

Then I saw a milkweed for sale at Lowes that looked very similar to what I have growing. Asclepias curassavica, or scarlet milkweed, which is native to South America but has become naturalized in Florida.  While looking up scarlet milkweed, most pictures show the flowers being a red color, but I have found out that there is a yellow flowering variety that looks very much like the type of milkweed I have growing.

Well, I found that the milkweed in my garden isn't a native and is in fact, Scarlet Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica).  These plants will still attract pollinators and look nice, so I plan on keeping them around, although I won't be worried if they are killed off by a frost.

While researching, I did find an excellent website by Sharon LaPlante called Milkweeds Native to Florida.  She lists 21 native milkweeds growing in Florida.  You can read her website here:   Milkweeds Native to Florida

Butterfly Heroes

About a month ago, Olivia submitted the picture below on the Butterfly Heroes website and we recently received a butterfly packet in the mail that included seeds for Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed)!!!  Now we can start growing our native milkweed!

She made the butterfly pledge!

This is only the beginning of growing different native milkweed species in my yard!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How to Blanch Yellow Squash

We are dealing with a good problem... too much squash!  It didn't start out this way though.  When I first started harvesting squash, the plants were growing small fruit and I found little pickleworms munching down on them.  We hadn't used any pesticides so I started researching many organic ways in case the pickleworms turned out to be a serious problem.   That's when the squash plants went into overdrive producing 2-4 healthy fruit daily.  We started eating squash with every meal, inviting relatives over, and giving some away.  Once our stash got up to around fourteen, I decided to try storing some by blanching and freezing so we can enjoy our home grown squash year round.

After some research, I decided to blanch the squash and freeze them in groups of 3-4 fruit, or roughly enough for a meal.  Be sure to clean the squash and begin the process.

Step 1:  Cut squash into 1/4 inch slices

One of my dad's custom knives (Brad Zinker)

Step 2:  Boil sliced squash in a large pot for 3 minutes.  

Step 3:  Remove squash from boiling water and put into ice water immediately.  This will drive down the temperature.  

Keep adding ice to keep the water cold.

Step 4:  Once the squash has cooled down, remove it from the ice water and package the squash in a freezer bag.

Date and label the bag.

I tried to get all the loose water and air out of the bags before sealing them and putting in the freezer.  After boiling, the squash will become soft but the flavor will be kept.

This night I blanched 14 squash, which came out to four 1-quart sized freezer bags.  Enough for 4 meals!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Squash and Sand


I learned a lot about plants this week.  Our early prolific yellow squash is finally ripening though I'm learning the hard way about pests.  Some of the squash is rotting from the flower end so while cutting them open I discovered pickleworms eating away.  I haven't used any pesticides so I'm not surprised about the pickleworms but I have been very impressed that the larger squash have been growing well without any problems.

Freezing some of the smaller squash that was ripening quickly.

Squash, pole beans, and sugar snap peas growing strong.

Tomatoes are growing slowly.  Red potatoes on the left have leaves that are starting to yellow so I'm thinking of digging them up.  I've also noticed that the sweet potatoes are starting to come back from last fall.


One of my favorite things to do is take cuttings and grow new plants.  I've been experimenting with rose cuttings since I was little and now I'm trying to take cuttings of everything that will grow.  Currently I have lots of Angel Trumpets (Brugmansia), Spiderwort, Crape Myrtle, and Firespike (Odontonema cuspidatum) taking root.  Some of these plants root very quickly while others take some time.  I'm real excited to see how well Crape Myrtles grow from cuttings.  Today I bought some silica sand (labeled as pool filter sand at Home Depot) to use as my new cutting soil.  I've read that silica sand is course and drains well which will help the cuttings take root better.

Angel Trumpets plants all started from cuttings and newly taken cuttings on the bottom left of the picture.  

These spiderwort cuttings were taken from a plant that fell over.  They have already rooted.

Here are the firespike cuttings all growing well.

Crape Myrtle cuttings


We decided to plant roses along our front walkway and under the bedroom windows so I've been thinking a lot about how we are going to do this.  First I need to finish pulling up the rest of the boxwood hedge and find some rose bushes decently priced.  I found a larger Peach Drift Rose at Walmart this week and will begin looking for some more.  I also came across a cheap Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) that we had fun planting in the front yard.  

Planting the new dogwood tree.  The John Deere is full of compost.  It's easy not having to drag a wheelbarrow around the yard!

Roses and hibiscus staring to bloom.

Took the family blueberry picking, it was a blast!