All posts by Dustytoes

About Dustytoes

I grew up in New England but spent most of my life living in central Florida and blog about seashells, beaches, gardening, boating, fishing, hiking, photography, PKD, and my work as a designer at Zazzle. I move around a lot and try to discover the best in all places I live. Life may be tough, but it's not boring.

tomato hornworm eating eggplant

Non-Producing Vegetable Plants Can Still Serve a Purpose

In the heat of the Florida summer months, I have done little gardening. But the plants I began growing in Spring, are continuing to grow. Even though I am not getting much, if any, produce from them, they serve a purpose. They can be food for worms; give bugs a place to crawl, which in turn feeds the birds, (mostly, I have cardinals); and provide a playground for the lizards.

The two eggplant plants I have in the garden have grown tall. They have continued to produce pretty purple flowers, but have never given me a single eggplant!  It’s either the poor soil, or the heat, or both.

Eggplant flower
Purple Flower of the Eggplant

The plants themselves are interesting with their big leaves. I have trouble tearing up and throwing out a perfectly healthy plant, even if it’s not giving me the food I’d hoped for.

I’m glad I left the eggplants growing, and continued to give them water, just because I couldn’t NOT do so.   I noticed missing leaves and found a big, juicy, tomato hornworm chowing down on the leaves. The hornworm can eat a tremendous amount, and it’s apparent they have arrived when you notice entire leaves missing on the tomato plants!  Stalks can become completely bare in a matter of a days time.

tomato hornworm eating eggplant
Tomato Hornworm on Eggplant

One summer I was visiting my sister in Massachusetts, and she said that something was eating her tomato leaves. Sure enough, there it was – a big green worm. So I pointed it out to her!  She was astonished, but hadn’t looked close enough to see the worm.

Tomato hornworms often show up near the end of summer – at least in the north, that was how it happened in my garden. The one eating my eggplant here in Florida was lucky. I did not care that he was destroying the plant, it was useless to me anyway.  He ate and ate and grew bigger over the course of about 2 days.

I find these pretty green worms quite interesting.  Often, a wasp of some kind lays it’s eggs on the worm, which kills it.  There were no eggs on this guy.  He was doing quite well for himself.

Then he was gone… eaten by a bird maybe? I don’t know. Most of the eggplant’s leaves had been eaten by then, and I felt like I had given him a meal at the very least.  If the worm lives, it becomes the Sphinx Moth.

Most gardeners don’t allow the hornworm to live… it is too detrimental to vegetable plants, like the tomato, eggplant, pepper, and potato plants, as you can see in my photo below!

Bare eggplant after tomato worm ate leaves
Bare eggplant after tomato worm ate the leaves

On to the parsley worms.

In the North, I always grew parsley, and it lasted well into the winter months. But eventually, it did die.  Deer used to come into my backyard and nose through the snow looking for greens to eat, and sure enough, they would find the parsley still going strong at the beginning of winter.

Since I’ve been in Florida – over a year now – the parsley I planted last summer is still growing fine! I use it daily in my omelets, salads, and other home-cooked food.

The parsley is planted in two separate containers, and I’ve noticed that both areas have parsley worms munching on the leaves.  They will turn into Black Swallowtail Butterflies. One has already made a cocoon.

So the plants that are simply growing for … what, fun? in my garden have served a useful purpose to help nature continue.  Whether the worms change into butterflies or are food for the birds, it’s all nature doing it’s thing.

parsley worms
Parsley Worms Become Black Swallowtail Butterflies

Read my page, with my photos, about the Swallowtail Butterflies that come from these worms.

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greenhouse Florida

A Trip to Pell’s Plant Nursery For Honey and Fruit

A few weeks ago I had to take my car to the dealership which was quite a drive. On the way home, I realized I would be passing near one of my old-time favorite spots in Florida: Pell’s Plant Nursery.

These photos were an afterthought, but I wanted to share the few I took.

If you are ever in the Osteen area check out this place. It is a Florida icon. The Pell family has been growing citrus for over 75 years.  (Their website: http://www.pellcitrus.com has Florida citrus shipping information.)

Pell's nursery
Pell’s Plant Nursery

For many years I lived very close to Pell’s, and now I don’t. It’s where I always bought my ornamental shrubs, flowers and trees, not to mention their fabulous and fresh Florida fruit. My landscape was full of plants purchased from this nursery.   My kids used to enjoy getting the free little cup of orange juice, which meant they would actually drink the jugs of fresh-squeezed juice I bought there!  You can’t find fresher juice, and boy is it good.

These knowledgable growers hand out good advice for growing anything tropical.   This is where I came to buy the new lemon tree and lime tree to put in my yard.

Pell's trees and tropical plants
Under cover with tropical plants at Pell’s

On this day, I was only looking – window shopping for plants to buy in the future – its been too hot to think about planting.  I bought some of their produce instead, but enjoyed my stroll around the greenhouse.

Each time I visit I also buy some Mosquito Lagoon honey. My honey used to come from the Jurss homestead, when I could pull up at the side of the road, drop money into a box and grab a jar.   That was in the old days.  People probably can’t be trusted to do that here now.

greenhouse Florida
Pell’s Greenhouse

I looked around and got some ideas about what I’d like to add to the yard once Fall arrives.  The crepe myrtle is something I have always loved, and it will probably be the first tree I buy.
Pell’s nursery is one of the few places I like to visit in Florida.  In fact, when I lived in New Hampshire I would accidentally call my favorite farm stand “Pell’s”.  (Actually it was Tenney’s.)

Then I drove home on those long, straight, monotonous Florida roadways.  I was so bored that I took a few photos with my phone.

straight road and blue sky
Heading home
colorful croton leaves

Pictures of Croton Leaves

The leaves of the croton are really stunning.  They are as pretty as any flower, and come in such an array of colors, that they can brighten any landscape, as long as it’s subtropical.

Crotons don’t handle cold well, with established, older plants handling it best.  I live in climate zone 9 and have this big croton plant in my yard.  I have no idea how long it’s been there, but I did not cover it at all last winter.

Then again, last winter in Florida was not all that cold.

colorful croton leaves
My croton is in a big pot with ferns and a red hibiscus bush… also a birdhouse is stuck within the branches.

Recently I went out in my yard and took some photos of the croton leaves and wanted to share them with you.

The croton is also easy to propagate.

colorful croton leaves
The color combinations are so beautiful
colorful croton leaves
Pink leaves… where else can you see this?
colorful croton leaves
The bright reds can become dark purple as the leaves age
colorful croton leaves
This croton has been growing for years, I imagine
colorful croton leaves
Even the yellow and green leaves are outstanding

For those of you who do not live in a warm climate, the croton can grow indoors. I’ve never done that, but you can search the internet for helpful advice on doing so.

summer garden raised bed

Building Good Soil in a Raised Garden Bed

pine wood raised bed
Raised Garden Bed

I was thrilled to see the raised garden bed my son had made. He wanted something to do, so he researched the “how to’s”, went and bought the wood and put the thing together. With his brother’s help, they carried it to the backyard and finished tightening the screws.

Step one on the road to Florida vegetable gardening was complete.
Now I just needed some dirt! But buying dirt doesn’t mean you will have the good soil needed to grown super veggies.

Most gardeners know that soil makes or breaks the growth of the plantings. Planting directly in the ground means there is at least something there to begin with, but starting with an empty box means building the good soil from scratch.

The Basics For Building Good Soil

Over the years this is what I use to create good, worm-loving dirt that gives a good yield of crops.  I’m no expert, so feel free to leave a comment with your recommendations.

1. Loam / soil / organic dirt
2. Compost – store bought and / or homemade
3. Organic Fertilizer
4. Bone Meal (for crop root development)

The location of this raised bed presented a problem when it came to filling it. My son has a truck and was happy to go pick up a load of loam / dirt, but getting it to the wooden box was not going to be easy.

First we filled the bottom of the box with leaves and grass collected in the lawn mower bag. Then I put my black fabric bags inside the bottomless box.  I also left a few pieces of cardboard in the bottom to help keep the weeds / grass from growing.

growing carrots and lettuce
Bags with carrots and lettuce

For now, I planted vegetables separately in each of the bags, and I ended up buying some new bags, so I could grow more.

Two bags had potatoes – the red ones gave me lots of little red potatoes, with tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and peas in the others.  When the plants had gone by and were no longer producing, I dumped them into the bed, plants and all.

screen-shot-2017-03-02-at-9-27-07-am
My Garden March 2nd

Between using the dirt in the black pots, and adding compost (store bought and home made), I can eventually fill the box with relatively good soil.

Creating good garden dirt is an ongoing process.   Banana peels, egg shells, and chopped vegetable scraps can be added directly to the dirt in the box.  Soil amendments must be continuously used to replenish the soil.

Hopefully, that will bring earthworms.  Soil can’t be called good, unless there is an abundance of worms!

It’s been 6 months since I began to fill my raised bed, and haven’t done much this summer except let the tomatoes, basil, eggplants, and peppers grow wild. The heat keeps me inside, but I do pick a small tomato or pepper every now and then.

The wood has faded to a weathered appearance, and slowly I will be raising the soil level as I empty more of my fabric bags.

summer garden raised bed
The Summer Garden Grows Wild
female cardinal
Female Cardinal, photo credit: Skeeze @ Pixabay

Cardinals come to the garden looking for bugs to eat, and they drink and bathe in my makeshift bird bath sitting on the corner. (I can’t get a good photo, so I used this one from Pixabay.)

Little lizards run along the edges and I see the occasional ladybug and butterfly on the plants.  Parsley worms have been found on the parsley.

raised garden bed building the soil
Once the weather cools off enough to work outside, I will dump all my fabric bags out into the box. I will add more grass clippings, along with organic fertilizer, bone meal, and cornmeal (supposedly it brings worms). In other words, I will work on building up the dirt to get it ready for winter planting.

I’ve found that the big wooden box is a good place to store my unused bags and pots for now.