Harvesting Our Sweet Potatoes

We planted our sweet potato slips in mid-April. Since then, these beautiful leafy green plants with delicious orange tubers have made a beautiful planting bed specimen. Big, leafy and very healthy looking, our sweet potato vines were almost too pretty to harvest…almost. Although I hesitated to harvest them because they helped make our backyard look green and magical, I had to think of the actual reason I planted them in the first place…food! I’ve been dreaming of the day when I could harvest my own sweet potatoes since the day I watched a video of it being done on theartofdoingstuff.com (a very informative and entertaining website). So, perhaps a bit on the early side, I decided to harvest my 3 month old sweet potatoes.

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It was incredibly delightful to dig up the tubers. I’d pull up the vine holding the sweet potatoes and yank out 5 or 6 at a time. They were orange, covered in soil, of various shapes and sizes, and made me oh so happy to see. Then, with my hands, I’d feel around underneath the soil for more sweet potatoes and, every time I’d find a new random drifter, I’d feel the joy and surprise that made me fall in love with gardening in the first place.

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After all was said and done, we ended up with about 10 pounds of sweet potatoes!

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After we harvested, I made sure to plant some of the rooting vines as well as to sacrifice one sweet potato for creating a new set of slips. I love how gardening exposes us to the endless cycles that create and sustain life ❤

 

Garden Update – July 2018

This month the garden seems to be thriving. Our watermelon vine is beginning to produce beautifully tiny watermelon, our Japanese eggplant plant is growing about 10 luscious eggplants, and our sweet potatoes are about ready to harvest.

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The tendrils on our watermelon vine act like hands…constantly reaching for support.

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Our peppers are just beginning to grow and our radishes look ready to harvest.

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We’ve been picking the mangoes off of our mango tree and  letting them sit on the counter to ripen. We had our first home-grown mango last weekend and it was so buttery and meaty…very delicious. I picked 6 more last Saturday and left them on the counter…we’ll be enjoying lots of home-grown mango next weekend.

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Our starfruit tree has millions of pretty pink flowers. We’re hoping that soon we’ll have many delicious star fruit to eat.

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A rare finding on our star fruit tree: a spider guarding its prey.

Shaun has been working hard to prepare a new garden space: our unsightly and very narrow side yard. We brainstormed ideas for this space for months and finally decided on creating a banana patch. Our side yard only gets about an hour or two of direct sunlight a day. This space is usually shaded and a little humid. It’s actually a great place to grow bananas! Last Saturday, we headed over to Going Bananas in Homestead and purchased several different varieties of banana plants. What a lovely idea. The transformation of what once was the “junk alley” into a functional space where we can grow more food! Shaun is placing a series of stepping stones in that space currently. He has to go through the taxing process of digging each one into the ground, leveling each tile with gravel and sand, and then working soil around each stone. It’s a big undertaking…thank goodness he loves to work with his hands! Bonus: he’s a craftsman and loves to do things extremely well…my dream guy!

Here is a little look at our work in progress…

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After Shaun digs in each stone, we’ll add some whimsical ground cover (sweet potato vine and mimosa), some mint for in between the stones, some mulch, and maybe a large easel and chalkboard to inspire the children to use this space. Oh, and we’re going to add a pergola arch at the entrance of the alley along with a little “secret garden door”. I cannot wait until this little space comes to life!

 

Starting a Tiny Food Forest in South Florida

It’s been a while since my last post. When I started blogging again, I intended on creating one post a week as a way to document my life, growth, and creativity. It seemed easy enough but, as I dug deeper into the world of gardening, as each weekend became consumed by this ever-growing and exciting interest, I felt myself falling deeper into this beautiful rabbit hole. Every free moment was a chance to research, to better understand the heart of gardening in South Florida. I felt captivated by the idea of creating more than just a vegetable garden…I wanted to create an edible yard.

Food forest was a term I first heard of when my boss excitedly mentioned it to me. She dreams of transforming the wilderness that envelops our school into a forest filled with delicious food. What a beautiful concept. I loved the idea from the start but, like most people, I was unsure of what, exactly constituted a food forest. At first, I thought a food forest meant growing fruits and vegetables neatly arranged in earth boxes and adding some fruit trees nearby but that’s not it at all. A food forest is, as it’s name implies, a lush, wild forest where nearly everything is edible. The aim of a food forest is to imitate what goes on in a natural forest but to revolve those principles around food bearing plants. So, there are several plants of varying heights (mostly fruit trees, perennial shrubs, herbs, and ground covers like sweet potato) that are planted in such a way that they create layers like you find in a forest.

So, with a better understanding of what constitutes a food forest and a growing love for this beautiful, natural philosophy, I endeavored to create my own tiny food forest in the corner of our small backyard. When researching tiny food forests in South Florida, I couldn’t really find many videos showcasing a food forest as small as ours. So, with no clear model to emulate, I researched food forests in South Florida, learned about growing foods better adapted to our South Florida climate, purchased many plants from special nurseries, and then began to arrange my new plants and trees in a manner that is aesthetically pleasing but also fulfills the components of a food forest. No easy task but fun and exciting nonetheless.

After many hours of research, endless visits to local nurseries, and hours and hours of hard labor and with no clear end in sight, I wanted to capture our progress as a way to look back as well as a way to share our experience with others. I plan on documenting the progress of our food forest on the blog as it continues to change and grow so that we can track our progress and look back on all the work and dedication it took to create.

Here’s a look at our little work in progress…

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We still have to mulch it and set up a clear path but everything seems to be neatly placed and growing well. I long to see this space in a few months when everything has grown to fill the empty spaces…I love nothing more than a lush, green space.

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Our tiny food forest consists of a mango tree, a lychee tree, cranberry hibiscus plants,  many hardy herbs, Okinowa spinach, Brazilian spinach, a mulberry tree, a jaboticaba tree,  mimosa & comfrey (as nitrogen fixers), a canistel tree, lemongrass, a few banana plants, winged beans, a fig tree, and more. I think I counted about 45 plants in that tiny space. I’m sure it seems like we are growing too many plants but you’d be surprised how much can grow in a small space. Think of a forest and how everything grows on top on each other, now imagine if everything was edible. That’s what we’re doing.

Near our forest, we have earth boxes growing eggplant, watermelon, cucumber, sweet potato, leeks, peppers, malabar spinach, herbs, and radishes.

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We have two more fig trees, calamondin, and carrots all growing happily in pots.

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And we have a starfruit tree, a lemon guava tree, the praying hands banana plant, an avocado tree, a Jamaican cherry tree, and a persimmon tree growing in other areas in our backyard.

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Yes, we are obsessed with our garden at the moment. Gardening in this way, where you are growing your own food and watching the lives of amazing plants, is very fulfilling. We feel a profound sense of excitement and joy every morning when we wake up and check on our garden as well as every evening when we all gather in our garden, water the plants, and anticipate the bountiful harvests that we will soon have ❤

Artistry in everything…

Ever since I could remember, I have always endeavored to create. Busy hands, a calm mind, and profound focus is meditative to me. When you constantly have a rush of thoughts going on in your head you seek out something to take you away from that. Some form of expression where your mind suddenly becomes clear, even if only for a few moments, and where you forget yourself. Clay has always done that for me…taken me to a different place, a quiet place where nothing else matters.

Working with clay has always been part of how I defined myself. Clay, with it’s unlimited potential and tactile quality, has been my preferred outlet since I was in high school. I have spent countless hours locked away in my studio, working on some special sculpture. Sometimes, I would enter the studio without an idea of what to create but, as I manipulated the clay, something suddenly appeared. I would feel immense joy in that type of surprise. That has always been a magical process for me.

When I had my children, it became more difficult to set aside that time for myself. Between caring for them, tending to the house, and working, there didn’t seem to be much time for that. When I tried to make that time for myself, I just felt guilty and rushed and so nothing really meaningful came from it. I was increasingly becoming frustrated with what I felt was the loss of my creativity.

Recently, I asked an artist friend of mine if she had gone through the same issue when she had her children. She answered with a resounding yes. She advised me to keep my hands busy and my creativity alive with whatever I could achieve while with my children (clay is not so simple, you need hours alone with the medium to achieve anything worth while) and that, as they got older, the time would return. That really resonated with me. My yearning to create takes shape in many forms and whether I realize it or not, I am always creating. There is artistry in everything that is done well. So, with that inspiration, I decided to fully commit myself to something beautiful that I have been creating alongside my children and husband for months: our garden.

Over the past several months, we have been slowly building our outdoor space. When we moved into our new home, the backyard consisted of an empty canvas…just a space with manicured grass and a cobblestone deck. I drew up a plan for this space. Since then, we have been putting the pieces together, sometimes changing bits and pieces here and there, but mostly sticking to the plan. Lately, this space is starting to come to life. There is intention in nearly every corner and there is wonder everywhere. We have seen so many animals in our garden, all types of birds, butterflies, and garden creatures…a true indicator that we are doing something right. There is still a lot to do to fulfill our vision of the garden but it’s starting to take shape. The photos that I’ll post serve as a time marker for us…the beginning of our vision for this space. In a few months, there will be more of the lush green foliage that we all love so much.

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This garden brings us closer together. We are always outside, tending to our plants, playing together, having our family meals, and enjoying the beauty of this space. And, all while exploring our creativity.

 

 

Miami Beach in May

One of the things I love most about my city is the amazing beaches we share. Miami Beach, Crandon Park, and Hollywood Beach are our favorites but, if we want to make the drive, we always have Pompano Beach, West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Fort Lauderdale Beach and more. We are so lucky.  Last Sunday we spent the day at Miami Beach. I just loved soaking up the sun, enjoying the cool ocean water, and snorkeling in search of sea treasures. On that day, the water was absolutely beautiful. There were so many shades of blue in the ocean. From lightest aqua to turquoise to navy blue, it was an amazing sight. I immediately took Stella for a swim and within just a few moments, we found a small conch. I have never seen what a conch creature actually looks like until that day.

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Stella is an ocean girl, she loves to jump in the water, scoop up the sand, and try to mouth everything in sight.

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Dylan loves the to play in the sand, explore sea treasures, and enjoy the very shallow shore but, for some reason, he is not too keen on going in the water…maybe he’s afraid of sharks or maybe swimming lessons will make him more confident.

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I think the ocean has grown on Shaun over the years. Once upon a time he pretended to enjoy going to the beach for me. Then, he got comfortable and shared his secret of hating the sand and the heat. Now, after understanding how happy his family gets when at the beach, I think he is beginning to enjoy himself more.

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I can’t stop thinking about last Sunday at the beach…

The Beauty of Butterflies

Recently, I worked with the first/second grade class at my school on butterfly cards. This class has been studying butterflies for the past two years. They are very knowledgable and enthusiastic when it comes to butterflies. Working with them really inspired me.

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A few weeks ago, I began a butterfly garden of my own. I purchased several tropical milkweed plants, one beautiful balloon milkweed tree, a few porter weed plants, and a few pentas. Then, Shaun and I spent the weekend gardening. I’ve always loved working in the garden but often found it difficult to remember to water the plants daily. With the addition of several hungry caterpillars munching on my milkweed as well as constant visiting butterflies, I am now excited to water my plants, check on my caterpillars, and watch for butterflies. I also noticed that Dylan and Stella are just as excited so I purchased a hatchery and brought several caterpillars inside to observe. Each day, we check on our hatchery. Has one of the caterpillars spun their button of silk? Can we spot one pupating? Emerging from their chrysalis? The process of metamorphosis is enchanting. It is a magical process that is a thrill to watch.

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