Frogs, Toads, and Spiders in My Garden

I love frogs. I find their big eyes, bubble tipped fingers, and propensity for jumping on your face very charming. When I moved into my home last summer, I noticed a family of Cuban tree frogs living on our avocado tree. Every day, I’d look closely at the avocado tree and, more often than not, I’d find at least one of the little tree frogs. Then, when fall came rolling in, the frogs disappeared. Now, with the wet and rainy season upon us. we’re seeing the Cuban tree frog again! This time, the frogs are much bigger and enjoy climbing on our windows at night. We’ve spotted them twice, caught them, and brought them inside to show Dylan and Stella. I like to think they are the same family of frogs, returning to their favorite home in warmer weather.

Now, lets talk about toads. Toads, are big, warty, and look down right mean. When we first moved into our new home, we noticed toads right away. Big, scary toads hiding under the rocks, beneath the long patches of grass, in flower pots, just anywhere where they could stay wet. I warned my son about the toad’s defense of secreting poisonous liquid from it’s skin to poison predators so now, naturally, he’s terrified of them.

By the way, did you know that toads are actually frogs?! They’re just a different type of frog. I was researching toads and how to encourage toads in your garden (while keeping them far away from your pets and children) when I stumbled upon that little juicy tidbit.

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I’ve never seen so many types of spiders in one place as I’ve encountered in my garden. I see spiny orb weavers, wolf spiders, little orange spiders, these cool metallic spiders, really weird, sea star looking spiders, and more. I’m kind of fearfully fascinated by spiders. I like them, I enjoy watching as they spin their webs in the early evening hours, I always check out their webs to see what they’re having for dinner, but I don’t want to touch them or get too close.

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Whatever I may feel about the above mentioned creatures, I know that seeing them in my garden means that I’m doing something right. Finding frogs, toads, and spiders in your back yard is a good sign that you have a thriving ecosystem. It means that there are plenty of spaces for these creatures to set up camp, there is a steady stream of food for them to eat, and that you have a good, healthy environment. The biggest benefit of having frogs, toads, and spiders in your garden is that they eat all sorts of bugs that would otherwise be eating your plants or biting you. When you practice organic gardening, it’s hard to find ways to keep the bugs off of your plants. Having frogs, toads, and spiders in your garden is actually the most natural pest control out there.

Now, what if you don’t see these guys in your garden and want to attract them?

From my experience, the best way to attract these creatures is to create a wild garden with many nooks and crevices for these creatures to use. Ever since we moved to our home last June, we’ve been working on our garden. When we first moved in, the yard was a flat piece of lawn. There were no plants…not even one. It was a blank canvas for us. So, we sat down with a sheet of paper and a pencil and drew what we imagined to be our dream garden and, little by little, we have been bringing that dream to life. Now, when we go outside and see so many beautifully healthy plants, so much complexity and so much life, we marvel at the natural beauty.

Another piece of advice that helps keep creatures in your garden is that you don’t manicure your yard too much. A wild garden is just what frogs, toads, and spiders are attracted to. They’ll have plenty of spaces to hide and plenty of food to eat. So, in our backyard, we let our porter weed grow out of control for a while, we leave long grass to shade toads for as long as my husband can stand it, we let our vines grow wild, and we have a wide variety of plants all around. I think it’s that simple…add several plants to your yard, create nooks for creatures to use, and let your yard grow a little wild, and the creatures will deem your space the perfect environment.

DIY – Sweet Potato Slips

I never knew that sweet potatoes came from slips. Slips, being the little shoots that grow off of a sweet potato, is the way to grow new sweet potatoes. I don’t know what I thought before…maybe there was some type of sweet potato seed? I mean, how did sweet potatoes come to be anyway? I’m sure there is a seed somewhere in that equation.  Anyway, when I decided to dedicate one of my garden boxes to the sweet potato, I researched and learned a lot. Creating slips is like a beautiful science experiment. When I started doing it on my own, I knew I wanted to share it on my blog because it’s so interesting and easy.

So, there are two ways to make slips: the first is to take one sweet potato, place two tooth picks near the top end of that sweet potato, and place the sweet potato in a mason jar that is about 1/3 filled with water. You keep it on your window sill and change out the water every few days. In a few weeks, when you see many medium-sized leaves on your slips, you can just pick them off and plant them.

Here is a picture of the one I have on my windowsill. This was taken about a week ago…

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And here is that same sweet potato today…

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I honestly think it looks so pretty that I just might keep it there as a decorative piece.

The next way (and much easier way) is to take one sweet potato and put it in the soil. I have an earth box filled with soil that I placed it in. This works the same as the previous way, just pick the slips off when they look sturdy enough and plant them. For sure, this way is the faster route to growing sweet potato slips. The potato thrives off of the nutrients in the soil as well as the warmth of the sunlight.

Here is a picture of a sweet potato that I planted directly in my garden bed.

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I actually had already pulled slips off of that sweet potato and planted them in the garden bed. That’s how much faster it is to create slips through this method.

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So, that’s all it takes to make sweet potato slips. It’s that easy. And, you know what else?   The sweet potato is one of the few plants that is recommended to be started from February to June. It’s the novice gardener’s dream ❤

 

 

Edible plants to grow in South Florida…

It’s spring time. The weather is getting warmer, I’m seeing unusual birds and bugs in my backyard, and there is new growth everywhere. What a perfect time to concentrate on gardening!

Living in South Florida, I have many advantages when it comes to backyard gardening. Perhaps the biggest advantage, is that Floridians are able to grow an abundance of fruit sand vegetables all year round. Now, just because we can grow all year round, does not mean that our gardens sustain themselves. Many edibles can attract a variety of destructive bugs and diseases. For example, I recently planted Brussels sprouts and, within weeks, they were covered in aphids. I also tried my hand at planting lettuce and kale which were promptly taken over by cabbage worms. These issues do have solutions but, for a notice gardener like myself, there are many easier edible plants to grow.

Luckily, I have spent the last few weeks researching hardy plants as part of my work at school. So much of what I do at work translates to my home life. That is the best feeling…when work inspires your home life and when your home life inspires your work. Anyway, back to the research, there are plenty of edible plants you can grow at home with little or no inconvenience to yourself. I’ve put together a little list of the plants that I’ve been able to grow in my small backyard as both a way to share what I’ve learned with others and also to remind myself of what has worked in my garden in the past.

Bell Peppers – I’ve been growing bell peppers in my garden with no problem. I’ve seen a few bugs on my pepper plants but they’ve never been overrun with bugs and they always look happy and healthy. I’ve transplanted them twice and, while they look a little frazzled each time I do it, they recover quickly and effortlessly. I’ve picked and eaten several peppers and they do taste delicious.

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Swiss Chard – Swiss chard was so easy to grow and looked so beautiful as it grew. I didn’t encounter any bugs and the plants always looked great. My only problem with swiss chard is the bitter taste. Next time I grow this one I plan to try to figure out a recipe where I can eat a lot of this vitamin-rich plant while not tasting the bitter flavor.

Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, Sage, and Mint – These are so easy to grow! They just need sunlight and water. I water them daily and they look great. The dill and cilantro I have growing in the same bed, on the other hand, seem a bit more temperamental but they are alive.

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Everglades Tomato – These are a little more exotic but I found them at Galloway Nursery. They are supposed to be a famously easy to grow plant but I’ve had some trouble growing them at home. I think it may be because I planted them in a shady spot. They seem to prefer full sun. At school, however, these little plants are thriving. I don’t know if it’s the sunny space they are growing in or the devotion of the students but they are growing really well and producing tons of delicious marble-sized tomatoes.

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Mulberry Tree – I had never encountered a mulberry tree until I started with the school I am a part of. This tree can produce a lot of mulberries and is a highly adaptable plant. I have a young one in my garden that is constantly making mulberries, but not as fast as my son and daughter can eat them. I have seen some scales on my mulberry tree but only very few and the tree hasn’t been impacted by the scales. I just pick them off when I see them.

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Banana Tree – Banana trees are pretty easy to grow. They just need a lot of water but, to me, that’s not a big deal.

Carrie Mango Tree – I really love mangoes. They are so tender, sweet, and delicious. It’s no wonder why the mango tree is the first I purchased when I moved into my home. I picked a more mature one from my local nursery which cost me about $150. Now, 8 months later, I have over 25 mangoes hanging off my tree!

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Simmons Avocado Tree – One of my favorite things to eat is white rice, sliced avocado, soy sauce, and sesame seeds on top. It’s kind of like a very easy sushi roll. With that in mind, I had to have an avocado tree. I purchased my tree for about $100. I picked my tree in particular because it already had 2 avocados on it. Now, 8 months later, there are another 2 avocados growing on this tree. They are very small and very cool to look at.

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Those are the plants I have growing in my garden right now (or have grown successfully in the past). I have just planted three young Roma tomato plants, 3 cherry tomato plants, several sweet potato slips, as well as spinach, green beans, purple tomatillo, green onions, and yellow onions from seeds. In a few months, I’ll write another post on how those plants faired. Wish me luck!

 

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.

 

 

Ode to Our City: Deering Estate

This morning we decided to go to Deering Estate. It was a last minute decision based on our mission to make the most of every weekend. I immediately wondered if we would see manatees there. I had seen manatees swimming through the bay once or twice before and, since my son is studying the migration of manatees in his class, I hoped we would see them. We raced to the bay to find out. Right away, we spotted several large silhouettes in the water. It turned out to be a group of manatees! We sat for quite a while as we watched them swim around. It felt like such a special experience.

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After that spectacular experience, we spent the rest of the time joyfully experiencing the estate. These types of adventures, where I am immersed in natural beauty and profound wonder, make me feel inspired. Today I felt infinitely happy and a bit nostalgic because I realized that, before we had children, Shaun and I used to spend all our free time walking through trails, kayaking, and exploring our beaches. This is our new mission, to spend as much time as we can experiencing the natural wonders of our city, with our children by our side…sharing these special experiences with them ❤

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The Power of Project Work: Researching Sharks With Middle School Students

I feel so grateful to spend my days engaged in meaningful work with children. It really gives me a sense of purpose.  I constantly feel this profound happiness in knowing that I am part of a school that really values children and encourages them to find their unique strengths, whatever they may be. The school that I am a part of sees learning as a collaborative endeavor. Learning is a lifelong process of discovery, reflection, and rediscovery. What an inspiring way to spend your days as a student. I am equally as inspired. Every day I wake up anticipating what new things I might discover. What I might discover about the unique learning process of each child, what I might discover about myself, and what I might discover about life. This is a school I dreamed I could be a part of as a child. This is a school I am elated to have my children be a part of. I am so grateful to my boss (and close friend) for envisioning this school. She is at the heart of real change. Those of us helping to bring her vision to life are like activists for a special cause. In my opinion, we are helping to make the world a better, more authentic, more beautiful place.

Last Thursday, I spent the entire day engaged in the type work that makes me excited to get up each morning. It was more than a field trip…my co-worker (and good friend) called it an expedition and that’s just what it seemed like. It was definitely one of those memorable experiences that birthed so many new learning opportunities. I found this experience (as well as the context that led to it) so powerful that I thought I’d share about it.

As part of our school-wide research of migration, the middle school students at my school are researching the migration of sharks. A few months ago, they connected with a local scientist who was kind enough to mentor them. She sent them a relevant article to dissect, they wrote her essays detailing their thoughts on the article, and they engaged in a productive Skype session with her where they asked her many meaningful questions relevant to their research.

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She then connected them with a team of scientists who regularly go out to sea to tag sharks. The scientists were eager to help the children research further. They offered the children a great rate (only covering the cost of the boat) but it was still more than we’d ever collected for a field trip. We were worried that we might not come up with the funds in time. Through constant collaboration with our school family and a lot of hard work, the children fundraised over $700 to offset the cost of this special research expedition.

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Last week, we set off with the team of local scientists to study sharks. I spent much of the trip in awe of this opportunity. I watched as the children engaged in meaningful conversations with community members. I watched as the children worked together (and worked really hard) to bait and set out lines tied to 50 pound weights. I watched them anticipate the sharks they might encounter. I watched as they pulled in what seemed like about 20 lines. Many of the times they pulled in empty hooks but they did not falter. I mean, an empty hook is just as important to their research as pulling in a shark.  So many empty hooks signify how difficult it is to pull in a shark. It means that scientists must be resilient, determined, and optimistic. Throughout the course of the day they did pull in three sharks. The joy in their faces proved that hard work pays off. Eagerly, the children worked with the scientists to measure, tag, and collect samples of each shark. Data that is invaluable as it will help shape what we understand about sharks in the future. We all knew that this was a very special day. It was an authentic day filled with joy and discovery. A day we will never forget.

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Stella Explores Edible Paint

I am constantly on Pinterest searching for interesting sensory experiences suitable for infants. I do this not only for my 6 month old (Stella) but also as a way to find ideas for the Baby Nido class at my school. One idea I really loved was edible paint consisting of only two ingredients: yogurt and food coloring. I decided to prepare some on this beautiful gloomy morning for my daughter, Stella.

I mixed half a cup of organic plain yogurt with three drops of food coloring in a small bowl.  I did this three times to create three colors for Stella to explore. Then, I placed a blanket outside with Stella’s Boppy underneath to help support her in sitting position and I placed Stella on the blanket. Stella gets so excited when she is exposed to something new that she hardly contains herself. She immediately pushed her body towards the blue shade of yogurt paint and picked it up .

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She put the bowl of blue paint down and thought for a moment.

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She reached for the yellow paint, pushing the blue paint out of the way.

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She picked up the yellow bowl of paint and mouthed the side…her first taste of the yogurt.

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I think she liked it…

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Then, she noticed the puddle of yogurt paint that had gathered by her feet. She rubbed it with her hand for a moment before she decided to explore the purple paint.

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She brought the bowl of purple paint to her mouth. In doing so, the purple paint dripped all over her foot. She noticed the purple paint on her foot and began to rub it with her hands.

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Then, she positioned herself so that she could see the paint on the blanket.

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She sat for a minute, touching the paint on the blanket.

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Then, she sat up and wondered what to do next.

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She stacked the bowls of paint on top of one another and then began to show an interest in the leaves that had fallen near the blanket.

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This experience lasted about 15 minutes which is a great length of time for an infant. Stella was engaged throughout the entire experience. She was quiet, concentrated, and content. Not once did she complain or seem to want the experience to end. When babies first interact with the world, they don’t have words to describe what they encounter, but they do absorb information through their senses. This is why sensory experiences are great for infants. A few benefits of sensory experiences are that they can be therapeutic, they can improve motor skills, they can raise awareness of how the world works, and they can contribute to language acquisition, all while being a lot of fun!

 

 

 

Stella’s Experience in the Baby Nido Class

Stella takes part in so many wonderful experiences while in class at school. She has two wonderful teachers named Ms. Michelle and Ms. Maria . They are dedicated, nurturing, and seem to really enjoy watching as the children explore many new and interesting materials. I, as atelierista, plan with one of her teachers every week. Ms. Michelle and I work closely together to plan special experiences, reflect upon the experiences that have gone on in the classroom, and discuss ideas for the future. Over the past few weeks, Stella has taken part in several amazing experiences. She absolutely loves every new encounter she has. Whenever her teachers place her near a new material, she smiles, moves her arms and legs in excitement, and screams with joy. It’s really special to watch…

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Ms. Michelle and Stella during one special experience.
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Stella explores a special block of ice.

The block of ice is super easy to create. You just take a wipe container, fill it 1/2 way with water, add plants to it, and freeze it.

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Stella explores a sensory bag.

The sensory bag is also really easy to create. You just place oil and water along with a few drops of watercolor in a ziplock bag. You can also duct tape the ziplock  bag to a surface so that it stays stable during the exploration if you’d like.

Light and Shadows

My son has always been interested in shadows. He always notices his own shadow and the shadows of other objects.  On Saturday night, after his bath, he ran over to his bed and began jumping on it. Then, he noticed his shadow. He jumped and danced for his shadow when he noticed that there were two of them! One shadow on one wall and another on the other wall. He held two fingers up while he jumped and danced in excitement. How cool is that for a 3 year old? I mean, I thought it was so cool and I’m 31!

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I was so excited about this experience that I decided to provoke Dylan with something extra. I brought in a slinky. A slinky’s shadow would be spectacular, wouldn’t it? I gave it to my son and he looked at me and smiled. Then, he held it in front of the wall to see if a slinky could have a shadow. It did. He moved it around, jumping along with it, making the slinky dance around. It was wonderful to watch.

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If you think about it, shadows are magical. They can appear at any time of the day and, to a child, it is usually an unexpected surprise. Then, once the shadow reveals itself, one is left with many questions. Where did this shadow come from? Why can it change size? Why are some shadows dark while others are light? How is it able to follow my movements? Saturday’s experience made me think of Peter Pan. Wouldn’t it be amazing if your shadow suddenly had it’s own ideas? I wish!

The Joy in Discovery…

Today, while I was making lunch, my son was exploring a bucket of water. I had given him these squeezable fish so that he could squeeze them, collect water inside the fish, and squeeze again to release the water. He loved that!

Then, he said “Mama, yook (look)!”

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There was something “fluttering” on the ceiling. He didn’t know where this came from. He looked into the bucket, then at the ceiling, and then outside. I asked him what it is and he said “Buh-ah-fwies (butterflies)”. What an incredible connection. The reflection of the water from the bucket appeared to be fluttering, perhaps two fluttering objects. Dylan thought about butterflies.

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He looked outside and pointed to something. Was he thinking the butterflies outside were making the reflection?

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Then, he looked into the bucket again and moved the fish around. He lifted one of the fish and squeeze the water into the bucket. He said something along the lines of “Mama, where butterfly go?” He looked back into the bucket and moved the water around. The reflection disappeared. In that moment, he realized the bucket was somehow responsible.

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This was a special (and unexpected) experience. It gives new meaning to “magic in the mundane”. Dylan was just playing with a set of plastic fish and a bucket filled with water. Mind you, that experience alone was something special to Dylan. Then, something unexpected happened. A unique fluttering object appeared on the ceiling. So many thoughts must have occurred in Dylan’s mind. What is this? Where did it come from? Can I touch it? Where will it go?

These types of explorations, where children question the possibility of something, are so essential. Dylan was wondering where this fluttering object came from and if it was even possible that something like that could occur. He was problem solving by trying to determine what the fluttering object was, what could have caused it, and where it went.

Lights and shadows, in particular, are wonderful provocations for children. Lights and shadows are magical, they, like the wind, are difficult to  explain. To a child, it is a magical occurrence. To an adult, it can be just as magical. When something is not so easily defined, it makes the process of wondering come natural. When Dylan encountered the fluttering objects, I too shared a sense of wonder with my son. That alone is something special, the process of wondering together.