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!

 

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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