Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Fall is here!

“But now in September the garden has cooled, and with it my possessiveness. The sun warms my back instead of beating on my head … The harvest has dwindled, and I have grown apart from the intense midsummer relationship that brought it on.”
- Robert Finch

In Florida, the temperatures are just starting to drop below the 90 degree mark!  Fall brings a wonderful season for gardening and nature exploring here in our sunny state. 

The only color change we have is the  falling yellow blooms of our raintree, but my little gardeners love it (and so do a few insects).

Zinnia the Florist

We had to clear out some of our zinnia to make room for fall gardening in our little garden, so I put the little gardeners in charge of this task.

They used their own scissors to cut the fresh zinnia flowers, and then I pulled up the plants.  As I saved some of the zinnia seeds for next year, the little gardeners pretended to play florist with the cut zinnia and this is what they made…

I was surprised how well the zinnia lasted in water.  They become quite stinky as they sat in their “vases” but the flowers held their color and didn’t wilt for a few days.  I would recommend having fresh-cut zinnia on a back porch or somewhere outside because of the smell.

The little gardeners really enjoyed their pretend play in the garden.  They sold the vases to their dad and I, and we paid them in pretend garden money (leaves and acorns). 

Since they played so well, I was able to create this path around one side of a garden box.  First I weeded and transplanted some of the plants there were growing there. Then I simply used some broken stepping-stones and some dirty sandbox sand.  I will be able to reach the backside of the box much better this fall!

We still have a lot of work to do. We have been cutting back and pruning all of our tropical landscape. ;)  Florida summers grow thick in our backyard.  We have replenished our soil and re-potted some of our container garden plants. Most of the Fall’s seeds have hit the dirt and we will have more updates soon! 

Have a great weekend!


Surprise Swallowtails

Last year we started milkweed from seeds hoping they would be ready for the monarchs this summer. We were thrilled when the six plants attracted tons of beautiful monarchs throughout the summer months.  However, we were pleasantly surprised to have swallowtail butterflies join in the fun!

I had harvested more fennel then I could make my family eat, so I decided to let some bolt and seed.  Little did I know the fennel would attract a handful of unique butterflies.

Florida is home to several species of swallowtail. I was never able to get a clear photo of the adults, since it was the larvae that surprised us.  I would have to guess that they were the Palamedes Swallowtail from studying them while they were drinking the zinnia.

Just like the monarchs we found the tiniest swallowtail caterpillars eating the blooms.

Then they would eat and grow, eat and grow.

Then unlike the monarchs, the swallowtail would build their chrysalis on the host plant, or just a few feet away.  This made it easy for the little gardeners to find them and witness their metamorphosis. 

Here’s two hanging in their “J” formation.

They were quick to metaphorize, and we often found the empty chryralises.  One wasp ate a swallowtail that was emerging.

 The little gardeners were amazed with TWO different types of butterflies in our backyard showing us their life cycles.  What a great summer with nature!

It doesn’t take much to excite a Florida gardener about Fall gardening!  Temperature cools off to the lower 90s, a few tiny green acorns on the oaks start to appear, and the raintree blooms yellow in the backyard… AND I have the fall gardening seeds purchased and the fall garden planned. :)   This week we’re sowing seeds and working hard, so our next post I will have photos of all our gardening fun.

May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun
And find your shoulder to light on,
To bring you luck, happiness and riches
Today, tomorrow and beyond.
~Irish Blessing

Have a great weekend!


Our Wings, Worms, and Wonder Book Review!


Our Wings, Worms, and Wonder Book Review is on the front page of EcoEtsy today!

Be sure to check it out and comment on this great Florida gardening tool for children!

Wings, Worms, and Wonder: A guide for creatively integrating gardening and outdoor learning into children’s lives

by Kelly Johnson

Thank you, Bee

Monarch Mania

We were blessed this summer to witness the Monarch Butterfly life cycle. Our East Central Florida backyard filled with milkweed lured in dozens of Monarchs. They drank nectar and laid eggs. The eggs hatched and caterpillars devoured the milkweed…several times!

Monarch Egg, under side of leaf

First they are very small and like to eat the milkweed blooms.

Then they start eating…

and eating…until all the milkweed leaves were gone.

After getting about two inches in length they crawl away and build a chrysalis. 

Monarchs never build them on their host plants, and the chrysalis changes colors as the butterfly matures inside.

We watched wasp eat a lot of our monarch caterpillars.

We moved many caterpillars away from the vegetable garden to the other side of the house. For whatever reason the wasps never bothered the caterpillars eating milkweed on the northside of our home. On the south of the house, near the established garden, the wasp ruled.  

We watched monarchs die from starvation as well. My six milkweed plants couldn’t sustain the demand. 

When they do make it…it is such a beautiful sight to see a butterfly emerge in the early morning hours with wet wings! They would hang around and drink some nectar before flying away.

Our summer butterfly experiences taught us that the Monarchs butterflies are in trouble. They don’t have enough food!  Milkweed is the ONLY food the larvae will eat.  Humans have destroyed the milkweeds populations for their mass production agriculture, roadways, etc. For years milkweed has been sprayed as if it was a weed. 



If you live in the Monarchs migration path, you should plant some milkweed!

Please check out MonarchWatch.Org!

Happy (Wildlife) Gardening!


July Gardening Update

Hello! July is always our slowest vegetable gardening month.  If the humidity and heat won’t keep you out of the garden, the mosquitos and thunderstorms will.   Other than my herbs, fennel, sweet potatoes, and a few peppers, we don’t have much in the garden foodwise.

However, we have flowers! It seems like everything is in bloom right now. 


Even our Elephant Ear Taro is blooming…

At my oldest daughter’s request, we have been gardening for insects this summer. This month we turned our largest garden box into a flower garden.  The little gardeners have been watching butterflies lay eggs, wasps eat caterpillars and lady beetles eat aphids. Here’s what one wasp left of a Monarch caterpillar… 

Our little robin nest is no more.  After Mama robin feverishly built her nest, sat on her eggs, and starting feeding her three little babies… they disappeared.  It happened one night.  The nest was undisturbed. The babies were barely old enough to hold their heads up, so we know they didn’t fly away.  My best guess would be a snake. She had built the nest in an old tire  I was using as a hanging garden, and it was only a few feet off the ground.  We have seen several large snakes in the area this month.  We have since moved the hanging tire garden to higher ground, and are hoping she tries again next year.  On the left below is Mama sitting on her eggs.  On the right below is the babies.


The most exciting thing in garden this month is the Monarch butterflies & caterpillars.  The Monarch caterpillars, who only eat milkweed are starving!  With milkweed populations depleted across the states, Monarch butterflies swarm milkweed plants to lay their eggs.  We started milkweed seeds back in the spring and have six plants. They have been eaten to the ground twice. There isn’t enough food for all the eggs that are laid on our plants. The positive note, the little gardeners have had a fabulous nature lesson the Monarchs and their life cycle this summer. We have seen eggs hatch before our eyes, caterpillars grow to two inches in size, and then disappear to make their chrysalis. We have found some of the chrysalis and are now patiently waiting to see Monarch butterflies emerge.  I will write a detailed post on our Monarch adventures soon! 

We were also published on EcoEtsy this month discussing Gardening for Insects.  Check it out for helpful info on growing gardens for bees and butterflies!

At the beginning of the summer we added solar lights in the front yard.  I can’t believe we waited so long.  We always come home to a light on!  I want more for the backyard now. 

Keep cool and enjoy the rest of your July!


Useful Websites for Florida Gardeners

These are my current Top 10 Florida Gardening Websites. Sites that I have found useful and informative, no other promotion or relationship is involved in these suggestions.  Most are Florida specific but their information can be applied to much of the southern United States, and much of it applies to all of our backyard gardens.

1. University of Florida IFAS Extension: EDIS is my FAVORITE site!!! EDIS is the Electronic Data Information Source of UF/IFAS Extension, and contains a large collection of information on topics relevant to all Florida living!

2. Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants. Great way to research.

3. Florida Association of Native Nurseries. Love the design of this site.

4. Florida Trees. Check this site out before purchasing any trees.

5. Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. The council supports the management of invasive exotic plants by providing an online forum for scientific, educational and technical information.

6. I’m not crazy about this website’s layout and ads, but is one of the best places to collectively research u-pick farms and farmers markets in your area.

7. Waterwise Landscaping  by St John’s Water Management District. This site is full of data on how to use water carefully, the quality of our surface water, our aquifer and much more.

8.  Florida Wildflower Foundation. You may think of the license plate, but this a great resource. We love the “What’s in Bloom” section of the site, where you can discover what is currently blooming around the state.

9. Wildlife Foundation of Florida.  This is a great website for young gardeners.

10. Pinterest – really? yes.  It has great collections of gardening ideas by some experienced gardeners. Check out some of these boards for ideas on sustainable garden design, container gardening ideas, and more outdoor living spaces:

Authentic Haven Natural Brew is a soil guru that has great rustic taste.

Follow’s boards. Bren does a fabulous job with #gardenchat and has collected an array of ideas.

Follow anyone of Karen Sloan’s gardening boards for some beautiful ideas!

Organically Grown by Upcyclers is a fun collection of ways to upcycle things into your garden.

And here’s our collection on Pinterest: Backyard FL Gardening.

Happy Gardening!

Thanks, Bee

Mama Bird Update (and other garden happenings)!

We are so proud of our little mama robin!  She has been busy all month making her nest in our upcycled tire garden, and now she is sitting on  her eggs. I sure hope my girls get to see the babies.  Can you see her hiding in there? :)

Florida’s afternoon thunderstorms have become regular again, so we have been perfecting our terrarium making skills. After a few failures and a lot of experimenting I feel comfortable enough to post a how-to. Look for it coming soon!

We were also published on the front page of EcoEtsy today, under their {Food & Gardening} section!  Check out our article  for some great ideas to get your kids outside and loving nature this summer!

Happy Summer!

Butterfly Release

We released five beautiful Painted Lady butterflies last weekend. My little gardeners (six and two years) were SO excited!  Two of  the five butterflies stayed around our Lantana after they were released.  The others flew right off, but the two that stayed for about 15 minutes sipping on the nectar made this year’s experience really neat.

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Ladybugs on Easter Sunday

For my daughter’s sixth birthday we had a little party, and one of the presents was Pink Spotted Ladybug larvae (coleomegilla maculata)!  Our oldest LOVES raising and releasing insects!  After a week or two of observing their life cycle, we released our ladybugs on Easter Sunday.

Ten little ladybugs arrived in their larva state. They turned yellow in their pupa stage, and then went still as they became adults.  One didn’t make it and one was released a few days after the others.  My oldest enjoyed giving them water and soaked raisins as they molted and became adults.

Things we learned during this experience: 

They really aren’t ladybugs, they are called ladybird beetles.

They will eat aphids, mites, and small caterpillars.

They can be found on the map from South Canada to South America.

They can be white, yellow, pink, orange, red and black.

And some species can have no spots!

It was better to release our ladybugs in the morning time, so after observing and feeding them for a week, we released them in the garden.   My oldest decided to share the experience with her two year old sister, and together they released the ladybugs in my two year’s old garden box. 

The girls ran back and forth to the garden all day and would find one or two ladybugs still crawling all around.   Our Ladybug Land is all washed and cleaned and ready to raise some more.

Happy Gardening!



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