Saturday, November 12, 2011

Biscuits, The Better Half of the South

I finally perfected what I think is the best biscuit recipe that not even Paula Deen could top.

So here's where you start, "git yarself......"

2 Cups of all purpose flour, although you can use bread, whole wheat, or whatever the hell you find suitable

2 and 1/2 a teaspoon of baking powder

1/2 a teaspoon of salt

6 tablespoons of butter (hell yes) and don't forget to melt it.

3/4 a cup of milk, (you can use almond or soy I found it doesn't matter, I don't use real whole milk because I don't know who would use cow juice in biscuits)

1/4 a cup of water

Now some people can use little fancy cookie cutters, but I prefer to use a cup that way it's about the size of a biscuit which is 2 and 1/2 by 2 and 1/2 inches.

If you want a Bojangles type biscuit roll the dough out to about 3/4 an inch or so (those of you who don't know Bojangles don't know life)

Whatever you do, don't roll the dough too thin, or else you'll end up with crackers and disappointed people.

Turn on that damn oven to 425 degrees and throw in the biscuits, leave them for about 14-15 minutes or at least until they look firm then take them out, let them cool, and enjoy. This batter only makes about 10 biscuits, reason being is because they don't last long, meaning they go stale after about a day.

                                                   "Well I'll be!!"

Kale A Time Reversing Vegtable?

Kale is a different species from Chinese kale and from collards, but the plants have several features in common. All have rather coarse and strongly flavoured leaves, and the stems are usually thick requiring more cooking time. Kale and cabbage are varieties of the same species and descended from the same wild ancestor, but kale is the more primitive of the two, like cabbage without a head.

Kale should be wrapped in a damp paper towel, placed in a plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator crisper. It should not be washed before storing since this may cause it to become limp. Kale can be kept in the refrigerator for several days, although it is best when eaten within one or two days after you receive it, since the longer it is stored, the more bitter its flavor becomes.
The Kailyard school of Scottish writers, which included J. M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan), consisted of authors who wrote about traditional rural Scottish life (kailyard = kale field) in the nineteenth century. Prior to that, such is the humble, but ubiquitous, origin of kale in human history that this hearty plant, referred to by one name or another, turns up in the recorded history of nearly every country of Europe and Asia.

As it turns out, our modern word 'kale' is a Scottish word derived from "coles" or 'caulis,' terms used by the Greeks and Romans in referring to the whole cabbage-like group of plants. For this family group the English language has no generic name. The French include them all under the term Chou and the Germans under Kohl.

Like broccoli, cauliflower and collards, kale is a descendent of the wild cabbage, a plant thought to have originated in Asia Minor and to have been brought to Europe around 600 B.C. by groups of Celtic wanderers. Curly kale played an important role in early European food culture, having been a significant crop during ancient Roman times and a popular vegetable eaten by peasants in the Middle Ages. Kale was brought to North America by English settlers in the 17th century.

One cup of kale contains 5 grams of fibre, 134 milligrams of calcium, and the full daily recommended allowance of vitamins A and C. Kale also contains beta-carotene, lateen, chlorophyll, indoles, sulforaphane and other powerful cancer fighters. Nutrients in kale are said to boost the immune system, reduce the risk of heart disease, and some research suggests that kale may help delay the onset of aging.

Unlike other greens that reduce in size up to eight times during cooking, kale only shrinks by half or a quarter. The older the leaf, the longer it will require cooking. Kale can be chopped and used raw in salads, cooked and added to rice or barley dishes, or served on its own as a side dish. The stalk and the leaf should be separated as each varies in its cooking times, with the stalks taking much longer than the leaf.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My Weekend At The Wildlife Rescue Coalition of North East Florida

This weekend I was bored so I figured I would volunteer at the local wildlife rehabilitation center. I really didn't know what to expect when I decided to volunteer, nor did I know what types of wildlife I would be encountering. But I set my qualms aside, put on my working jeans, and headed myself over to the clinic. Upon my arrival at eight in the morning I was greeted by a lady who goes by the name Miss Kim. She's one of those characters who obviously is selfless in every aspect, she's constantly answering the phone and always seems to be nursing an animal in her hand while walking directing the clinic with the other. She offered a tour of the facility but I was rather hesitant to ask her to stop what she was doing just so I could see what the place looked like. I replied "I'll see it when I'm cleaning it." Then I asked what needed to be done. The clinic itself consists of two mobiles, one with the main office and a nursery room for the more delicate animals, and the other for the more mature and obnoxious animals, they certainly wouldn't make good office company.

My first task was to clean the terrarium of a gopher tortise who was the victim of a dog attack, his shell was near healed but you could still see the injuries and stitch marks. So I cleaned his housing and supplied him with some vegetables, (mind you all of the food at the clinic is donated)

Then my second task was to feed and clean the opossums. They're rather comical seeing as how they're just a step above a rat. In a way, they are pretty, with their masked faces and outlandish looking jawline. They certainly are something you don't see everyday.

I believe my last task for the day was to feed the baby squirrels, now for me this is like helping the enemy. Now I know that no life is worth more, or greater than another but i really have a dislike for squirrels, but no prejudice should ever be exerted towards any animals, no matter how destructive they can be in the garden. When you think of a squirrel you think of an animals that's either on a battery or doing some sort of performance enhancement drug, and let me say this, you're exactly right. The squirrels are housed in separate bins with mesh lids, of course they being squirrels, all run out at once. They go for the door, your head, your arms, or elsewhere where they feel needed. After two hours my daunting task of feeding about thirty or so infant squirrels was over.

After my day at the clinic which was a positive, albeit messy one, I gained a certain respect for the people who dedicate their lives to this work. They're the most selfless and most colorful people I have ever met in my life. Each of them have their own ambitions but they put them aside at the door for the sake of the animals. I know that as long as the clinic is open Ill always be a volunteer.

Because the Wildlife Rescue Coalition of North East Florida is a non for profit organization it relies entirely on donations from the public. I urge you to help by either volunteering or donating to this wonderful rescue center that rehabilitates injured or orphaned wildlife to release back into the wild.. The people at the clinic truly are some of the kindest people I have ever met. My time there was well spent.

Here is a link to their Website please consider donating.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Florida's Blue Backwoods Gem, The Florida Scrub Jay

The Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) is a 2.5 to 3-ounce, 12-inch-long, blue and gray crestless jay that is endemic to peninsular Florida’s xeric oak scrub and scrubby pine flatwoods. In fact, the Florida scrub-jay is the only bird species entirely restricted to the state of Florida. In the adult plumage, a necklace of blue feathers separates the whiter throat from the gray underparts, and a white superciliary line or eyebrow often blends into a whitish forehead. The back is gray and the tail is long and loose in appearance. Scrub-jays less than about 5 months of age can be identified by their dusky brown head and neck and shorter tail. However, in late summer and early fall, juvenile scrub-jays undergo a partial molt of body feathers that renders them indistinguishable from adults in the field. Adult male and female Florida scrub jays are not distinguishable by plumage, but are differentiated by a distinct "hiccup" call vocalized only by females.
Florida scrub-jays occupy year-round territories averaging 22 acres in size. This species is one of the few cooperative breeding birds in the United States, whereby surviving fledgling scrub-jays usually remain with the breeding pair in their natal territory as "helpers,” forming a closely-knit, cooperative family group. Group size ranges from 2 to 8 birds, but pre-breeding numbers are usually reduced to either a pair with no helpers or families of 3 or 4 individuals (a pair plus one or two helpers). Helpers participate in scanning for predators, territorial defense against neighboring scrub-jay groups, predator-mobbing, and the feeding of both nestlings and fledglings.
Because of their cooperative breeding strategy, Florida scrub-jays typically delay mating until at least 2 or 3 years of age. Nesting is quite synchronous, normally ranging from March 1 through June 31 and nests are usually placed in shrubby oaks, 1 to 2 meters in height. Scrub- jay clutches usually contain 3 or 4 eggs, are incubated for 17 to 18 days, and fledging occurs 16 to 19 days after hatching.
Fledglings remain dependent upon adults for food for up to 2 months after leaving the nest.
Florida scrub-jays usually live their entire lives within a short distance of where they were hatched. Usually, a male pairs with an unpaired female within a portion of his natal territory ("budding") or within a few territories of his natal territory. Young females typically disperse from their natal territories earlier than males and wander greater distances from home before pairing with a male. However, most Florida scrub-jays pair and become breeders within two territories of their natal ground; most dispersals are two miles or less, and in suitable habitat, more than 95 percent of all observed scrub-jay dispersals are 5 miles or less in distance.
Scrub-jay dispersal behavior is influenced by the intervening landscape. Protected scrub habitats will most effectively sustain Florida scrub-jay populations if they are interspersed within a matrix of surrounding habitats that can be utilized and traversed by scrub-jays. Brushy pastures, scrubby corridors along railway and country road right-of-ways, and open, burned pine flatwoods provide links for colonization among scrub-jay populations. However, expansive bodies of water, dense forest, urban development, suburban residential areas, shopping malls, major highways, and treeless, wide-open pastures inhibit dispersal movement of Florida scrub-jays.

Florida scrub-jays forage mostly on or near the ground, often along the edges of natural or Man-made openings. Animal food items consist primarily of terrestrial insects, but may include a wide array of species weighing up to 1/3 the body weight of a scrub-jay including, treefrogs, lizards, snakes, bird eggs and nestlings, and juvenile mice.
Acorns are extremely important in the diet of Florida scrub-jays, especially from September through March. During this time jays harvest and cache thousands of scrub oak acorns throughout their territory. Each scrub-jay may cache 6,000 to 8,000 acorns per year. Acorns are typically buried beneath the surface of the sand in openings in the scrub during fall, and retrieved and consumed in winter and early spring.
The Florida scrub-jay was first listed by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission as a State-listed threatened species in 1975. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) subsequently listed it as federally threatened pursuant to the Endangered Species Act in 1987. A 1993 statewide census documented about 4,000 breeding pairs of Florida scrub-jays remaining in Florida, including 374 pairs in mainland Brevard County. Coupled with the estimated 850 breeding pairs of scrub-jays on the Federal lands of Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Brevard County’s 1993 Florida scrub-jay population was the highest of any county in the state. However, State-wide Florida scrub-jay population trends are closely correlated with scrub habitat loss and the 1993 population estimate of 4,000 breeding pairs was no more than 15% of the pre-settlement population estimate. In spite of legislated protection by the Endangered Species Act, the most precipitous Florida scrub-jay population decline has occurred during the last 15 to 20 years with an estimated 25 to 50 percent reduction in jay numbers. Recent studies in southern Brevard County have documented a decline in scrub-jay breeding pairs of more than 33 % since 1993.

Florida scrub-jay densities may increase in sparsely developed suburban areas where many patches of scrub remain and build out is 33 percent or less. These population increases in modified habitat probably result from supplemental food sources and the initial creation of openings in the scrub and visual buffers (buildings) to neighboring jay families. However, as development escalates toward complete build out, the survivorship of fledgling jays declines and failed nesting attempts increase. Because adult scrub-jays are long-lived, resident pairs often persist for years in some of the most densely human-populated Florida suburbs. Although these breeding pairs may continue to nest, they incur high nest failure rates and all suburban scrub-jay populations studied are declining. Annual nesting productivity must average at least 2.0 young fledged per pair for a population of scrub-jays to remain stable for the long-term.
Scrub Conservation and Development Plan (SCDP)
The Endangered Species Act protects endangered and threatened species from Federal and non-federal actions that result in the unauthorized "take" of individual protected animals or that may jeopardize the continued existence of a protected species. The FWS describes a take of protected species to include nests, eggs, young, adults, or habitat and is defined as harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct.
A 1982 amendment to the Endangered Species Act gave the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the authority to issue incidental take permits for situations where development of private property conflicts with the habitat needs of endangered or threatened species. In order to receive an incidental take permit, the property developer must prepare a Habitat Conservation Plan that outlines steps to avoid or minimize impacts to listed species or mitigation for unavoidable impacts. The Habitat Conservation Plan is a negotiation among diverse interests and a consensus building planning process. All affected parties must support the solution.
In June 1991, a letter from the FWS informed the County of its potential liability for third-party violations of the Endangered Species Act or a "take”. This resulted from the County issuing development permits for habitat occupied by Florida scrub-jays, thereby facilitating modification or destruction of habitat and disruption of normal scrub-jay behavior. In December 1992, the Board of County Commissioners authorized a planning process leading to the design of the Scrub Conservation and Development Plan (SCDP). The SCDP is a Habitat Conservation Plan for scrub and Florida scrub-jays in Brevard County.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funded the SCDP process. Brevard County received a $310,000 federal grant to finance all elements of the planning process. The County contracted with consultants to conduct the research necessary to draft a county-wide plan. The County also provided administrative support for the SCDP and committed a part-time environmental specialist to manage the project. The Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy accepted an invitation from the County to facilitate the planning process.
The Board of County Commissioners appointed two citizen ad-hoc committees to develop the SCDP- the SCDP Citizen Steering Committee and the Scientific Advisory Group. Representatives of these committees met over a period of three years in an effort to develop the goals and objectives of the SCDP.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Florida Bobwhite Quail

     For all this time I've been writing on Quail's Hollar Farm and I noticed I've completely forgot to do a post on the darn quail, well ok  themselves. So here it is, my post on my favorite Florida bird, sorry mocking bird....

                              The Famous Face of Our Farm, Bob

     Here in Florida there is only one local ground bird, that being of course the adorable yet imposing and obnoxious bobwhite quail. These tiny little birds are about the size of a hamster and are local to the Florida pinewoods and grasslands. They're not as common as the used to be, but thanks to ecological restoration projects, they're making a comeback, and a loud one. The reason why these birds are called bobwhite is because the males make a "bobwhite' noise, the call actually sounds as if the bird is calling for bobwhite. It's a pretty sound just loud. Word of advice for all of you urban farmers out there, DO NOT put them right outside your window, unless of course you like it when a rooster-like bird has an obsession with a white bob and just feels determined to voice his opinion. These wonderful little plump partridge family members are hunted during the fall, no not be me, but by others, I can't imagine who would want to hunt them though. Some people right? tsk tsk tsk...

Despite their common look they actually only thrive in a specific kind of habitat, because of their size, they're vulnerable to predation. That means they can't go too far into the grass lands as there's the chance a hawk will be watching them while they're looking for insects. Yet they can't venture too far into the woods either, because of, well a ton a animals are rather found of quails in a culinary sense. Really to be honest they're on the bottom of the food chain. In a nutshell, the only place they really thrive is on the edge of the forest, that way they can retreat to either side if there's a predator anywhere around. So this is a hint to all you land owners out there, don't bother cutting the grass around the edge of your tree lines for at least twenty feet, why? Well weren't you listening? For the bobwhites of course... It's crucial that we don't loose this little quail, because other more endangered animals are also dependant on them for food.

These Danny Devotes of the bird world are raised basically anywhere, in apartments, urban farms or even released back into the wild if you have the correct environment to offer. I've found that they do best in hutches or small aviaries. They seem to like to feel enclosed on three sides so make an effort to provide them with that type of setting. They're not sensitive to too many diseases but that doesn't mean you should keep them in terrible living conditions. Always make sure their quarters are clean. I feed my birds game bird crumble with some green foodstuffs from the vegetable garden, they seem to like roughage. I've only had a few birds at a time so I've noticed these birds do best in pairs, they're not french enough for 'menage a trios.' I used to have three, one male and two females. Then the one dominant female ended up almost scalping the other female so I had to sell the lesser dominant one. (I guess it's true, someone in those situations always get less attention) Keep them clean, in pairs and with a place to hide, they're not very vain. Here's a tip, never keep a male alone, they'll crow night and day twenty four -seven. Always have a female around, they do not do well solo, keep them in pairs.

The bobwhite quail is a wonderful little bird to have on the game farm, it's recommendable as a beginner bird or as another member of an aviary, they aren't aggressive and are seldom seen if they're given the room. Yet you can be treated to their presence at around dinner time where you can watch them all come out of the brush while they look for food (those of you with aviaries). That's why they're the face of our farm, they bring me a sense of home every time I see one. So why not bring a part of the Florida backwoods culture to your home? They're like the real deal minus the banjo and tobacco stains!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Where dem' Oranges at?!?!

That's what I'm asking myself, where in the living god are the orange groves? I live in a town with the word orange in it's name yet for as long as I lived here, I've never seen one orange orchard. Then I looked into it, (because what else would I do?) It turns out actually that our town, oh I'll just say it, "Orange Park" not only had orange groves before the the freeze wiped them out in the thirties (much like my 09' tomato crop), but they also had monkey research facilities, yes, monkey research facilities.....I'll explain.

Orange Park was the home of the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center, one of ten regional centers for primate research. The Orange Park center, established in 1930 by psychologist Robert Yerkes and Yale University and the Rockefeller Foundation, was the first laboratory in the United States for the study of non-human primates.

Part of the land on which the Foxwood development sits was once a monkey research facility called the Yerkes Laboratories of Primate Biology (1930-1965). Prior to the Yerkes facility opening in 1930, Yerkes was engaged in his own research with two great apes, aptly named “Chim” and “Panzee”. His findings convinced officials at Yale University, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation to sponsor the Orange Park facility. Initially designed to house about 25 chimpanzees, researchers worked with an estimated 65 chimps (and possibly more) during the lab’s 35-year history. This location was home to chimpanzees nurtured as humans such as Gua chimpanzee and Viki and other primates from the estate of Madame Rosalia Abreu in Havana. It was home to some of the leading behavioral scientists of the time, some of whom either liked or hated living in the humid South. These researchers studied various aspects of primate behavior, including basic biology, sensory function, reproductive systems, behavioral patterns, physiology and anatomy. Comically, rumors about the place by Orange Park residents included those of scientists cross-breeding humans with apes. Yet, the term “Monkey Farm” was (and still is) the popular name given to the Yerkes Labs by Orange Park residents.

The plot of land in Orange Park which Yerkes Labs sat upon was 188 acres, about a mile from the town of Orange Park. The actual research buildings sat on less than an acre, on what is now part of the Foxwood Center plaza (facing Orange Park Medical Center on Kingsley Avenue and next to the kangaroo which I drive by every day nearly). In 1966, the abandoned buildings and adjacent land were purchased by Developer Marvin Wilhite of Ahpla, Inc., who still lives in Foxwood and built other communities such as Foxridge. He chose the name Ahpla (using a backward arrangement of the letters) after a female chimp named Alpha, who was the first chimp born at the Yerkes Labs on Sept. 11, 1930.

Foxwood Center still has some of the original laboratory buildings that once housed the chimps, the grounds caretaker, and administrative offices. These stand alongside others that have been added, including the Orange Park Chamber of Commerce building. The old caretaker’s house is now The Granary. (WHAT?! the granary my favorite store mind you, was a monkey keeper's house?!?!)

I was just as baffled when I read this as I'm sure you are, who in the world would have thought we had some sort of "Planet of the Apes" facility here? I mean ok I understand every small town has it's weird residents, like the crossing guard who waves to everyone at the corner, who isn't a crossing guard..... But a monkey facility? Wow...just wow....

What was I talking about before? oh right the orange groves...we had oranges, there I said it, yay, we had orange groves then all the darn things froze. But a monkey facility people! in Orange Park, what's next? A black hole in the local WinneDixe janitor's closet?!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fall Greetings

So it's fall again, that wonderful time for Florida whern the leaves start to change and we can finally get back to work in our vegetable gardens. One of the few things I like about living in northern Florida is at least we get to see the change in seasons, although I am a bit peeved because some winter days can be in the 70's. Yet just cold enough at night to prevent me from growing my tomatoes. Anyways, so I encourage everyone to start planting all of the cold loving plants, those being cabbage, kale, broccoli, basically all of the brassicas as well as the leuttces. I haven't had much time to write anything really because of my school work, but with my ever so dissapearing free time I hope to be wrinting again soon. Happy October everyone!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Looking forward

Well I entitled this post "looking forward because I'm really looking forward to our carambola harvest this year, we seem to have a lot of fruit on the trees and I hope to be preserving it by november when it ripens. Here are some pictures in case if you have never seen a carambola (star fruit) tree before. A funny interesting fact is that the leaves curl if they're touched, it's like some sort or reation the tree has to sensation, I though I was halucintaing. I'll have to post a video of the leaves cringing soon.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Surinam Cherry

I found this very interesting plant called the Surinam cherry at our local nursery the other day. It turns out that it's actually quite rare and each fruit contains more vitamin c than a single orange. Certainly something to have on our farm. Surprisingly it was only five dollars, not bad considering how nutritious the fruit is. If anything it may as well just be a bargain.

The plant is native from Surinam, Guyana and French Guiana to southern Brazil  and to northern, eastern and central Uruguay. It grows wild in thickets on the banks of the Pilcomayo River in Paraguay. It was first described botanically from a plant growing in a garden at Pisa, Italy, which is believed to have been introduced from Goa, India. Portuguese voyagers are said to have carried the seed from Brazil to India, as they did the cashew. It is cultivated and naturalized in Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia, also along the Atlantic coast of Central America; and in some islands of the West Indies, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, St. Thomas, St. Croix, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and in the Bahamas and Bermuda. In 1918, Britton wrote, in the "Flora of Bermuda", that, as it harbors the fruit fly, the tree has been largely cut out in recent years." It is frequently grown in Hawaii, Samoa, India and Ceylon as an ornamental plant and occasionally in tropical Africa, southern China and in the Philippines where it first cultivated in 1911. It was long ago planted on the Mediterranean coast of Africa and the European Riviera. The first Surinam cherry was introduced into coastal Israel in 1922 and aroused considerable interest because it produced fruit in May when other fruits are scarce, and it requires so little care, but over 10 years of observation, the yields recorded were disappointingly small.

The Surinam cherry is adapted to tropical and subtropical regions.Young plants are damaged by temperatures below 28º F, but well-established plants have suffered only superficial injury at 22º F. The plant revels in full sun. It requires only moderate rainfall and, being deep-rooted, can stand a long dry season. It can grow in typically any type of sandy soild, which is a plus for those of us living in Florida.
Surinam cherry seedlings grow slowly; some begin to fruit when 2 years old; some may delay fruiting for 5 or 6 years, or even 10 if in unfavorable situations. They are most productive if unpruned, but still produce a great many fruits when close-clipped in hedges. Quarterly feeding with a complete fertilizer formula promotes fruiting. The plant responds quickly to irrigation, the fruit rapidly becoming larger and sweeter in flavor after a good watering.

The fruits develop and ripen quickly, only three weeks after the flowers open. In Brazil, the plants bloom in September and fruits ripen in October; they bloom again in December and January. In Florida and the Bahamas, there is a spring crop, March or April through May or June; and a second crop, September through November, coinciding with the spring and fall rains.

There is a warning though with these tropical cherries, the seeds are extremely resinous and should not be eaten. Diarrhea has occurred in dogs that have been fed the whole fruits by children. The strong, spicy emanation from bushes being pruned irritates the respiratory passages of sensitive persons.

The leaves have been spread over the floors of Brazilian homes. When walked upon, they release their pungent oil which repels flies. The barkcontains 20 to 28.5% tannin and can be used for treating leather. The flowers are a rich source of pollen for honeybees but yield little or no nectar.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Green Eggs & Ham

Well we have half of Dr. Seuss's recipe correct. I'm not too sure if the neighbors would like the ham part but they sure don't mind the green eggs around Easter. It's true comes varieties of chickens can lay green eggs. Not only can they lay green but also blue, gray, peach, rust red and every shade in between. Although not just any ordinary chicken lays green eggs, it's the arucana from south America who lays these beauties. The arucana's history is a little sketchy, they are believed to be bred by the arucan indians, (yes that's where the chickens name comes from) thousands of years ago in the Andes. Of course many think that Cortes or early explorers brought them to South America but they were there even before any of the Europeans arrived. This is an interesting fact considering all chickens derive from the red jungle fowl only native to south east Asia. What is a bird that's an ocean away doing in south America you ask? Well I don't know, many believe that south east Asian merchants brought them thousands of years before any of the settlers. Just an interesting fact to be noted. (It could be the aliens ooo, just kidding) To be honest I think it was just some merchants who decided to see what's on the other side of that thing called the pacific ocean. Some people think they were bred with other wild fowl in order to attain the colored tint of the eggs. Some say it was maybe a cross with a curasso or a chalachla, it's debated but no one really cares after all it is just a chicken.

Anyways, I though it would be interesting if I brought up the matter because we in fact keep the arucanas here at the homestead. The ones we just bought are only about three months old, they are both females, one black  and one blue. Hopefully they'll start laying by October, every arucana we've had always layed early, and I mean early, at about five months of age. I was told these would be the green egg laying strain, if not, our green eggs and ham special will be spoiled. Hopefully that's not the case. It's near fall now so I look forward to having omelets just in time for the cold. I'll get some pictures of them as soon as I can.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lemon Eucalptus

Today I though I'd do somthing on my favorite group of trees, the ecalyptuses. 

The leaves are leathery in texture, hang obliquely or vertically, and are studded with glands containing a fragrant volatile oil. The flowers in bud are covered with a cup-like membrane (whence the name of the genus, derived from the Greek eucalyptos (well-covered), which is thrown off as a lid when the flower expands. The fruit is surrounded by a woody, cupshaped receptacle and contains numerous minute seeds.
Eucalyptus trees are quick growers and many species reach a great height. Eucalyptus amygdalinis the talled known tree, some reach to be 480 feet, exceeding in height even the california red wood. Many species yield valuable timber, others oils, kino, etc.
There are a great number of species of Eucalyptus trees yielding essential oils, the foliage of some being more odorous than that of others, and the oils from the various species differing widely in character. It necessarily follows that the term Eucalyptus oil is meaningless from a scientific point of view unless the species from which it is derived is stated.
The Eucalyptus industry is becoming of economic importance to Australia, especially in New South Wales and Victoria. Many of the old species which give the oil of commerce have given way to other species which have been found to gave larger yields or better oils. About twenty-five species are at the present time being utilized for their oil.
The oils may be roughly divided into three classes of commercial importance: (1) the medicinal oils, which contain substantial amounts of eucalyptol (also known as cineol) (2) the industrial oils, containing terpenes, which are used for flotation purposes in mining operations; (3) the aromatic oils, such as E. citrodora, which are characterized by their aroma.
The British Pharmacopoeia describes Eucalyptus Oil as the oil distilled from the fresh leaves of E globulus and other species.
 E. globulus the best-known variety (its name bestowed, it is said, by the French botanist De Labillardiere, on account of the resemblance of its waxy fruit to a kind of button at that time worn in France), is the Blue Gum Tree of Victoria and Tasmania, where it attains a height of 375 feet, ranking as one of the largest trees in the world. It is also called the Fever Tree, being largely cultivated in unhealthy, low-lying or swampy districts for its antiseptic qualities.
The first leaves are broad, without stalks, of a shining whitish-green and are opposite and horizontal, but after four or five years these are succeeded by others of a more ensiform or sword-shaped form, 6 to 12 inches long, bluish-green in hue, which are alternate and vertical, i.e. with the edges turned towards the sky and earth, an arrangement more suited to the climate and productive of peculiar effects of light and shade. The flowers are single or in clusters, almost stalkless.
The Eucalyptus, especially E globulus, has been successfully introduced into the south of Europe, Algeria, Egypt, Tahiti, South Africa and India, and has been extensively planted in California and also, with the object of lessening liability to droughts, along the line of the Central Pacific Railway.
It thrives in any situation, having a mean annual temperature not below 60 degrees F., but will not endure a temperature of less than 27 degrees F., and although many species of Eucalyptus will flourish out-of-doors in the south of England, they are generally grown, in this country, in pots as greenhouse plants.

It was Baron Ferdinand von Müller, the German botanist and explorer (from 1857 to 1873 Director of the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne), who made the qualities of this Eucalyptus known all over the world, and so led to its introduction into Europe, North and South Africa, California and the non-tropical districts of South America. He was the first to suggest that the perfume of the leaves resembling that of Cajaput oil, might be of use as a disinfectant in fever districts, a suggestion which has been justified by the results of the careful examination to which the Eucalyptus has been subjected since its employment in medicine. Some seeds, having been sent to France in 1857, were planted in Algiers and thrived exceedingly well. Trottoir, the botanical superintendent, found that the value of the fragrant antiseptic exhalations of the leaves in fever or marshy districts was far exceeded by the amazingly powerful drying action of the roots on the soil. Five years after planting the Eucalyptus, one of the most marshy and unhealthy districts of Algiers was converted into one of the healthiest and driest. As a result, the rapidly growing Eucalyptus trees are now largely cultivated in many temperate regions with the view of preventing malarial fevers. A noteworthy instance of this is the monastery of St. Paolo à la tre Fontana, situated in one of the most fever-stricken districts of the Roman Campagna. Since about 1870, when the tree was planted in its cloisters, it has become habitable throughout the year. To the remarkable drainage afforded by its roots is also ascribed the gradual disappearance of mosquitoes in the neighbourhood of plantations of this tree, as at Lake Fezara in Algeria.
In Sicily, also, it is being extensively planted to combat malaria, on account of its property of absorbing large quantities of water from the soil. Recent investigations have shown that Sicilian Eucalyptus oil obtained from leaves during the flowering period can compete favourably with the Australian oil in regard to its industrial and therapeutic applications. Oil has also been distilled in Spain from the leaves of E globulus, grown there.
In India, considerable plantations of E globulus were made in 1863 in the Nilgiris at Ootacamund, but though a certain amount of oil is distilled there locally, under simple conditions, little attempt has hitherto been made to develop the industry on a commercial scale, Australia remaining the source of supply.
A great increase in Euealyptus cultivation has recently taken place in Brazil as a result of a decree published in 1919 awarding premiums and free grants of land to planters of Eucalyptus and other trees of recognized value for essence cultivation.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Here is our summer harvest, It's not much but then again it's really hard to grow things at 98% and 100 degree temperatures. Here are some some ichiban eggplants, green bell peppers,  red bell peppers, blue potatoes, a green cabbage, and some eggs from our chickens. It's rather difficult to keep a garden when the ground is infested with fungus of just about every form. The ground is also soggy which mean i can't start and new seeds in the ground like I can in sponge, and our beans are rotting. We've actually had a drought for the past three months but lately it's been raining just about everyday. Today we received one inch of the life giving substance and the ducks are just as happy about it as I am.
The peppers were picked a little premature to prevent sunscald, yet another problem of our here in the south. As for the strawberries well to be honest I think they just disintegrated right into the ground, I really don't know what happened, it could have been bugs, the sun or fungus, knowing our yard all three. I love the sun for all it's properties, such as growing plants, and keeping life in general alive, but there seems to be something about Florida sun, that when you go out side it hits you like a bunch of stinging hot needles that have no mercy. So with that being said I think you all can imagine why I haven't been wanting to assess the state of my veggie garden, Thankfully though it's been somewhat cool this week, which permitted me to gather a few vegetables.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Summer Time Off

Well it's been a scorcher here in the hamacka and I've had to take some time off from writing due to a few projects we had to complete here on the homestead. I plan to get back to my normal writing schedule soon enough for the fall harvest season and the end of summer. So stick around!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I saw this pileated woodpecker on one of our poplar trees today. In this picture it looks rather small but actually these birds have a foot long wingspan and their raucous call can be heard throughout the hamacka. This isn't a rare bird at all but it's quite a majestic sight to see filtering through the tree canopy. To be honest it's quite funny when all of our fowl mistake it for a hawk, they all duck and cover from a bird that eats insects, not chickens.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The River Side Arts Market

Here's what we usually do on the weekends in out neck of the woods, This is our local farmer's market. There you can find all sorts of things from local produce, homemade items as well as plants for sale.

Our market actually takes place under one of our many bridges that span across the St. Johns river.

Talking to vendors can often be beneficial, you can network, buy sell and trade, and possibly visit some of their establishments away from the market stand. There you can learn more about urban agriculture and you can share information and discuss new ideas. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Unintentional Off Grid Lifestyle Part Three

Well this is the latest installment of my series, I thought I should go over a few ways and tips to save money.

The first and easiest thing to do is consider turning off your water heater when you leave for work. It can save you around $50 dollars each month and when you return home, or when you plan on taking a shower just turn it back on. Most water heaters only take about 20 minutes to warm the water, so it's a good thing to keep in mind. Just remember to turn it back on or else you'll be taking cold showers at the end of a long day. If you want to you can be brazen enough to just forget the water heater entirely. Hot water dries out your skin, where as room temperature water helps retain the moisture. I have done this, but it's really just because I'm to lazy to check to see if it's on, so I just take a shower anyways.

The second thing I will mention is to make your own beverages. If you cut out all the fancy juices in your diet you can save a lot of money too, besides many of the drinks you buy at the store are actually sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. ( I will post why this is bad later) The easiest thing you can make is tea, you can either make sweet tea or you can make those fruit teas. All you need is one average sized tea bag for a pitcher of tea. That's actually all we have in our house, water and tea. The fruit teas have the same flavor as the juice without all the additives. Think of how much money you could save by doing that, then you can spend your money mindlessly elsewhere.

I'm sure you heard of this one already, make sure all of your lights are off when you're not using them. Then unplug and appliances that you aren't using, because they are still using electricity on the stand by mode.

Another way to cut expenses is at meal time. As far as breakfast goes, we eat oatmeal to cut down on the food bill. It costs only three dollars per person per month. No we do not have those little fancy packets we eat oatmeal out of the Quaker canisters, we just use cinnamon and brown sugar as flavoring, it tastes exactly the same and you can add other things as well such as dried fruit and vanilla extract. I think it's much better than eating GMO corn cereal. Although, because of the way we run things here, we always make things from raw ingredients.

 Last week, we ran out of ground cinnamon for our oatmeal but I discovered we had cinnamon sticks in their natural state sitting on our shelf. To my suprise grinding a cinnamon stick is not an easy task, it took me about five minutes to mash one into splinter form, and I wasn't going to stand there for however long it was going to take me to get it into power form. For those past five days, I didn't eat breakfast, no cinnamon no oatmeal, simple as that. Basically what I'm trying to so say is, don't wear yourself out for a darn bowl of oatmeal, it's just not worth it, do what you can do,nothing more. Modify your food choices to your life, not the other way around.

Again, this way of living is not for everyone, it's difficult and time consuming, but if you can make little changes throughout the day you'll end up saving money and your health in the long run.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Home Sweet Home

I saw this little shanty in the woods and I thought wow, I wonder if someone lived in this at some point of time?

I also found that it has a sun roof.

I know this is a pointless post, but I thought I should share this, it's not everyday you see something like this in the woods.

It did however have a nice backyard.

The Unintentional Off Grid Lifestyle Part Two

As I have stated before my off grid lifestyle was unintentional, which is why I call this series in the blog, "The Unintentional Off Grid Lifestyle." I think out biggest accomplishment is that we haven't owned a car in about six years. (We traded it to remove a tree that was hovering over our house.) If we do use a car, we ride share. I know this may sound strange but when you don't have a car you really do appreciate the the little things in life, such as going to the grocery store on your own time, and taking your time there as well. It really does change your life though, you become healthier by walking or bicycling, and you become mentally stronger as well, I'll explain. What I mean by you become healthier is, when you need to go to the store for say, a gallon of milk, you have two options, you can either go by bicycle or by foot. Either way you go, you have to carry home about 7 lbs of liquid home with you. I have to say carrying your things home in a bag sounds like a good idea but it is HELL, so don't overestimate yourself. Never in my life have my shoulders been so sore. Then again with us we buy everything in bulk so whenever we come back from shopping we have a lot of luggage to take home. I think I lost about thirty pounds since we stopped using a vehicle as our main means of transportation, imagine what it can do for all of you dieters out there. As far as the mentally being stronger part goes, I mean that you appreciate being at home, everyday is a stay cation. Of course you have to appreciate it because or else you'll hate it, it's best to see the positive side of things. I really can't tell you how bad the withdrawal was from not having a vehicle and being able to just get out and drive in the country side for a while, or some other type of whimsical trip. You become content with what you have. When I tell people about not having a vehicle I always say, "I'm as happy as I allow," all I'm trying to state is that I allow myself to be happy and to be grateful for the things I have. They look at me like I'm nuts and it is somewhat true, but then they smile and laugh as they see me walking down the street, with that gallon of milk.

Now I'm not telling you to put your little priuses for sale on craigs list, keep your cars! You will need them to drive junior to the hospital if he falls on his arse and blood is splattered everywhere. You can however walk or ride your bicycle to do little errands, or you can ride share. It's very difficult to ride home with a fifty pound bag of feed on your lap while riding a bicycle, don't ask, just trust me it is. So you will need a vehicle to do those types of things, but like I said you can ride share or you can spend $40,000 on some eco car to save you $100 of gas each month, the choice is yours. You just have to have good friends and schedules that are alike that way you can go to the store at the same time and kill two birds with one stone, more if possible.

 I prefer to do things by bike, it's so  much easier and quicker, I also like the feeling of the outdoors, just don't get run over by a car. Find bike lanes or short cuts.

Rounded up in a cheese cloth, it's not for everyone, I understand a lot of you have kids that have soccer practice and things of that nature, and you wouldn't be the same without your minivan, or you may just live too far from a store to walk or ride a bike to, but you can make little changes. They don't have to be big ones at all, like I said work it into your schedule and don't put yourself through hell. We only did it because we had the time and the will power (and we needed our tree gone) , but don't be afraid to try new things. Let me forewarn you all though, it is NOT easy, I repeat NOT easy, but I do encourage you to try it for at least on day if it's possible, to help the environment, to help your mental sanity (although you will go crazy for the first few weeks if you do this cold turkey), and to better your health.

Here is our bike lane, I just wanted to show you all that yes that's what those little lines are for, designated off grid living participants.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

How to Feed a Mocking Bird

The mockingbird is our state bird, this little resident of the oak trees is actually one of the most aggressive birds in Florida. There have been many occasions where I've had to rescue their young out of the rain gutter and they expressed their gratitude by dive bombing me. I have to say these are birds of little brain but they do know how to defend their territory quite well, the one shown above is one I took a picture of on one of my walks. It was sitting nicely on a neighbor's fence, he was camera shy though, as you can see he did fly away.

I strongly encourage people to feed the wild bird population, we use thousands of acres of land every year to build houses, use for timber land and whatnot that the wild animal population has no where to reside. It can be as simple as hanging a bird feeder in a tree or placing a small  terra cotta saucer with water on an upturned pot that birds can use as a small bird bath.

Placing a bird house in a tree can also encourage nesting among local birds. Small little modifications like these can make a big difference when it comes to re establishing local wildlife numbers.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

On our urban farm we have colonies of bees, blue birds, starlings, and even chickens. Most are welcomed however Florida, being as fickle as she can be, send us her own colonies, ones that sting like a bee and appear to be completely harmless. In the picture shown above are fire ants, yes fire ants, as you can imagine their sting is similar to a bee sting. Now these little things can be beneficial, they clean up all that road kill that some road maintenance crews miss. They can clean a carcass in few days, as well as invade and rob a bee hive. I am one of those types of people who like to work with nature rather than against it. fire ants though, can over stay their welcome, as you can see they have invaded my herb garden. A harmless way (to the environment mind you not the ants) to get rid of these nuisances is a pot of boiling water, that way you don't have to use heavy pesticide. Just pour the pot of boiling water directly on the ant hill or the source where they are coming from, it may seem gruesome, but it does the job, and that's that.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bee Chores

Here we are doing a check on one of our hive beetle traps, as you can see I am the one running away as our angora rabbit nervously watches from a distance. It's important to do regular checks if you install these little hive savers in your hive to see how many beetles met their demise to one of these wonders.

Here is what the actual trap looks like. You can buy them from a local bee shop owner or be a genius and just use that thing they call google and google hive beetle traps, you can buy them for about two dollars. It's a good investment, I strongly urge you to buy two for each side of a hive box, you won't regret it.

As you can see there are little slots at the top where the beetles can crawl in and fall into the basin where the bait is. These work extremely well to keep the hive beetle population down in your hive.

And this is the prize, trapped, dead, a drowned hive beetles.
To remove them out of the trap just shake them out or turn your garden hose on high and shoot them out with the water, then you can re use the trap again. This is a rather small 'harvest,' there have been many times where we have seen as much as one hundred or more stuck in each trap. Having only two in there, is a sure good sign.

Here is what we use for the bait, apple cider vinegar and olive oil. We use equal parts as the bait liquid. Just mix it up and pour it in the trap. There is something about the apple cider that they're attracted too, don't ask me what it is, I have no idea. All I know is it works, so it's as simeple as that

Oh and I almost forgot, here are the stars of the shows themselves, hive beetles. Also with a link to learn more about them
                                  Know thine enemy.......

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bugs, Sun and Garden Slugs

Well hell! I finally have a May without too many garden pests but like usual they slither, crawl, and buzz their unwanted rears into my already withering vegetable garden anyways. So far I am only experiencing leaf miners and sun scald, both of which really don't do too much damage to the actual plant but they can be rather unsightly. The first I will go over is sun scald.

That right there on my two bell peppers is sun scald, basically it's when you vegetables get sunburned. How to correct this you ask? Well some have found a very simple way to alleviate the problem, simply add shade. You can do this by buying a cheap but somewhat lightweight, light penetrable fabric, that way they can still do that little thing called photosynthesis. An open tent like structure will serve the purpose of shading the plants, don't actually cover the plants themselves, just suspend it above them like you would for a wandering rooster on a summer day (that's another story). The vegetables that already have sun scald are still salvageable, just chop off the sunburnt parts.

Now here's where it gets fun, that little work of art is done by what many call leaf miners. They are actually a fly that lays their larva on the plant's leaves, so their little maggots can eat the plant from the inside out. Wonderful eh? I have heard that some use soap, others use oil, but I have found that when one useses those things, they clog the plant's pores. Then that sun scald gets worse seeing as how you have added oil into the equation of the sun roasted plant. That's two factors of why not to use soap or oil, it clogs the plants pores, and it can worsen sun scald. After becoming so frustrated and seeing my tomato leaves like the ones shown above, I had an epiphany. Why don't I just completely cover the tomatoes with that screen lying in the garage? I put screen over the tomato cages to make an enlcosed system that way the flies can't even reach the plants, another ingenius idea, that I stole from a friend.

Now keep in mind these are organic non pesticidal solutions to these problems. Anyone can buy some seven or permithrin, but that would be too easy right? And you don't want to a be a part of the problem itself by poisoning the environment with harmful toxins, because you are that nutty urban farmer who cares about their plants and their animals as well as the environment. You would rather do it the hard way like I do.     

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How Bees Stay Cool

Most people don't know that bees need to drink but actually they do. I suggest you place some sort of water feature near your beehive so they can stay hydrated. Not only do they drink the water but they carry the water back to the hive to cool it when the temperature gets too high.

The Quail's Hollar Farm Apiary Residents

Here are our bees carrying out their mid afternoon chores.

"The Unintentional Off Grid Lifestyle" Part One

Throughout my time doing research about urban farming, raising animals, living the off grid lifestyle and whatnot, I came to a realization, I already do those things! I already don't use central air and heating, I don't use a car unless I have to go to the store to get chicken feed, nor do I eat processed foods, and what is it I see in the corner of a picture on one of those nay saying off grid blogs? Nutter butters, yes nutter butters, not even I eat nutter butters. I've looked in every single off grid blog and I can't help but wonder if they intentionally got to that point in their lives? Or did their air conditioner break down five years ago and spew fire out of that so very expensive part called the condenser like ours did. Then I see them wringing the water out of their newly washed clothes into buckets, I stress thinking, will that be me in a few months? Oh wait that already is. It might seem like I'm venting but actually I'm just trying to say if a cityiot like me can do it, you can do it too. Trust me, it seems impossible but it is in fact possible. Now if you want to do it is the question, some prefer to stay with their energy star appliances, and live an normal life. While others prefer to go all the way, like we did. This is just the begging of my series of what I will call , "The Unintentional Off Grid Lifestyle," since of course I did not get to this point on purpose. In the next coming articles I plan on giving you innovative ideas on how to save money, as well as keeping your image among your family when it comes to off grid living. You can take my ideas, you can apply them to daily life, or you can just point a laugh, all are fine with me, but whichever you choose, know this, it's an actual lifestyle that requires work, commitment, time and a sense of humor, as well as a washboard.

                                               Welcome to your new washer.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Golden Pheasants Part Two

The aviary can be as elaborate or as simple as you'd like, as I said earlier a ten by ten foot aviary is big enough for a pair of golden pheasants. These birds come from densely overgrown forests so I suggest that you heavily plant the aviary with plenty of shrubs. If you want an authentic look, you can even plant hardy varieties of bamboo. The plumage of the males will fade if they are not provided with shade, so keep that in mind and be sure to provide plenty of cover to prevent that from happening. I wouldn't plant any thin leafed plants or too many grasses, they'll end up just being a very expensive snack, instead choose non poisonous thick leaved shrubs. Branches and rocks are also appreciated, they can be perched on to stay off the ground at night and provide some entertainment during the day. Out of all the pheasants I believe golden pheasants perfer perch more so others, my one male will sit for hours on an old tree branch in the center of our aviary. It's a pleasure to watch him out the window.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Golden Pheasants Part one

The red golden pheasant hails from the mountainous bamboo forests of south central China. This is an extraordinary species to have on the urban farm for sheer pleasure and enjoyment. The male of this species has a crimson underside, golden head, orange/black barred cape, lemon yellow back, green nape, iridescent blue wings, and a long black and gold traced thirty six inch long tail. The female, is rather drab, usually just an olive barred color with a relatively long tail.

Males of this species can be somewhat loud when disturbed but they would rather not have their location known. The most you will normally here is a displaced peep or squeak amongst the aviary in the morning or evening. Our male can go rouge when visitors come though, he usually announces their presence with screeching scream. Other than that though, he's relatively mild mannered. In all my years of owning golden pheasants I never once heard a female utter a single noise.

Keeping the red golden pheasant is extremely easy, I would suggest no smaller an aviary than ten by ten feet for a pair. If you wish to keep any more than a just two birds I recommend a larger enclosure, the bigger the better. I must forewarn you though, never keep two males and two females in the same aviary, if you do, eventually the one male will make the two females his and the subordinate male will be subjected to abuse from the others. Golden males generally don't do well with each other.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Silver Pheasants

The silver pheasant is bold, curious, beautiful and majestic, it is the perfect aviary bird and great for beginners to pheasant keeping. Male Silvers have a reputation of being aggressive towards their keepers and hens, however, mine are the tamest gamebirds I own. They are big birds that are extremely tough and hardy. Many owners also allow silvers free range on their property. I keep my pair in an aviary that is ten by ten feet. They also share their living quarters with a misplaced male golden pheasant, proving they are not object to annoying company.

Now that it's spring you can finally start checking craigslist and other classified websites for chicks and juveniles. Most pairs sell anywhere from $50 to $70, they may be even pricier if they are a subspecies of the normal, what some people refer to as the, 'American silver'. If you do wish to acquire a pair for breeding be sure they aren't related, as you will only be furthering a problem common amongst pheasants breeders, which is inbreeding. They are a relatively quite bird, the most you will hear from them is their wing drumming when offended or the low toned hum they make, which sounds a bit like a 'moo'. In any case these are a great addition to the game farm or the backyard, they are just big enough to be allowed liberty in the fenced in back yard, yet just small enough to be housed in an aviary.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Springtime Vegetables

Here is a full view of our springtime garden.

020 Since it is finally spring I thought I should mention a few of the vegetable varieties we grow here ay Quail’s Hollar Farm. Show above is a southern purple cabbage, this enormous brassica can reach two feet in diameter.
014 I am not to sure what type of cabbage this is but all I know is that they did well in out climate this time last year.      018
The lettuce shown above is one of my all time favorites, red sails lettuce.025And of course this is an Mary Washington asparagus shoot.
034The small looking three leafed plant is actually I dragon tongue bean, they are notorious for growing exceptionally large bean pods, which are a great for a summer lunch. the grass looking plants shown last are my red onions that I planted in late November.