An Appreciation of Muhly Grass

Muhly grass makes a nice border planting.
It's attractive even when it's not in full bloom.
Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia spp.) is one of the most popular native grasses in Florida and other places in the Southeastern US and you can see why. Its gorgeous pink flowers in late fall certainly stand out in the landscape. It's also known as sweetgrass, which has been used for coiled basketry, particularly in the "low country" of South Carolina, Georgia, and northeast Florida, by people of the Gullah Culture.

It likes dry soil in full sun or partial sun. It can be trimmed back in the late winter if there is a real need for neatness, but it's not necessary, because it tends to itself with new growth totally covering the old stalks.

It's most widely sold as just Mulenbergia capillaris, but there are actually three varieties of this species.
The range of all the native muhlys
M. capillaris var. capillaris or  hairawn muhly
M. capillaris var. filipes or gulf hairawn muhly
M. capillaris var. trichopodes or cutover muhly

The other species native to Florida is M. schreberi or nimblewill muhly.

Any of these are good choices for your landscape, but if you have a choice, choose one with its native range surrounding your location. See the Mulenbergia genus page on The Florida Plant Atlas to see the various ranges, but all the species and varieties pretty much cover the state.

Muhlenbergia was named after one of the first early-American scientists, Gotthilf Henry Ernest Muhlenberg (1753-1815). He became interested in botany while hiding from British soldiers during the Revolutionary war.

Multiply by dividing

I needed to move a big clump of muhly grass that was getting too close to a Yucca plant as both the yucca and the grass had expanded. So it was time to multiply by dividing.

After digging out the whole bunch of grass, I grabbed sections of the plant and gently pulled them from the bunch.You could separate them down to single plants, but I planted these bunches so they'd make a bigger impact in the landscape sooner. 

Spread the roots out as far as possible in the planting hole.
 Don't plant them too deep, but place the root junction
just below the soil level.
When planting the new clumps of muhly grass, it's best to clear the area and then scrape out a shallow but wide planting hole, so you can spread the roots out in every direction. Cover the roots with soil and pat down so the grass is stable. Add about an inch of mulch on top  of the soil. Irrigate liberally after planting and for the next several days. Then gradually cut back on the watering over the next few weeks.

The grass may flop over since it was use to being in a larger bunch, but as long as it's vertical at its base, it should be fine and as new shoots grow, they will have the necessary stiffness to stand up on their own.

Newly planted grass bunches. Note: that I alternated them so they'd not be in a straight line.
A fence used to run along this side of this bed, but now that it's gone, having more muhly grass along this street-side edge will give a more finished look. You may recognize this bed from a previous post "When you plant a tree, you believe in tomorrow." I'd planted a red maple at the end of this peninsular bed out into the lawn to provide a better anchor--again since the fence is gone, the bed needed more of a reason to be here.

Muhly grass gallery

Muhly grass and rice-button asters (Symphyotrichum dumosum) bloom at the same time in the fall. While I'd planted the grass, the asters planted themselves.

The troublesome areas next to and under fences is solved beautifully by muhly grass.

The emergence of the pink inflorescences is always entrancing

Pink haze!

I hope you have or will plan to have more muhly grass in your landscape.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

When you plant a tree, you believe in tomorrow

This long garden used to be next to the fence,
but since the fence is gone, it now sticks
out like a peninsula into the lawn area. 

I'd pulled a small red maple tree (Acer rubrum) from the edge of our front pond. It was in a place where another tree would not work well, but when I pulled it, all its roots were still attached in a blob of mud. I stuck the tree in an empty pot near the rain barrels. Over the next couple of weeks, it seemed to be happy in the bottom of the pot with just occasional splashes of rain barrel water. I didn't know what I was going to do with it, but its presence there reminded me to do something every time I came to that side of the garage with the rain barrels and compost piles.

I had a thought when I was cleaning out the long garden that used to back up to a fence, but when we gave away the fence, this bed jutted  out into the yard like a peninsula. Placing a tree at the end of this bed would eventually provide an anchor. It will also eventually shade out the nice muhly grass, but it will be years before that happens.

More lawn removal

When I considered where to plant the maple, I decided to extend the former fence garden.There had been a relatively deep swale just at the end of this garden, so I built a mound on top of the swale.
The low spot off to one side of the end of the garden often collected water after hard rains. The maples don't mind wet feet, but I built a mound on top of the swale so the root flare of the tree would stay higher than the surrounding area. Studies have shown that trees planted high like this do better in the long run.

Then I placed the pot with the tree in the proposed planting spot and took some time looking at this placement. I walked along the street and I went inside the house to see how it looked from there. I tried to picture what it will look like when it matures.

Judging the location of the tree, from all sides.This tree will make a good anchor for the peninsula.
When I was satisfied that this spot would work for us, the infrastructure, and the tree, I planted it. Now since this is not a container grown plant , there was no need to rinse its roots.

I'd left the ferns and some other plants with the tree. Time will tell if the fern will survive here. If it doesn't, I'll add some when the tree is bigger and casting more shade.I used three 3-gallon watering cans during the planting process. This was a test of the irrigation berm that I'd built around the tree..
I watered well again after I added the
arborist wood chip mulch.
I covered the soil with a 2-inch layer of arborists woodchips, except right near the tree. I watered it with one 3-gallon watering can for the next few days.

Then Irma came. This devastating hurricane dumped more than 8 inches of rain over 3 days. We lost 8 big trees out in the back, but no structures were damaged and the neighbor's house was right next to some of these trees--several had trunks that were almost 3 feet. Three trees broke off at 25 feet high, so we think we experienced a microburst. Also,.the power was out for 6 days, but we have a generator that we can use to power a split circuit breaker so we have the refrigerator, some lights, the microwave, induction burner, and computers with Internet.

During hurricane Irma, water pooled around the tree. We received more than 8" of rain in 3 days.

Hurricane Irma also pointed out the other swales in the front yard.

After the hurricane, it had lost all its leaves,
but then it produced these tiny leaves. 

After the storm

The maple produced a new set of leaves, but they were tiny. I'll continue to water the tree unless there is rain, just to help it adjust to this drier environment. The fern is no longer showing, but it may come back in the spring.

So my plan is to eventually add some shrubs around the tree to add some layers and this will mean more lawn retired from use and more cool bird habitat.

Looking into the future...

I look forward to seeing it grow well here. So when you plant a tree you believe in tomorrow. Another tree saying is. "The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best time is now"

I hope you have an eye on the future also when it comes to climate change, because trees make a big difference. They cool the air; they send moisture into the air to keep the rains coming, and they store carbon.

My newest book, "Climate-Wise Landscaping: Practical Actions for a Sustainable Future" which I wrote with Sue Reed, a landscape architect in Massachusetts will be published in Spring of 2018, but it's available for pre-order from our website: 

I wish you a happy and greener New Year in 2018.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Holiday Legends of Rosemary

A 9-year old rosemary shrub is 3 feet tall & wide

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officianalis) is a winter-blooming shrub that grows well throughout Florida. That alone makes it a great choice for your garden. But like a talented actor, rosemary plays multiple roles. It brightens your drought-tolerant landscape, adds flavor to your cooking and aroma to your potpourri. Rosemary has been immortalized in song and classic literature, plus it plays a part in a charming legend of Christmas.

Its waxy needle-like leaves grow from the newer sections of the stems, while the older sections of the stem are covered with a rough gray bark. Rosemary is one of many culinary herbs in the mint family. Others include mints, thyme, marjoram, oregano, sages, monarda, and many others. Plants in our herb gardens produce aromatic chemicals to help to fight off leaf-eating predators, but these properties also add flavor to our cooking and aroma to potpourri mixtures.

Most people find the distinctive scent of this plant to be sharp, but pleasant. Both the flowers and leaves of rosemary are traditional ingredients in the "Herbes de Provence" mixture. Rosemary is often used as the center of a "bouquet garni" in which several herbs are tied together or placed in a cheesecloth bag and are cooked in a soup or sauce, to impart their flavors, then removed before serving. A rosemary sprig is often used as a garnish on roasted meats. You can even use a sprig of rosemary as a brush to paint on the sauce when grilling foods and you could also try burning some rosemary in the grilling fire, which creates beautifully scented smoke.

Pollinators love the pale blue rosemary flowers.
In addition to planting it in herb gardens, rosemary is often used in general drought-tolerant, full-sun landscapes in Florida. It prefers a slightly alkaline soil, so use shells, chunks of cement or limestone in the soil where you plant it. Normally it's a multi-stemmed shrub reaching up to six feet tall and four feet wide in ideal conditions, but there are also upright, single-stemmed varieties and recumbent types that serve as a groundcover. It can be trimmed into a short hedge or allowed to grow freely. Once it's established in the landscape, rosemary will not require any additional irrigation, but if it's grown in a container, some irrigation may be necessary during droughts.

Because it blooms in the winter, rosemary provides a good source of nectar for those occasional warm days in winter when solitary bees and other insects come out to forage. If you look at rosemary when it's not in bloom, you may wonder how it ended up in the mint family, but once you see those bilateral flowers with a double upper lip and an extended lower lip, it looks like any of the other mint flowers. Flowers are usually blue, but some cultivars have pink or white flowers. Whatever their color, winter flowers make a good addition to your landscape.

You can easily propagate rosemary from a soft-wood cutting by stripping off the lower leaves, dipping the stem into rooting hormone, and then planting in sandy medium. Or if you have a multi-stemmed shrub, you can probably find a branch that has lain on the ground long enough to have developed roots which can then be cut from the shrub and replanted. Seeds germinate slowly and the offspring may not resemble the parent plant. For instance, a seed from a recumbent rosemary plant could grow into an upright shrub.

The beautiful rosemary flowers are typical
 for the mint family.

Rosemary, Christmas, and other traditions

Rosemary is steeped, as it were, in Christmas tradition, and would have been a native plant in the Middle East two thousand years ago. The rosemary legends revolve around Mary's draping of a garment over the rosemary plant. One version tells that during the Holy Family's flight to Egypt, Mary draped her blue cloak over the shrub and its white flowers turned blue. Another version says that after Mary hung the Christ Child's garments on the bush, it was given its pleasant aroma as a reward for its service for the Child.

In the middle ages it was traditional to spread rosemary on the floor of the home at Christmas to release its fragrance as it was tread upon. It also had a reputation as being offensive to evil spirits and as a disinfectant to ward off illnesses.

Rosemary also symbolizes remembrance. When used at funerals, it's thrown into the grave and given to the grieving relatives as a sign the deceased would not be forgotten. It also came to represent friendship and fidelity and was traditional to weave it into brides' bouquets and grooms' boutonnières to remind participants of their vows.

Rosemary has been immortalized in the song “Scarborough Fair” with the unforgettable lyrics: "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme…" Shakespeare made several references to rosemary in his works: King Lear, Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, The Winter’s Tale, and Pericles.

A Rosemary Christmas tree

Rosemary Christmas trees

Using a trimmed rosemary shrub as a Christmas tree is a great choice as seasonal decoration because it continues to be useful after the holidays. If you get a rosemary Christmas tree topiary, it will probably need some attention before you bring it inside or put it out on the front step for decoration. Before this plant was placed in the store for sale, an upright, single-stemmed variety rosemary was planted into that pot three, six or even nine months previously and grown in a greenhouse or sheltered environment where it was well-fed and well-watered to induce fast growth. As the plant produced branches, it was sheared back--probably two or three times--to form a cone. By the time you receive it, the plant may be pot-bound and it may have had spotty care (either over-watering or under-watering and probably low light) since leaving its greenhouse environment. In other words, your rosemary Christmas tree might be greatly stressed.

Ideally, you should repot the plant as a precautionary measure, whether it's been over-watered or under-watered. But if the soil is really wet and smells bad, or if the roots are rotting, the plant definitely needs to be repotted. If the plant has been under-watered or is root-bound, repotting is a good idea as well, because the soil left in the pot is spent. If you decide not to repot and the soil is dry, at least soak it well in a tub or bucket outside before you bring it inside. Let it dry out in between soakings, and soak it again in ten days or so.

To repot, rinse away all the soil from the roots and re-plant it into a pot at least as big as its original. The potting soil should be on the lean side with 1/2 sand, 1/2 compost, and some limestone or cement gravel mixed uniformly through the pot. Don't use a layer of gravel in the bottom of the pot because it impedes drainage, but do cover the bottom with some leaves, a screen, or fabric to keep the soil from leaking through the drainage holes. Spread the roots out and don't plant it any deeper than it was in its original pot. Soak it well before bringing it inside.

When the holiday season is over you can plant your topiaried rosemary in your yard, but it will probably not retain its conical shape for long. If you plant a new one each year, you can create a wonderful rosemary hedge around your herb garden or create a grouping anywhere you'd like easy-care, drought-tolerant shrubs. Then enjoy your scented garden and your winter butterflies and bees.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy holidays!

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Blueberry Hill

Here's how it started, but over the years I converted to a
more nave plant pallet with a big yucca replacing those
hidden ginger lilies. And tropical sage and blue curls
replacing the zinnias.
We lost a sweet gum tree in one of the 2004 hurricanes. There were 4 big storms that year--it was our welcome to Florida because we'd moved here in June of that year.  But instead of grinding out the stump as recommended by the tree guy so we could convert that area to lawn, we covered it with pond muck and compost and build a butterfly garden there in the middle of our back yard.

Read my post from back then, From Stump to Butterfly Haven.

Moving the blueberries

Back in 2009, I planted 3 blueberry bushes that were bred for Florida. I wrote about this adventure in Florida's Blueberries. The bushes were small when I planted them 3 feet from the back of the detached garage.

The new blueberry bushes were small when I planted them. We've enjoyed the crops over the years.

The blueberries had outgrown their spot and there is
more shade now than in 2009. 
 I'd planted them in this protected position to protect them from heavy frosts. Over the years, we and the birds have enjoyed the berries. They've grown a lot since 2009 and for several reasons, it was time to move them.

Also, the Yucca on the mound had fallen over due to rotting because of the damp situation in the area. Plus, the mound was in need of some tending since it had become a little too wild. The mound would not be large enough to support the three shrubs, so I doubled its size by adding my whole compost pile mostly at the back side of the mound where there is often standing water after a hard rain. Unlike the yucca, the blueberries will thrive in that moist environment. And so instead of a butterfly mound, it's now "Blueberry Hill."*
The sweet gum roots were out-competing the blueberries.i dug under the sweet gum roots to dig out the blueberry shrubs, especially the 2 that were closest to the trees.
The sweet gum roots were a problem. I didn't want to damage these big roots, but at the same time, I wanted to preserve as much of the root mat around the blueberry trunks. Scooping the soil out from under the big roots and the shrubs worked fairly well and I was able to keep the blueberry surface roots together. I carefully transported them to their new location out on the newly enlarge mound. Once I got the 2nd and third shrubs out there, I saw that I needed to expand it even more. I ended up using the whole compost pile for this project, which is fine because the blueberries will appreciate the rich soil and they will be happy to get away from the alkaline environment near the cement foundation. Blueberries like an acid soil and now they won't have so much competition for water and nutrients in their new spot.

I was able to keep the root mat around the shrubs in tact. A good thing for their survival rate. Adding more compost to expand the mound to accommodate all three shrubs.

After planting and the addition of many gallons of water, I used a whole load of arborists chips around the new edge of the mound, making sure to create a nice level surface for easy mowing. The mowing will also be easier out here now that the wettest area is under the new portion of the mound.

The final touch is a nice pine needle mulch.
Fall is a reasonable time for transplanting shrubs in general and after several days, the leaves did not wilt at all, so I must have provided enough irrigation for the blueberries. However, there's a good chance that even though the flower buds have been formed, that they will drop the buds and not flower to save their energy for new root formation.

I hope you are enjoying the cooler weather for some of your landscaping projects.

Climate-Wise Landscaping: Practical Actions for a Sustainable Future

Pre order a copy from Sue at
Sue Reed, a landscape architect in Massachusetts, asked me to be the coauthor. We did not debate climate change, but we came up with 100s of actions that you can accomplish right now in your landscape that will accomplish at least one of the following missions:

  1. to help landscapes become more resilient, so they can better survive climate change;
  2. to help wildlife survive climate change; and/or
  3. to actually mitigate climate change. 

It will be published in Spring 2018 by New Society Press in BC, Canada. In 2010, Sue also wrote the award-winning “Energy-Wise Landscaping” also published by New Society Press. 

Pre order a copy from Sue at Thanks.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

*Blueberry Hill
Fats Domino: R.I.P.

I found my thrill
On Blueberry Hill
On Blueberry Hill
When I found you
The moon stood still
On Blueberry Hill
And lingered until
My dream came true
The wind in the willow played
Love's sweet melody
But all of those vows you made
Were never to be
Though we're apart
You're part of me still
For you were my thrill
On Blueberry Hill
The wind in the willow played
Love's sweet melody
But all of those vows you made
Were never to be
Though we're apart
You're part of me still
For you were my thrill
On Blueberry Hill

End of the Seminole pumpkin season

What a bountiful crop! 

The 3 Seminole pumpkin vines took over the whole 18' x 5' bed. Wow. I'm holding a ripe and a green pumpkin--these babies weigh almost 5 pounds each. I got the feeling that if I stood for too long near one of its many growth points, that it would start to twine around my ankle. :-) 
The fruits matured quickly. Look at this:
A female flower with one of its pollinators. Note the other fruit in the background.Only 6 days later that same fruit has grown to 12 inches long. It eventually had a rounder bulb at the bottom, but it "only" grew another 2 or 3 inches in length.
This is the first year I've grown Seminole pumpkin (Cucurbita moschata) and what a nice surprise. I bought them from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Back at the  beginning of June I posted Squash family on the menu when we had lots of different members of the squash family doing well, but soon after that most of them faded with the heat of summer, but not these. They had just gotten started back then and grew even faster and more vigorously into the summer. The 3 vines took up the whole 5' x 18' bed and each day I walked the perimeter to direct new growth back into the bed. The skin on the fruit is thick so it withstands attacks from worms and from rotting, so there were no problems leaving them on the vine to ripen.

The last harvest on Sept. 1.

The flowers are 6" across and there are many more male flowers than female flowers--the ratio was probably around 5 to 1, but this leads to many many pollinators buzzing around so all the female flowers were fertilized and grew into full-sized fruits.

There were 2 different shapes--a squat, pumpkin shape and a  larger long-necked shape. I read that different shapes can grow on the same vine, but I did not try to verify this. The tangle of vines was too great.  The long-necked fruits weighed between 4 and 5 pounds and that's a lot of squash to use.

Native to South America

This vigorous squash is native to South America, but it had been traded northward by indigenous peoples up into Florida and was present before Europeans arrived. It is not considered native to Florida in its profile on The Atlas of Florida Plants. Even though presence of a plant before the Europeans is one test of nativeness, it's not in this case because it had a known history of importation and it never really established itself in natural areas according to Bruce Hansen one of the curators of the website. If you look at its widely scattered distribution, today in Florida, this has the mark of an introduced species rather than a natural population. I'm sure the indigenous peoples and later the Seminoles appreciated this heat loving squash.

Harvesting green or ripe

I harvested about half of the pumpkins while they were still green, which I used for soups, in salads, in pumpkin burgers, and for breads. The ripened fruits turned a dark, rich tan and the fruit at this point is sweeter and is more suitable to roasting (in the oven or on the grill), stir fries, pies, and other pumpkin-type recipes, but I also used ripe pumpkin in the soup and salads, as well. I used the grated fruit (both ripe and green) raw in various types of salads (pasta, potato, tossed, and tuna) where the fruit added bulk, texture, and a slight taste tone. I have frozen quite a number of 2-cup portions of grated pumpkin for future use in bread and other uses. I prepared seeds for eating from both green and ripened fruit--the ripe seeds are much better.

I baked 2 pie crusts and made these 2 excellent dishes. The pie before hurricane Irma and the quiche 5 days later--after we got power again.  (We do have a generator that plugs into a circuit breaker splitter so we had the refrigerator, lights, microwave, but not the stove.)

Seminole pumpkin pie

For the pie I chose a ripened pumpkinI just cooked the bottom part of the pumpkin and used the neck for other dishes including a pasta salad and the quiche (below). I also prepared the seeds.

It's Seminole pumpkin pie time!
• 1 pre-baked pie crust
• The bottom half of a Seminole pumpkin, halved lengthwise and seeded
• 1/3 cup sugar, or to taste (As sweet as this was, I probably could have skipped the sugar.)
• 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
• 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
• 1/2 tablespoon vanilla
• 1 cup nonfat plain yogurt
• 3 large eggs, beaten

1. Microwave the pumpkin flesh-side down in a glass pan with 1/2" of water for 15 minutes or so. It should be soft.
2. Cool, then scoop out the squash and puree it in a food processor. You should end up with about 3-1/2 cups of puree.
3. Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a food processor or a large bowl, beat together the squash, sugar, spices, vanilla, yogurt until smooth. Taste for sweetness and spiciness, add more sugar and/or spices if needed. Then beat in the eggs. (The eggs are added last so the tasting does not include raw egg.)
4. Pour the filling into the baked pie shell (pour the excess into oven-proof dish for baked custard).
5. Set the pie on a cookie sheet to catch any spills. Bake 15 minutes then reduce heat to 325°F. Bake another 45 minutes to 1 hour. The pie is done when a knife inserted an inch or more in from the edge comes out nearly clean (the center will still be soft).

6. Cool at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. Chill if you are holding it more than a couple of hours. Best served at room temperature.

Seminole Pumpkin & Malabar Spinach Quiche

Pouring the egg mixture onto the layers of
ingredients for the Seminole pumpkin
& Malabar spinach quiche. 
Toward the end of summer, Malabar spinach is plentiful and serves quite well in this dish.

  • 1 pre-baked pie crust
  • 1/2 cup Malabar spinach, chopped
  • 1/4 cup garlic chives, chopped
  • 4 oz can of sliced mushrooms, drained
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 medium onion chopped, about 3/4 cup
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (maybe 1/2 Cheddar & 1/2 Mexican mix)
  • 2/3 cup grated Seminole pumpkin (picked green or fully ripened--the state of ripeness will change the taste, both are good)
  • Olive oil to pre-fry onions, mushrooms, garlic, garlic chives, and spinach
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • Fresh ground pepper, to taste
  1. Prepare the pie crust before you start, even a day or two before is fine.
  2. Place onions, mushrooms, garlic in a pre-heated skillet coated with olive oil. Fry over medium heat until onions start to brown then add the garlic chives and Malabar spinach for only a minute or so. Reduce heat and add the wine to mixture to clear the glazed onions from the bottom. When the liquid has evaporated, remove from heat, and set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F. 
  4. Whisk together eggs, yogurt, and parmesan cheese until combined. Add fresh ground pepper. 
  5. Lay a thin layer of the shredded cheese in the pie crust, add the pumpkin, and then evenly spread the fried mixture on top. Add the rest of the shredded cheese. Pour the egg mixture on top. Poke the egg mixture with a fork so that it settles into the layers. Sprinkle more parmesan cheese on top.
  6. Bake the quiche until it is golden brown on top and the center is firm. Depending on your oven, this will take anywhere between 45 minutes and 1 hour. It's a good idea to place a cookie sheet under the pie to catch the drippings. Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

And then suddenly they were gone...

The vines died back quite suddenly.The roots at the base of the 3 vines were filled with root knot nematode damage, but the roots that sprouted along the stems were not infested.
It was a surprise to see how fast these vigorous and bountiful vines died. It began just before hurricane Irma, but after the hurricane they were totally gone. We still have several pumpkins in a paper bag at the bottom of our pantry and people say they will keep a year because of their thick skins, but we have found so many uses for them that they will not last beyond Thanksgiving.

One of two new books to be released in Spring 2018

Growing food is good for our planet

In doing the research for "Climate-Wise Landscaping" one of the two books of mine that are coming out in Spring of 2018, I found a study that shows that every pound of food that you grow or obtain locally offsets up to 2 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. I grew so many pounds of pounds of Seminole Pumpkins that the world is surely a better place now.

I hope you try growing this bountiful crop and stay tuned for news on my new books and my fall 2018 book tour.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Reworking the elevated rain barrels

I'd been using these elevated barrels since Feb. 2009.

These 3 elevated rain barrels have been well used over the years, because their placement near the edible gardens means that I have been able to use a hose to water thirsty crops rather than hauling watering cans. My back has been grateful.

Our best growing season here in north Florida is Fall, Winter, and early Spring--these are our dry months, but rarely have the barrels run dry during those times. I also have 3 other rain barrels not too far away, but they have not been set up with a single drain like these. See my post Three More Barrels for details on how my husband installed them.

After 8 years, it was time to rework the barrels...

Neat tubes of algae lined most of the pipes.

The wood platform should have had better bracing, because a few years after installation that the wood began to sag under the weight when the three 55-gallon barrels were full. Still, the sag was okay, but recently the wood had begun to rot and carpenter bees had drilled into it even though it was pressure treated lumber. It was time to replace the platform.

We took advantage of the slow beginning of the wet season in June and drained the barrels. Then my husband dismantled the piping and removed the barrels from the damaged platform. He thoroughly rinsed out the barrels and let them completely dry out.

Neat tubes of algae lined the pipes. They were added to the compost pile.

Cinder blocks replaced the wood

Lesson learned: avoid wood. Cinder blocks offer a number of advantages for this situation, so we made the switch.

Checking the levels. It's important that for this type of installation that all the barrels are at the same level. Each barrel sat on its own tower of cinder blocks This time the plumbing is exposed.
He reused the water-tight screw-in fittings in the bottom holes of the barrels. This is what allows all the barrels to fill up and drain as a unit.

The drain pipes were hooked together and then to the spigot.The barrels were not as elevated as before, so extensions up closer to the gutter drains were needed.

A metal stake was attached to the spigot with a plastic tie to stabilize it. Then the hose was attached. We were ready to go...A few weeks later: Checking the levels after the barrels were filled.
Then the rains came and the barrels were quickly filled. After a particularly heavy rain, my husband checked the levels between the barrels, because the 3 barrels need to stay even.

The finished set-up

One other item, is the overflow pipes. When the barrels fill up the excess water is directed through a pipe attached to the tops of the barrels. This pipe is attached to a hose that carries this excess water out behind the shed to a swale where it can be absorbed into the soil.
At ground level the overflow pipe attaches to a hose--to the left of this photo.Top view of the overflow pipes.
Now our 3 elevated barrels are useful again. Yay!

Seminole pumpkins!

Note the Seminole pumpkins to the right of the rain barrels in the above photo. They are still going strong in August. What a bountiful crop we've enjoyed.
A Seminole pumpkin watcher...There is a a lot to watch for because the pollinators are thick around the pumpkin flowers.These Seminole pumpkin burgers were delish!
The Seminole pumpkins have been fantastic this summer well after all the other members of the squash family have given up in the hot, wet Florida summer. I've made several batches of squash soup that I wrote about in Squash family on our menu.The latest rendition of this soup included a bunch of lime basil, which gave it a sharper citrus flavor. I wrote about how well this does in our summers in Lime basil. I've also made Seminole pumpkin bread using a modified zucchini bread recipe--also delicious. But the burgers were a new innovation.

Recipe for Seminole pumpkin burgers

For 6 burgers:
2 cups of grated Seminole pumpkin--picked while still green and peeled before grating
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup plain nonfat yogurt
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup potato flakes (approximate)
1/2 cup pre-sauted diced onions with diced garlic (almost a cup before cooking)
3 medium eggs
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Enough olive oil to have about 1/8th of an inch in the pan
Mix all ingredients (except oil) in a bowl and adjust the consistency with the potato flakes so that the patty stays together.
Heat oil to 350 degrees (we use an induction burner so have exact temps.)
Cook for several minutes on each side, but move the patty around in the oil so it doesn't stick.
Cook one side to brown as shown and flip to other side.Cook only 1 or 2 burgers as once to keep enough room to flip the burgers. 
Yummy as is, but filling. We each ate only 2 or our 3. The next day, we used the remaining 2 to make cheeseburgers with a slice of tomato and served with Mayo and lettuce on whole grained bread fried in olive oil.
The beautyberries are adding color to become
their amazingly eye-popping  purple of fall.  

Late summer!

You know it's officially late summer when the beautyberries start turning purple. They will become unbelievably purple and will feed the migratory birds that come through our yard this winter.

I hope you're enjoying your summer.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt