Monday, November 30, 2009

What Child is This?

Although the milkweed in My Florida Backyard is a bit past its prime, it's still pretty easy to find caterpillars out there. In fact, today, for only the second time this year, I turned over a leaf to find one of my favorites - a Queen:

There's something so wonderful to me as a native of the cold north to be out tending a butterfly garden surrounded by Christmas lights - I never get tired of it. On the same day I put up the Christmas tree, I planted some new milkweed plants and transplanted a passionvine - it really is the most wonderful time of the year!

P.S. Our Cuban Treefrog made another appearance tonight... check out that camouflage!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

After a couple of chilly days, today was a glorious sunny one in My Florida Backyard. We spent the last few days more or less lying around in a Thanksgiving food coma, so it was good to get outside, do some yard work, and start rigging up those Christmas lights.

People up north ask if we don't miss the snow around the holidays. The answer is always a resounding "No"! We like hanging Christmas lights while long-tailed skippers and dainty sulphurs visit the plumbago bushes nearby*. We'd much rather sweat than fight frostbite as we figure out where the extension cords need to go. ("Is this how we did it last year?" "How should I know!?") We'll take sunburn over windburn any day - including the holidays.

At any rate, here's a shot of some of today's progress:

We'll post some more once we find the rest of the $@&#% extension cords!

*OK, one of us was hanging lights, while one of us was running around with the camera trying to snap pictures of those butterflies. Needless to say, the one hanging lights was more successful, or there'd be pictures of those butterflies in this post.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Plenty To Be Thankful For

As the country pauses today to count its blessings, we here in My Florida Backyard are doing the same. It's a lovely day, with warm sun and cool breezes, and soon we'll be eating turkey and mashed potatoes out on our back porch - the part of our home we're most thankful for.

While we eat, no doubt birds will wander by, feasting themselves on the bounty of nature that can be found in My Florida Backyard and the areas nearby - something else to be thankful for.

The sun is drying up the last puddles left by the rain of the last few days - and the rain is yet another thing to be thankful for. November is generally the driest month of the year here, but this month we've had several inches of rain. Both the aquifers and our rain barrel are thankful for that!

It's a little breezy for butterflies today, but caterpillars are still feeding on the passionvine and milkweed, and I'm sure they're thankful we've taken the time to provide them yummy pesticide-free meals!

Perhaps what we're most thankful for, though, is that we live in a land of November flowers. In other places, leaves have fallen off the trees and most flowers are brown and frost-bitten. But in My Florida Backyard, flowers bloom like summer is still here, and we definitely give thanks for that!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Froggy Bottom

We experienced a little problem when trying to use the watering can the other night - it appears someone had taken up residence in the spout.
This froggy little fellow is most likely a Cuban Treefrog. Two identifying features are the large "toepads" and the bumpy skin. As the name might indicate, it comes from Cuba as well as the Bahamas and Cayman Islands. Like so many introduced species, the Cuban Treefrog is considered invasive in Florda. It feeds on a variety of creatures, including native treefrogs and other Cuban treefrogs (cannibal frogs!).

In a true Florida-Friendly Yard, it's best to eradicate invasive species when you find them. If we'd realized this was a Cuban Treefrog when we first found it, we could have eliminated it from the environment permanently. In other words, we should have killed the little bugger. The University of Florida IFAS Extension provides instructions for doing this humanely (it involves your freezer). It's hard for a wildlife lover to extinquish any kind of life (here we go with the euphemisms again), but it takes hard choices to help protect the environment and ecosystem.

Fortunately, the IFAS Extension also provides some easy instructions on how to make Treefrog Houses to lure native treefrogs to your yard. It's as simple as driving a piece of PVC pipe into the ground in a nice place among some plants or trees. The treefrog house, like a toad house, provides a shady place for treefrogs to hide out during the day, where they can be protected from predators such as stray cats. We plan to install some of these in My Florida Backyard very soon - we'll post pictures when we do.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

High Hopes

Even an afternoon shuttle launch is a pretty cool sight from My Florida Backyard. On Monday afternoon, Space Shuttle Atlantis took off on mission STS-129, headed for the International Space Station (ISS) with a load of spare parts.

As I stood in the warm grass watching the shuttle lift off, two Monarchs fluttered among the milkweed nearby. They, of course, had no idea that high above, some of their relatives were going where none had gone before. You see, Atlantis had some pretty unusual passengers on board as well - Monarch and Painted Lady caterpillars! The ISS crew will be overseeing an experiment to see how zero-gravity affects these caterpillars as they attempt to pupate and then emerge as butterflies.

There's a lot of great information on the web about this experiment - click here for an overview and links to photos, videos, and updates.

Here's hoping that our caterpillar buddies thrive 220 miles above the earth - we'll be thinking of them with our feet firmly on the ground in My Florida Backyard!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Do You Believe in Magic?

Okay, it wasn't magic exactly. These duck potato plants were actually planted by our Adopt-A-Pond group back in August. Despite possible herbicide applications and our own inexpert planting skills, many of the plants are thriving. Click here to see more pictures from our second planting event on November 14.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Blowin' In The Wind

My Florida Backyard has two palm trees. One is a date palm, and is within our property lines, so we're responsible for the maintenance. The other, a royal palm, is technically on land owned by the HOA, so they take care of trimming it a few times a year.

It's been awhile since the royal palm has been pruned, and the dead fronds have started to accumulate. Dead fronds are a normal part of the growth of a palm tree - as the tree grows taller, the lower fronds die and fall off in their own time. Of course, in hurricane country, it's a good idea to prune these dead fronds yourself, before the wind can do it for you, because the wind is not very particular about where it deposits the trimmings.

Case in point: it's been very windy today, with gusts up to 35 miles an hour. Hurricane Ida is kicking around out in the Gulf of Mexico, and the atmosphere in the region is pretty unstable. So while it was a beautiful sunny afternoon with a high of 86, the winds made everything feel just a little - unsettled. By mid-afternoon, when the wind gusts were particularly strong, the dead palm fronds were falling off at a pretty regular rate. In a short amount of time, we had 5 fronds on the ground and 1 on the roof.

When we first became the proud owners of a palm tree, we were surprised to find just how tough the palm fronds really are. You can't just break or fold them down into smaller pieces - they don't bend very easily. You can see why early settlers used them in building shelters; they're very hardy. In fact, we're quite lucky none of them hit the screens at the wrong angle - they would easily tear large jagged holes given the opportunity.

The lesson here is that if you do own a palm tree, it's best to keep the dead parts pruned pretty regularly. If you're not familiar with palm trees, you may want to pay someone to do the job properly - it's pretty easy to do damage to them. The number one rule: don't trim any fronds that are still green. Living fronds are helping to build up the strong flexible trunk of the tree, and shouldn't be removed until they're ready to come off. Click here for more information on properly pruning your palms.

Overall, though, palms are a pretty low-maintenance tree, and they fit perfectly in My Florida Backyard!

P.S. We're keeping an eye on Hurricane Ida, of course, although we're not terribly worried. She's about to move over the colder water of the Gulf, and will encounter some high wind shear. She'll most likely hit the coast between Mississippi and Pensacola, but could turn back toward us depending on the frontal system she merges with. Late season storms are particularly tricky to predict, so the only safe thing to do is stay alert and be prepared... done and done!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Far Away Places

Each fall, we leave My Florida Backyard to fend for itself for a few days and set out to explore a new part of the state. This year, our travels took us "long ago and far away" to St. Augustine, the oldest city in the nation. Along the way, we stopped at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, about 20 miles south of the city.

Here, we explored the expansive gardens that were once the Florida Backyard of Louise Powis Clark and her husband, Owen D. Young. Amongst huge old live oaks that have towered over Native American settlements and a Minorcan-owned plantation, Louise established formal gardens.

The grounds include a lovely rose garden, which undoubtedly takes hours of work each week to grow and maintain.

The many ponds throughout the garden are fed by an artesian well, originally bored to aid in irrigation of the citrus plantation that once stood here.
The land is bordered on the west by the Matanzas River, with wonderful views up and down the shoreline.

Nature trails throughout the park lead you among lots of native vegetation of the sort we have in My Florida Backyard, like beautyberry and muhly grass, but the eye is definitely drawn to the unusual, like these powder puff bushes.

The park is bordered by the Atlantic shore on the east, where the beach has an extensive stand of coquina rock. This sedimentary rock was one of the most important building materials in the early days of this part of Florida. Rocky beach is one thing we definitely don't have in My Florida Backyard!

Although the formal and exotic gardens at Washington Oaks are lovely, we must admit to preferring our more natural and native vegetation here at home. After all, the park has a staff to maintain the grounds, but we don't have a single paid gardener to help us out. Also, the plants and animals we have here represent what we love best about Florida. So, trite as it may be, we can honestly say:
"'Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble there's no place like home."