Frost on the Pumpkin?

Yep, there has been frost on the pumpkin patch the past few mornings. And yep, I still live in Southwest Florida. The pumpkins weren’t grown here this year but were purchased from a roadside stand to make a display for Halloween, followed by the harvest display for Thanksgiving. And three days ago, there was frost on them! The day after that, the frost was a bit heavier, clearly visible all across the field, turning the grass into a field of sparkling diamonds as the sun rose. This morning, the frost was only in the shaded areas and only on the taller blades of grass in the chicken yard. I don’t care what anyone says, either. Frost is frost, even if it’s only on a single blade of grass! And… it ain’t s’posed to be this far south!

We are under a freeze warning for tonight and tomorrow night. Yikes! Predicted temperatures are in the upper 20s to low 30s… with wind chills dipping into the low 20s.

Tomato plants are in bloom, tiny cucumbers are on the vines and the papaya trees are loaded with big green fruits. We won’t even think about all the plumeria and desert rose plants, or the poinsettias and yellow sweet potato vines growing in the half-barrels at the end of the driveway. Or even the hibiscus that are blooming, for that matter. If the temperatures drop as predicted, it will all be gone by morning.


I have a moringa tree growing in my back yard, mainly because the story I heard when I visited Echo a few years ago fascinated me. At the time, my oldest son was in dire condition with Crohn’s Disease and the tale they told sounded so much like a miracle that I just had to try it. If this tree could save the starving babies in Africa, why couldn’t it save my son, who was wasting away before my eyes?

Besides, I’m a great one for edible landscaping and the thought of being able to eat just about any part of this tree thrilled me.

Also known as the Drumstick or Horseradish Tree, Moringa Oleifera is one of the world’s most useful plants. It’s cultivated in many 3rd world countries for its leaves, fruits, flowers and roots for a variety of medicinal and nutritional purposes. Its seeds are used for water purification, its roots can be grated and used as a horseradish substitute, its flowers are delicious dipped in batter and fried… and the immature seed pods make a tasty bean-like vegetable . Every bit of the moringa has a use. However, the leaves are most precious. According to the Trees for Life organization, gram for gram, Moringa leaves “contain 7 times the vitamin C in oranges plus 4 times the calcium in milk plus 4 times the vitamin A in carrots plus 2 times the protein in the milk plus 3 times the potassium in bananas.” Moringa leaves “could practically wipe out malnutrition on our planet.” Moringa is a sub-tropical tree. A mature tree can tolerate only very mild frosts; any frost at all will kill a young tree. Highly drought resistant, once established, although leaf production is severely reduced during times of drought. Can be difficult to transplant if the roots are disturbed. Grows up to 35 feet in height under favorable conditions. Zone 10. Moringa: leaves, flowers and seed pod

My first moringa tree was grown in an Earth Box and it was doing quite well. I was adding the leaves to my salads and enjoying them until the time I decided to have a salad made with only moringa, no lettuce. Okay. There was a slight off-taste that I can’t quite describe but it wasn’t one that I liked. From then on, even the tiniest bit of moringa in my salad brought out that flavor. I gave the tree to my parents.

Then, when my son had lost so much weight due to his Crohn’s disease, I decided to try talking him into trying the leaves. Moringa has been shown to save African infants dying of starvation and malnutrition, when they are so far gone that they can’t even keep food down when it’s given to them. Why not try this with my son, to see if his damaged digestive system could handle the leaves or even tea made from them?

So, I bought another small tree and planted it in an Earth Box, too. At the time, my back yard flooded with every hard summer rain, sometimes staying flooded for a week or more before the water drained away. I didn’t want to take a chance on planting it in the ground and losing it.

This tree was much prettier than the first one and the leaves totally lacked that off-taste I had grown to hate earlier. I was munching on the leaves as I worked outside, as well as adding them to my salads. My son was essentially laughing at me and my ideas, even as he wasted away before my eyes.

Then came Hurricane Charley. The entire top was broken off my moringa tree, leaving me with a 4 foot, naked pole with a shattered top. I sawed off the jagged edge, down to where I could get a smooth cut, and then waited, hoping for the best.

The tree was never happy after that. It put out a new branch but it seemed as though the leaves died as fast as they formed.

In the meantime, since we lost so many big shade trees, I gave my son 3 little moringa sprouts, each just a few inches tall. These things grow FAST so I figured they might provide some shade faster than other trees. He didn’t have to eat them… but they would be available.

Well, he neglected those poor little things pitifully, for months. Eventually he got around to building a series of raised beds for a garden. He planted one little moringa tree (about a foot tall now) into the center of each bed. His reasoning was that they would provide some light shade for his garden, to help block the hot summer sun, and the falling leaves would provide food for the garden as a natural mulch.

He called me about a week later and asked if I could come to his house to look at the trees. He was practically in shock that they had grown nearly 6 inches in a week. So I went to look at them and it was truly amazing. You could almost see them grow now that they had room to spread their roots. I plucked a leaf and munched on it, just to see if he had the good tasting varieties. He looked at me as though I was weird but he humored me when I suggested he taste just one leaf. He had the good-tasting variety.

Not long after that, he had another severe attack with his illness and out of desperation, he tried my suggestion and ate some leaves, all the while swearing he wouldn’t be able to keep them down. Amazingly, he not only kept them down but within a few days’ of eating the leaves regularly, he felt better.

My son kept on eating a handful of moringa leaves every day and one day appeared on my doorstep, offering to help me with the brick patio I had decided to build. He had some color in his face and certainly more energy than I’d seen in a very long time.

Suffice it to say that he is still eating moringa every day… and has increased his “forest” to nearly a dozen trees.

Leaf production drops drastically in the dry months so his answer was to plant more trees. He has gained a substantial amount of weight and is now back to work full time. He hasn’t had an attack of Crohn’s for over a year now.

Neither of us is medically trained in any way. We’re just former full-time farmers who still enjoy getting our hands dirty in a garden and who believe in the power of whole foods, grown organically. My son’s doctors have no explanation for his current state of health but one of them told him “Whatever you’re doing, continue doing it because it’s working wonders for you!”. He has been off all pain medication for over a year now and for the first time in his life, he has joined the rest of
us in worrying about gaining too much weight.

Is the moringa truly a “miracle tree”? We believe it is. And an awful lot of formerly starving people in Africa and other third world countries agree with us.

How To Grow Amaryllis

One of our favorites for dependable holiday bloom indoors is the amaryllis. You can usually find the bulbs on your garden center’s shelves or in catalogs beginning in mid-September through February. And nothing could be easier to grow than amyrillis.

The amaryllis, being a sun lover, will grow best in a sunny window that gets at least 6 hours of good light every day. They like warm temperatures, around 70-75 F, which means they will be happy in the average home. Once flowering begins, moving your amaryllis to a slightly cooler location, about 65 F, will help to make the flowers last longer.

Your amaryllis bulb is a big ugly thing that somewhat resembles an onion. If your bulb is loose, rather than preplanted in a pot or container, the first thing you’ll want to do is locate a pot or container that’s about an inch or two larger in diameter than the base of the bulb. Clay or plastic will work but make sure it has a hole in the bottom for drainage.

Plant the amaryllis so that one-third to one-half of the bulb is above the soil or growing medium. This ensures that the bulb’s nose stays dry which helps prevent fungal infections. Use any good potting soil to grow your amaryllis.

Water immediately once you plant your amaryllis bulb. Keep the soil slightly moist, but not overly wet. When flowering starts, increase the frequency of watering. Water when the soil surface feels dry, usually once a week.

Do not fertilize the plant while it has no leaves. This is important to remember since the bulb generally will send up the flowering stalk before it does much in the way of leaf development. Fertilizing too soon will kill the roots… and that means no flowers. Once leaves begin to develop, fertilize twice a month using a soluble fertilizer recommended for indoor potted plants.

Remove the blossoms as soon as they fade to prevent seed formation, which would simply weaken the bulb. Do this by cutting the stem off just above the bulb. Do not remove any leaves. Make sure you keep your amaryllis in a sunny window now and water and fertilize it regularly. This is the active growth stage of your bulb and proper care now will give you a bigger bulb (and more flowers) next season.

It’s easy to bring your amaryllis bulb into flower again next season. First of all, decide when you want it to bloom. Then count backwards about eight to ten weeks. That’s when you will stop watering and fertilizing the bulb. Yes, it will seem to die but don’t worry, it’s simply taking a rest.

The leaves will turn yellow and wither but don’t be alarmed. At this point, when the leaves are dead, if your bulb seems to have grown so that it’s pressing against the sides of its pot, you can replant it into something larger.

You will notice the first signs of new growth beginning after an eight to ten week dormant period. When you see the top of the new flower bud beginning to emerge from the bulb, carefully trim off all the dead or yellowed leaves and repot it, if it seems too crowded. Then move the pot to a sunny area and start watering it again. Remember, no fertilizer until it has leaves!

Rotate the plant every few days so the flower stalk doesn’t lean towards the light too much. You will be rewarded with flowers very near the date you planned.

And that’s all there is to bringing your lovely amaryllis bulb into bloom for a second season!


‘Tis the season and our thoughts are turning to gifts and decorations once again. And once again, my favorite in BOTH categories comes to mind… the lovely Amaryllis!

Want some bright, cheerful color inside for the holidays? Plant amaryllis! This big ugly bulb will burst into bloom in just a few weeks with very little effort on your part. Because it’s so spectacular in appearance and so easy to grow, the amaryllis makes a wonderful gift, too.

Amaryllis can be found in just about any garden center at this time of the year. Most popular is the deep red color but these days, there is a wide variety of colors, textures, shapes and sizes in amaryllis blossoms. Anything ranging from snow white to pink or peach or even stripes and picotee has been added to the various red varieties.

If you purchase your amaryllis bulb pre-packaged, there will be full growing instructions printed on the box or insert. If you find a bulb in a bulk bin, the instructions may be printed on a handout. Just in case you don’t have the instructions, here are the basics:

Choose a pot that is only slightly larger than the diameter of the bulb. Amaryllis likes to be somewhat crowded. Be sure you have about a half to one inch of space all around the bulb and it will be perfect. Fill the pot about halfway with good potting soil and then set the bulb on the soil surface. Fill the pot so that about half of the bulb is left exposed. Water thoroughly and then put the pot in a warm, well-lit spot and forget it for a while. Don’t water it again until you see growth. From that point on, keep the soil evenly moist.

You will most likely see a flower bud growing long before the leaves show up. That’s normal, so don’t be alarmed. This thick sturdy stem will have just one large bud at its tip, but when that bud opens, you should have a cluster of 2 to 4 huge flowers. Bigger bulbs will have more flowers.

If you plan to save your bulb for a repeat performance next year, feed it with a houseplant fertilizer according to the package directions. And when the flowers fade, cut off the stem to conserve the bulb’s strength. Do not cut the leaves. Those are essential to the bulb’s growth for next year.

When the strap-like amaryllis leaves begin to yellow and die, withhold water from the bulb until the soil dries out. Then remove your bulb, shake off any loose soil and store it in a cool dry place.

Next year, about 6 weeks before you want to see blossoms, plant your amaryllis bulb exactly the same way you did it this year. You’ll need a larger pot, though, because your bulb should have expanded from its original size.

You can repeat this process year after year for as long as you care to do it. Each year, your amaryllis bulb will grow a bit more, rewarding you with more and larger blooms each season.