Clover Update – Week 2

It’s been two weeks since I planted the test areas for  white clover and there hasn’t been much activity. I think the main problem has been lack of rain, we got a downpour about a week after planting then nothing else since then. One wetter area has started sprouting and I’ll be planting another test area that should do better.

I’ll check in again in two more weeks although there isn’t any rain in the forecast. I think a better strategy might be to plant, cover with mulch, then water. I try not to water any more than necessary (anything) so the plants get deeper roots and don’t become dependent on it.

I’m really liking posting videos, it is so much easier and quicker. I do have a backlog of project pictures but moving forward I’ll be combining the formats as much as possible.

Keep on planting!

Planting a Clover Lawn

One goal at Three Acre Paradise is to reduce the required maintenance and part of accomplishing that is to eliminate lawn care as much as possible. I’m working towards replacing as much grass as possible while still having the yard look nice. One alternative to grass that I have read about is to use clover as a lawn. Clover has a nice look, it makes it’s own nitrogen (no fertilizing needed) and it also a nitrogen fixer for the yard. Sounds like a great thing!

As an experiment I’m planting clover in some problem areas, as it grows I’ll be posting the progress here along with my thoughts on it. Here’s a short video highlighting these areas:

I’ve gotten a little behind on blogging and have a large backlog of pictures and projects to document. While I do plan on getting these posted I’m also going to move more towards using video instead of lengthy text and pictures. Video is quick and easy so I can be more timely, editing individual pictures and writing posts takes a lot more time. I’ll still continue to document them here and put links to the videos but if you want to get intant notifications please subscribe to my youtube channel.

Upcoming project posts:

  • Aquaponic fish feeder protection
  • Outside seed starting rack
  • Aquaponic trellis
  • Fence realignment
  • DIY plant ID tags

Stay tuned!

My Last Post

Last fence post installed

Well I finally did it. All fence posts are in, the last post was placed yesterday. What a relief! The next step is to put up the fencing.

Got a spare 7 1/2 minutes? In this video I take a walk along the fence line so you can see what it looks like and how many posts were placed (hint: around 150).

In other news, WordPress has decided to make some changes to the site without my input. When I fired up the web site the whole theme was different, not that it was bad but certainly not what was originally set up. I reverted back to the original format and all seems well now.

Next up, what I’m planting this spring. Stay tuned!

2019 Plans and Update

Aquaponics update

2019 has come in with a roar, it’s already February! Last year spring caught me off guard and I’m determined to not let that happen again, the last frost date for this area is February 20th so it is approaching fast. My spring task list to have completed in the next few weeks is get the vegetable garden planted, trim all trees, and get everything into the ground as possible (potted trees).

The web site move was a much bigger deal than expected and is still not completed. Turns out a lot of things were lost (photo descriptions, feature pictures, metadata) so I’ve been trying to get all that fixed.

What’s the plan for the coming year? The fencing is the biggest thing to get completed. I’m about 2/3 of the way done putting posts in, once that is done the actual field fence goes up, the two top wires go on (like barbed wire without barbs), then I have to realign the front rail fencing to line up with the new stuff.

Field fencing rear

Once the front is realigned I’ll be putting a welded wire backing on it for additional protection to keep animals in and out.

Field fencing side yard

Another recent change is with the aquaponics system. The floating raft bed was changed to a media bed since these have seemed to perform a lot better,

Changing aquaponic bed

The change was pretty easy since this was how it was originally set up. The bell siphon was already made and I had the media put in do the whole process only took about an hour.

Aquaponics media bed

Speaking of the aquaponic system, it is performing much better now. I’m not sure why but maybe it’s due to the cooler weather or it just needed a year to get better established.

Aquaponics and Swiss Chard

A Roma Tomato plant that was placed in has done exceptionally well, it took a long time to get started but really took off in the last month or so. If I had planned better I would have put some support in for it. In the photo below you can also see some celery getting started. Celery has always done well in this system.

Aquaponic and Roma Tomato

I’ve changed my mind a bit about the aquaponic system, I wasn’t impressed originally but it does seem to have become more productive. I’ll redo some testing and challenges this year and see if the results are improved.

Another recent success is with the Pigeon Pea plants. I’ve been harvesting these for the last few weeks and they just keep producing.

Pigeon Pea plants

There are two plants in this picture and they have different colored peas, one is green and the other is brown. The brown ones take a little longer to ripen and get a little longer but they are otherwise very similar.

Brown Pigeon Peas

Both plants have been producing heavily and are still flowering with new peas.

Green Pigeon Peas

My big goals for 2019 are to get the fencing done then get all underground plumbing and electrical in place for future projects. If I get more than that done then great, the new garden area would be next.

Next week I’ll post a list of new plants I’m trying out this year, and the first seed and plant exchange for this year has already been posted. If you are local and would like to attend please see our Facebook page for details.

Move Complete! (almost)

The move to a new web hosting platform has been completed, unfortunately a few things got changed through the process. All blog post featured photos were removed and the ability to zoom photos by clicking on them has been lost. This is easily fixed but requires me to go back through the old posts and update them. What fun 🙂

Why we moved – the site was originally hosted on wordpress.com which is a great place to get a blog started. Unfortunately to do any real customization you have to upgrade to their business plan, and even then they really restrict what you can do. This has some good, it is a very controlled environment and helps avoid making mistakes. They also take care of a lot of the site security. Once your first year is up there is no more discount, they wanted $300 to renew for another year. That’s waaaay too much for a hobby blog.

I moved the site to siteground.com and paid for 3 years of hosting up front at a total of $140, around $47 per year. Much better! It was more work getting things worked out but I also have a lot more flexibility such as file access (FTP), email, and I can pretty much do anything with WordPress.

Later this week I’ll post a property update and get back on track with regular posts. I’ll also be going back and fixing the earlier posts as time allows. Good stuff coming up!

Big Dog Alpha MP Mower Warning

Big Dog Alpha MP mower

Mowing Three Acre Paradise can be a challenge, there are over 400 trees here so a zero turn mower is the logical choice. When shopping for a mower in 2015 I came across the Big Dog brand at a local dealer, these are manufactured by the same company that makes Hustler mowers which have a good reputation. Many of the parts are interchangeable so I don’t know if the Hustler brand has this same problem.

Like many zero turn mowers, this one is steered using two levers which you push forward or pull back. One lever controls the right drive wheel and the other controls the left. These mowers are fairly fast and are able to turn without moving forward, that’s where they get the name zero turn. For steering around a lot of trees this is a great design.

The problem I had recently is that one of the control arms came disconnected from the pump that controls the drive wheel. This happened as I was approaching a tree, when I went to steer there was no response and I hit the tree straight on (I was only a few feet from it so there was no time to do anything else).  Here’s a picture of the part that came unattached:

Big Dog Alpha MP drive lever warning

The problem I have with this is two fold. First, the only thing holding this on was an E clip which vibrated itself out or maybe got pushed out by some debris. In my opinion this should have been held on more securely with something like a washer and split pin (cotter pin).

Big Dog Alpha MP fastener

The second issue I have with this is that the pump did not return to the neutral position. When the arm disconnected, there should have been a spring that brought the lever on the pump back to center.

Here’s the arm reconnected with an E clip. Sometime in the future I’ll remove the arm again and drill a hole in it so I can add a split pin.

Big Dog Alpha MP control arm reattached

Why such a big deal? When I mow there are plenty of other places where this could have come out a lot worse. I could have ended up in the pond and caused a lot of damage to the mower, in the street while a car or truck was driving by and been hit (the road I mow by has a 45 MPH speed limit), or by the bike path when a bicycle or pedestrian was nearby. A lot of people mow in similar areas so this is not unique. As it is, the only real damage was to the front of the mower:

Big Dog Alpha MP tree damage

Keep in mind this is a 2015 model, not some 10-15 year old worn out mower. It currently has just under 124 hours of use.

Big Dog Alpha MP danger

If you are considering purchasing a Big Dog Alpha MP then I’d suggest you look at this to see if the design has been changed (and Hustler mowers). It’s a simple thing but could have really bad consequences.

Now, back to our usual programming. Stay tuned for an update on activities at Three Acre Paradise 🙂

Whats up?

You know what takes a lot of time for little return? Editing old blog posts. I’ve spent a lot of time optimizing old posts based to improve search results and make them more pleasing to read. One example of the changes I’ve been making, all pictures will be able to be clicked to get high res versions. I haven’t finished updating all the previous posts yet but should be done in the next few weeks. None of the written content is being changed, just picture information and some housekeeping to reduce the size of things.

In the meantime, there’s a lot happening here. In this post I’ll highlight some of the things going on and in future posts I’ll dig into the projects with more detail.

Aquaponic System #2

Aquaponic system parts

What? I know if you’ve been following this blog you may be asking why would I build a second system when the first one has not produces as good as other gardening methods. The answer is simple, it was free. This shows the value of letting everyone you know that you are interested in things like this, a friend got in touch with me and asked if I wanted the system (thanks Kim!).

Whats my plans for this? I haven’t completely decided yet but here’s one idea. I may add the fish tank and one more media bed to my current system, this would expant the plant beds and I’d use the second fish tank to raise coy (existing tank is tilapia). The other beds would be used as wicking beds and tied into the pond to see how good this works. Anyone else have other ideas?

Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit

This dragon fruit bunch is doing fantastic. The other ones are doing OK but not nearly as good as this one. This is the growth after just one year, I haven’t seen any flowers yet but I’m hoping this happens soon.

Dragon fruit buds

It may be hard to see in the picture but there are little buds appearing all over the dragon fruit at the top. There are also some buds starting on the lower parts so within a few months this will be much thicker with branches. All this and I’ve already harvested some sections off for propagation!

Chaya

Chaya plant

Just like the dragon fruit, I’ve got Chaya growing all over the place and some of it is doing great. This plant is about six to seven feet tall and has been harvested heavily for eating and propagation. I’ll be doing a more detailed post on Chaya in the near future.

Duckweed

Duckweed in aquaponics

I converted my aquaponics raft bed to grow duckweed and it is also doing well. I use this as fish food for the aquaponics system and the pond. There were a few slight modification I had to make to the bed for this.

Aquaponics fill pipe

Duckweed likes very still water so I extended the fill pipe to go under the water. Previously it dripped into the bed and made a lot of water disturbance.

Aquaponics drainpipe modification

The drain pipe also had to be changed so the duckweed doesn’t just flow out of the tank. I created an inverted “U” for the drain and drilled a couple of small holes hear the top. The water now enters from about two inches below the water line but the small holes keep it from turning into a siphon.

New Planting Area

Mulch bed plant area

Ever notice how great things grow in a mulch bed? I have two macro bins (citrus bins) that I use for mulch and compost and there is always something trying to grow in them. Now I have a third mulch area but this one is on the ground. I toss all kinds of things in here just to see how it does but to get things started there is some daikon radish in there now. I call it my commando garden and it will be interesting to watch.

Pigeon Peas

Large pigeon pea plants

I’ve highlighted the pigeon pea plants before, they now have flowers and will be fruiting soon. This is pretty exciting as these things are huge! Last year I got maybe a dozed pea pods, this year there will probably be hundreds, if not thousands. Bring on the recipes! This plant is about ten feet high and fifteen feet wide.

What Else?

The house water here is on a well and we have had some problems with it, I’ve been rebuilding and improving the filtration system and that will be the subject of an upcoming post. After that is done, I’ll be starting the fence for the rest of the property.

Beginning this week there will be a post done every Thursday and I’ll be alternating between highlighting a plant growing here and some tips I’ve found to make life easier. These should be a lot of fun and these will be in addition to the regular posts. The plant highlights will also link to the “Whats Growing Here” informational pages but will have more detail specific to the actual plants on site.

See you on Thursday!

Poison Ivy

I’ve seen a lot of discussion lately about poison ivy, not sure if it is a coincidence but in the last two months or so there has been a huge amount of growth of it here at Three Acre Paradise. I’ve got a history with poison ivy, not a good one so I thought it would be a good time to share my story and what I had to do about it. I’ve talked about it before but wanted to get more in depth this time.

Carl Meets Poison Ivy

When we bought Three Acre Paradise it was anything but that, more like a jungle consisting of palm trees, oaks, a few pines, and mostly brazilian pepper trees. If you aren’t familiar with brazilian pepper trees, they are an invasive species in Florida that will quickly take over a property and smother out all the native vegetation. They are also related to poison ivy. Some people are highly allergic to them, luckily I am not but if you burn them the smoke can cause severe respiratory problems.

Original Land

I set out to clear the property by myself, hiring a company to do this would be costly and it would be difficult to make sure they only cleared the nuisance trees. For some reason I grew up having never been exposed to poison ivy even though I spent a lot of my early years climbing around in the woods.

I started in the front of the property where there is some tall palm trees, these were full of vines which I pulled out by hand. Little did I know at the time, a lot of these vines were poison ivy. These were thick and up to 100 feet long once pulled out. One of the worst things about poison ivy is that it takes a while to have an effect. Later that evening it started kicking in and kept getting worse over the next week.

Here’s some pictures of my legs when it was bad:

Poison ivy on leg

Side view:

Poison ivy on leg side view

Back side of other leg:

Poison ivy on leg (2)

You can see where the vines came in direct contact with my skin.

It was strange that it kept getting worse, I ended up going to the doctor and they prescribed me some steroids (prednisone) but that was just as bad and I had to wean myself off of it. Hot water helped the immediate pain, I was told that is not a good thing to do but it sure felt good. It took a while to realize it but a lot of my clothes and some towels and sheets may have had some of the oil on them (urushiol). Once contaminated, it is very difficult to get rid of so I ended up throwing out a lot of clothes. This was probably the single biggest thing that stopped it from getting worse.

The Cure

I tried every poison ivy remedy on the market. The best thing I found was Zanfel, this is a scrub to wash off the urushoil. It’s expensive though, $30+ for one ounce. After a lot of research I found out it is the same thing as Mean Green Power Hand Scrub, which costs around 33 cents per ounce. That’s a much better deal!

Mean Grren power hand scrub

Here’s my advice if you have to deal with poison ivy. If it’s a small amount, use some  long needle nose pliers to grab it by the root and put it in a trash bag or throw it somewhere that it won’t come in contact with anyone. The pliers in the link are just an example, if there is a Harbor Freight store near you then they probably have them for a lot less. For large amounts of poison ivy I use a herbacide such as Roundup. Yes, I know this is the evil stuff but in this case I call it justified. Let it die and dry out then use a tool like a dirt rake to pull the vines out.

A lot of people recommend wearing long clothing to help avoid contact. I agree with this (as well as a pair of gloves) but some days it’s just too hot for that.

When you are finished with your poison ivy task, take a shower and use the Mean Green on any part of your body that may have been in contact, typically arms and legs. Get the Mean Green now, before you wish you had it! I can’t say enough times how much this stuff has helped. I haven’t had a single outbreak since using this. Wash the clothes you were wearing by themselves and throw some Fels Naptha soap, regular laundry detergent won’t cut it (just slice off a little bit and throw it in).

Fels Naptha

Be careful with any tools that may have some in contact with poison ivy. Once I recovered I hired a helper who was immune to it to pull the rest of it out, that doesn’t stop the urushiol from being spread. He had used a power cord for a saw, I wound that up around my arm and sure enough ended up with a second outbreak. If the tools can be washed you could use some Mean Green or Fels Naptha on them. Most of the tools I use get a lot of use throughout the yard (dirt) so I think that just wears off the oils over time.

Sunday Funday

On another note, this Sunday is the second Plant and Seed Exchange being held at Three Acre Paradise. The first one was pretty successful with about a dozen people showing up, I think there will be quite a few more people this time. I’ll show some pictures in the next post as well as some property updates. Until then, stay safe! (from poison ivy)

Fencing, Dragon Fruit, and Grow Bags

This week I’m featuring three completely unrelated topics plus a bonus! The rain has finally eased up a bit although we still get an occasional shower but it’s nothing like the previous weeks, good thing so the fence installation could go on schedule.

The fence coordination required me to be around, I had to schedule it around work so it was a good thing everything went smooth. The installation company did a good job, I had confidence in them since they included a lifetime warranty. This part of the fence is just across the front of the property and goes forty feet back per side, the remainder will be a wildlife field fence.

fence_01

The installation included concrete at every post, that was a pleasant surprise. I went with the vinyl rail fence as it should last a long time, the lifetime warranty reflects their confidence in it. The gate across the driveway is aluminum, future plans include adding electric gate controllers (next year) and decorative columns (who knows when).

fence_02

It would have been nice to carry this around the whole property but that is cost prohibitive, also it really doesn’t offer any animal control so the front will have a secondary fence behind it to keep our dogs in. I’m not worried about deer getting across this as they tend to come in through the back where it is more wooded.

fence_03

Next topic – Dragon fruit (Pitahaya). Back in February I posted about the Dragon fruit holders that were built and installed in November 2017. It has been right around 7 months since they were planted and most of the plants are around 6-7 feet in length now and growing at about a foot per month. They are just at the point of going over the frame so it is starting to look nice and filled in.

fence_04.jpg

Once these branches grow over the support by about two feet it will be time to start pruning, this will encourage branching and new growth. As pieces are removed they can also be planted to get more plants started, I figure each support can handle six to eight plants. I’ve started using old cut up jean strips to support the branches, this helps prevent damage as it spreads the contact across a larger area.

fence_05

Now for the grow bag update, this is from the EarthBox vs Grow Bag Challenge. Once it was evident the EarthBoxes were way ahead of the grow bags and there was no catching up I decided to double the amount of water the grow bags were receiving. That turned out to not really matter as the sky also decided to open up for a couple of weeks so there has been plenty of water. Here is the EarthBox as it stands today:

fence_06

A lot of fruit has set in and I’ve harvested a few peppers from the plant on the right. Here’s the state of the grow bags:

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They are growing, but still far behind the EarthBox ones. In fact, they are still way behind where the EarthBox ones were a month ago. What about the tomato planted in 100% cow manure?

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It’s still the worst of the bunch. I really thought this one would do better.

Now for a bonus, I’ve been looking for good summer greens that grow well in the hot Florida weather. I’ve got a few that are working pretty good but this one has really stood out. It is growing in an EarthBox, in fact it is growing so well it has smothered the other plants that were in there. I have harvested it multiple times, it makes a great leaf vegetable for salads and is also good cooked like spinach.

fence_09

This is New Zealand Spinach. The plant you see has been cut down, harvested, and abused and it is still growing like crazy, it’s about 4-5 feet in diameter. This is one plant. If you are looking for a very productive hot summer leaf vegetable then give this one a try.

This coming week may be interesting, I’ve had a land clearing company get in touch with me and say they can bring several hundred cubic yards of tree chippings (for free!). This will be a huge leap forward in getting the soil built up, if it happens I’ll post some pictures next week.

One last quick note, if you are in the Brevard County, FL area I’ve started a local homesteading group, this will include at least a quarterly seed and plant exchange meetup. The details can be found at the link, I hope to see some people who follow the blog there!

Space Coast Gardening and Homesteading

Melbourne, FL
3 Members

This meetup is for people who want to become more self sufficient by reducing their dependency on commercial resources. The primary focus is on growing and raising our own foo…

Check out this Meetup Group →

Buying Plants and Interesting Property Finds

It’s been a busy week! For this post I want to mention some of my thoughts on the best places to buy plants then I’ve got some pictures of things that I’ve found on the property.

We spent last weekend in Minnesota visiting some relatives, while there we dropped by Walmart to do some shopping for a birthday party. I took a few minutes to browse through the nursery area to confirm something I have suspected for some time, the plants and seeds they were selling there (hardiness zone 4b, St. Paul) are almost exactly the same ones they sell here in Florida (zone 9b).

The big box stores don’t care if your plants grow. What they care about is selling you something, even if it’s not right for your area. I’ve noticed that many plant varieties sold at the home improvement stores are often for the wrong zone. I have a couple of suggestions to help avoid ending up with something that won’t grow.

First, take advantage of the guarantees offered by the big stores. Most offer one year guarantees, save the pots and your receipts and take them up on this if the plant doesn’t live. Second, try to buy from local sources. Nurseries will usually have plant better suited for your area and you can also find a lot of private sellers on sites like Craigslist selling plants they have propagated. Third, buy seed from mail order suppliers that offer more options and choose varieties that are better suited for your zone.

On to the next subject, interesting property finds. When we purchased Three Acre Paradise it was completely overrun by Brazilian Pepper trees, a big nuisance here in Florida. I wanted to keep as many of the good trees as possible so I spent around 6 months clearing the property which exposed a lot of interesting features. Some were removed or destroyed by the land clearing process but a lot still exist which I spent some time yesterday taking pictures of.

The first one here is an oak tree with a few dead branches. A majority of the trees here are oak and palm followed by pine. A lot of the oak and pine trees have dead branches which look really eerie at night when the moonlight shines through:

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The daytime picture isn’t nearly as interesting as a night shot but I haven’t had much luck getting night photos. A majority of the dead branches may be due to the trees being stressed when the land was filled in years ago. Some other damage has been caused by wind over the years, I’ve got a few palm trees which fell over at some point then continued to grow. Here’s a some examples:

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The next one is what I call the four sisters. It is four palm trees that grew up in an almost perfectly straight row. Maybe they were planted that way on purpose? I doubt it but it is strange:

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Here’s a man made oddity, an old fence post that an oak tree grew around. This is on the west property line, a chain link fence has since replaced the original barbed wire one. Three Acre Paradise was originally part of a larger property (to the east) and was divided out at some point.

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For more of a natural hug, here is a couple of trees that grew up around each other. I’ve got dozens of examples of these since the trees are so dense in some areas.

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Because of the dense cover, a lot of trees have grown up at odd angles as they try to reach for some light. Here’s one of many examples of these. Notice how they are all growing towards the left:

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I’m slowly thinning out trees as it makes sense, I want the new growth to be stronger and straighter so more things can be planted. I’m only removing and trimming as needed though as the trees have provided an excellent wind break during the hurricanes that have come through in the last two years.

This next one is man made, the remnants of a tree fort from who knows when:

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Whoever built it did a great job for the foundation to still be there after all these years.

The next four pictures are just some of the plants that were already here growing wild, there is some Wax Myrtle, ferns, and an unidentified plant that likes the wet areas:

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I’ve preserved as much native vegetation as possible while also improving the drainage and water retention of the property. I know that sounds like two opposing goals but the plan is to direct runoff water to designated holding areas so I don’t have to irrigate but still have high & dry areas to grow.

The last pictures are the most fun. These are a couple of things that were found while clearing the land, starting with a traffic light:

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Now, remember I mentioned the property was heavily overgrown? Prior to the purchase we walked around as much as possible but were limited due to the density of the plants, primarily the Brazilian Pepper trees. Here’s how dense it was, we never noticed this until after the purchase and the clearing started:

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Yes, that’s an airplane hiding in there. I’ts actually just the fuselage, a lot of parts were scattered around but no wings were found. I’d really like to know the history but none of the neighbors seem to know anything about it and they have lived around here for a long time.

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The plane will never fly again but it was reborn into a running vehicle, I gave it to a friend and he used it as a project with his sons to turn it into a parade vehicle. It now has the running gear from a golf cart and can be driven. Here is a picture of the plane as it was removed from the collapsing shelter:

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This week might be an exciting one, if all goes well we will have the front fencing installed (if the weather cooperates). My big goals for this year are to have the fencing in and the infrastructure for future projects completed, this would be all the underground water and electrical wires as well as grass borders.

Oh, by the way the first image isn’t from the property, it’s from the lake down the street. It’s a popular gathering spot for watching sunsets.

Until then, stay dry!