Monday, March 23, 2015

Red Fox in Floridian Nature

The last two weeks we have been hearing a mother fox calling out to her young in the woods behind our house. My son has been visiting and spends late hours out on our deck, which allows him to view Floridian nature up close and personal at times. 

The young are probably between 3 and 4 months old and are becoming more and more independent.At birth the pups are blind, helpless, and   brownish-black. They nurse for about two months and stay with their parents for about 6 months. The den site is usually a dug out underground burrow, through they sometimes may enlarge the burrow of gopher tortoise or armadillo. The dens are usually 20-40 feet long and 3-4 deep, with multiple entrances.

The red fox has the appearance of a small dog and weighs from 10 to 15 pounds and measures up to 2 feet long with another foot for a bushy tail. The end of the tail is black, tipped with white. The Red Fox is most commonly a rusty red, with white underbelly, black ear tips and legs, and a bushy tail usually with a distinctive white tip. The "red" tone can vary from dark chestnut to golden.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Floridian Nature Spot of the Week: Ravine Gardens State Park

Now is the perfect time to visit Ravine Gardens State Park. The azalea's should be still blooming and our Florida weather could not be better. The 59 acre gardens were created in a natural steephead ravine by the City of Palatka, local citizens, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Federal Works Project Administration (WPA and the Civil Works Administration (CWA) in the 1930’S. Described in the 1934 Florida Municipal Record as the "Nations Outstanding Civil Works Administration. project," the 59 acre ravines were planted with over 95,000 azaleas including 64 varieties, 11,000 palm trees and more than 250,000 ornamental plants. The gardens were maintained by the City of Palatka until the park was deeded to the State of Florida in 1970. One of nine Florida state parks with New Deal Era structures, Ravine Gardens is the only park with a formal designed landscape. The extensive fieldstone terraces, rock gardens and massive cypress building construction is typical of the era. The Court of States and 64 foot obelisk dedicated to Franklin D. Roosevelt is located near the park entrance. A 1.8-mile paved road winds around the ravine, offering motorists and bicyclists a view of the gardens.
And speaking of azaleas, did you know that Florida has wild azaleas growing in some areas?  Native azaleas are deciduous shrubs that are in the rhododendron family. It grows along streams and swamp margins from North Carolina and Tennessee to central Florida, and west to East Texas. Color variations and natural hybridization makes positive identification difficult. Found in moist wooded hammocks, the wild azalea can reach a height of six feet. The blooms of the wild azalea come in a variety of colors, including pinks and whites. Wild azaleas bloom in late march and April and attract a variety of butterflies, along with attracting hummingbirds. Wild azalea needs an acidic soil. Never add lime. If your soil is alkaline, forget about growing azaleas. Azaleas do best with plenty of organic matter in the soil. Pile leaves or pine needles over the root zone, and never cultivate there as they have very shallow roots. Florida's native azaleas include, but are not limited to, R. austrinum (flame azalea), an Endangered Species which blooms bright orange and is very early flowering; and R. viscosum, or swamp azalea, which is evergreen and blooms in the summer with small white flowers.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Time to start your Florida garden

One of the great things about Floridian nature is the ability to have a year round garden. For those of you thinking about starting a spring garden the time to get going is now! I started my garden last week and just need to get my green beans going before I am done. You can see the recommended Florida gardening planner at Floridian Nature.

Vegetable gardening offers fresh air, sunshine, exercise, enjoyment, mental therapy, nutritious fresh vegetables, and economic savings, as well as many other benefits. Gardens may be grown year-round in Florida, but spring is the preferred season. Statewide there are over 1 million vegetable gardens, averaging 300 sq. ft. and a retail value of $300. Vegetable gardeners in Florida are lucky to have lots of sunshine and mild winters amenable to growing a multitude of food crops most months of the year. That said, Florida home growers face several challenges that northern gardeners do not. Florida soils in many locations are mostly sand and not very fertile. Most garden beds will need to be amended with compost, manure or commercial mixes to improve water and nutrient holding. Organic or synthetic fertilizers will also need to be mixed into the soil to improve fertility.

Compost home yard and kitchen waste to use in the garden each season, or obtain free compost from the local landfill, if available. For further information on Florida gardening, you may want to purchase a book from our Florida Nature Library.

Site - Locate the garden near the house for convenience on a site close to a source of water with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. With proper care, vegetables may also be included in the landscape among ornamental plants. Where possible, practice site rotation for weed and other pest control. Coastal sites are also suitable.

Soil Preparation - While most gardeners plant on whatever soil type is available in the garden plot, you may improve your soil by bringing in topsoil or a soil mix, or by applying liberal amounts of organic materials. Spade or plow the plot at least 3 weeks before planting. Then rework the soil into a fine firm seedbed at planting time.

Organic Matter - Most Florida soils benefit from applications of various forms of organics such as animal manure, rotted leaves, compost, and cover crops. Thoroughly mix liberal amounts of organics in the soil well in advance of planting, preferably at least a month before seeding. Spread 25 to 100 pounds of compost or animal manure per 100 sq. ft. if you do not expect to use inorganic fertilizer. Well-composted organics may be applied at planting time. Due to inconsistent levels of nutrients in compost, accompanying applications of balanced inorganic fertilizer may be beneficial. Organic amendments low in nitrogen, such as composted yard trash, must be accompanied by fertilizer to avoid plant stunting.

 Watch out for garden pests. I had horn worms eat my all my tomatoes practically overnight. he tomato or tobacco hornworm starts life as tiny larva, but very quickly it can grow to 4 inches long and as thick as your index finger as it munches through your garden. One hornworm can defoliate an entire tomato plant if it isn't stopped in time. The amount they can eat in twenty four hours is incredible! Tomato hornworms feed only on solanaceous plants, most often on tomato. However, larvae will also attack eggplant, pepper, and potato. There are many solonaceous weeds that also serve as alternate hosts, including: horsenettle, jimsonweed and nightshade. Eggs of the tomato hornworm are deposited singly on both the lower and upper surface of leaves in late spring. The eggs hatch in six to eight days and are oval, smooth, light green to yellow in color, and measure 0.10 cm in diameter. The caterpillar reaches the final instar in 3-4 weeks, and is 3 1/2 to 4 inches when fully mature. Fully-grown larvae then drop off of the plants and burrow into the soil to pupate. During the summer months, moths will emerge from pupae in about 2 weeks. Moths emerge from the soil, mate, and then begin to deposit the eggs of the next generation on tomato plants. By early fall, the pupae will remain in the soil all winter and emerge as a moth the following spring.

Be sure to choose varieties that are well adapted to Florida’s climate and the typical pests and diseases found there. The seeds and transplants found in retail stores may not be appropriate for Florida as they are often ordered in bulk for the whole country. It is a good idea to research varieties before making a decision, and ordering seeds that have the highest likelihood of yielding a good crop in Florida. Make sure to plant warm season crops and cool season crops at the appropriate times or results will be sure to disappoint.