Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Hard Nut to Crack: Breaking Florida's Coconuts

Friends of ours from North Carolina have recently moved to Miami, and are starting to take advantage of the local harvest on their property.  They are pretty reluctant to call it a homestead, but hey, any time you can pick something up and eat it off your own property, that is one step closer to self-sufficiency.


They have more coconuts then they can handle.  They weren't opening them fast enough, so they had a volunteer (Jen’s father) head down to Key Largo to learn the fine art of coconut cracking from the professionals.  Now, you may have read somewhere on Pinterest that this can be done daintily in your kitchen using your potato masher and paring knife.  A coconut would crack your head if it had the chance, so theres no room for nice on this job.  Anything worth doing is worth doing right, and in this case that means you need a machete and claw hammer.

  • Most store-bought coconuts will have the husk removed already.  If locally foraged, this will need to be removed by taking repeated low angle hacks with a machete.       A claw hammer may be necessary separate husk fibers and to loosen coconut from remaining husk material.  Hack, pry, repeat.  
  • Once the coconut has been separated from the husk, locate its equator.  This will be a horizontal ring around the coconut when the eyes are facing upward.  Using the blunt edge of machete, take firm whacks along equator, rotating coconut in between each hit. After a few turns the coconut will magically split like a plastic Easter egg. Whack, rotate, repeat.

Jen has been making fresh macaroons, and has promised us a sample.  They sound great, but I’m more interested in swinging a machete, there just aren't enough excuses to pull out pirate weapons this far inland.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Homemade Hummingbird Nectar

I have yet to see a hummingbird in the winter, but it is definitely a possibility. During the summer in North Carolina (and anywhere else east of the Mississippi) the primary hummingbird you will find will be the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.  The Roufus Hummingbird, on the other hand,  is a more cold hardy species that can also be found here throughout the winter.  When I found this out, I cleaned up our feeder and started looking for the bottle of nectar.  When it failed to turn up, I found a recipe instead. 


As far as recipes go, it does not get any easier than this:
  • Dissolve ¼ cup of white sugar into 1 cup of boiling water.  
  • Let cool, and add to clean feeder.
The batch size can easily be changed provided you maintain the 1:4 ratio.  Additionally, it is recommended the nectar be rinsed and replaced regularly, as issues of mold and fermentation of nectar may arise.

I looked for other recipes using alternatives to white sugar, in hopes of finding something more natural.  It turns out white sugar is more similar to the nectar they would feed on naturally than every other sweetener I could think of.  Even honey is considered unsafe for hummingbirds.  The nectar that is available for purchase contains red dye to entice the birds to the feeder, but since the feeder itself is red, I don’t see it as a necessary addition. 

Our feeder is up, now we are just waiting on Roufus to show up.  We will definitely let you know if we spot him.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Starting the Family Apple Orchard

When two boys can eat their weight in organic apples in the course of a week, the grocery store just doesn’t cut it.  Good food is only getting more expensive, so a home orchard was a no-brainer for our family.  We will, of course, have to wait a few years to really start enjoying the “fruit of our labor”, but the return on investment should be great as long as we can keep everything maintained.

Photo Picture

The biggest step for us was in the planning.  The questions we had to answer for ourselves included:

  • Where will we get the trees?
We chose to order online from an established nursery with a large selection and a good reputation.

  • What varieties?  And how many?
There are so many varieties of apples, the decision can be overwhelming.  Apple trees need at least two varieties for pollination purposes, so we decided to chose a few that we know well and enjoy, then pick good pollinators for each (the nursery was a big help with this).  

  • When will we plant?
Planting is recommended for late fall, once the trees have gone dormant.  This was also the safe time for the nursery to ship the trees, so things worked out well.

  • Where will we plant?
We chose an area in our front yard since the site will get full sun most of the day, has a slight slope for good drainage, and will be easy to keep an eye on. 

  • What special consideration must be taken? 
Since all of ours are dwarf trees, spacing can be pretty tight.  This is important to us given the small plot we are on.  We also wanted a good variety because it will give us opportunity to see what works best on our land.  We made sure to include some disease resistant varieties, just in case that proves to be a problem.  Taste preference, intended use, and hardiness zone are definitely big factors in decision making.  We expect ours to be picked and eaten on the spot so we started with a few of our family’s favorites (Gala and Fuji). 

Photo Picture

I had never planted a bare-root tree before, so when it came time to plant, I referred to Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening: The Indispensable Green Resource for Every Gardener.  This is a great a resource, and being an encyclopedia, everything is alphabetic making information easy to find One important planting consideration for grafted trees is placement of bud union.  Rodale's recommendation is to plant with the bud union 2" above to surface to maintain the trees' dwarf sizing.  Pruning was done prior to shipment, but next year I fully intend to pull this book back out prior to making any cuts.

We plan on doubling and possibly tripling the number of trees in our yard.  Once I can see the trees are growing well I will order some more, and then when I see which varieties are most productive for us I will definitely capitalize by adding a few more of those (great resource, by the way).
We plan on doubling and possibly tripling the number of trees in our yard.  Once I can see the trees are growing well I will order some more, and then when I see which varieties are most productive for us I will definitely capitalize by adding a few more of those.

If anyone has any suggestions or would like to tell us what has worked in your experience or what your favorite varieties are to grow, we are eager to hear it.  Feel free to comment.