October 26, 2008

Are You a Chicken When It Comes to Eggs?

Yesterday, I volunteered at Fairchild's first Kitchen Gardening event, which offered a handful of great classes on how to grow your own edibles and enjoy them. (I'll post about the event in detail later next week.)

The chickens from Williams Grove paid Fairchild a visit yesterday. When I left after a long and rainy day, I got to take home a freshly laid egg. I was really excited to try the egg because the only other time I had tried fresh eggs was in Spain, in the rugged Peaks of Europe, where my grandfather was born.

Yet, yesterday, a brief informal survey of a few family members revealed that they are squeamish about eating fresh eggs. My mother said: "I feel sorry for the chicken. I could never eat it."

What the ... ?

Now, I can't for the life of me figure out why on earth an omnivore that doesn't think twice about buying a carton of eggs from Publix would feel sorry for a chicken that lives the life o' Riley down in Homestead. I met those chickens personally. They're allowed to roam the farm and enjoy a deluxe coop where to lay eggs and rest at night. Why cringe and say "ew" to fresh and organic?

So I'd love to know: would you feel weird about eating fresh eggs? Please comment if you have a moment.

PS ... I haven't tried the egg yet. It's waiting in the fridge.

October 22, 2008

Volunteering - October 17

williams grove The entrance to Williams Grove. In season, you can buy fruit here on Saturdays.

Last week was a little unusual because instead of working at the fruit pavilion I headed down to the Redlands. I spent the day gathering information for an article about tropical fruit I plan to publish at Miami Beach 411 and came home with an additional bounty of material for this blog, which I will share in the coming weeks.

I spent the first part of the day at Fairchild's agricultural station, Williams Grove -- 20 acres donated by Frank Williams in 2002. About 80% of the grove is commercial and consists of the avocado trees originally planted there by Williams; the remaining percent forms part of Fairchild's living genetic collection, which features mango, mamey americana, jackfruit, canistel, spanish lime, caimito, mamey sapote and avocado. None of these trees are domesticated but rather grew from specimens brought over from other countries in collecting expeditions. The work involved in bringing those specimens to the states is another post in itself!

Noris Ledesma, Curator of Tropical Fruit, gave me a tour of the house and the property, taught me how to graft a tree and gave me a grafted mamey sapote plant to take home. I could really tell how much love and care has gone into the development of this property, much of it done with the help of volunteers.

I also spent time with Senior Curator of Tropical Fruit, Dr. Richard Campbell talking about his background as well as his family's -- he's a second generation Redlands agricultural expert. He also covered the process of running the farm and growing trees. The scientific research done in the fruit program as well as the day-to-day work in maintaining a thriving collection is truly impressive. It takes more than book learning to truly and deeply understand these trees and Richard's passion for the work is readily apparent.

Both Noris and Richard were very welcoming and eager to share. The pair of geese on the farm, however, were not so warm. Every time I walked by, they tried to peck at my feet in unrelenting attack!

Talk about homeland security, this feathery patrol would have nothing to do with me!

The second part of the day I spent at the Fruit and Spice Park with Director Chris Rollins, who gave me a tour. The number and variety of plants there is dizzying! The park is undergoing some expansion now. They're digging a large lake that will feature a waterfall and aquatic plants.

Overall, I left the Redlands with a greater appreciation not only for tropical plants but also for the rich agricultural history right in our own backyard. I definitely plan to spend more time there in the future. It's such a refreshing respite from the city and getting there by way of historic Old Cutler Road makes it even better. Stay tuned for more detailed posts about what this city girl learned in the Redlands that day!

On a side note, Fairchild asked to feature me as volunteer in the next edition of their gorgeous publication, Tropical Garden Magazine. I was very flattered, not to mention honored! I'm not sure when the next edition comes out, but you can browse past editions online here.

October 16, 2008

Volunteering - October 10

clipping rambutanA cutting of rambutan.

This week we did more pruning, so I don't have much new to report. I continued to work on my carambola.

Toward the end of the morning Jon-Mario decided to do an experiment in propagation. We gathered some cuttings and I took home one from a rambutan tree. If you recall, this particular tree was flowering back in June, but it never produced fruit.

It's not easy for some of these exotics to produce fruit in South Florida. Below and above ground, the Whitman fruit pavilion was designed to mimic the environments where these types of trees normally thrive:
The fruit trees located in the pavilion are indigenous to the acidic soils of the jungles and in order to protect these trees from the alkaline rocky soil of Florida, engineers were required to excavate the area below the pavilion. The acidic soil is maintained by using mulch and water from an acidic cistern. The pavilion must provide both a warm humid environment above and acidic soil below, protecting the rare specimens from root to canopy.
So far, a week has gone by and my cutting is doing doing well, but I don't think it will grow without the specialized soil and environment. Still, it would be very cool to have a tropical fruit tree collection someday. Some trees do grow well outdoors here.

First, of course, I need to get me a house with a yard. Gotta think positive and prosperous! But regardless, I'm very happy to help take care of the trees inside the pavilion.

rambutan clippingA humble cutting of an exotic tree.

The cultural season at Fairchild is picking up with plenty of events, classes and workshops, so there'll be plenty to report here in the weeks to come. Plus, I'm working on a comprehensive article about tropical fruit in South Florida and it includes a report on Williams Grove to share with you! Stay tuned!

October 9, 2008

Volunteering-October 3

pineapple patchThere's a new pineapple patch behind the gazebo.

Last week we continued working on the pineapple patch by mulching and planting. Gonzalo was there to also help out.

My other tasks included removing dead flowers and leaves from the red button ginger and covering new guava fruit with paper bags to keep the bugs away.

red buttong gingerRed button ginger in the morning sunlight.

guavaGuava fruit even at this stage is incredibly fragrant.

I continued to work on the carambola (star fruit) espalier. I was very pleased to see that it is growing flowers all over! I guess the espalier technique really works because in a couple of weeks it went from no flowers to many. The timing is right because according to the Virtual Herbarium, fall is the time for carambola to bear fruit. I'll be so happy to sample it knowing that I helped the trees along in the process.

carambolaCarambola buds before flowering.

carambola Tiny little carambola tree flowers, smaller than the width of my thumb nail!

This isn't the only carambola at Fairchild. There are a couple more trees that were fruiting about a month ago near the big Baobab and the vine garden. Those trees are growing upright though.

More about carambola:
As fall approaches, South Florida's carambola trees hang heavy with golden fruits. The carambola, or star fruit was introduced into Florida over 100 years ago from Southeast Asia. In Florida fruits can be found through the year but the main crop usually matures from late summer to early winter depending on the cultivar.
Carambola is delicious, with a crisp texture and a somewhat tart flavor. I'm definitely going to try out some of these recipes when carambola starts appearing in the markets.

October 5, 2008

Miami River Pocket Park

miami river commission  UM national ghandi dayPlanting trees and shrubs to create a new pocket park along the Miami river.

I used to think of a garden as a private space that requires tending, but since I started volunteering at Fairchild my idea of "garden" has shifted to a greater, collective consciousness. In some ways, now that I don't have a garden of my own (except for the orchids on my balcony!) I feel like more of a gardener than ever.

When I am working with the plants at Fairchild, I feel a very intimate connection to nature and no doubt a sense of ownership. But the greatest return here is that the ownership is shared with others who feel the same passion for the garden. It's a perfect world -- both personal and collective.

There are opportunities out there in the city to get your hands in the dirt and for the benefit of all -- a kind of civic gardening -- even if you don't have time to do this on a regular basis. This is exactly what one group of 40 University of Miami students did on one little section of the Miami River on September 20.

As part of "National Ghandi Day," the students teamed up with the Miami River Commission to create a new riverfront pocket park at a formerly vacant parcel between 1675 NW South River Drive and the Southeast side of the NW 17th Avenue Bridge. They planted eight native trees, donated by Vila and Son, as well as 140 flowering bushes.

As some of you may already know, I recently wrote an article about the Miami River for Miami Beach 411. While researching the project, I learned about the Miami River Greenway, a 10-mile path part of which is still under construction or in development. "Pocket parks" are small green areas on the path in between the larger named parks. I applaud the river commission for its effort in developing a greenway for all to enjoy. Although a greenway is not a garden in the traditional sense, it is everyone's backyard. Amazing things happen when people and plants come together!

A final UM volunteer beautification event will take place on Sunday, October 12 on North River Drive, from NW 3rd Street to NW 6th Avenue from 1-4 PM. You don't have to be a UM student to participate. Please call the Miami River Commission at (305) 644-0544 or email miamiriver@bellsouth.net for more information.