Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Tour of “Elizabeth’s Secret Garden” in Florida


IMG_7406 butterfly pavilion

My gardening journey began when I started growing butterfly host and nectar plants in a garden box that my family had built in Thanksgiving of 2008. My interest in gardening and butterflies began to grow as we toured gardens around the United States and Costa Rica. As my plant collection continued to grow, we eventually dug up a site in our backyard for me to use as an experimental garden. The garden measures 8 feet wide by 32 feet long. In my new garden, I am able to study various plants and practice different organic gardening methods.

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Herbs are an exciting addition to my “Secret Garden”. They are not only decorative, but also serve as a source of nectar for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Herbs can be used as a garnish on your favorite dish or to make soothing herbal teas. My favorite teas I make by using lemon grass and peppermint from my garden.

Many herbs have beneficial medicinal properties. Echinacea (photo to the left) has been found to boost the immune system and fight of infection. Echinacea’s healing properties can be unleashed by making teas with its leaves, seeds, or roots. Another popular herb is peppermint which makes a wonderful tea as well. It has many health benefits which includes treatment for nausea, improves digestion, fights bad breath, clears congestion, relieves coughing, controls mild asthma, and fights stress. After learning the many health benefits and flavors that herbs produce, I decided to expand my herb collection. I now grow basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, sweet marjoram, peppermint, Echinacea, oregano, stevia (great sugar substitute for diabetics.), lemon grass, and parsley.

How to make peppermint tea: 

pollen basket

Arrow points to the “pollen basket” that collects on bumble bee’s legs. Bees use this “basket” to collect pollen and carry it back to the hive or its shelter.

Besides herbs, I have also intertwined flowers to attract pollinators and have planted host plants for butterflies to lay eggs on. Bumble bees are especially attracted to the Porterweed blossoms in my garden as you can see in the photo above. The various flowers are useful in attracting bees to my garden so they will pollinate my vegetables and fruits. After the bumble bees visit the Porterweed, they fly right over to my eggplant and pollinate it. Maybe that is why I have been getting such big eggplants!

bee using proboscis to collect dew

Honey bees are also popular visitors to my garden. Honey bees are declining rapidly at 30% each year and need our help. Planting native plants and not using pesticides is an important step in helping honey bees. Above you can see a honey bee using its proboscis to collect dew drops from my Cassia tree. I planted the Cassia tree because it’s a native and also the host plant for the Cloudless and Orange-barred Sulphur. In November it becomes covered in yellow flowers and becomes an attractive focal point.


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This year, I decided to try my skills in vegetable production. In the past I have tried growing vegetables in containers, but it was not a complete success. This time, all my vegetables are planted in the ground and receive water through a drip irrigation system. The problem with pots was that I kept forgetting to water them and they dried out to fast. With my drip irrigation system I use a timer that is dependable and sends water straight to the roots.

In the pictures above, you can see my zucchini is thriving, but not without incoming struggles. First, came the caterpillars that killed two plants out of six. I finally conquered them with a solution of water and natural liquid soap plus some help from my powerful fingers. Next came powdery mildew problems. To prevent It from spreading, I mixed together 1 gallon water, 1 tablespoon of baking soda, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and one tablespoon of environmentally safe dishwashing liquid. I used a large spray bottle to spray it on the top and bottom of leaves.


This year I am growing Beefsteak tomatoes. They grow into quite strange forms and can weigh a pound when fully grown. This year, I planted 6 tomato plants to be sure I would have some to pick. I don’t think I’ll have to worry about not having enough tomatoes this year. We are going to have tomatoes coming out of our ears!


Cucumbers are a lot of fun to grow and eat. I pick mine at about six inches in length to keep my cucumber plant productive. If you let the cucumbers get too old and turn yellow, the plant will stop producing.



I starting growing Seminole pumpkins this summer and by fall they had four large pumpkins maturing on the vine. To the left you can see two male flowers side by side. The photo to the right is of a pumpkin with the female flower still attached. The bees did their part by caring pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. I did have problems with the fruits falling off before maturity and had caterpillars chew holes on the leaves, but I still was able to get four healthy pumpkins total from my two plants. To keep the pumpkins from rotting, I placed a sheet of doubled window screening underneath the pumpkins.


Here is one pumpkin sitting on a window screen bag I created.


I am also growing lemons this year and strawberries. The strawberries don’t have any fruit yet, but you can see that the lemon tree is producing in the picture above.


I learned that eggplant is actually a fruit! I thought it was a vegetable, but found myself in error after looking it up on the internet. I have picked 14 eggplants so far. Twelve came from my largest plant the other two came off a smaller plant that is a bit crowded from being planted by a bean plant. I wondered if I am setting a world’s record for the most eggplants produced by one plant! A helpful tip is that eggplants are best picked when the skin is shiny and before it turns dull in color. Don’t wait until they get big like in the grocery store, pick them young when they are the tastiest and tender. Your taste buds and the plant will thank you for picking them younger. (Larger, seedy fruits and vegetables triggers the plant to stop producing because once the plant creates seeds its job is done. Trick your plant by picking fruit and vegetables when they are small.)


Gardening is a great source of exercise, benefits pollinators, and provides mouth watering produce. With so much eggplant we have had to become creative! Look above and you will see our eggplant pizza creation. I hope you have enjoyed a tour of my garden and I look forward to sharing more of my adventures and discoveries with you in the future!    

Bible Verse to Ponder:     Ezekiel 17:24

“And all the trees will know that it is I, the Lord, who cuts the tall tree down and makes the tree grow tall. It is I who makes the green tree wither and gives the dead tree new life. I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I said!”

If God can sustain nature and give it life, imagine how much more He will care for us!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Long & Scott Farm in Zellwood, Florida

Scott's Country Store

Photo above shows my dad and me standing with the owner.

Long & Scott farm in Zellwood, Florida is a great trip for the family this fall season. The farm offers hay rides, group farm tours, fishing for kids, and the popular Corn Maze. At the market and garden shop there is a variety of locally grown crops to choose from including the popular Zellwood Sweet Corn. Pumpkins are now in season and are sold at the market. Local eggs, jellies, and home made butter by the Amish is available for purchase. You can check out prices and schedules at their website, 


When stopping by Scott’s Country Market don’t forget to grab a bag of Zellwood Sweet Corn. There was enough corn in our bag to feed us and a few of our neighbors!


Pumpkins and other seasonal decorations are being sold for the fall season.

hay ride

Taking a hay ride on the Sweet Corn Express is just one of the many attractions at the farm. It is open on the weekends and takes a 15 to 20 minute ride around part of the farm.


Sliding down this 60 foot slide is a memorable experience. This is the first farm I’ve visited that had a slide!

zellwood mascot 

Posing with the Zellwood mascot.


Every fall in the months of October and November, Scott’s Corn Maze opens. Each year the maze is a different themed design created out of 12 foot tall corn stalks. This year’s them is “Fresh from Florida”.  The corn maze is a work of art that becomes an adventure as visitors try to find their way through the maze. Getting lost is just part of the fun.

Visitors can purchase tickets to either the six acre Corn Maze or the half-acre Mini Corn Maze depending on how long you wish to spend conquering the maze. The maze is educational and interactive with questions to answer by finding clues among the corn. See the maze at the following link 

Elizabeth’s Secret Garden” hopes everyone enjoys this fall season and has a Happy Harvest.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Carter Caves Resort State Park in Olive Hill, Kentucky


Carter Caves State Park is 30 miles west of Ashland. The park was established on July 31, 1946 when 945 acres were donated to the Commonwealth of Kentucky for the purpose of founding a state park. The park is home to more than 20 caverns. Two of these caves are open to the public for tours. Other attractions include a nine-hole golf course, horseback riding, canoe trips, hiking, a pool, miniature golf, camp ground and picnic areas.


Our grandparents took us to an airstream rally that was held at Carter Caves State Park. We camped out first class in the airstream trailer while our grandparents had a separate retreat in their B-van. The campground has 89 campsites with utilities and a dump station. The campers staying in tents got drenched by the rain while we were cozy in our traveling home. We popped popcorn and each had our own book to read. When it stopped raining, we were ready for our hiking expeditions.


Carter Caves has several natural brides. Smokey bridge is the largest natural bridge in Kentucky. It has become a landmark in the area and is on Kentucky postcards sold at the park. The natural bridge supports a paved highway overhead. It is quite large and we had fun listening to our echoing voices inside. The path leading to the bridge starts by the welcome center. It is less than 1/2 mile long.

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As we proceeded closer to the archway, we noticed it became cooler and there was a pleasant breeze. Along the path flows a stream. Moist areas provided sites for butterflies to “puddle” and extract minerals. I saw multiple Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (left) and Red-spotted purple butterflies (right). Both of these butterflies prefer woodland habitats where their food plants grow. If you look closely, you might notice that the Tiger Swallowtail is feeding on a soiled diaper. Its amazing how nature can sometimes benefit from our trash and wasteful behaviors.

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Along the Rockhouse trail we crossed more bridges and found a couple natural waterfalls cascading off the side of rocks. The large rock formation is how this trail got its name. Our rubber boots came in handy for hiking the trails.


Above you can see another picture of a natural bridge.

camouflaged moth

Can you spot the moth in this picture? It took me awhile to find it on the viewfinder that is on my camera. That is camouflage at its best.

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I was so very excited to go on my first canoe trip on the Smokey Lake. For years I had wanted to canoe so it was a dream come true. We almost missed out because our first trip was canceled due to a thunderstorm. You can imagine my disappointment, but God was good and provided clear weather the second day long enough for us to canoe. As each canoe slid into the lake, the passengers held their breath. One couple was terrified as the canoe swayed back and forth upon entry into the lake. For a minute we though it might tip over! Getting back out of the canoe was another story.


The Cascade Cave and X-Cave are the two caves open for tours. The X-Cave is the most popular. We purchased a package which included a tour of the X-Cave and Cascade Cave. The X-Cave received its name from the shapes of its passages. The Cascade Cave has a 30 foot high waterfall inside which explains why they named it Cascade Cave.

Elizabeth’s Traveling Tip’s: To go on the canoe and cave tours, you will need to make a reservation at the Welcome Center.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tour of the CEHMM Algae Biorefinery in Artesia, NM


Executive director Doug Lynn standing by one of his algae test ponds. He uses this to test different species of algae. 

The CEHMM facility (Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management) is an algae biorefinery located in Artesia, NM. On April 19, 2010 CEHMM became the world’s first fully integrated algae refinery with the ability to operate at more than 1,000 gallons per day throughput. For perspective, consider that one outdoor hot tub that seats two adults takes about 200 gallons to fill, so 1,000 gallons would fill approximately five of those hot tubs.

Algae can produce up to 300 times more oil per acre than other conventional crops such as soybeans, jatropha, grapeseed, or palm. Algae is very productive due to its ability to produce several crops in a short time frame. This is fairly easy to understand considering how fast algae can overpopulate a pond or pool if left untreated! Though it seems a nuisance to communities or pool owners, for biofuel producers it could be the answer to our high dependence on foreign fossil fuel.



This is an old paddlewheel algae pond that was used in the original National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) algae program that ended in 1996. The current green energy project at CEHMM is opening new doors for developing clean and renewable sources for energy. Biofuels such as algae could lower our dependence on foreign oil supplies and preserve our environment by reducing the outflow of hazardous materials that occurs in the petroleum industry.


New Mexico has been identified as an ideal place for algae propagation because of its plentiful sunlight, warm temperatures, and little topographic relief. During the winter months, The solar panel above was used as an experimental pond warmer. 


CEHMM is researching biofuel production in the areas of prorogation, harvesting, and extracting oil from the brine (species that tolerates water saturated with salt) and freshwater algae. The algae tank above is used to grow experimental algae species. If the results are promising, the algae is moved to a larger, swimming pool sized tank.


This is one of the large CEHMM algae ponds. The water is kept agitated by a paddle wheel so that the algae will grow throughout the whole pond. The algae usually takes a couple of weeks to grow and will multiply rapidly once it’s started. Algae requires only sunlight, water, carbon dioxide, and nutrients to complete the processes of photosynthesis necessary for the production of bio-oils. Due to the algae’s quick production and growth in areas not suitable for other agricultural crops, algae stands as a very possible answer in our quest for renewable energy.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Wild Animal Safari in Pine Mountain, GA

wild life safari

The Wild Animal Safari is an unique experience. We were all stimulated with excitement as we tried to visualize driving through a safari in our own vehicle. We have a few hoof marks as proof of our tour! For those who don’t want to drive through in their own vehicle, you can rent a Zebra Van (7 or 15 passengers) or take the guided tour bus (seasonal). After purchasing your tickets and getting some animal treats, the adventure is ready to begin. So buckle your seat belts and prepare to get slobbered!

feeding deer llama

The park is 200 acres with 3 1/2 miles of paved road. Along the way you can expect to see a variety of exotic and native animals. Just be sure not to feed the ostrich and zebras cause they do bite. Most of the animals are friendly and are use to being fed by humans. Giraffes might even walk up to your car to get a treat. You can also expect to see rhinos, tigers, bison, and camels. Note: Animals in the cat family and those on the wilder side are kept behind bars. 

american bison car wash

We were surprised when we passed an American bison laying on the side of the path. It was huge! Oh, and even better was our shock when a Texas Longhorn began to sway its head by our car. My mom and brother were wailing as it just barely missed us. Thankfully we made it past and now laugh at our experience.


Another comical occurrence was watching a pot-belly pig run towards our car on its stubby little legs! I’ve never seen a pig run so fast. I still laugh sometimes when I think about it. We had to throw treats our the window since it couldn’t reach. There was one big pig though that managed to reach our window by putting two of its hooves on our window sill. It was quite a feat for a pig.

Pine Mountain Wild Animal Park

We also went through the walk-about which was like that of a typical zoo setting. You can see primates, kangaroos, black bears, alligators, and more.

peacock   animal

My favorite animal was the peacock that wandered around the exhibits. It jumped into the bunny exhibit to snatch some food. I thought that was quite amusing. The picture to the right is Patagonian Cavy. They are large rodents that are common in the Patagonian steppes of Argentina, but also inhabits other parts of South America such as Paraguay. They feed on grass and other plants in the wild.

Before leaving, you can stop at the gift shop for some souvenirs and they also have the Safari Cafe where they sell fast foods. Below is my video of our tour of the Wildlife Animal Safari.