Posts Tagged ‘Florida gardening’

Remembering Charley

Eight years ago today, Hurricane Charley came ashore along the Gulf coast of southwest Florida as a Category Four hurricane. Places like Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte receive the brunt of this storm, experiencing catastrophic destruction in many areas. Later that evening, after being over land for a full eight hours, Charley was still packing a wallop when it came through the Orlando area, where I live. Official estimates rated the storm a borderline Category Two/Three hurricane when it came past my house. That would put the sustained winds in the range of 105 to 110 miles per hour (roughly 170 to 180 km/h for readers more accustomed to the metric system).

To make a long story short, here’s what my front yard looked like the morning after the storm.

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The picture above was taken while standing in the driveway, looking toward the house. At the far left edge, you can barely make out the roofline above the downed trees. The picture below, taken from the sidewalk, provides a different perspective. The roofline visible in this picture belongs to our next door neighbor.

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The following picture was taken from the same place as the one above, but is angled toward the right. By this point you may be wondering about all the brown grass. That actually had nothing to do with the hurricane. A few weeks earlier, we had had to replace the drain field, which is located beneath the front lawn. Following the work, we had sod put down, but it promptly died. At the time Charley blew through, I was waiting for the replacement sod to be delivered.

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The following picture provides a good sense of the power of this storm, by showing one of the trees next to the garage door.

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The next picture is interesting. It’s hard to tell by looking, but there are actually two cars in this picture. Can you see the red one? It’s parked right next to the beige minivan.

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From this angle, you can see both vehicles. Believe it or not, the red one did not even have a scratch!

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The next set of pictures show what greeted us when we opened our front door. We literally could not get out of the house by going that way. Instead, we had to go out the back door and walk around the house.

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The red you see in the picture below is the front of the same car mentioned above.

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I can’t say enough to express my gratitude for the kindness of our neighbors and family members that day. Several people pitched in to help without being asked, and within a short period of time, we had chain saws buzzing continuously. By noon, all the trees were cut down into manageable pieces, stacked along the road. The man on the roof in the next picture is a neighbor, and the one in the foreground is our son-in-law.

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As a postscript, I am happy to say that we were lucky not to have sustained any structural damage. The roof was damaged enough to need replacement, we had a bit of water damage inside the house, and our screen enclosure in the back needed to have the panels replaced, but all things considered, I believe we were very fortunate. Many others did not get off so easily.

One last thing to point out: if you look closely at the picture above, you’ll see a staghorn fern underneath the tree in the foreground. We were sure it was a goner. But once we got the tree off of it, it didn’t look like it was damaged too badly, so we hung it up in the oak tree still standing on the other side of the driveway. I am happy to report that that fern pulled through in good shape. In the picture below, you can see how it looks today.

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Flood relief

Summer is the rainy season in Central Florida. Rain is frequent and heavy, and is often accompanied by gusty winds and lots of lightening. Anyone who has visited the region during the summer months can attest to the severity of our afternoon thunderstorms this time of year. They can also tell you how, once the storms clear out each evening, the sky will clear up again and we will have a warm and muggy, but otherwise pleasant evening.

This past week was different. One storm in particular had all the locals chattering on Facebook and comparing notes for several days afterward. Several things made this storm stand out. To begin with, it caught nearly everyone off guard by coming through the area at night. It also produced exceptionally heavy and frequent lightening. And thirdly, it dumped an incredible amount of water in a matter of just a few minutes. The rain gauge below shows what this storm dropped on my garden in under thirty minutes.

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Under normal circumstances, if I have young plants out, I can see the storms coming well enough in advance to bring the plants in under a shelter. Not this time. My young seedlings caught the brunt of it. And by the time I was aware of the storm, there was far too much lightening for me to go outside safely. Thinking back on it afterward, I realized that I did hear the storm coming; however, since I live within earshot of the Magic Kingdom, I actually thought the thunder was just a somewhat louder than normal nightly fireworks display. Little did I know!

When I checked on the seedlings the next morning, the tray they were sitting in was filled to the rim, and it was obvious that the plants had taken a beating. I didn’t think to take a picture at the time, though. I just dumped the water, tidied up the plants and refilled their little peat pots with fresh Mel’s Mix.

Yesterday, we had yet another heavy storm. This one wasn’t quite so intense, but I did not see it coming, and once again my plants got hit pretty hard. Here’s what their tray looked like this morning. There was almost an inch in the rain gauge. As you can see, much of the soil was once again pounded out of the pots. Some of the pots themselves had even been ripped by the force of these storms!

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Today, I provided them some relief. I repotted those in the worst shape, moving them to plastic pots, and placed the plastic pots in a tray with drainage. I am hoping that does the trick. While they are still vulnerable, I will try to pull them in out of harm’s way, but obviously I’m not always able to be there for them.

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Here’s hoping they have seen the worst of it! In the meantime, happy gardening!

An Overdue Update on my Cowpeas

It’s amazing sometimes how fast time can slip by without being noticed. I guess that’s how I managed to let almost a whole month go by without providing an update on my cowpea project. I continue to enjoy pretty good success with the cowpeas as I learn about this relatively unknown garden crop. As you may recall from my previous postings, this is my first time growing them, so I am using this summer as a learning experience. Based on the lessons I learn this summer, I plan to make adjustments next summer when I start all over again.

We have had cowpeas to eat off and on for several weeks now. I have been harvesting every two to four days, depending on my personal schedule and whether the weather permits me to do so. The harvest quantity varies significantly, depending mostly on the maturity of the different planting waves. So far, only the first two waves have been producing, and they have almost run their course. The ones you see in the rightmost basket below show what I picked today. When the first two waves were at their peak, I got significantly more than this at a time.

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The plant in the next picture is one of only three plants still living from the first wave. The purple hulled peas you see in this picture are the same ones you see in the basket above.

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The second wave, planted around the end of May, included three varieties. Two of those (Mississippi Silver and SaDandy) have produced quite a few peas, but the Red Rippers have yet to produce. The Mississippi Silvers are just sitting around staying green, but not producing anything. The SaDandy, shown below, appear to be thinning out somewhat, but are producing another flush of peas which should be ready in the next few days.

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The Red Rippers, in the next two pictures have not produced anything yet, but this is not a surprise. All the literature I can find on the different varieties indicates that these take considerably longer to mature than the other two varieties planted in Wave Two. As you can see, they look quite healthy and are most definitely proving themselves to be climbers. They are beginning to produce some peas now, the earliest of which should be table-ready within days.

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The third wave has yet to produce, but is looking very promising. Many, many pods are within days of being ready to pick now. Varieties in this wave include California Blackeyed #46, Pink-eyed Purple Hull, and Mississippi Silver.

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Wave Four, which is planted in the flower bed to provide greenery and add nitrogen to the soil, is coming along nicely. No peas yet, but I wouldn’t expect them this soon. You can see in the picture below how they are doing.

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Since my last update, I have added a fifth wave to my cowpea project. This wave is planted in two separate patches on different sides of the house. Both patches are in areas intended for something other than permanent vegetable gardening, but both areas have really poor soil and could use the natural boost of nitrogen. In addition, I plan to spade the plants into the soil after harvesting the peas, providing organic mass and additional soil nutrients.

The first patch is the now infamous “bare patch” in my butterfly garden. I decided to plant California Blackeyed #46 in this patch while waiting for the recently started larval hosts (parsley, dill, fennel, etc.) to get big enough to transplant. This variety does not get very tall (meaning they should stay hidden from the road by the row of flowering plants in front of them), it matures quickly (meaning the herbs shouldn’t have to wait too long for their turn), and the plants die back quickly after harvest (giving me good organic matter for turning into the soil).

If you look closely at the picture below, you’ll see a plant other than peas right in the center. This is a milkweed that was recently eaten down to the stems by a Monarch caterpillar, as described in the post linked above. It has little tiny leaves all over it now, and should be looking healthy again in a few more days.

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In the top portion of the next picture, you can barely make out the base of the Duranta that I recently planted and discussed in a couple blog posts.

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Finally, in the picture below, you will see a new addition to my selection of cowpea varieties. About the time I finished selecting the five varieties I would try growing over the summer, my wife and I bought some Zipper peas from the local farmer’s market, and we absolutely loved them. After buying and consuming several batches of them over the summer, I decided to grow some of my own. I finally found some seeds available for sale and proceeded to order a pound! Assuming these taste like the ones we bought at the farmer’s market, this is just the first of many plantings. This location is along the back of our house near the pool pump. An old ligustrum bush recently died here, leaving quite a hole in the landscaping. I have replaced the ligustrum with a firebush, which is a species native to Florida, but it is growing slowly, so I decided to take advantage of the available space while waiting for it to fill in the space. And, as I have mentioned before, being legumes, the cowpeas will augment the soil.

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That’s it for now. Until next time, happy gardening!

Awaiting Autumn

Florida gardeners look forward to fall with as much anticipation as gardeners farther north look forward to spring. With the exception of a few tropical species such as okra and cowpeas, not much grows in Florida gardens during the long, hot summer. By the time August rolls around, the limitations on what can be planted have begun to loosen up, and by September, we will be able to plant pretty much anything.

Although this region theoretically has a year-round growing season, fall is really the time of peak gardening. By way of comparison with northern gardens, August is akin to that period in late winter when the ground has thawed, but frosts are still frequent. September brings the first hint of cooler weather, with the kind of long warm days and mild nights that make garden vegetables thrive. One significant difference that remains, though, is that here the days start out long and then get shorter as the season comes to a close. Because of this, the growth slows down as the season progresses, rather than accelerate.

Against the backdrop of this calendar, I have spent these first few days of August clearing out old growth, preparing the ground where I have spaces available, tending to the young plants previously started, and planting more seeds. The first two pictures below show the oldest of my fall plants, an assortment of tomatoes and peppers as detailed in this post.

I would like to draw your attention to the two peppers on the far right of the tray in the foreground of the first picture below. Those are Black Hungarian peppers, which produce tasty, medium-to-hot peppers and can be used as ornamental plants. Notice the dark coloration? According to the description when I bought them, they are supposed to have deep purple veins and emerald green leaves. From what I’ve seen so far, it appears the reverse is true. Either way, as they mature, they should produce purple flowers, followed by pepper pods that start out green, turn solid black, and then ripen to red. This is my first time growing any, so I’m looking forward whatever colorful display they offer.

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I’m somewhat concerned with the discoloration on several of the tomato plants. I have compared them with tomato disease pictures found in databases, and as best I can tell, these leaves do not match any of the leaves illustrating identified diseases. As such, I will not panic just yet. What I will do is trim them up and move them out of the screened enclosure to expose them to full strength sunlight on a full time basis. I will also be transplanting them to their permanent homes within the next couple weeks. I am hopeful that this will address the problem.

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The next picture shows the second and third waves of tomato and pepper plants. The second wave is discussed in detail here, and the third in this post. Careful readers or keen observers might notice that there are a couple extra pots in the right-hand picture. Those are both a type of ornamental tree known as a Jerusalem Thorn. Only one of them has sprouted thus far, and it has been almost long enough to conclude that the second one failed to germinate. Needless to say, these are not intended for the vegetable garden!

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The next picture marks this fall’s first departure from the Solenacea family, more commonly known as nightshade. The plants in this tray are members of the Brassicacea family, more commonly known as the cabbage family. In fact, they are all members of a single species, Brassica oleracea. This species has a surprisingly diverse array of cultivars, one of which is cabbage, and within those cultivars, one finds an assortment of varieties.

In is tray I have planted one variety each of two cultivars, neither of which happens to be cabbage. Instead, I have broccoli (the DiCiccio variety) and collard greens (the Georgia variety). The nine on the left are broccoli and the six on the right are collard greens. If you look closely, you will notice that they are indistinguishable from one another at this stage.

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Last, but not least, I have planted a whole lot of herbs. Many of these will end up in containers that we keep within easy reach of the kitchen; others will find their way into the butterfly garden, either because of their nectar-producing flowers or their use as caterpillar food. Others still will be tucked away in various niches in the yard to add a particular ornamental characteristic or two, and some will be used as companion plants where beneficial relationships exist. Most of them are the types of herb commonly used in cooking, but some are used for other purposes. Here’s the full list:

  • Basil
  • Chives (Common)
  • Chives (Garlic)
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Fennel (Bronze)
  • Fennel (Florence)
  • German Chamomile
  • Hyssop
  • Marjoram
  • Mustard
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Rue
  • Sage
  • Summer Savory
  • Thyme

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Wordless Wednesday – August Heat

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Cowpeas — here, there, everywhere!

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The first wave of cowpeas has now yielded the first cowpea harvest of the season! And given that this is the first time I have ever tried growing them, this was my first cowpea harvest ever!! Aside from the “firsts” involved, there wasn’t all that much that was noteworthy about them. The total yield is shown in the picture above. These came from the pods in the picture below. That’s it.

As you can see, they were a mixture of black-eyed and pink-eyed (actually somewhat purplish, but they appear almost brown in this picture). Some of them were green, while others were cream colored. The pods included various shades of green, brown, and purple. If you are familiar with cowpeas or if you have been following my blog posts regularly, you will recognize that the purple pods yielded the pink-eyed peas, given that one of the varieties I planted was Pinkeyed Purple Hull. The others were all California Blackeyed #46.

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The small yield was not a surprise to me, as I had only planted a few seeds of each kind for the first wave. I did that largely to see how they did with the tight spacing prescribed for the SFG method. As best I can tell, they did just fine. Other than their tendency to lean toward any open space nearby, I didn’t detect any signs of stress due to crowding. To compensate for the small quantity, we added them to a batch of cream peas that we bought at the farmers market and had mixed cowpeas with our dinner. We enjoyed them very much.

What surprised me was that the black-eyes ripened up all at once, but the pink-eyes ripened one or two pods at a time. The black-eyed plants mostly died as the pods matured; the pink-eyed plants are still growing and are still producing a few pods every day or two. You can see them in the picture below, nestled in between marigolds and a tomato.

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I planted considerably more seeds for the second wave, so I should get a much bigger yield. For this wave, I planted three varieties: Mississippi Silver, Red Ripper, and SaDandy. They have all grown enough to where I can see significant differences in their characteristics now. The Mississippi Silvers are shown in the picture below. About a week ago, they very suddenly displayed a tendency to get very floppy, for lack of a better word. They haven’t produced vines or had a tendency to run along the ground; they simply flopped over and didn’t stand back up. I ended up rigging a support out of bamboo stakes and stretchy plant tie tape — partly to get them up off the ground, but mostly to give myself room to walk, so I could get to my zucchini and tomato containers.

Other than the floppiness, they appear perfectly healthy. They are producing pods, which should be ready in another week or two. As I understand it, the pods are supposed to turn silver when they ripen, which is where they get their name. I’m looking forward to seeing them.

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Of all the varieties, the Mississippi Silver had by far the prettiest flower. You can see one of the blossoms below.

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The second variety of wave two is the Red Ripper. This is the one that is supposed to vine, and they have now started doing just that. Many of the plants needed help finding the trellis that I placed along the center. Instead, they lay down outward, away from the trellis and started running along the ground. As with the Mississippi Silver, I rigged up some supports to help guide them toward the trellis and to give me room to walk. They are not showing signs of producing peas yet, but this is consistent with what I have read about them.

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The last of the wave two varieties is SaDandy, a traditional Southern variety of cream pea with a reputation for excellent taste. These plants are still standing very erect with no signs of flopping over or producing runners. They are producing many pods which, as you can see below, are being held up above the foliage. Based on the size of the pods, I will not be surprised if these are ready to pick before the others.

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The third wave consists mostly of California Blackeyed #46 and Pinkeyed Purple Hull, with just a few Mississippi Silver, as I finished off that seed packet with this planting. There is nothing spectacular to report about this wave. They are simply growing as I would expect. Here’s a picture of how they look now.

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As you may recall, I pretty much ran out of room when I planted wave three. Well, it just so happened that I had a flower bed that had basically fizzled. The last of the sunflowers had gotten ripped down by one of our infamous summer thunderstorms, other varieties had never done much, and the weeds were beginning to take over. Here’s what it looked like:

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So, I decided to replant that flower bed and use it for more cowpeas at the same time. I saved the few remaining healthy flowers, but mostly did a complete restart. After cleaning out the weeds, I planted alternating patches of cowpeas and flowers. The cowpeas include the remaining SaDandy (only a handful), the remaining Pinkeyed Purple Hull (a few short rows), and the remaining Red Ripper (about three short rows along the fence, so they can climb), with California Blackeyed #46 everywhere else. The flowers include two varieties of sunflower (Autumn Beauty and Irish Eyes) and three varieties of native Florida wildflower (scarlet sage, gaillardia, and coreopsis). All of these are good nectar sources for butterflies and other beneficial insects. As you can see below, the cowpeas have gotten off to a good start. Some of the wildflowers are also beginning to appear but are hard to see here. I have not seen any signs of sunflowers yet.

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As a postscript to all this, I am hoping to continue with a wave five. I just need to figure out where to plant it. In addition to the black-eyed peas I have remaining, I have also gotten my hands on another variety, which my wife and I found at the farmers market and have been enjoying very much all summer: Zipper Cream peas. They are a type of crowder cream peas, in that they have the mild, smooth taste of cream peas, but the peas grow very large in the pod, literally crowding against one another. I am looking forward to growing some. I just need to find a space!

Happy Gardening!

Odds and Ends

This past week was one of those weeks. I’m sure you’re familiar with the kind of week that happens now and then when some of life’s other priorities demand time and attention that you much would rather spend gardening. It was one of those. As such, my gardening activities dropped off to a minimum over the last few days. Fortunately, this weekend has provided the opportunity to finally get back into the garden, so I spent some time on odds and ends — literally.

But first, an update on the status of my fall garden starts …

The first wave tomatoes and peppers, detailed here, are doing quite nicely as you can see in the picture below. All of them are looking strong and healthy, with one exception. At the time I transplanted them recently, I noticed that one of the large red cherry tomato plants was nearly severed close to the base of the stem. I do not know how this happened. Because of this, I buried it pretty deeply when I transplanted it, so that the damaged part of the stem was below ground. It lay weakly on the soil at first, but now it is beginning to stand up on its own. I wouldn’t say it’s in the clear yet, but it does look promising. The rest are doing as I would expect at this stage. I’ve been taking them outside the screened enclosure for a few hours a day to help them get accustomed to the full, unfiltered sun.

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My second wave plants, detailed here, are also coming along nicely. Nearly all of them have sprouted, as you can see below, so it’s about time to start putting them in more direct sunlight. Although the sun looks bright in this picture, the place where they’re sitting is shady most of the day. This picture was taken in the late afternoon, during a period of maybe half an hour a day when the sun shines on them directly.

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The odds.

Now, on to the odds and ends, starting with the odds. In this week’s mail, I received my last set of tomato seeds (for now, anyway). I only got three varieties this time, but each one is a bit of an oddball. I planted two of each yesterday.

  • Carbon — Heirloom aficionados often rave about the taste of black tomatoes, yet many people have never heard of them and would very likely pass them up if offered. If you expect tomatoes to be red or if you tolerate the occasional well-maybe-okay-I-guess-so-yellow, then a black tomato will look just plain wrong to you. It will be largely red, but will also have dark splotches here and there on the surface and on the inside. To the aficionado, a black tomato represents the kind of rich, complex, subtle combinations of flavor you just can’t find in ordinary reds. By way of analogy, the black tomato is a bottle of red wine from the reserve list, whereas a red tomato is the house red. Grocery store tomatoes are more like a cheap white Zinfandel. The Carbon tomato, as the name suggests, is a black tomato that produces well, yields uniformly round, mid-sized fruits, and often wins taste awards. I have never grown a black tomato before, so I figured I would start with this one.
  • Kewalo — There is nothing odd looking about this tomato, which produces a medium sized, round, red fruit. What is unusual, though, is that it is one of the few open pollinated (i.e., non-hybrid) varieties developed specifically to do well in hot climates. Not only does it tolerate heat, it is resistant to several tomato diseases common to this area. It was developed at the University of Hawaii. I decided to try this one to see how well it does for me in Central Florida.
  • White Beauty — This tomato is probably the most unusual of the three. White tomatoes are fairly rare, and this one even more so. The White Beauty is said to be the whitest of the white tomatoes (which are typically more of an ivory color). White tomatoes are not well known for their taste, and this is no exception. They tend to be high in sugars and low in acid, giving them a sweet taste, quite unlike the taste we generally associate with tomatoes. I’m growing this one more out of curiosity than anything else.

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The ends.

As for the “ends,” I started rooting the top ends of two edible bromeliads, more commonly known as pineapples. There is a vendor at our local farmers market who sells fresh pineapples. He cuts the top off with a knife and then uses a nifty little gadget to core and slice a whole pineapple with just a few twists of his wrist. I bought one yesterday morning and then asked him if I could have the top. He said, “Sure! How many would you like?” So, I took two.

From what I have read, it’s really easy to take a fresh top and turn it into a new plant. You place it in a pan of water about half way up to the bottom of the leaves, and you leave it there for three days. After that (whether you see roots or not) you plant it in good soil. It does the rest. It takes anywhere from 24 to 36 months to produce another pineapple, but in the meantime, you have a nice tropical plant. The picture below shows these two sitting in a tray lid with about an inch of water. Perhaps I should name them Mutt and Jeff. Better yet, maybe I’ll call them Odd and End.

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Happy Gardening!