Hontoon Island State Park

We drove about 20 minutes from Blue Spring to another state park on Hontoon Island.  It’s the only free state park in Florida and can only be accessed by boat!

We hiked a 3-mile trail there and crossed paths with 2 armadillos (an invasive species here … but that didn’t make them any less fun to watch!), heard an owl, was glared at by a Southern Black Racer snake and walked around on an ancient Timucan Indian shell mound.  Wading birds such as the limpkin and sandhill crane entertained us at the boat dock.

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Blue Spring State Park

Manatees make their way up the St. Johns River to retreat to warm spring waters during the cooler winter months here in Florida.

When Jim and I were camping up here this week, there were nearly 50 (!) manatees basking in the spring!  Some other wildlife encounters included a bald eagle swooping down to catch a fish, twinkly-eyed spiders on the shower path and a noisy opossum rustling around outside our tent for a good portion of the evening ;)

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Small Bounties

Well I think my beloved tomatoes and peppers are nearing the end of their days.

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peppers

All of my plants flowered and produced fruit – I was able to reap small bounties from each.  I learned a lot from this first season of growing and will definitely employ the following changes for next year:

  1. Plant less.  I kept at least 2 of each seedling, which translated to 8 giant plants on our small-ish balcony by mid-November.  I’m pretty sure the peppers were starved for sunlight and focused most of their energy growing up.  The tomatoes grew out and over the basil, which caused it to wilt and die off.  Next year, I will only keep 1 seedling each – I have already proven that I can adequately care for them.
  2. Diversify.  The peppers I selected all had similar flavor profiles.  Next year, I aim to spice it up with some hotter varieties such as jalapenos or poblanos.
  3. Cut back.  The tomatoes kind of got out of hand this year.  I let them get too big too fast and then became afraid to hack them back once they had started fruiting.  Next year, I will start pinching new growth early to deter them from taking over the entire space.

I was planning on planting a new round of cool-weather crops before “winter” ends here, but I’m not sure if I’ve waited too long to do this … I will keep you posted.