Are Aphids Good for Your Garden?

Aphids! What the heck? 

Aphids come in a few colors, but the ones that have infested my milkweed are bright yellow. They can also be brown, black or red. Since they are a pest, I insisted on getting rid of them on sight when they first appeared as a yellow blanket all over my milkweed. I have changed my mind since then.  After a lot of reading, I have come to understand that the aphid is the base meal of other beneficial beasties in the garden. However, that doesn’t mean let them infest your garden!

These little creatures suck the sap out of your plants, so their ultimate goal is to kill your plant. The good thing about them is that they do attract the ladybugs, a type of beetle, who are pest eaters in their own right. A ladybug can eat over 5,000 insects in their little life according to experts. Lacewing flies also like to munch on aphids. Both of these insects act as natural pesticides.

If you’re growing milkweed like I am, then you don’t want to use pesticides on the plants to kill the aphids on it. I do use a soap and water mixture to destroy aphids when they get to be too bad, but you can also kill the monarch eggs if you’re not careful. A good dousing with the water hose will do the trick, too.

I find that the best way to get rid of an abundance of aphids is to wet a paper towel and gently wipe down the leaves and stalks of the plants. The aphids are very delicate, so it is very easy to kill them.

Or, you could just let nature take its course and the next thing you will see is an army of these lizard-like things marching across your plant in search of aphids. These are baby ladybugs that look like tiny alligators before they mature into the cute red and black beetles we know and love.

Did you know you could buy ladybugs? Your local nursery may have them for sale in little containers like the ones we got earthworms in when we were kids. Or, they may be in bags like these from Amazon.

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Lacewing flies are not quite as voracious as the ladybug, but they do their own housekeeping. I have noticed that they are inclined to be around my flowering plant aphids as opposed to the milkweed aphids. The aphids are a bit different, so that may be why the lacewing flies are more inclined to hang out by my potted flowers.

Are aphids, good or bad for your garden? If they are not hurting your plants, and there are only a few of them, why not wait for the ladybugs to show up and lay eggs? You can observe another cycle of life while knowing that your plants are safe.

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Poisonous Plants to Avoid in Florida Landscaping

Like animals and bugs, the plants in Florida serve only one purpose; that is to kill you. Not just you, but your pets, too. Yet, we plant them in our gardens and use them in the city parks.

blooming oleander growing in green garden
Photo by Alfin Auzikri on

Oleanders – deadly poisonous native of the Mediterranean;
Castor Bean – a native of Africa that produces ricin;
Rosary Pea – a native from the Old World (wherever THAT is) that produces abrin;
Gloriosa Lily – a native of Africa that produces several toxic compounds like alkaloid colchicine;
King Sago – a poisonous cycad from Japan that produces BMAA and cycasin;
Spotted Water Hemlock – a member of the carrot family that produces nerve poisons

When you create your garden, use native plants for a more balanced yard that attracts pollinators and birds.

Here are some that are in my yard:

  • American Beautyberry
  • Azalea
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Blazing Star
  • Coral Honeysuckle
  • Elliott’s Aster
  • Scarlet Salvia
  • Tickseed

If you want to read more on setting up a native landscape, here are some books that I suggest:

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How We Celebrate Thanksgiving in Florida

Just a quick post today. Happy Thanksgiving! 

We don’t have the advantage of the cold weather here in Florida to help us truly celebrate Thanksgiving, but we try. I remember needing to crack the window because the oven would fog up the house windows when we cooked the turkey. Here, we put the air on because usually November is still a warm month. 

Right now, I have a whole batch of homemade egg noodles drying on the back sunporch because the humidity here is so high most of the time, I only get a couple days to make noodles a year. They will be our Thanksgiving dinner of beef and noodles, which is a favorite, but again, not many days where we want to eat something so warm and toasty that we need to move the thermostat to 62. 

After we eat, we walk the beach because we’re fat and sand is hard to walk in. We also go to the movies or bowling. The one thing we don’t do is shovel snow on the walk or try to get our car out of a drift.

I want to share a photo that I took of our pine tree in the front yard. These guys came for dinner and were patiently waiting for me to serve it. 

Whatever you do, don’t forget to do your Black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping! Amazon has amazing deals for you. You don’t even have to get dressed, and after a day of eating, you might not want to. Check out these cool deals:

We spend our holiday playing board games, and these classics are on sale!

Grab some board games like Monopoly and Yahtzee – on sale 40% OFF

Doing any bullet journaling for 2023? These colorful markers are 20% OFF 
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60% OFF this unicorns and llamas Monopoly set – who knew there was even such a thing?

Happy Thanksgiving from my home to yours!

How We Know the Snowbirds are Back

Every year, we can tell the snowbirds are back in Florida by the color of the license plates. One of the local journalists who wrote a column for a newspaper that is now just a messy part of a conglomerate used to do license plate sightings.

How We Know the Snowbirds are Back
Photo by Roxanne Minnish on

He has moved on to his own publication, but I think of him every fall. This year, we’re facing a hurricane – like tomorrow – so maybe our snow birds will be a little less eager to come visit. (If you need a refresher course on how to read a hurricane map, see this blog post.)

These hurricane supplies might be a little late for the big blow tomorrow, but you could keep them on hand for the next one. Or maybe Prime will deliver in the middle of driving rain …

Hurricane Supplies

These are the ways we know the snowbirds are back:

  • The license plate bingo game is in full swing.
  • The lines are longer at the coffee shop.
  • The traffic gets a little heavier around the grocery store.
  • In the case of a hurricane, people are buying nonsensical items like all the pudding.
  • The grocery store shelves are starting to look a little sparse between stockings.
  • There are cars randomly changing lanes and then stopping in the road.
  • There are long lines at the local Mexican restaurant.
  • Horns honk. At us.
  • There are a lot of sunburned bodies milling about.
  • There are a lot of white arms and legs.

Yes, we’re seeing a smattering of Northeast license plates, and you people from Connecticut, I will remember how you beeped at me for no apparent reason while I was visiting your state last month. Expect  the honk to be returned accordingly. 

What’s Blooming in Florida?

Check out the latest plants and flowers blooming in Florida this month! I have lots of non-native flowers that are taking off, but I don’t have these plants. What I do have is these plants! And, now I have hummingbirds 🙂

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Don’t Feed the Seagulls

nature sky bird holiday
Photo by Pixabay on

Now that the snowbirds and tourists are starting to flock to Florida for the winter, here are a few tips on how to tell them from the residents:

  • They drive with their blinker on. Always.
  • They drive 5 M.P.H. no matter what the posted limit as they search for wherever they were going.
  • They spend a lot of time looking up. The sky is blue and the trees are green.
  • They wear plaid shorts, sandals and black socks. You know who you are.
  • They pay for everything with change from the center console. One penny at a time.
  • They feed seagulls. What is wrong with you?

Okay, I admit, I just committed over half of these things on the list while meandering around New England. I didn’t know where I was most of the time; I slowed down to see if that helped me figure out where I was, and I had my blinker on a lot. I found out that Connecticut residents were the friendliest! They honk and wave a lot!

​I also paid for things with the change piling up in the center console. But, I never, ever fed the seagulls.

One of the first lessons I learned in Florida 35-plus years ago was that you don’t feed the seagulls. Not because they aren’t appreciative, but because that’s a sure way to reenact a scene right out of Hitchcock’s The Birds

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Seagulls have an uncanny way of knowing when you might accidentally drop a small crumb onto the sand. They are not shy about telling all of their friends, either. If you see one seagull, there are millions more just waiting.

I remember sitting on the boardwalk enjoying the ocean and marveling at my surroundings when I saw some people walking on the beach. I don’t know who started it, but someone tossed something out for one seagull. One thousand showed up. They screamed. They dove. They fought. And they pooped. People were running for cover while keeping their arms over their heads.

It was awesome.

You have to watch those birds at all times, and even when you don’t see them coming, they can swoop in fast and furious. I watched them steal pepperoni off of a piece of pizza the size of a travel brochure. He dove down, snatched the pepperoni on the pizza slice, and was gone before my son could even get the food halfway to his mouth.

Busch Gardens was up close and personal in those days.

Flying seagulls close up

Feed them if you like, but remember what Hitchcock said:

Melanie Daniels: Oh Daddy, there were hundreds of them… Just now, not fifteen minutes ago… at the school… the birds didn’t attack until the children were outside the school… crows, I think… Oh, I don’t know, Daddy, is there a difference between crows and blackbirds?… I think these were crows, hundreds of them… Yes, they attacked the children. Attacked them!

Mrs. Bundy: There is very definitely a difference, Miss… They’re both perching birds, of course, but quite different species… I would hardly think that either species would have sufficient intelligence to launch a massed attack. Their brain pans are not big enough… Birds are not aggressive creatures, Miss. They bring beauty into the world. It is mankind, rather… It is mankind, rather, who insists upon making it difficult for life to exist on this planet. Now if it were not for birds…

Deke Carter: Mrs. Bundy, you don’t seem to understand. This young lady said there was an attack on the school.

Mrs. Bundy: Impossible!

Melanie Daniels: Mitch? Oh I’m glad I caught you. Something terrible…


 ‘It’s the end of the world.’ Thus sayeth the Lord God unto the mountains and the hills, and the rivers and the valleys. Behold I, even I shall bring a sword upon ya. And I will devastate your high places. Ezekiel, chapter six.

Waitress: Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning that they may follow strong drink.

Drunk: Isaiah, chapter five. It’s the end of the world.

Mrs. Bundy: I hardly think a few birds are going to bring about the end of the world.

Melanie Daniels: These weren’t a few birds.

Deke Carter: I didn’t know there were many crows in Bodega Bay this time of year.

Mrs. Bundy: The crow is a permanent resident throughout his range. In fact, during our Christmas count, we recorded…

Sebastian Sholes: How many gulls did you count, Mrs. Bundy?… The ones that have been playing devil with my fishing boats… Oh, a flock of gulls nearly capsized one of my boats. Practically tore the skipper’s arm off.

Mrs. Bundy: The gulls went after your fish, Mr. Sholes. Really – let’s be logical about this.

Melanie Daniels: I think they were after the children…to kill them.

Mrs. Bundy: Birds have been on this planet, Miss Daniels, since Archaeopteryx, a hundred and forty million years ago. Doesn’t it seem odd that they’d wait all that time to start a…a war against humanity.

Salesman: Your captain should have shot at them… Gulls are scavengers anyway. Most birds are. Get yourselves guns and wipe them off the face of the earth.

Mrs. Bundy: That would hardly be possible… Because there are eight thousand, six hundred and fifty species of birds in the world today, Mr. Carter. It is estimated that five billion, seven hundred and fifty million birds live in the United States alone. The five continents of the world…

Salesman: Kill ’em all. Get rid of them. Messy animals.

Mrs. Bundy: …probably contain more than a hundred billion birds.

Drunk: It’s the end of the world.

Sebastian Sholes: Those gulls must have been after the fish.

Mrs. Bundy: Of course.

Boy: Are the birds gonna eat us, Mommy?

Mrs. Bundy: The very concept is unimaginable. Why, if that happened, we wouldn’t have a chance! How could we possibly hope to fight them?

Want to see more Hitchcock? Here’s a link to all of his movies on Amazon. 

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Living with Gopher Tortoises

Baby gopher tortoise. Photo by Bill Cleveland ©2021

When you live in Florida, you share your home, garden and yard with an array of animals, reptiles, birds, butterflies and bees. If you garden or build flower beds, you’re inviting many flying, chirping and stinging creatures into your world. If that’s the goal, then good for you if they show up. If that’s not the goal, you might want to rethink your outdoor plants.

My yard has played host to a lot of creatures over the years. We’ve had visiting foxes, peacocks, bobcats, hawks, eagles, buzzards and even a panther. We don’t have that big of a yard! Apparently, it’s just the right size for these wandering animals to stop and have look around for something to eat.

While most of the animals, insects and birds are common, we have our share of protected species, too. The panther for example is a protected species, and when I call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, they told me that there were no panthers in my area. I begged to differ, and I had plenty of witnesses, but FWC would not be moved to believe. As for me, my family, the neighbors and the dog, we believed.

Another protected species can be found in a pile of sand. Probably right in the middle of your yard. This is a good sign that a gopher tortoise has found your yard to be the most suitable place in the world to live regardless of what you think. The problem with these guys digging is that their holes are massive, and they leave this huge pile of sand in their wake. They are aggressive diggers and can dig faster than a kid can plow through a birthday cake with the same degree of wreckage in its wake.

Our yard has been home to a few of these huge creatures over the years, but lately, we’ve only had one that has been using our yard as a freeway between burrows and whatever the great delicacy is in the yard a few feet over. He’s been crawling under our fence to get to wherever it is that he goes. Sometimes, his freeway becomes the neighbor’s chickens escape route.

Because they are endangered, there is no remedy to the landscaping they do. You can’t fill the holes in because apparently, those holes are home to a host of other animals and birds like burrowing owls and rattlesnakes. And 350 other species of animals. Owls, yes. Rattlesnakes, no.

According to the FWC, we can apply for Gopher Tortoise Friendly Yard recognition and get a sign. I don’t think I want his friends to bring more friends to the yard.

Since our tortoise passes through the yard, we enjoy his visits. Sometimes, he comes up on the front porch and noses around, but mostly, he’s headed somewhere else, so he’s less destructive than most.

If you’d like to learn more about the gopher tortoise, here’s a great link to the FWC’s website section on these big tortoises.

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While You Wait for the Artemis Rocket to Launch

I am fortunate to live in Florida. It wasn’t exactly by design, but I ended up here on the East Coast about 45 minutes’ drive south of Cape Canaveral, which was a bonus to being Oceanside. When I got here, the Challenger had just blown up and shuttle launches were scrubbed for the near future. I did get to see the next launch once the program started back up again. So, I have been lucky to watch all manner of rockets flung into space, as well as be amazed as the boosters returning to land on a postage stamp sized barge in the middle of the wide open Atlantic Ocean. I have seen the shuttle come home on a transporter that seemed to black out the sky when it flew over, and I grew up with a shuttle pilot as a friend. It’s safe to say that I love all things space. If you’re visiting the Space Coast for a Launch, you must love all things space, too.

Like the weather, the space program is unpredictable and while I am spoiled by the fact that I can look out my window and watch a launch, I know there are many people who come here just to see a launch. That was the case of the Artemis rocket test flight the other day. I happened to be on the road when it was supposed to launch, so I was constantly scanning the horizon while plugged into my rocket go-to site for more information. gives you all the updates. That’s how I knew the flight had been scrubbed, which meant I could settle down and enjoy the road trip and wait for the next big thing.

Now, I am waiting for them to reschedule the flight and hope I don’t forget to write it down on my calendar.

The Space Coast is a focused on the space industry, but there are other things to do here that are not spacy for those days when scrubbed missions disappoint. If you’re heading down to Cape Canaveral (Kennedy Space Center), here are some other places to explore:

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

If you’re looking for a space thrill, then the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is the place to spend a day. If you’re here for the launch, this is going to be a busy place, so you might need to put this at the end of your list of things to do.

It doesn’t matter what your level of space devotion is, there are exhibits that will excite and entertain you at the Center. You can take a day trip to the launch pad or explore for a couple of days. Just make sure you get into the visitor complex.

The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame showcases legends from the beginning of NASA to the present day. You will ‘meet’ space pioneers like John Glenn and other Mercury astronauts.  You can spend time in Mission Control, and you might even be able to chat with a real astronaut. If you want to get up close and personal with real rockets, there are plenty to see in The Rocket Garden. The Countdown Clock is an icon of American history, and it is still used today.

You can climb into a training simulator or enjoy iconic photos from deep space from the Hubble telescope.

Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop for a souvenir of your trip to the moon and back.

Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Just up the road from the assembly building is a barrier island that is home to many birds who come and go from the Florida peninsula. This national park consists of dunes, lagoons and hammocks that host a large selection of Florida native animals and plants. There are five turtle species at the seashore, and other mammals like the manatee and the right whale.

You can stop at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge that is also part of this park system, and see birds like spoonbills, kingfishers and the endangered scrub jay. There are also wild hogs in the area, so keep an eye out for them, too. It is also the home of bobcats, so you might even see a cat or two.

The name Canaveral is derived from the word that means ‘place of cane’. It is the oldest recorded geographical location on the North American continent. There are nature hikes to take, and the history includes tales of its settlement and the crops they planted. Timucuan mounds are preserved.

Cocoa Beach and Cocoa Village

You might remember the name of this beach town because it was the fictitious home base for Captain Nelson of the 1960s I Dream of Jeannie tv show. Unfortunately, there is no television studio set to visit as the house never was on Cocoa Beach.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some great things to do on Cocoa Beach.

Cocoa Beach is home to annual surfing contests because its six miles of beach make it a great place to surf. Surfers gear up from iconic shops like the Ron Jon Surf Shop where you can buy surf gear, Florida souvenirs, t-shirts and other touristy things to buy that will remind you of the days of sun and sand. At Christmas, the Surfing Santas take to the waves and all you see is Santas on surfboards spreading holiday cheer.

Cocoa Village is on the mainland, and it is the quiet, more reserved partner of the Cocoa experience. You will find art shops, antique shops, breweries, restaurants and gardens. Take a walk along the streets and pop into any number of shops selling local arts and crafts. Or, stop into a café for a bite to eat and a local brew.

You can still find a hardware store that opened up in 1885 selling its wares. It’s a small village, so take a day and explore the quaintness of an old Florida village.

Mel Fisher Treasures Museum

Just down the coast from the Space Coast lies the Treasure Coast, that is aptly named for its hidden ocean treasures. The coastline is where the shipwrecks occurred, and there are still doubloons that wash up on shore to this day after a particularly fierce storm

The Mel Fisher Treasure Museum and Gift shop is located in Sebastian, Florida on U.S. Highway 1 and is the home of some of the iconic treasures that Mel Fisher brought up from some very famous shipwrecks.

Mel Fisher started as a dive shop owner in California before he became interested in sunken treasure. From there he sought out shipwrecks. In the early 1970s, he found one and it started is life’s dream to seek treasure and lost history.

In his museum, you’ll find jewelry, artifacts and gold from Spanish fleets that sunk in a storm in 1715. He recovered treasure from Nuestra Senora de Atocha that was sunk during a hurricane in 1622 off the coast of the Florida Keys. You can buy a piece of treasure from the Atocha if you wish. They offer emeralds and silver coins for purchase. I almost bought my Dad a cannonball for Christmas one year until I realized that I had no way to ship it!

There are opportunities to join a team of treasure hunters, so you might find yourself bitten by the treasure hunting bug.

In addition to these fun stops, there are other places very close to the Cape to visit like the Brevard Zoo, the McKee Botanical Gardens in Vero Beach or drive north to St. Augustine or Daytona Beach.
You will also find fresh fruit like oranges, grapefruits and even local strawberries and blueberries.

Since you never know when another launch will happen, make sure that you have a backup plan for those scrub days. 

Things I Found Out About Raising Monarchs

The life cycle of a Monarch butterfly. ©jcleveland

Here are some things that I found out about raising Monarchs from caterpillars to adults:

  1. Our second go at this produced 17 caterpillars, which were about 10 more than I had anticipated. Apparently, if you just leave the plants in the open for a few days, there are many unseen eggs when you put the top back on! We released 11. A couple caterpillars were lost in the beginning (or I overcounted one or two), and two Monarchs were unable to open their wings, so they died. I found that heartbreaking.
  2. A female Monarch and a male Monarch have different bottom wings. The males have a black spot in the center of the wing on each side. I know I released at least one male this first go round.
  3. The caterpillars molt and drop bodies as they go. When they are close to getting ready to go into chrysalis, they go manic and eat everything and then some. I ran out of food from the plants in the planter, but I had back-up plants, so I was a planting fool. Along with cutting the tops off of my mature plants and sticking the tops in the ground, I picked up a couple plants at the local big box store. It worked in a pinch, but I was exhausted by the time they are went into chrysalis status.
  4. If you buy back-up plants in a hurry, make sure that the plants are from a nursery and not a big box store. I think a bad plant may have contributed to the butterflies with the malformed wings.
  5. Their little heads fall off and drop to the bottom of the cage when they become chrysalis. This is disturbing.
  6. They poop a lot. A lot. I used a straw to gently blow the poop off the leaves as they went. The cage was big enough that I could remove it from the dirt and the sides.
  7. They jump off of leaves on a strand of silk if they are scared when they are really little. I was pretty sure that it was being eaten by an invisible spider.
  8. Keep them sheltered from the hot sun and storms, and don’t release them in the rain.
  9. If you upset them by just being there as they are eating, they will all start to shiver and shake like they’re scared. It might be a warning mechanism, but it is weird. Even if you talk while you’re taking care of them, they huddle or shiver.
  10. If they get into a fight, expect a lot of head butting. They fight over leaves, and it’s everyone for themselves.
  11. They are caterpillars for about 14 days, and then they are chrysalis for 7 days, so it takes almost a month to go from worm to butterfly. There are a few moltings between tiny and huge.
  12. If you see an egg on a leaf, if it is grey, it is because they are getting ready to hatch. They will eat their own egg. I read that black eggs were bad eggs, but I didn’t do a lot of research on this.
  13. These butterflies have a host of pests and diseases, so if you do this, be prepared to watch them for problems. I have been lucky, but I’ve read some stories about serious problems. When in doubt, check the internet for references.
  14. They live 2 to 6 weeks unless they are the super generation that migrates from the United States to Mexico, and then they can live months. My Florida Monarchs do not migrate far, so they don’t live long.
  15. They lay about 200 or so eggs, and the female can lay eggs within a few days of becoming a butterfly.
  16. Florida offers year-round butterflies.
  17. Only buy milkweed that belongs to your region or the butterflies get a bit confused.
  18. Plant other flowers like lantana and butterfly bushes to encourage the butterflies to stay, eat and breed.
  19. Check out other host plants for the other butterflies in your yard and help them propagate.

I hate that they are endangered, and I know that I can never raise enough to make a big difference, but I hope to help some butterflies live on. 

Since kids love bugs, why not help them understand how important the pollinators are to the world?

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