Key West Chickens

Key West RoosterKey West Chickens

Florida is an amazing state and one of my favorite places is the Florida Keys.  Fishing, snorkeling, boating and a cold drink or two can be found along the highway from Largo to Key West.

When you get to Key West you will be greeted by the local chickens.   Key West is the home of a large population of feral chickens.  They crow at all hours of the day and night and they strut up and down the streets like they own them.  Loved by most and hated by some,  they don’t get any special protections in the Keys but residents cannot shoot them, and cruelty laws are enforced.

Key West ChickensOn a trip in November, I ran into these fine specimens on the front sidewalk of a local store.  They greeted all the shoppers as they passed and searched the area for something to eat.

I could use a few of these on the farm.  These chickens know how to take care of themselves.  They put themselves to bed and can deal with local predators.  If they eat bugs, put out a few eggs and do not require any special care, I consider these a great farm chicken.  Even if they look to be a bit tough on the dinner plate.


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Pindo Palm Jelly

Pindo Palm TreeButia capitata

Pindo Palms are a common landscape plant in southern climates.  Most owners are glad to give away the fruit, and surprised to know they are edible.

Yellow, pineapple sweet and tart at the same time, Pindo Palms are the lost fruit, once the stable of every southern yard.  Now it’s considered a tree that creates a mess on lawns.  One of the common complaints about the Pindo Palm is that it produces too much fruit… Think about that: Only a nation with yards of decapitated grass and an obesity epidemic would think a plant produces too much food.

Pindo Palm FruitThe name Pindo comes from the town of Pindo in southern Brazil where the palm is native.  They are not bothered by insects or disease pests and easy to grow if your climate does not get into the lower teens in winter.

Pindo Palm fruit grows in large clusters.  I love to eat them fresh from the tree, but they make a jelly too.  A common name for these trees is a Jelly Palm, because the fruit is good and high in pectin.

I cut a large cluster from a tree in the landscape of a local subdivision and made some jelly.

Pindo Palm Jelly
Makes 8 (8-ounce) jars.

pindo palm on clusterEquipment:

  • 6-quart heavy bottom pot with lid
  • 4-quart heavy bottom pot
  • large bowl
  • sieve or food mill
  • potato masher
  • 8 (8-ounce) jelly jars with lids and bands
  • canning pot with lid
  • wide mouth funnel
  • jar lifter


  • 1 gallon Pindo Palm fruit
  • 4-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 package dry pectin

cut pinto palm fruitPreparation:

Pull fruit from the cluster and rinse the fruit.  Cut each fruit with a sharp knife and pull out the seed, really ripe fruit can be squeezed until the seed pops out.  Put the fruit in a 6-quart pot.   Add water just until the fruit starts to float.  Cover with the lid and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the fruits are soft, about 30 to 40 minutes.  Mash the fruit using the potato masher.

Press the mixture through a sieve or use a food mill to separate the juice from the skins.  You should end up with about 5 to 6 cups of thick orange juice. Transfer the juice into the 4-quart pot.

Mix together the pectin and 1/4 cup of the sugar, then add to the fruit juice and bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat.  Add the remaining sugar and bring back to a full boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.  The mixture should have small bubbles constantly breaking the surface. Continue cooking for 10 minutes, then test the mixture by spooning a little out onto a plate. Wait a few minutes and check the jelly, it should start to set as it cools.  If it’s too runny, continue cooking and checking every 5 minutes.

Pindo Palm JellyWhile the mixture cooks, place the jars in the canning pot and add water until it’s 1 inch over the top of the jars.  Bring to a boil and then turn off the heat, leaving the jars in for at least 10 minutes.  In the small pot, heat water to 180° F.  Add the lids and leave them in for at least 10 minutes to soften the sealing compound and sterilize them. Do not boil the lids to avoid seal failure.

When the mixture is ready, drain and remove the jars from the pot.  Turn on the heat for the canning pot and bring the water temperature up to 180° F.  Ladle the jelly mixture into the jars using the wide mouth funnel, leaving about 1/4-inch headspace.  Run a thin spatula around the inside edge of the jar to remove bubbles.  Wipe the top of the jars clean with a clean damp cloth and place the hot lids on top.  Add the bands and tighten just until finger tight.

Use the jar lifter to gently lower the jars into the hot water.  Cover with the lid and bring back to a rolling boil.  Process for 10 minutes, then use the jar lifter to remove the jars from the pot.  Place hot jars on a wooden board and leave them for 12 to 24 hours, until they cool completely.  Check for a seal after they have cooled.  Store sealed jars in a cool dark place for up to 12 months.  Store any unsealed jars in the refrigerator.

Don’t pass up an opportunity to try the fruit of the Pindo Palm.   That’s the way we do it at the 40 acre woods.

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American Persimmon

american persimmons 1Diospyros virginiana

The American or common persimmon, also called simmon, possumwood, and Florida persimmon is a slow-growing, moderately sized tree native to southeastern North America.

The fruit is about 1 to 2 inches in diameter. Unripe fruit, which is high in tannins, has a bitter astringent flavor.  The golden orange to burnt orange fruit are very sweet when fully ripened and the astringent taste is reduced late in the fall after a cold snap.  The skin will wrinkle and the fruit will soften when the persimmon is fully ripe.

When you gently shake a persimmon tree, the ripe fruits fall to the ground.  If you have to pull the fruit off the tree, it will surely pucker your mouth inside out!  Ripe persimmons are delicious out of hand, and can be made into puddings and cakes.

american persimmons 2Persimmon wood is prized for its beauty and extreme density, and used for golf club heads and pool cues.

Deer, opossum and coons love the persimmons, and at night a deer will stand and wait patiently beneath a persimmon tree with an opossum up in the tree jumping from branch to branch, shaking persimmons loose and waiting on the fruit that falls to the ground.

At the 40 Acre Woods, we have many persimmon trees.  The deer, opossum and coons spread the seeds after eating the fruit.


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Coastal Groundcherry

Physalis angustifoliaCoastal Ground Cherry 1

The Coastal Groundcherry, is a species of flowering plant in the nightshade family.  It is native to the Gulf Coast shoreline of the Southeastern United States, where it is found on maritime dunes and sands.  I found these in the dunes of a beach on the west coast of Florida in March.

Groundcherry has a sweet acidic citrus / pineapple taste.  They are usually larger than a marble and full of small white seeds that can be eaten.  The skin of the fruit can be tough to bite through making the Groundcherry pop when you bite into it.

Coastal Ground Cherry Plant 2The Groundcherry is edible raw or cooked in pies or preserves.  I usually eat them raw, but I have enjoyed a pie made of Groundcherry.  The fruit can fall from the plant before it is ripe. That usually takes a week or two or more until the husk has dried and the fruit a golden yellow to orange.  Each fruit is wrapped in a husk.  The fruit will store several weeks if left in the husk.  Unripe fruit — light green — is toxic.  Do not eat green fruit or the husk.  Ripe fruits are golden yellow to orange.  If any ripe fruit has bitter aftertaste, don’t eat it.

Coastal Ground Cherries on plateI have grown several varieties of Groundcherry, but I am excited to find the Coastal Groundcherry to grow at the 40 Acre Woods.  The sandy soil I have is a good match to the dunes where these plants thrive.  I saved several for seed and planted them around the woods this spring.


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Lynx rufusIMG_0164

The Bobcat is an apex predator at the 40 Acre Woods. Widely distributed throughout most of North America, this cat is well adapted to Florida. The bobcat is equally at home in deep forest, swamps, and hammock land.  Thick patches of saw palmetto and dense shrub thickets are important as den and resting sites.  The usual territory range is 1 or 2 miles, I see this cat on camera often at the 40 Acre Woods.  It likes to hunt squirrels and birds that are feeding at the game feeder.

Females can breed after one year and usually occurs in February or March in Florida.  The average litter size is two to three kittens after a gestation period of 50 to 60 days.  The young have mottled or spotted fur with more distinct facial marking than the adults, but their eyes do not open until about nine days old. The young are weaned in about two months, but not before they are taught hunting skills by their parents.

An efficient hunter, the bobcat, like most felines, hunts by sight and usually at night, but seeing a bobcat out during the day is not uncommon because they sleep for only 2 to 3 hours at a time. Small mammals are by far the most important group of prey animals. In Florida, squirrels, rabbits, rats, opossums, and small raccoons are the primary prey species.

Florida is also an important wintering habitat for migrating birds, the bobcat’s winter diet reflects this abundance and includes ground-dwelling birds such as towhees, robins, catbirds and thrashers.

Our big dog June keeps the Bobcats from eating our farm cat August at the 40 Acre Woods.  I love to see these great predators thriving.

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Gray Fox

Gray Fox The Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)

In the 40 acre woods we have lots of wildlife, many are usually more active at night.  One of these is the gray fox.  They have quite a lot of red hair and may be confused with the red fox but I think these little predators are beautiful.

The adult gray fox may weigh from 7 to 13 pounds and measure up to 40 inches including a 12 inch tail. The female is slightly smaller than the male. The hair along the middle of the back and tail is tipped in black and has the appearance of a black mane.  The face, sides, back, and tail are gray, while the under parts are white and the sides of the neck and underside of the tail a rusty-yellow color.

The gray fox is widespread across most of the United States and while found throughout Florida, it is much more abundant in the northern sections.  Normally found in wooded areas, as it prefers to live in more inaccessible cover.  We have plenty of blueberry thickets for fox to hide in at the 40 acre woods.

Gray FoxesThe gray fox is essentially a nocturnal animal, and has a yapping bark. The gray fox is sometimes referred to as the “tree fox” and can scramble-up a tree quickly, it is the only member of the dog family capable of climbing.  I have seen this pair during the early morning hours while I was deer hunting, but as you can see they prefer the night.

Foxes mate in Florida during January or February. An average of three to five young (pups) are born after a gestation period of about 53 days. Pups are brownish-black and fully furred, but blind for the first nine days. They nurse for about two months and stay with their parents until late summer or fall. Both male and female are devoted parents and provide food, care, and training to the youngsters. The den site may be hollow logs, gopher holes or hollow trees.

Mice, rats and rabbits are the mainstays of the gray fox’s diet, although it will consume almost anything edible including the corn I left out for the deer.  All types of small birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, fruits, berries, insects, and some carrion serve to supplement the diet.  The gray fox seldom raids the farmer’s hen house, as it prefers to live in wilder, more dense brushy cover.  While gray fox serve to maintain a balance in the rodent and rabbit populations, they, in turn, are preyed upon by dogs and bobcats, and young fox may fall to the owl, hawk, or coyote.

Avoid contact with a wild fox, they are more fun to watch at the 40 acre woods.

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spring polyculturePolyculture is agriculture using multiple crops in the same space, in imitation of the diversity of natural ecosystems, and avoiding large stands of single crops, or monoculture.  It includes multi-cropping, intercropping, companion planting, beneficial weeds, and alley cropping.  At the 40 acre woods we like to grow many crops together.  A careful look at natural systems reveals the magic of plants working together stay healthy and improve the environment.

Polyculture has several advantages over monoculture:

The diversity of crops avoids the susceptibility of monocultures to disease.  Plants grow healthier in a polyculture.  We are only beginning to understand how bacteria and fungus in the soil work with the plants making them stronger and more nutrient dense.

The greater variety of crops provides habitat for more species, increasing local biodiversity.  It can function as a biological pest control program.  Pest cannot target specific crops if they are spread out many other crops.

Polyculture is one of the principles of permaculture and how things are done at the 40 acre woods.

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