Garden skinny – my personal scoop on gardening

Vacation Woes & Garden Envy

Two aspects of gardening we don’t often discuss, but I know exist. At least they do for me.

Recently I helped out a fellow gardener by harvesting some of their crop while they were out of town. Didn’t have to ask me twice. Free bounty? Count me in! However, I was reminded of what it means to be a gardener on vacation.

Weeds. And lots of them. The longer you enjoy your time away, the worse your garden woes at home. Especially after a big rain. Yikes. My back hurts just looking at all the weeding that needs to be done! Every summer the same thing happens to my garden. I’ve resorted to covering most of my beds with heavy black paper to ease the burden, but invariably there are weeds. Usually in my peanuts–about the only crop I grow over the summertime, due to the heat.

But the good news? The bounty was some of the best I’ve seen in a while.

Look at the size of these eggplant plants! They were over three feet high. And take a gander at all that bounty! If you recall, my eggplants were a measly 18 in. tall. “Shrimps” by comparison.

But my envy didn’t stop there. The jalapenos were also amazing and abundant. And tall. Way taller than my plants. In fact, all of the plants were bigger than mine. I’m not sure if his plants are organic or not, however I do know one thing. I’m jealous!

However, looking on the bright side. I do get to enjoy the fruits of his labor–literally. The eggplant was delicious, as were the peppers!

Wild Ain’t Always Pretty

As an organic gardener, I employ the art of crop rotation in my garden. Basically, after harvesting a bed of glorious bounty, I till the soil and follow the crop with something that is amenable to improving the soil, or at least not depleting it any more than it already has been. For example, after harvesting my corn, I follow with beans in my simple easy-to-follow rotation mantra beans-leaves-roots-and-fruits. (Makes for an easy singalong with kids.) Beans-leaves-roots and fruits! Beans-leaves-roots and fruits!

You get the picture. However, sometimes during my rotation process after my husband mows down my garden with his handy dandy tractor attachment and I amend the soil with my lovely compost, I find some leftovers. Hangers-on. Hold-outs. Call them what you will, but my peanut row–the one that followed my corn–is inundated with clumps of corn and squash.

While they do make decidedly nice companions, this scene ain’t pretty. Definitely not pretty. Now mind you, I prefer productive over pretty, but I’m not sensing these corn are going to be very productive. Too much, too close. Ordinarily I’d pull the unwanted plants from my bed, but this time, I’ve decided to watch and wait, and see what happens. Never know–maybe I’ll get some squash out of the deal! (You probably can’t see them, but there’s squash and that row, too.)

And yes, those are weeds you see all around. But I’ve been out of town for a bit over the last two weeks and weeds are an unwanted consequence. I find it much easier to convince my son to water my plants while I’m gone than to weed them. **sigh** It ain’t pretty, but so long as I can reap the bounty of some fabulous peanuts this summer, it will all be worth it. I’ll keep you posted!

Earth Day for Kids!

Earth Day began back in April of 1979 coinciding with the birth of the environmental movement. Poor air and water quality were fundamental to the movement, along with protecting endangered species, a push that drew support from all sides of the political spectrum in an effort to save the earth we inhabit. (Could you imagine such an agreement in today’s tumultuous political times?) We’ve come a long way since those first days but we’re not there yet. While many of us yearn for a gas and oil free lifestyle, our technology is not quite there. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make real differences in our everyday lives.

Most of us recycle our plastics and glass, newspaper and cardboard. Many of us conserve water with every flush, every faucet turn, but how about moving our conservation efforts into the hearts of our children? From composting to gardening, to recycling and thinking futuristically, kids relish the opportunity to be part of a cause and the health of our planet is certainly a good one. One way to encourage kids in the garden is to make it fun.

From insects and worms to wild critters and mysterious finds, there’s never a dull moment between the rows of a garden and D.S. Venetta proves it with her series of chapter books, Wild Tales & Garden Thrills. Not only will kids be engaged by the stories, they’ll learn the basic tenets of organic gardening and why it’s so important for healthy living habits—including the health of our planet. Composting, companion planting, crop rotation, seed-saving–it’s all there. As a bonus, each book includes vocabulary words, fresh recipes & organic gardening lessons in the back!

CAUTION: by the time the kids finish the first book, they’ll be insisting you start your very own garden and compost pile (if you haven’t already!). Next, they’ll be convincing their teachers at school.

It’s not hard. None of it’s hard. But it does require effort. Thought. Intent. And that’s what the annual Earth Day celebration means to me and my family: we are the custodians of the planet. If we each do our part, we can live in harmony with nature. Animals, too, but that’s another post for another day. 🙂

Here’s to wishing you joy and good health on this Earth Day, and hope you reap abundance from this beautiful earth.

Books available from your favorite indie bookstore, as well as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million. Do your kids love their ereader as much as mine? Perfect! These books are also available for Kindle, iBooks, Nook, and Kobo with full-color illustrations.  Coloring books featuring all of the illustrations from the books are also available–perfect for engaging the younger set! Visit author D.S. Venetta’s website for more information.

Time to Plant Your Sweet Potato Slips

Summer is fast approaching (in Florida, anyway) which means it’s time to get your slips in the ground and growing.  They require a long growing season and they require warmth.  But they don’t grow from seed potatoes, rather the “slips” created from your sweet potatoes.  How does one create a sweet potato slip?

The technique is easy.  You simply cut your sweet potato in half, perch it upon the mouth of a jar or glass (suspended by toothpicks works well) submerging the bottom half in water.  Voila!

creating slips

Place in a sunny location and keep the water level high enough so that the bottom half remains wet and then watch your potato sprout.

After a while—times vary, but you can expect to wait days, even weeks in some cases—shoots (leaves) will form on the top of your potato.  You can gently remove these and place them in water, again half-submersed, and a tangle of roots will develop.

slip roots

When they reach a couple of inches in length, you simply transplant them to your garden and water them in.

Sweet potatoes like loose sandy soil and don’t need a lot of fertilizer or water, which makes them especially kind to the novice Florida gardener, such as myself.   You can amend the soil with some compost to add nutrients, but don’t worry if you can’t.  These girls are pretty hardy.

Depending on the variety, potatoes can be harvested from 100 – 140 days.   I planted my first crop in June and began harvesting in October but continued through December.  They don’t like the cold, so we cleared the remainder out and collected them for storage before the temps dipped too low.

As with any tender transplant, take care with your new rootings and they will grow fast and furious.   Wonderful news, because sweet potatoes are not only easy to grow, but they’re as healthy as it gets.  Roasted, mashed, baked or broiled, these babies will keep you healthy and happy and hoppin’ ready for a new crop come fall!

sweet potato slips ready for sprouts

Mine are on the shelf and ready for action.  The colorful one in the middle was a gift from my daughter. 🙂  She made it at one of those clay-fire-glaze studios.  Cute, isn’t it?

Chive Plants Ready for Seed Harvest

Is your chives plant ready for seed harvest? How do you know?

Passing by them on your way to the rosemary on a gorgeous April day, the sunshine high and bright, the breeze brisk but temperate, you notice your chives plant flowers have some dark seed-looking things perched within them.  The chives flowers have long since lost their bloom (a good sign you’re on your way to seed production), but now what?

“Begin by plucking” is my motto. I pluck those old buds right off the stem and head indoors.  Shaking the black dots off the petals, I gather them into a pile on my counter and run a quick search of the internet for confirmation. Small black bean-shaped seeds.  I look at the computer image, look at my seeds. Yep, that’s exactly what I had in my hot little hands!  But they’re actually flat.  At least to my aging eyes it appears that they’re flat.

Well, by golly, it’s time to march back outside and harvest the rest of them!  Excited gardeners are full of energy and exuberance–we don’t wait for nuthin’!  Especially when it comes to harvest. However, remember the brisk April wind I mentioned? Harvesting chives seeds is best done on days with minimal wind.  Of course it is.

But fear not, enthusiastic gardener! You work quickly and meticulously snipping and collecting, depositing into your homemade seed packet. These babies are valuable! You love your chives, don’t you?

Of course you do. Label your packet and hold them until it’s time to plant chives again. If you’re planting indoors, plant chives seeds in the dark at about 60-70F. Once they sprout, move them into the light. If planting outdoors, wait until threat of frost has passed and sow in the ground. Keep in mind they prefer warm rich light soil and lots of sun. By the way, it’s helpful to know that you don’t have to wait until your chives go to seed. You can divide your plants into clumps and replant as a method of increasing the “chives love.” Just be sure that each small plant has about 10-12 buds on it.

6th Annual Authors in Bloom Blog Hop

It’s that time of year again when we gardeners get SUPER excited. The garden is calling and we’re answering.

Dianne Venetta_AIB Logo_2015

And who can blame us? It’s spring, the absolute BEST season of all.

For my gardening tip, I’m going to shock you. Organic is the name of the game when it comes to gardening, but did you know that those pesky weeds can actually be a gold mine when it comes to fertilizer?

Oh, yes. Forget WEEDING. You want to save those babies!

WEEDS. The endless supply of fertilizer growing at your toe-tips! Stinging nettles, comfrey, burdock, horsetail, yellow dock, and chickweed make wonderful homemade fertilizer. Why not make your own “tea” or add to your compost pile. So long as your weeds have not gone to flower, you can dry them in the sun and add to your garden as a mulch. We’re talking straight nitrogen, here, that will supply your plants with nutrients. Borage (starflower) is an herb, but for others it’s a weed. I say dry it, root and all, and add it to the compost pile. It will help break everything down and give the pile and extra dose of heat.

Another option is to allow the weeds to soak for several days. And while this process tends toward the stinky side, it’s definitely a win for the garden. Simply place a bunch of weed leaves and roots in a 5 gallon bucket and cover with water. You might need to “weigh down” the leaves with a stone or brick to ensure the plants remain covered. Stir once a week and wait 4-6 weeks for them to get thick and gooey. Then use that mess as a soil fertilizer.

Cool!

Now for the prize. As a garden and foodie aficionado, I’m giving away a copy of the BRAND NEW book by Indiana Press, Earth Eats. Focusing on local products, sustainability, and popular farm-to-fork dining trends, Earth Eats: Real Food Green Living compiles the best recipes, tips, and tricks to plant, harvest, and prepare local food. And I’m a contributor!

Along with renowned chef Daniel Orr, Earth Eats radio host Annie Corrigan presents tips, grouped by season, on keeping your farm or garden in top form, finding the best in-season produce at your local farmers’ market, and stocking your kitchen effectively. The book showcases what locally produced food will be available in each season and is amply stuffed with more than 200 delicious, original, and tested recipes, reflecting the dishes that can be made with these local foods. In addition to tips and recipes, Corrigan and Orr profile individuals who are on the front lines of the changing food ecosystem, detailing the challenges they and the local food movement face.

I totally LOVE the concept, farm-to-table, because after all–isn’t that what we gardeners are all about? I’m adding a garden tea cup to the prize mix for your sipping-while-savoring-the-read pleasure.

Absolutely. So get busy–you have several options to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

 

Protect Your Tomato Transplants

And believe me, your tender tomato transplants need protection–from all kinds of harmful factors! I garden in Central Florida where spring begins in February and the heat quickly follows. So for me, an important consideration when transplanting my tomato seedling from patio to garden is the sun, and how much my babies can tolerate. Another consideration is bugs. Bugs love warm weather and open spaces, and I have both.

The solution?

Screen. Similar to my screen patio, I use screen to protect my plants in the garden. At least for the first month, anyway. It’s a pretty basic proposition. You can purchase screen material in rolls from your local hardware store–maybe even cut sheets–and the rest is obvious. Measure your length, cut your fabric and cover your plants. My setup is similar to a “pup tent.” I use posts with twine/cable strung between them for my tomato support. I also use the posts as support for my screen. I do love a multi-tasker!

Next, I stabilize my “tent” with anchor pins. These poke through the screen material quite easily and keep the screen in place and away from my plants. Caution: Heavy spring winds can rip the anchor pins from the soil, so check frequently and stabilize as necessary. We had a big windstorm last week and some of my babies were battered.  Not good!

My plants are happy. And when they’re happy, mama’s happy.

Create A Butterfly Garden Today!

Kids love butterflies. And who can blame them?  Talk about excitement, there’s nothing sweeter than watching the fluttering wings of a butterfly in action, knowing they’re making one of the most important contributions in nature. these kids had a ball! Kids get it. So why not help them create their very own butterfly garden?

Which plants will attract butterflies?

Glad you asked.  Bright colors will attract the butterfly as well as sweet delicious nectar.  It also makes it easy for them to find you! Best colors?  The brightest, of course!  Be sure to include bright red, yellow and orange, pinks and purples, too.

Nectar plants are a “must-have” in your butterfly garden, but you can also include non-nectar plants like milkweed and daisies.  Butterflies enjoy them, and it gives them a place to lay their eggs.  Another hint for success?

Keep your flowers close together if possible.  It helps focus the attention of both children and butterflies. In this Montessori garden, we chose the butterfly bush (for obvious reasons), orange and pink pentas, pink and purple petunias, orange-yellow crossandra, sunset gold lantanas and various shades of ixora.

Other good choices would be zinnas, marigold, coneflower, lilac, impatients and asters.  Really hard to go wrong, just check what grows best in your area.

And make sure the kids are hands-on. As you can see, they are amazing when it comes to the garden and quite capable when it comes to the business of transplanting.

With one simple instruction on how-to dig a hole slightly larger than your flower container, they can gently pull the plant free, supporting the stem with one hand and the root ball with the other, then place it into the awaiting hole. Encourage them to lightly pack the dirt back in around it and water thoroughly.

In no time your garden will be filled with bright and lively color, and do you know what?  Butterflies will find you by the end of the day.  Now listen, don’t let this shady photo fool you.  In Florida, fast-moving weather changes are one of those things in life you can count on. Bearing in mind that most butterfly garden flowers prefer full sun, we never worry about a little cloud cover.  We welcome the shade! Especially considering our type of heat.

And speaking of heat, include some stones near your garden to capture and retain the sun’s heat–butterflies like soaking in the rays.  They also like splashing in puddles, so create a small “pond” nearby for them to drink up.  After all, you don’t want them leaving this beautiful enclave for a water trip, do you?

No way!  We don’t want them flitting anywhere but here.  Now what are YOU waiting for?  Get busy and send out the invites!  You’ll have butterflies fluttering around your yard in no time.

Get Your Blueberries Early!

I love blueberries, plain, on yogurt, in a pie or straight from the bush…

Blueberries are magnificent in every way. And best of all, they’re easy to grow. Seriously. Sun, pine (acid), water, done. That’s it. (That’s pine mulch around the base of the plant.)

All you do is dig a hole, add water and pine bark mulch (acid), and they’re good to go. Oh, and twine. I’m not the only one who loves blueberries. Birds love blueberries and are usually out and about at the crack of dawn dive-bombing the plump ripe berries before you’ll ever get a chance to stop them. Sheesh! If you run twine over the bushes, it’s “problem solved.” I used to use netting until I learned it keeps the bees out, too. Not good. Blueberry blossoms need bees.

Blueberry bushes will begin showing up in your local plant stores soon and if I were you, I’d grab a few. A few—because they need other blueberry bushes for pollination. You do want some, don’t you? Of course you do! And now is the time to find blueberry plants at your local garden center. Just remember, blueberries need to cross-pollinate, so make sure you purchase at least two different varieties for your garden. I have several, including Southern Highbush Sharp Blue, Windsor, Jubilee, Jewel and Gulf Coast. If you can get your hands on some Highbush Misty, they are supposed to get along well with Highbush Sharp Blue. I also have some Rabbit Eye varieties to round out my berry garden.

Special note: Blueberries require a certain amount of “chillng hours” to produce fruit. Chill hours are considered between 32 degrees F and 45 degrees F. I chose these varieties because in Florida we don’t get a lot of cold weather and these bushes require the least amount of chilling hours, ranging from 200-500 hours. So choose wisely according to your growing region.

Plant in organic-rich slightly acidic soil (4.0 — 5.0 pH) and mulch well. Feed with a 12-4-8 fertilizer and prune during the summer months after harvest for more vigorous growth.

Best results = tons of berries. Look at those beauties!

Quick fun facts about blueberries:

July is National Blueberry month.

Blueberry muffins are the most popular muffin in America.

Blueberry muffins are the state muffin of Minnesota. (Who knew muffins had state status?)

Maine produces more blueberries than any place in the world. (I’ve actually visited some blueberry orchards in Maine and was quite frankly, surprised to find them there!)

Blueberries are relatives to the rhododendron and azalea bushes.

Not only interesting and beautiful, blueberries are FULL of antioxidants. So get shopping! The early bird gets the best bush.

 

Snatched From My Seed Tray

I’m sprouting my beloved Hungarian Wax Pepper seeds and can’t wait to get them in the ground, once threat of frost has passed–AND I’ve returned from spring break vacation. Never a good idea to transplant your lovelies without proper supervision, if you know what I mean. Meanwhile, these babies are sitting outside my patio and are quite coveted in my household. Every single one of them count. So when I awoke to discover that some PREDATOR had snatched some of my seeds, I was horrified. What the heck?

That empty square in the middle–not sure if you can see–but there is a scoop-out where no scoop-out should be. What kind of creature would do such a thing?

Squirrels run rampant in my yard and will dig relentlessly as they bury and unbury their nuts. But seeds?

Who would have thunk it? Whatever it was didn’t seem to want my tomato seeds, located one tray over. They’re bushy and thriving and oh-so-happy. As am I, of course, knowing I’ll have dozens of plants to move into the garden later this month. But shucks I’m not happy about this latest development with my Hungarian Wax seedlings.

p.s. Yes, I realize my mulch is in need of replacement. I recently cleaned out the area and am waiting until pollen season ends before I reinstall.