Garden skinny – my personal scoop on gardening

Summer Success

For many of you, gardening season has just begun but for me, it’s a constant turnover. Our cool weather plants have long gone, replaced by summertime sweeties like okra and peppers, peanuts and pumpkins. Yep, if you want a pumpkin for your doorstep come Halloween, you’d better start planting it now. These babies take a while–especially if you like them big!

Big Max pumpkins

And we do. The bigger the better. These beauties were from a few seasons back, but it’s always a good idea to remind yourself of the goal. Helps to keep you motivated through the long hot summer. Peppers enjoy the heat as well and are thriving in varying stages. Green…

green peppers

Hot chili…

chili peppers

And our tomatoes are in full-blown production mode.

sustainability in tomatoes

This crop is the result of my fall planting season. I saved the seeds from my bountiful albeit scraggly-looking harvest and here you have it — sustainability in action! Sure, they look a bit skinny and bedraggled, but the heat has been pretty brutal of late. The good news is: looks aren’t everything. The tomatoes I’m plucking from these plants are perfect, except for the ones the worms get to before me. To avoid this little snafu, pick your tomatoes at the first hints of red and allow to ripen indoors, safely out of reach from the worms.

spring tomatoes

Peanuts and sweet potatoes are about to go in the ground while my lima and black beans are plumping their pods.

limas and black beans

Not too bad, huh? Just goes to show this gardening thing can be accomplished, if only you’ll give it a try! Haven’t started, yet? No problem. There’s plenty of time left, even if you live in a hot weather zone like Florida. Okra, southern peas, peanuts, sweets and pumpkins love this time of year.

By the way, don’t ask me about my corn. I’m still grieving over the loss. Dollar weeds are killer, especially when combined with the dry humor of Mother Nature. Very dry. :(

 

Sweetest Tears You’ll Never Cry

Something about homegrown sweet onions doesn’t make you cry. You leap for joy, you eat your heart out, but you don’t cry–not when you’re cutting them you don’t. I only cry when I run out for the season!

fresh sweet onions

And they taste sweeter than any onion I’ve ever purchased from the store. Yep, they’re that good and very easy to grow. In fact, the only problem I can find with sweet onions is waiting for the harvest!

sweet onions almost ready

They don’t require a lot of attention or bug spray, only water, which is why I make a point to heavily mulch my onions. Makes sense when you consider their body is made up of mostly water. And when they’re ready, they’ll die back so you know when to harvest.

sweet onion plants ready for harvest

Some even poke up from the ground, calling your name — Pick me! Pick me!

sweet onion poking up from the ground

I do love a helpful vegetable in the garden. And if all that isn’t enough to love about these gems, how about this gorgeous bloom they produce?

onion plant bloom

Stunning. Intricate, gorgeous, simply stunning.

Stay-tuned! I’ll be posting complete how-to grow instructions for sweet onions. Should be brief. :)

 

Support My Tomatoes Can Rely On

I’ve finally found the answer for supporting my tomatoes. It’s an ingenious system known as the Florida Weave. Basically, it’s a system of stakes and twine that utilizes a weave pattern in an around the tomato plants to keep them stable, in place, and able to climb.

Florida Weave

It’s better than staking plants, because it allows them movement and accounts for the “sprawling” effect of fuller plants. It’s better than the metal cone supports, because they become too confining for the tomato plant as it grows and the branches and fruit become tangled and pinched. So far, I love it. I used the old twine that I saved from my hale bales through the years (I saved it all because I KNEW it would come in handy one day!) and tied them end-to-end until I reached the desired length.

Florida Weave_3

When I ran out of nylon twine, I went to the store and purchased garden twine made from natural fiber. I won’t do that again. One of the keys to success with this system is pulling and keeping the twine tight from stake-to-stake. I’ve only had this system in place for 10 days and the natural fibers have already stretched on me!

The nylon have not. Lesson learned.

This website shows a nice diagram of the Florida Weave with excellent instructions so I won’t repeat myself here. I simply wanted to bring it to the attention all of you tomato growers out there because this is a need FILLED. And I must say, my tomatoes are developing quite nicely.

happy tomatoes

These are Brandywine and produced so well for me this past fall, I planted two rows this spring! Mind you, these are my harvested seeds from the fall crop. This is an heirloom variety I purchased from Victory Seeds and is absolutely wonderful, in both taste and growth habit.

So there you have it. If you’re growing tomatoes this season, try this trellis system. It WORKS.

 

Wish I’d Known This A Few Years Back…

Not really sure how I missed it, actually. It’s simple, easy and completely efficient. I mean, if the resorts can do it, why can’t I, right? That’s what I finally decided, anyway. If stringing lines over pools and outdoor restaurants can keep unwanted birds out of the guests’ hair and food, they should certainly be able to keep the birds out of my blueberries.

delectable blueberries

And it does. It totally does! Bird netting is the old standby and works, but it’s cumbersome and traps the bees inside. Bad. Very bad. Garlic sprays and the like don’t work especially well, because the birds don’t seem to mind the stench and I do. Ewe. But string? It’s a no-brainer. At least, once the idea popped into my brilliant mind, it was a no-brainer. Duh. More

My Contribution to Earth Day

For those concerned about the human impact on climate, this article might be your motivation to get that backyard garden (or rooftop!) started. According to the OCA, large-scale farming is a key driver in the generation of greenhouse gases (GHGs). From commercial fertilizers to pesticides, the heavy machinery needed to work the land, and the gas consumed by truckers and airplanes to get the harvest to your local grocery store are only some of the events that can affect our environment.

OCA_small_scale

Makes this gal feel good knowing she can trot on out to her garden and grab some squash and onions for dinner, a handful of blueberries for her breakfast yogurt, fresh lettuce for her lunch salad. It’s the epitome of “localvore” lifestyle. Couple of cows and hens, and I’d have my very own compost-makers and egg suppliers! Unfortunately, hubby says no…that’s too much for his little farmer. But not for you. Why not make this Earth Day the day you decide to get outside and get growing?

It’s easier than you think. I’m proof-positive! I have a gorgeous 4000 sq. ft. garden in my backyard that requires no more than an hour a day during prime-time growing season, much less the remaining months of the year. Granted, I don’t worry about every little weed I see but I don’t have to–weeds are part of nature, too (one I can’t get around), so I live with them, pulling only the most egregious from my beds. And the payoff is HUGE. One of my greatest pleasures is to stroll outdoors and pluck fresh produce from my garden. It tastes better, feels better, and gives me a sense of gratification that a trip to the grocery store does not.

Even if you don’t decide to start a garden, the story is worth a read. :) Happy Earth Day!

 

4th Annual Authors in Bloom Blog Hop!

Including a grand prize ereader and $$!! Yep, it’s time for the 4th Annual Authors in Bloom Blog Hop and that means sharing great recipes and gardening tips.

AIB LogoThis year I’m sharing a favorite recipe. With Brussels sprout season closing down in Central Florida, it’s time to consume the last of your harvest and this dish does that with savory flair. How about we call it Savory Brussels?

Perfect. Now, for the good stuff. You’ll need the following list of ingredients:

2 dozen Brussels sprouts, stems removed and sliced in half (or quartered, if extra-large)

3 oz. Manchego-style cheese, crumbled (a Mexican fresco type will work)

2 TBSP bacon bits

1 TBSP dried cranberries, chopped

1-2 TBSP olive oil

Savory Brussels ingredients

In a large saucepan, heat 1 TBSP olive oil on medium heat. When hot, add sprouts and toss to coat with oil. Continually toss as you sauté the sprouts to a golden brown, approximately 10 minutes.

Savory Brussels sauteed golden brown

Toward end of sauté process, I like to add the extra tablespoon of olive oil, though this is totally up to you. Once sautéed to your liking, add bacon bits and cranberries and toss together until warm and well-blended, about 1-2 minutes. Add cheese and mix together for a minute or two longer. Serve warm.

Savory Brussels Sprouts

Yield approx. 6-8 side servings.

For my giveaway this year, I’m offering a set of decorative note cards, including an ingenious deck of garden guides that describe best growing practices and gardening tips, plus a box of 101 ways to stop worrying (and maybe get gardening?).

AIB 2015 giveaway

Enter to win below and enter often–there’s more than one way to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Have You Exercised Your Soil Lately?

Soil is key to healthy plants.  Duh. But with spring upon us, it’s an important concept to keep in mind. Healthy soil = healthy plants. What makes a healthy soil? Fertilizer? Water? While these two ingredients certainly help, to have truly healthy soil, you need to aerate. Aerate basically means to turn your soil, or add “air” into the compacted ground by redistributing the soil, making for better decomposition. However, one must take caution when aerating established garden soil, because you don’t want to disturb the microorganisms and/or beneficials (good creatures) living beneath the surface. Think worms. You want these little guys to remain happy in your garden and poking them with the sharp blade of a tiller or spade will not make them happy.

gorgeous-worms

How do you aerate your soil in a compassionate manner? Depends on the current condition of your soil. If you’re preparing an area for the first time, your best bet is to go full speed ahead using a push tiller.

rent the tiller

Your goal is to turn up the soil, introduce air, loosening the dirt several inches deep. You can also use a spade for this process. Stab the blade in, dig up the soil, turn it over–stab, dig, turn–over and over. It’s a tedious process but provides great exercise. Hah.

stab shovel both sides

For established gardens, avoid the push tiller and opt for a spade or a hand tool. For example, between planting seasons — I have two here in Central Florida, fall and spring — I turn and till as I work through established beds using a hand fork or shovel, whichever is handy. As I do so, I’ll add compost to increase beneficial organisms into the soil which in turn aids decomposition, aka, more organic compost! Additionally, throughout a single growing season, I’ll poke around my plants with a hand tiller/fork to ensure they’re not becoming compacted by say, heavy rains and the like. We do tend to get torrential downpours.

my beds are formed

Aerating soil not only facilitates the decomposition process of healthy soil, it also ensures light, fluffy beds for your plants. And remember, plants prefer light fluffy beds of dirt because it enables their roots to grow and spread freely. It also allows them to soak up those nutrients you’re “folding” or “tilling” into the soil in the form of organic fertilizer.

loosen and till as you go

Caveat to aeration? You’re turning up weed seeds embedded deep in your soil. Not good, because you’re basically replanting them, encouraging/enabling them to sprout. Ugh. But as every gardener knows, weeds are part of the deal. Some of us are meticulous when it comes to weed removal in and around their plants. Others (like me) have accepted that a few weeds around the garden don’t hurt that bad. They merely look bad. Which brings to mind an old saying along the lines…an immaculate house means a dull life. Loosely translated: I have other more exciting things to do than weed!

Now that you have that spring in your step, head outside! The sun is shining, the temps are warming (or will be soon), and there’s no place you’d rather be than outdoors.

Feeling Blue & Loving It

Spring has arrived which means there’s a bunch of stuff to do in the garden. Great times! I get to till and toil and snack on sugar snap peas all while strolling the rows of organic vegetables. This doesn’t make me feel blue. That happens when I approach the house.

new berries 2015

And pass my blueberry patch! Aren’t they gorgeous? The blueberry blooms are out in full force along with the berries I love and adore.

blueberry blooms 2015

Berries the birds love and adore as well, but we’re not discussing those bad boys right now. We’re discussing berries. Decadent, full and delicious berries. I’m not sure how plentiful my harvest will be this year due to the fact that we didn’t have a very cold winter. Blueberries require a certain amount of “chillng hours” to produce fruit. Chill hours are considered between 32 degrees F and 45 degrees F. I’m taking the blooms I see as a good sign, though. Blooms mean berries. They also mean “bait” for birds. Grrrrr…

Another consideration to bear in mind is that blueberries need to cross-pollinate, so you must have at least two different varieties in your garden. I chose Southern Highbush Sharp Blue, Windsor, Jubilee, Jewel and Gulf Coast  varieties because they require the least amount of chill hours. If you can get your hands on some Highbush Misty, they are supposed to get along particularly well with Highbush Sharp Blue. I also have some Rabbit Eye varieties to round out my berry garden.

delectable blueberries

These varieties work well for Florida because we don’t get a lot of cold weather and these require the least amount of chilling hours. Choose wisely, according to your growing region. And now is the time to find blueberry plants at your local garden center (in warmer regions, later for my Arctic Amigos), another sign that spring is in the air!

Once you have these babies in your hot little hands, plant them 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. They aren’t what I consider high maintenance, but they do require some.

Blueberry & yogurt stock photo

And they’re well worth it. In yogurt, cereal, pie, cobbler or fresh off the bush, these berries are my all-time favorite. You know you want to grow some. What are you waiting for? Get going and DO share how it’s going!

Ingenious AND Easy!

Okay, you know I’m always looking for an easier way to garden. Not that gardening in and of itself is difficult, but it does require time and effort. How much time and effort depends solely upon the gardener. Enter smart new idea…

corn channelsPlant your seeds in channels instead of holes. Yep, that’s it! Create channels down the length of your raised beds and drop your seeds–kernels, in the case of corn–and cover with compost. Done. (Told you it was easy, didn’t I?)

Look at those gorgeous lines in the dirt. And all I had to do to make them was drag my tiller through the dirt. Because I have sandy dirt in this section. My sweet potatoes used to be located here and those gals LOVE sandy soil, although corn doesn’t. Which is why I filled in my channels with compost. Composted cow manure will work, as will mushroom compost. Anything to enrich the sandy soil will do and is an absolute must. Corn won’t be happy without it.

corn channels filled with seeds and compost

Oh, and don’t forget the fertilizer. An all-purpose organic fertilizer works well but do remember to keep it handy. Corn plants are heavy feeder. Real oinkers in the garden, so keep them fed–especially with lots of nitrogen–and moist (channels work well to keep the water directed toward the roots) and your corn will provide more ears of pleasure than your heart could desire. Additionally, dusting with dipel dust worked so well for my tomatoes, I’m convinced it will also prove to be the secret weapon for my corn plants so I’ll dust my corn to keep the varmints at bay.

corn sprouts in channels

When thinking about the nearby plants in your garden, remember that corn and tomato don’t get along. At all. So keep in mind to keep these two away from each other when planning your rows.

Tomatoes In Need of Eggs

My tomatoes are rockin’ and rollin’ and ready to go in ground. Woohoo ~ what a great day! (Below, the sprouts were two weeks old.)

tomato sprouts 2 weeks old

And it’s a day I’ve been planning for, insisting the family not put their eggshells in the compost bin but instead, straight into my hot little hands. I need these babies for my tomato transplants. Eggshells and Epsom salts. Together, they are my fail proof preventative against blossom end-rot. You know, those ugly black spots that can form on your tomatoes?  (Shown below, the sprouts are now 3 weeks old and ready to head outside!)

tomato sprouts a week later

The spots are caused by a lack of calcium which is why I give my tomatoes a blast of calcium right from the start. Using discarded, dried and washed eggshells, I crumble them into small pieces and scatter around the base of my tomato plant. Next I sprinkle a bit of Epsom salts around the same and cover with compost. I’ll follow by forming a well around my tomatoes to increase their water retention.

they're in!

If the weather in Central Florida remains exceptionally warm, I’ll cover my babies with a screen to block out the hot midday sun. Once they reach about a foot, I’ll remove the screen and begin dusting. Dipel dust keeps the worms off my leaves by eliminating them before they get a chance to eliminate my tomato plants. All’s fair in gardening and nature!

Wow. SO excited! For more details on growing tomatoes, check my how-to grow section located on the sidebar to the right or menu bar above.