Time to Plant Your Sweet Potato Slips

Summer is fast approaching (in Florida, anyway) which means it’s time to get your sweet potato 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 for making sweet potato slips 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.

sweet potato slips - 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 of sweet potato slips 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? Once you grow a beautiful bounty of sweet potatoes, make Sweet Potato Pie!

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.

Springtime…And A Young Girl’s Heart

It’s springtime.  The season when winter eases its chokehold, the ground softens making way for new growth.  Buds burst open and leaves unfurl as young flowers mature into their blossoms.

Nestled together in the garden, it’s not long before the inevitable comparisons arise.  Each amazing and breathtaking in their own right, they can’t help but wonder how they measure up against the whole.

“Are my petals too plump?

“Do these leaves make my bottom look wide?”

Of course not.  You’re beautiful.

“You’re just saying that because you’re my gardener, aren’t you?”

Then it happens.  The handsome stranger strolls along and spritzs the crowd with a mist of attention.  The bed goes crazy.  Everyone brightens, arching further toward the admirer, each hoping to be noticed.  “Pick me.  Pick me!”

He leans over and plucks you by the stem, taking you home for his own.  You’ve been chosen as the most beautiful bloom, a stand out among the crowd, worthy of being taken home for display.

But you despair.  You’re alone.  You find yourself perched on a pedestal.  No longer surrounded by your colorful counterparts, once admired by many, you’re now occupied by one.  Passersby gawk and exclaim, but rarely linger.  Why would they?

You’re taken.  Chosen.

You glance around, and wonder, “What are the others doing?” Are they basking in the sun?  Adorned by bees and butterflies?  Or swaying to the breeze, wild and free.

Why so sad?  Isn’t this what you wanted?  Weren’t you feeling cramped, lost among the cluster of your peers?  Didn’t you yearn to be deemed most lovely?  Most desirable?

Well, sure…in so many words.  We all want to be “picked,” cherished as the most beautiful, perfect creation of all.   Doesn’t it follow that we should be ecstatic when clipped free from the crowd?  Aren’t we supposed to be happy?

Yes and no.  If your petals were chosen to express love, then yes.  But if they were chosen to be displayed like a trophy…then no.  What’s the point?

Odd to compare girls to flowers, I know.  But as my daughter grows and blossoms, I can’t help but see the similarities.  While toiling away in the garden, weeding and pruning, mulching and fertilizing, I feel a swell of anticipation —  it’s spring!  The time for renewal and growth, blossoms and beauty –

And my daughter’s birthday.  Time passes so quickly, she’s maturing so fast.  It seems like only yesterday she was a little girl.  But now, she’s heading toward adolescence and the change is remarkable.  She’s blossoming toward her teenage years, flowering into womanhood.

And I worry.  She’s feeling the pinch of the crowd, the snip of comparison.  How do I reassure her of her glorious and unique qualities?  Remind her she is an extraordinary, oxygen-breathing, life-creating creature to behold?  An integral piece in the cycle of life?

I want to tell her: rejoice in your color and shape.  Embrace the length of your stems, the breadth of your petals.  While they may differ from others, they all work the same.  Ultimately, our physical parts all perform the same tasks.

Yes, indulge in the sunshine, reach for the sky, bask in the attention of your admirers — but be wary the gardener interested in clipping your beauty for his own.  If your blooms must be taken, aim for love.  A rose shared between hearts lasts a lifetime.  Cuttings die within days.

Consider instead, the bees.  They’re willing to work hard for your nectar!  As opposed to being selfish, their goal is worthy; seeking the highest and best good.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the gardener willing to spritz you with attention, just keep in mind some spritzers carry toxic substances.  At first glance, they appear harmless, but upon closer inspection the poison is revealed.  But then again, my sweet, you were so focused on being noticed…

Please.  Take your time.  Allow nature to take its course.  You’ll be happier in the end.

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.

Microgreens and Greenhouse Production

I live in a rural area. I’m out in the fields or anything (thought that would be nice!), but I do live on six acres and have access to a small downtown within five minutes. Let’s call it semi-rural. One of the benefits of where I am is that several of my neighbors have livestock–cows, goats, horses, chickens… You get the picture.

Well, some of them also have greenhouses which I find fabulous. Actually, I’m quite envious but accept the fact that it’s not in my cards. While I want to be a farm girl, I’m really not. Maybe when the kids move on and I need something to do, but right now, my plate is pretty full and farms require work. Fun work, but time committed nonetheless. Plus, my husband knows that if I’m having problems maintaining said greenhouse, I’m going to slide my gaze his way.

Not gonna happen. Speaking of plate, full–his is overflowing!  **sigh**

Which is why it’s nice to have neighbors. Mine provides me with wonderful eggs and possibly greens–if I weren’t growing a bounty of lettuce on my own. However her set up is so cool, I asked if I could share. This is her greenhouse full of lettuce in varying stages of growth.

I learned that the fan perched in the upper corner is crucial for air circulation. Without it, fungus can become a problem. And while this photo appears dark, it was QUITE bright inside, despite overcast skies outside. So bright, I had to don my sunglasses!

But the view was amazing. Look at all those gorgeous greens! Now I’m sure you’re thinking, Wow, that’s a lot of lettuce. Who’s gonna eat it all?

How about the entire community? Every weekend, she lugs this produce straight to our Farmer’s Market. Did I mention she’s a pseudo commercial grower?

This woman doesn’t mess around. Those are hydroponic tubes you see and not cheap to construct and maintain, unless of course, you think of how much can be produced. She begins with seed cubes that range 1-3 cents per cube, depending on how many you buy at a time. One tray = $1.50 – $3.00 Now imagine the lettuce heads you can grow!

When they grow a couple of inches, she transfers them to the tubes by breaking the cubes into individual sections.

She can also stop right here and sell–or better yet, consume–the greens at this stage–as microgreens. You might have heard of this new phenomena raging at restaurants across the country, but basically these seedlings are POTENT with nutrients. More so than if you wait until the lettuce forms those full and fluffy heads of green were used to seeing. (See above)

And, you don’t have to wait months before harvesting! We’re talking days, depending upon the type of seed your using. Wheatgrass is a good example of the powerful nutritional value of sprouts.

Very healthy, and easy to grow. I know cancer patients who swear by it, as well as many fitness buffs. The second tray is sunflower sprouts. Delicious and fresh-tasting!

So next time you’re in the garden, consider growing and consuming microgreens instead of waiting for a full head of salad–they pack a powerful health punch. And you don’t need a fancy greenhouse to grow them. Simply scatter your seeds over a tray of dirt, or in a bed of dirt, cover with a light dusting of soil or perlite and you’re off to the races. Some of the most commonly grown plants for use as microgreens: amaranth, arugula, beets, basil, cabbage, celery, chard, chervil, cilantro, cress, fennel, kale, mustard, parsley and radish.

And by all means, enjoy. That’s what gardening is all about!

Strawberry Season is Here!

And a very popular time for kids in the garden! Okay, at least for mine, anyway. And grandma. Don’t forget her. Exciting outings are usually her idea, and strawberry picking tops the list.

February and March are peak strawberry months in Florida. For those who live in and around the Central Florida area, the Plant City Strawberry Festival takes place from March 2-12th and includes headline country music stars, like Willie Nelson, the Gatlin Brothers, Rascal Flatts, 3 Doors Down and more! From the Strawberry Festival to our local Strawberry Farm, we love this time of year!

Sweetens school lunches.  “Peanut butter and jelly, Mom, and make it fresh strawberry!”

And afternoon snack time.  “Can we make strawberry smoothies?  Pleeeeeease.”

Of course we can!   If that’s how I get fresh strawberries in your belly, then that’s how we do it. (Beats the ice cream alternative.)

We in the gardenfrisk household used to grow our own strawberries, though for some reason, they never turned out quite as large and luscious as the ones at the farm.   Pesticides? Maybe. Commercial strength fertilizer? Could be. But since I don’t know for sure, let’s just say the kids and I have some work to do this season to compete with Farmer Jones down the road.

 

Pine needle mulch is the first key.  Strawberries prefer acid soil. As for food, I hope they like fish emulsion. It’s stinky, but seems effective. So long as we don’t drench them in the stuff while the fruit is blossoming, we should be good to go, right? You can grow them in containers and allowing them to climb on a trellis. They love it! For a complete review on the subject of growing strawberries, the Florida Strawberry Growers Association provides a fantastic educational download for kids and adults alike.

Another great use for strawberries is to make your own preserves. For easy instructions, check my recipe page. It’s great fun and could be the perfect spring gift!

If you’d like to find a farm near you (this is an international source, mind you), check this link.   In addition to strawberries, you’ll be able to locate blueberry farms, pumpkin patches–all kinds of stuff!