Mandy’s Edible Landscape and Sun Study

Wow–this woman has been busy!  Since our last visit, she’s cleared the front porch of boxwood and weeds and formed a lovely decorative wall to showcase her soon-to-be rosemary hedge.  While she already has some rosemary in place, she plans to add a few more plants to fill in the area for a complete lush “hedge” look. 

In front of this section she has a nice line of available dirt she intends to use for seasonal vegetables, such as cabbage and carrots–GREAT garden companions for rosemary because the rosemary is said to repel cabbage moths and carrot flies.  Are we employing organic methods, or what?

But before she took this step, Mandy did something very important.  Unlike my garden that is out in an open grass field behind my home, clear of any trees or shade, hers is a mix of shade and sun so she felt it important to perform a sun study.

A what?

My question exactly.  🙂 Basically a “sun study” tracks the sun’s path over her yard.  Because Mandy lives in a neighborhood with tons of trees, she needed to be sure which locations were suitable for herb and vegetable plants.  Smart.  Very smart.  And simple, too.   First she secured an 8 1/2 X 11 copy of her homeowner’s property survey–an outline of her property boundaries–and then made 10 duplicate copies (one for each hour of the day she intended to record the sun’s path). 

Next, she chose a day where she had time to devote to said sun study and began at 8:00am by walking out into her yard, observing which parts were currently exposed to the sun and then highlighted them with a yellow marker on her survey sheet.  She then repeated this action on the hour, every hour until 6:00pm giving her a consecutive record of the sun’s trek over her property.

With all 10 copies in hand, she then transferred the information to the original copy, color-coding each area according to 4 different categories:  shade =blue, part-sun=green, full-sun=yellow, and hot spots=red. Full-sun in Florida counts as 4-6 hours of sun.  Part-shade was marked as 3-4 hours while shade was no sun at all.  Hot spots are as you’d imagine–they receive sun all day long without reprieve–an important thing to know in Florida. 

Pretty cool, huh?  This was a totally new concept to me and I just love it.  How organized and wonderful and the absolute perfect way to avoid disappointment when it comes to creating an edible landscape!  As you can see, the area out back by her pool counts as full sun and will provide an excellent location for growing cucumbers, zucchini and black-eyed peas. 

As noted, this diagram was drawn during the month of May.  Being that it’s already October, she’s due for another to account for the change in equinox.

Aluminum Foil Recycled in the Garden

Okay, here’s an interesting take on squash bug prevention that I recently read in one of my garden magazines.  According to the article, it says that if you wrap the stem of your squash plants with aluminum foil, the squash bugs will not crawl up and over it to get to your plants.  (This is assuming these critters don’t fly, right?  Or leap from plant to plant.)

AWESOME!  I mean, I had a tough spring season this year battling these bugs and I’m all for anything that will prevent them organically.  Well you know I ran right out to my garden and try this new tactic.  After all, I have pumpkins in process, squash and zucchini newly planted….  Why, I’m a veritable billboard for this technique!  (And I do love to learn new methods for organic pest prevention in the garden.)

Grabbing the sheet of aluminum I used last night to cover my pork while reducing a delicious Thai sauce, I headed out to my garden prepared to “wrap and roll,” baby!  We’d start with the pumpkins, I decided, since they were the largest and most at risk.  Tearing the foil into strips, I squatted down and realized at once–we had a problem. 

No, not a squash bug problem.  A wrapping problem.  Peering down at my sprawling pumpkin plant vining its way into adjacent rows I thought, “How in the heck am I going to be able to wrap it all?”  We’re not talking one little stem that pokes up from the ground making this a simple procedure–no, no!  We’re talking “I have pumpkin vines all over the ground and spreading!”

Now what?

Plan A, but with some modification.  If the idea is to prevent the little beasts from crawling up and onto my plant, well then I was going to wrap as much stem as I feasibly could.  At the least this should discourage them from running the length of my vines, right?  Perhaps the shiny material will dissuade them altogether?

Hmph.  I have no idea.  This is an experiment in progress.  Right now my outlook remains positive but check back in a month to see if this remains the case. 🙂

Garden Upkeep

Growing vegetables is exciting indeed.  Planting, harvesting–even weeding can be fun (if you’re creative!).  But one thing that isn’t fun is fungus.  Yep.  You heard me right.  Fungus is no fun and it can kill a plant in no time.  It’s also a common problem for Florida gardeners because our climate is HUMID.  And we have afternoon thunderstorms without warning–another bad deal for our plants, since they already received their daily dose of water.

We can work in harmony with Mother Nature and adjust our watering schedule, but sometimes this isn’t enough.  And one day you walk out to find your pumpkin patch is succumbing to the conditions.  As organic gardeners, there’s not a whole lot we can do except try our best to prevent such catastrophe.  Or react to it as we did this week.  The middle school students removed as much of the dead leaves as possible to prevent spreading and allow more sunlight onto to the otherwise healthy leaves.  Hopefully, our plants will survive and thrive, but at this point, it’s anyone’s guess.

On a brighter note, our black beans are loving life and I’m loving these photos.  Isn’t it amazing?  Almost like you can see them actually growing and developing. Way cool.

Our bean fort is beginning to fill in, too.  This contraption happens to be big fun, despite its drooping “roof.” 

Of course the middle school boys had all sorts of ideas for fixing this drooping issue, but perhaps it’s best to hold off until we have the proper tools and materials (and not borrowing the project materials from fellow students!). 🙂

Another area in need of attention was our sunflowers.  Growing wild and wonderful, these babies need support!  Enter elementary and the fix is in–we used soft green tape and tied them to the fence for support.

As well as bamboo stakes for those off the fence.  Either way will work and help give these gorgeous gals the support they need to grow tall and strong.

Last but not least, our tomatoes needed pinching. 


Pinching.  In order to increase their vigor you want to pinch these little “suckers” (named as such because they suck needless energy/nutrients from the plants main stems) throughout the life of your tomato plant.  Simply spot them and pinch them.  Easy!

Our kindergartners finished out the week by planting stevia.  Stevia is a natural sweetener and is easy to grow, simple to harvest and a snap to use.  In fact, this past spring I used a few leaves from my home herb garden to sweeten the cucumber soup we prepared at school!  Yum.


Meet My New Garden Coach Project!

I have another “willing woman” to participate in this adventure we call gardening.  Her name is Mandy (no, she’s not the Mandy from last year) and she is gung-ho for gardening!  Seriously, this woman has major plans for her garden.  We’re talking total edible landscaping–eventually–but for now, we’re going to begin with a small section in her back patio.

She’s already cleared out half the space and because it receives plenty of sun it will be the perfect spot for the zucchini, cucumbers and black-eye peas she wants to plant.  Remember:  always start with your favorites and if they’re easy like this group well, then, all the better.  🙂  I do like easy.

For watering, Mandy intends to install a drip system in this area–the perfect method of irrigation–especially with the squash family.  They’re susceptible to fungus (as will be demonstrated on our school garden post this Friday) so keeping the water off the leaves when possible is key.  Another way for her to utilize this space is by inserting a metal trellis against the back fence, giving her cucumber somewhere to climb up and out of the garden.  Her zucchini could probably manage the climb, but they’ll take the low route  and hang out down along the sidewalk.

Her black-eye peas should get along fine with the cucumber, so she could slip them in alongside, or place them in the opposite yet-to-be-weeded section.  Either way works!  And speaking of plant beds, Mandy intends to amend her soil with her very own compost.  Didn’t I tell you she’s serious about this business of gardening?  Oh, let me tell me you, she is so serious.  I mean, when a woman doesn’t rip out a cactus from her garden because she’s not sure if she can eat this particular variety or not, you know you have a woman intent on edible landscape.

I see a cactus?  I’m pulling it out before it pokes me!  But back to the compost.  She started an outdoor pile a while back before deciding to go high-tech.  She purchased this nifty do-it-all-for-you composter and now uses it for all her composting needs.  Side by side, it looks rather intimidating compared to the simple ease of tossing your scraps and leaves into a big pile (like I do).

Until you see the kind of dirt this thing can churn out–and this after only 6 weeks!  That’s black gold, baby and oh-so-ready to be pulled out and tilled in. 

Yep, you better believe it.  There’s no better way to begin a new garden bed than with a scoop full of this stuff!  Maybe we should refer to this as black magic from here on out.  The results she’ll see with this organic rich material will surely make her a believer. 

Stay tuned and watch her progress or better yet–why not join in the fun?  You’ll be amazed at how EASY this gardening thing can be.


Lust on the Rocks


She has what he needs, and he won’t stop until he gets it.  Trouble is, what begins as a matter of death, becomes a matter of life.

One case away from partnership, Samantha Rawlings is forced to share her high-profile case with a younger man, whose eyes are on a different prize.  In the best interests of her client, Sam opens the door to his strategy.  Turns out, a little too far…

Victor Marin has ulterior motives.  The defendant in her case holds the key to his revenge, and his last chance for justice.  But as he chases old demons, he uncovers a powerful woman, one he wants to possess for himself.  But decidedly single, Sam wants no part.

Until Vic walks away.

And since this one is a bit “spicy,” how about something sweet to go with it?  This carrot cake is sinfully light and fluffy–unlike any you’ve ever tasted.  Add the traditional cream cheese frosting and it’s sinfully divine. 

light and fluffy carrot cake

It’s easy to make and since you’re already growing your own carrots (you are, aren’t you ;)), this is the perfect way to put them to good use. Recipe can be found right here on my blog!

For full details on this novel and others, visit my author website.

How to Plant a Butterfly Garden

Last week the kindergarteners planted their very own butterfly garden.  Talk about excitement, these kids had a ball!  Better yet, they’ll get to visit their handiwork every day in their very own outdoor garden space behind their classroom.  It’s one of my favorite aspects of Montessori training.  Not only do kids learn the basics of reading and math, they learn about cleaning and caring for their space and this includes their outdoor environment.

Caterpillars can eat through leaves at alarming rates which totally interferes with the life cycle of the veggie plant!  Think:  no growth.  And no growth = no veggies!  Very bad.  But not to worry, our butterflies will be very happy in their new courtyard.  Which plants will attract butterflies?

Glad you asked.  Bright colors will attract the butterfly as well as sweet delicious nectar.  And make it easy for them to find you by grouping your flowers by color (easier to spot from afar).   Best colors?  The brightest, of course!  So 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 our 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 get those kids involved.  As you can see, kids are amazing when it comes to the garden and are quite capable when it comes to the business of transplanting so by all means, let them have at it! 

With one simple instruction on how to dig a hole slightly larger than your flower container, gently pull the plant from free, supporting the stem with one hand and the root ball with the other, then placing it into the awaiting hole and lightly packing the dirt back in around it, these kids were ready for the garden show.

In no time we had this garden section filled with bright and lively color and do you know what?  I bet we’ll have butterflies by the end of the school day.  Now listen, don’t let this shady photo fool you.  In Florida, afternoon thunderstorms are one of those things in life you can count on and this project accomplished as the last task of the day, but bear in mind most butterfly garden flowers prefer full sun.  At least enough to stretch out and warm their leaves and attract our fluttering friends!  But shade is good too–especially in 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 make sure you have 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.  (Can’t wait to hear the stories of butterfly observation.)  Now what are YOU waiting for?  Get busy and send out the invites!  You’ll have butterflies fluttering around your yard in no time.


Grisly Discovery

So what do you do when you stroll out to your garden and you’re hit with an awful, horrible smell?  Well if you’re me, you may ignore it, assume it’s a small rodent nearby and continue setting up for your morning lesson.  Until that is, the first child runs out to the garden, stops short and calls out, “Hey Mrs. Venetta–there’s a dead in cat in our garden!”

What?  I whirled around and my heart stopped.  There in the middle of our row was a poor kitty in the midst of decomposition.  Oh no… Suddenly the odor becomes sickening. 

“Can we compost it?” he asked.

“No.  Definitely not.”  Germs, bacteria–I’m imagining all sorts of horrific things and none of them pretty.  Or healthy.  Or compostable, at least in this garden.  As the other children began to arrive, I sent this boy to the office.  “Let them know what’s going on out here, will you?”

“You bet!”  And with a smile, he was gone.

Kids.  Sometimes you simply can’t faze them.  Amaze them, yes–but not faze them.

Needless to say our morning garden experience didn’t go as planned.  I wasn’t about to have these kids get anywhere near the dead animal so we discussed what we “planned” to do instead.  Crop rotation kids.  Follow your fruits with beans for good organic rotation.  Okay, that’s all for today boys and girls.  See ya next week!

Within the hour the cat was removed, the weed paper (that he was laying upon) as well and the following morning I dug the surface layer of dirt up and out of the garden.  Perhaps this was overkill but I’m an overkill kinda gal.  No germs, no how–not when it comes to kids and seeds, anyway!  

Confident all was well, the next group of kids planted black beans provided those working the “disturbed” section of the dirt bed wear gloves.  Inch deep and a hand length apart!

Great fun was had by this crew and next week we’ll make it up to upper elementary.  But this is a lesson for them in coping with the unexpected (or something like that). But take heart, your beans are climbing up a storm!

To round out the week, the primary students planted their butterfly garden.  Teaching the wee ones how to transplant was quite the whirlwind of activity but I think they all thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  And because it’s located in the small courtyard behind their classroom, they’ll get to enjoy it every day.  From what I understand, garden work is a favorite among the students.  (Doesn’t surprise me.  These kids are smart!)

What did we plant?  Details on how and what to plant for attracting butterflies will be featured on Monday’s post.  There’s actually a lot more to it than you might think!

Attention Dog Lovers

Now I love dogs as much as the next gardener–but not in my garden.  Except for this handsome fellow.  This handsome well-trained fellow.  This is Cody and he knows better than to trample across his mama’s garden beds! 

Okay, that’s not entirely true.  When the neighbor dogs are at the fence begging for his attention, all bets are off.  Cody is a social thing and does enjoy his visits. 

I guess what I’m saying is that when supervised, this boy is an excellent garden companion. It’s the wandering neighborhood dogs I’m concerned about! 

And I have evidence.  Those are doggie footprints. 

They may not look like much in this photo, but trust me, those are them.  In fact, my husband pointed the little fella out to me the day before.  An adorable beagle.  When I called after him he ran, leaving me with the impression he was easily startled, had lost his way and would not be back.

I was wrong.  Next day, he was back.  And rooting for beans.  Apparently dogs like beans?

This was news to me, but after laboring for hours tilling my rows, amending my soil and dropping my seeds, I was not amused.  Walking out to the garden, strolling my rows as I always do, I noticed some of the beans laying atop the dirt.  Now this can happen with too much water.  Yep.  Beans will float right to the surface if you give them too much water.  Can happen in a downpour, though it hadn’t rained.  And I checked my soil moisture.  Just right.

No.  This was the work of an uninvited visitor.  So after I replanted my bean row (plus a few corn kernels in the next row) I contemplated how best to dissuade this canine from doing visiting again.  Like bugs, was there a plant that would naturally repel dogs?  Remember, not only am I an organic gardener but I’m a dog lover.  I have no intention of hurting this pumpkin but I also have no intention of allowing him to run roughshod over my beds again.  What’s a poor gardener to do?

Well I read marigolds will do the trick.  If you plant them around your garden, the dogs will resist the urge to visit. 

Really?  Marigolds?  Lemon and grapefruit rinds are supposed to do the trick as well, however I just don’t see myself littering my garden with citrus rinds.  Not only will it diminish the glorious ambiance, it doesn’t quite set the right example for the kids if you know what I mean.  After all, we have a compost habit we’re trying to maintain and giving them permission to toss rinds on the ground doesn’t feel right.  Besides, look how pretty these two go together.  (And they’re excellent companions in the garden!)  Problem is, my beans are already in.  Too late to plant marigolds to fix my intruder problem.

I could always put up a fence.  A bit extra work and probably not something my husband wants to add to his hunny-do list.  Maybe thorny branches strewn about?

Nah.  I might scratch myself.  Any suggestions?  I’m all ears!

Kids Love Peanut Harvest

Better yet, they LOVE eating the peanuts they harvested!  Baked, boiled or roasted–you name it, they liked it.  And it all started with these beauties right here.

Once we pulled them from the ground, we allowed them to dry as part of the “curing” process.  This is where you set them in the sun for a few days, then pull the peanuts from the plant, toss it into the compost pile and place them in a warm dry location where they can continue to cure.  We do this to reduce the moisture content of the peanuts, especially important if you intend to store them long-term. 

If you like boiled peanuts like we do here in the South, you can dig them up, clean them off and toss them into the kettle!  Okay, that’s old-fashioned lingo for big pot.  But you do need to wash them because these babies have been sitting underground for months and if the bugs we discovered during harvest are any indication of what may be lurking there with them–we suggest a thorough cleaning before you eat them.

Boiling peanuts is simply a matter of covering them in salted water stove top, boiling them down until they’re soft.  Time will depend on your peanuts and the temperature of your stove, but plan for about 2-3 hours minimum.  And don’t be shy with the salt.  If you want to minimize your salt use, allow them to soak in some salted water overnight before boiling. 

Home roasting is a simple matter of placing your peanuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and cooking them at 350* for 20-30 minutes.  Again, this depends on your oven.  Some of mine were a tad burned and I’m going to fully blame the school oven.  I’m sure this wouldn’t have happened at home. 🙂

For our tasting today, each child received a few roasted and a few boiled and devoured their share within minutes.  Verdict?

I’d have to say the boiled peanuts won, hands down!  Probably because they were softer (and not burned).  But you receive an A for effort, Mrs. Venetta!

Anatomy of a Compost Pile

Ever wondered what it looked like beneath that pile of fall leaves?  You know, the one you formed with dead leaves and garden waste?  The one I told you would provide excellent organic matter for your soil?  If you build it, dirt will form?

Yes, that one!  Well in Florida it’s time to use our compost or more specifically our dirt again for fall planting.  Yep, you guessed it–my compost pile has turned a pile of crumbly brown leaves into the most gorgeous black dirt you ever laid your eyes on and I’m ready to use it.  Just look at this treasure!

This photo represents a cross-section of my backyard compost pile.  One of my backyard piles.  I have two, right next to each other.  This one is my “easy” pile.  The one I never turn.  The one I never water.  I let it sit there week after week, month after month until I’m ready to use it.  Well, I’m back in the garden planting and I need soil amendment!  Where do I go?

I go to this pile of compost.  Digging deep into the center, I struck gold.  Black gold.  Can you see it there towards the bottom?  Deep, organic and beautiful black dirt.  Oh, but I can hear my beds jumping for joy already!  The hardest part about this compost pile?  Scooping each shovelful into my wagon and hauling the heaping mass down to the garden.  And no, for you Curious George’s out there, I didn’t build this thing.  That credit goes to lawn guy, a.k.a. my husband and once a year garden helper. 🙂 They do good work!

My active duty pile is the other smaller pile behind it.  This is the one where the kids and I dump the contents of our cute in-house compost jar.  From leftovers to stale bread, from eggshells to green weeds, we use this pile for a more well-rounded source of organic matter. 

After each deposit made with kitchen scraps we cover it with a layer of brown leaves taken from the prior pile.  This way we manage to achieve some semblance of the recommended ration of carbon:nitrogen which is 30:1.  Key word:  some.

But it works!  My vegetables are happy and my soil is ecstatic. Just be sure to rinse your compost jar before returning it to the kitchen.  Cuts down on the ick factor.  Cause Moms don’t like ick in the kitchen! 

Now here–carry this out to the compost pile.  We’re growing dirt!