Tomato Transplants Are In

I did it!  I transplanted my precious seedlings into the garden.  (Those specks you see are organic weed-preventer granules.)

I started these from seed about 6 weeks ago and decided it was time they moved into their new home.  It was touch and go there for a while.  Poor little babies.  Sun was scorching, heat was dreadful — I had to water them twice while I was out there!  But they made it.  The fates were shining upon me (actually rained upon me – better luck, in the case of sprouts) and all turned out well. 

Until the next day.  Not one to waste water, I turned off the sprinkler due to the massive rainstorm the night before.  Bad idea.  I was so busy during the day, I forgot to check on them!  Wasn’t until late afternoon I remembered.  Ugh.  Multi-tasking gone wrong.  They almost died. 

My peppers suffered, too.   But a fresh spritz of water brought them back to their grand stature in no time!

A good thing, because I nearly fell over from heat stroke getting them in.  It’s hot in Florida and presents quite the dilemma for this gardener.   Do you keep your sprouts on the patio for a longer period of time, sparing them (and yourself) the horrendous heat of September?  Or do you go ahead and get them in to set roots, deep and early. 

Remember last year?  Our first frost came and caught my tomatoes in full bloom!  I had a wagon full of green tomatoes and my family was none too happy about it.  No red tomatoes means no red tomato sauce.  A bad day in an Italian household, let me tell you. 

So this year I’m going with sooner rather than later.  I put out these lovely kitchen towels for inspiration. 

My plants are in and have plenty of time to develop the strong root system they need to produce big beautiful tomatoes. 

All I have to do is baby them during the day.  Which is okay.  I can manage it. 

On second thought, maybe I should set a timer

Peanuts! Peanuts! Get Your Peanuts!

It’s peanut time!  Which also means it’s football time — more specifically, time to make the boiled peanuts for consumption during the football game!  In my house, anyway.  But beware:  in order to make boiled peanuts you need salt and lots of it.   Ick.

But peanuts are enjoyed lots of ways!  Roast them, eat them natural.  Make peanut butter.  Though if you try that last one, be prepared to have a good blender.  Haven’t tried it myself.  Mine get boiled.  With salt.

The kids and I harvested peanuts and boy do we have wagon-loads.  Literally.  We dug these out and it’s only a third of our two rows.  Yum!

We grew Valencia which take about 3 – 4 months to grow.  After they blossom, pegs will start to form and dip into the ground, where the peanuts will develop.  Once your leaves begin to yellow, dig up a “test” peanut and check to see if its ready.  Should be firm with a dry papery skin.   Gingerly pull the entire plant from the ground, else you leave a few peanuts behind, and shake the dirt free. 

You’ll need to dry them out for a day or two in the sun, then remove peanuts from the plant and continue drying in a warm dry area.  We set ours out on the screen patio.  Times vary for drying times, but we went with a week or so. 

Aflatoxin is listed as a concern with raw peanuts, mostly when there’s too much moisture.  Most sources I read suggest this risk is reduced by drying and moreso by roasting.  Boiling may eliminate this problem altogether! 

Hey…   Maybe that’s why it started?

Either way, peanuts are a great crop.  They’re easy to grow, easy to harvest and make for a great fall season snack — roasted, boiled or even eaten raw (with caution, of course).

When the Last Petal Falls

The tears continue.  Recently, a friend of mine passed away, the conclusion to a long battle with cancer.  While a blessing for her in the end, her death marks the beginning of new challenges for her family.  Especially her children.

While adults understand that with every beginning comes an end, life is a cycle…  Kids don’t.  Not really.  In their tangible view of the world, they find it difficult to wrap their minds around the abstract; the intangible.

Discussing the topic of death with my seven-year-old son, specifically the need for sensitivity in our words and gestures, he replied with bold-faced innocence, “But Mom—when you die, I’m going to wear bright colors and have a party.”

His sister vehemently intervened.  “You’re going to be happy if Mom dies?”

 I knew where he was going with this line of reasoning—she didn’t.

“What?” he asked, offended by her tone.  “I’ll always have her in my heart.  She just won’t have her body anymore.”

My daughter was appalled by his logic.  But I pulled him into a hug.  Maybe kids do understand.  More than we think.

Granted we understand speculating on the issue and actually living without your mother are two very different things, something my son cannot possibly understand — it’s a concept difficult for adults to grasp — but he was engaged in thought, trying to make sense of it.  Yet how does one make sense of it?  My friend was young.  It was too soon.  Her family needs her. 

Life doesn’t always make sense.  It doesn’t seem fair.  It’s not right a beautiful woman with so much to live for should die.  But they do.  Good and wonderful people pass from this earth everyday.

“But Mom, maybe God needed more angels.”

I peered at him and a smile formed on my lips.  “You may be right.  And He couldn’t have asked for a better one.”

Taking a deep breath, I give pause.  I look around me and work to understand that life is a trial.  It’s a lesson in acceptance.  It’s a cycle of birth, blossom, decline and death. 

A spirit has returned home.  Her memory will endure.  Her love is everlasting — it will live in the hearts of those she loved and those who loved her.  Questioning “why” doesn’t seem to matter.  Moving forward does.  Together, those of us who held her dear will carry her with us and continue forward on this journey called life.

You Won’t Believe What Mandie Did

I’m still in shock myself.  Stunned.  Yes, I know her life’s in disarray at the moment.  She’s not living in her house, the ceiling is under repair, but THIS?  How could she?

Yep.  That’s her planter’s box, once filled with a wild tangle of sweet potato it’s now barren.   Sure vines were mussed, the yard unkept…

But to pull them all out?  That’s akin to pulling one’s hair out! 

“There were no sweet potatoes, anyway.”

“They take time!  Come October/November you would have had plenty of potatoes!”

“Ah, whatever.  I pulled them all out.”

“Why didn’t you call me?  I could have talked you through this!”  Why would you do it unless

You’re really in distress.  Which gave me pause.  Tearing open her computer case, whipping it free…  I could see.  Yes.  I’m afraid so.  It was the reality of no time, no energy.  Stress reared its ugly head and she yanked her vines free in vicarious delight. 

Something I can understand.  Mandie’s under a bit of stress right now and who can blame her?  Under the circumstance, I might do the same.  (Okay, maybe that’s a tad extreme.  I mean, I’m the woman who collects compost while away from home just to feed my plants–save the earth!)  But life is life and everyone’s is different.  I haven’t been driven from my home.  I don’t work in an office.  I have time.  She doesn’t.

So despite the evidence of potatoes in progress, she has foregone the harvest. 

But take heart — there’s good news!  She hasn’t forsaken the dream!  When her life returns to normal and she’s back and settled, she WANTS to try again!  Can you think of a better testament to the joy of gardening?

Hmph.  I’m hard-pressed on that count.

Maine Gardening

Recently the family and I traveled to Northern Maine.  A beautiful area with relatively low population.  It gets quite cold here (might have something to do with population rates!) so summer is their prime garden season.  Staying in a log home near Baxter State Park, we discovered this lovely roadside garden.

As an avid gardener myself, of course I had to stop.  And visit.  While I found no person to banter with regarding the gorgeous vegetables, I did find this adorable vegetable stand.  (That’s it up in the corner – little yellow shack)

Inside, it’s filled with fresh vegetables — garlic as big as my fist! — and sold on the honor system.  Price is listed, you take what you like and you drop in your money. 

This is a definite throwback to years gone by — at least in my neck of the woods — and a refreshing one.  State Park works the same way.

So rather than ask, “How does your garden grow?”  More particularly, “How do you grow them so big and healthy!”  I was only able to stroll through the perfectly lined rows.  

I have noticed that everything in this area grows larger than Florida.  From black bears to pine trees, they’re ALL bigger.  But it makes sense.  The climate demands strong and sturdy. 

Trust me.  Anything less will not survive.

Good thing I live in Central Florida.  While I’m an excellent hiker, I’m not sure how sturdy my green thumb is–not yet, anyway!  But it was nice to see how the other half gardens (other half of the country).  Would have loved to share notes, but wandering through the rows of huge, healthy vegetables was pleasure enough.  Took some pictures, made some mental notes…

Inspiring, really.  And who knows?  It might just make all the difference in my fall garden.  I also learned that Maine is known for their blueberries.  Had no idea.  I thought North Carolina, sure, and now parts of Central Florida, but Maine?  Who knew! (Apparently this crowd of tourists — they had a ball!)

But at the Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park, people pick through bushes of wild blueberries along the lake.  We stopped here on our way up to the northern woods and spent the day enjoying the coast.  And the lobster.  The popovers.  And don’t forget the blueberries!

The Sweetest Success

Comes after failure.  In my life, failure seems to be an integral part of the process.  Take my sprouts.  Just look at these pumpkins!  Not literally speaking, you understand, but what adorable, beautiful, brilliant works of art.  To the average eye, I realize they’re simply another tray of seedlings, but to me, they’re an amazing success story. 

This past spring, I worked so hard to get my tomato sprouts to sprout, to flourish, but to avail.  I watered, I waited.  Didn’t feed as much as I should have, but thought my organic dirt was sufficient.  It wasn’t.  None of my sprouts made it.  But I learned my lesson.  Because I failed, I learned the value of early fish emulsion, painstaking attention to moisture and the finicky nature of the seeds themselves…

It’s all part of the process!  For instance, my first batch of tomatoes took 2 weeks to begin shooting sprouts.  My second batch?  A week!  My first round of peppers set off without delay, my current round of peppers seem a bit slow.  Why?

Dont’ know.  Conditions, seed quality…  What I do know, is that with every failure, I become a better gardener.  With every loss, each success grows my joy, tenfold.

Much like in life.  Persistence is everything.  Whatever happens, take responsibility.   Re-frame your perspective.  Insead of failure, think in terms of results.   “You failed?” they may ask.

No.  I simply haven’t succeeded yet.  It’s only a matter of time.  And effort

Desire.  Will.  You’ll never achieve abiding success without commitment.   This premise holds true in every facet of my life — if I let it.  Knowing when to let go is important.  Knowing when to change direction is a talent gained best by experience. 

Every season my garden improves.  I learn by doing, I enjoy the process.  And I don’t sweat the mishaps.  Swing with emotion over mishaps — yes — but I don’t sweat them. 

So next time you’re experiencing a setback, remember, this too shall pass.  The real question is where will you be standing when it does?

Mandie’s Sweet Potato Tangle

There’s something to be said about letting nature do her thing.  Take a look at these sweet potatoes (yes, that mass of vine is sweet potato!)  Can you imagine the golden harvest this woman is going to realize come fall?  Break out the casserole dishes, roll out the pie pans, we’re having sweet potatoes for dinner!  And dessert. 

Appetizers, anyone?

Now Mandie would not normally allow her garden to grow so wild and unmanageable, but she’s sort of displaced at the moment.  Air conditioner broke and in Florida, during August mind you, this is no minor issue.  Why, her two little boys could die of heat exhaustion if she didn’t move them out and quick!  But with a mother’s survival instinct comes a gardener’s back burner.  The sweet potatoes must now fend for themselves.

Which you see, they seem to do quite well.  Not surprising, since these babes are one of the easier veggies to grow.  Lovers of sandy soil, light water and minimal food — sounds more like a beach babe waif than sweet potato, doesn’t it? —  bothered by a few bugs, yes, but nothing they can’t survive.  Why, this crisis is a no-brainer for them!

last year's offspring


As if this example wasn’t proof enough, I have a wild child of my own, growing with abandon in the opposite end of the garden. 

Looks better than the ones I’m actually paying attention to and trying to grow!  

Go figure.

this year's crop


So if you want an easy, healthy vegetable to grow, consider the sweet potato.  Chocked full of anti-oxidants, Vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), Vitamin C, as well as a good source of Vitamin B6, this one is an all out winner on the serving plate.

Lost My Strawberries…

To what, I’m not sure.  Could be fungus, nematodes, who knows.  The end result is the same.  They’re dead, or dying, a slow and painful death.  Who it’s more painful for, I’m not sure.

Our strawberries were a hit in the garden.  Kids loved showing them to their friends, plucking berries from the vine, popping them into their mouths.  Who can resist a plump, ripe strawberry on a spring day?

No one in this family, I assure you.  So now what?  Well, since I don’t know what killed them, I had to remove the entire bed.  But before I did, my daughter clipped runners from some of the healthier looking plants in a last ditch effort to salvage what we could.  These particular plants are the Quinault variety, an everbearing variety that I hope will survive to produce for another season.  Or two.  I am an optimist, first and foremost.

Of course, this could be the problem, too.  (Not the optimism part!)  It may be a simple matter of life cycle.  Perhaps, beneath the scorch of summer sun, my sweet berries sucked in their last breath of carbon dioxide, releasing it with a sigh of oxygen.  Plants are so giving that way.

After we removed the plants, I decided it would a good idea to solarize the bed, killing any bugs or fungus that may be present.

This process uses a clear plastic covering to heat the soil.  Try to attach it to the ground, retaining as much heat within the covering as possible.  For best results, leave the plastic covering on for about 6 weeks.  This is an organic (except for the plastic) way to kill harmful organisms that kill your plants.

Placing the plants and runners into soil, we hope to get them in the ground come fall, perfect timing for them to get reestablished and producing come spring.

We love our strawberries.  They’re such a great crop for Florida and kids.  So with our fingers crossed and our toes counted, we look forward to a successful rooting and healthy propagation of these baby berries of ours.

As well as strawberry smoothies, strawberry shortcake, strawberry topped sundaes, fresh from the garden goodness…  The list goes on!

Have you started your sprouts?

I have.  I’m bound and determined to grow tomatoes from seed.  If my compost pile can do it, I can do it.  I simply haven’t succeeded, yet.  But I will.

My first attempt was this last spring.  My sprouts were off to a great start, but I think a bit too late.  By the time I transferred them into the garden, the scorch of summer proved overwhelming.  They fried.  Not the first day, though, as luckily for me it was overcast.  Which cast false hope.   It was the second day, despite a good dose of morning water, when they fried.  Didn’t stand a chance, really.  Have you been to Florida in July?

It’s hot.  Big fun, tons to do, but hot.  So, we’re trying again and so far, so good.  Not only have my tomatoes poked their tiny green leaves from the soil, but my peppers are fantastic and leafy, along with my herbs.  Small leaves, yes, but sprouts are small. Very small.  (Yes, that little sprig is a tomato sprout — trust me.) 

And just to prove Mother Nature isn’t the boss of me, I’ve planted lettuce, a real no-no in the Florida heat.  Mine are in containers on the patio, away from the heat.  Seems you can have your gourmet salad mix, and eat it, too!  I do love my salads.

So if you’re a southern gardener like me, and it’s much too hot to toil away in the garden –we are talking serious health risks, here, just ask my kids; they’ve researched it to be sure they’re off the garden hook this month), then start your sprouts on the patio.  Feed them with some fish emulsion and keep them moist — not wet, not dry, but moist. 

Another issue I encountered.  My seedlings were cast in a solid rock of soil which did not promote easy growth.  Too much water.  But can you blame me?  Usually my plants don’t get enough water — I was a little anxious — so I over-watered.  It happens!

But I learned my lesson.  This fall, with loose soil and an extra dose of patience, I will put my sprouts in the ground with confidence (so long as the temperture cools a bit, first).  And you can, too!

So find a place on your patio to place them and get to work.  I found this pretty display rack through an online vendor to make the best use of space and keep the sprout trays off the ground.  The husband won’t complain about the mess and they look decorative as opposed to “farmy.”  I mean, when you’re sitting out to dine al fresco by the pool, you don’t want to feel the fingers of chores tickling at your neck, do you?

No Ma’am, I don’t!  And neither do the kids.  It’s enough to coax them out there on a hot summer day without a constant reminder while they’re playing around the house.  Jimney Cricket, that would be a challenge of the first degree!  

But even better, having them close at hand is a constant reminder of my success.  A good thing.  I need all the positive reinforcement I can get, especially when it comes to my sprout mission.  So what are you waiting for?  If you like peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins and parsley, get going!

Out of the Garden

Yes, I’ve been gone.  Doing exciting things, mind you, but not in the garden.  No.  Where have I been?

First, I was chasing scallops with my family off the west coast of Florida.  Not really fair, as they’re pretty easy to catch.  They basically sit there while you reach down and grab them.  Fun for the kids, though and we do eat what we catch.  Couldn’t that be considered living off the land (or sea), at one with nature? 

It felt natural.  The sun, the sea, the salt… 

Either way, I wasted no time before I was off rubbing elbows with romance writers!  This past weekend was the annual Romance Writers of America Convention and what fun.  Two thousand women roaming the halls of one hotel – can you imagine? – filling their minds with craft, career, the dream of publication.  (You don’t realize what 2000 people looks like until you all sit down for lunch and then whew, that’s a lot of estrogen!)

Okay, that’s not entirely true.  There were a few men scattered throughout the venue, but they were completely outnumbered.  Brave.  Very brave.

Some of the highlights?

I was hall mates with Nora Roberts.  Yep.  Her room was two doors down from mine and we crossed paths more than a few times.  No, I didn’t accost her.  Not because I didn’t think about it.  (Hello?  This is Nora Roberts were talking about.)  It wouldn’t be good manners.  But it was pretty neat.  Here’s a woman who’s reached heights in her career most only dream of.  How can you not be in awe, I ask?

I am.  While there, I also had the opportunity to reconnect with some editors, agents and writers I haven’t seen in a while.  A good thing.  After all, these are the people who understand my need to write, even when it doesn’t make sense to the rest of the world.  Met some wonderful new editors, agents and writers and look forward to talking with them again soon.

The best part?  My passion for writing was set on fire.  More than love it, I’m driven to pursue the dream of becoming published, and connecting with readers around the world.  So stay tuned for my first series of short stories to appear online here (on the blog) in the upcoming months, followed by what I hope will be a variety of fun-filled, heart-touching fiction and non-fiction books — about gardening, about life, about women and all they love.