Caterpillar Dispatch is NOT for the Queasy

It’s squish duty.  Definitely not for the faint of heart, those who tend to “freak” easily or even butterfly fans (technically I think we’re talking moths here, but when it comes to a sweet child’s heart of compassion, does the distinction matter?). 

Nope.  It’s a simple reality of gardening.  And as you can see, these little fellas can do a lot of damage before tucking themselves out of sight. 

Next, reveal them for all to see.

Successful gardening, anyway, where your plants survive and thrive as opposed to quiver and die.  Caterpillars eat a lot — especially beautiful green leaves.  Yes, they get full — eventually.  But the question becomes:  At what risk to our beautiful pole beans?

Major.  So for us, caterpillar dispatch duty commenced!

Rounds of spotters took turns searching for intruders.

After cleaning our leaves of invaders, we headed off to weed.  The kids are learning how to identify plants by their leaves.  Crucial, as we don’t want to “weed” our parsley — we want to keep it! 

Same goes for our baby spinach, swiss chard, etc. 

One smart boy reminded me there’s another way to identify plants —  their smell!  (Thanks Eric O.!)  He knew a basil when he smelled one.  But don’t forget: you want to pinch the ends for bushier, more vigorous growth!

While touring our garden, we spotted some sweet baby peppers.  Aren’t they cute?

The pumpkins are spreading out, too.

All in all, our plants are doing quite well.  Better than some of mine at home, but we won’t go there.  As for the students, it was another great week in the garden!

Tribute to Tomatoes

It’s almost time for tomato harvest.  My plants have survived the insidious worm assault — haven’t spotted a worm in weeks! — and have begun to bloom and sprout.   Just look at these beauties!

Not only do we have blooms, but tomatoes are beginning to sprout, too.  Take a look at this round perfection.  (Quick — spray it with anti-blossom end rot!)

What happened to this fellow, I have no idea.  Perhaps its an ugly ripe variety?  The packet said slightly-ribbed, but really?  This is what they call slightly? 

Hmph.  Maybe he’ll grow out of it, much like the Ugly Duckling became a beautiful swan…

Hopefully it will taste good.  This particular variety is an Italian heirloom called Pantano and supposed to be wonderful for making sauce.  Can’t wait!

Until harvest, I’ll simply sit back and enjoy the sights.  Gorgeous, aren’t they?

Simply gorgeous.

Co-op Garden? But that’s MY plant!

Try and explain to a five-year-old that the vegetable plants belong to everyone.

“But that’s MY plant!”

“Yes, you planted that one, but it belongs to everyone.  We all helped.”

She points.  “That one’s mine.”

Still working on the concept of co-op gardening, I attempted to explain further,  “It’s a co-op garden which means, we all share in the vegetable planting AND the vegetable eating.”

Met by a hard-nosed glare, I decided it was best to let go of the subject.  A wise gardener knows when to let go of the vine. 

For now, we’ll simply enjoy the fruits of our labors and if that means each child is enjoying a particular plant, than so be it.  At least we’re all enjoying the garden, right?

And speaking of enjoying the garden, one of the best ways to do so is to use our sense of smell.  Take these herbs, basil and rosemary. 

Not only beautiful, you can almost smell them, can’t you? 

Can’t wait to start clipping!  And rather than rotate these lovely herbs, we can leave them in as long as they’ll continue producing — which means the rosemary will stay for an indeterminate amount of time while the basil will succumb to the freeze.

In addition to our glorious herbs, we now have strawberries, thanks to our kindergarteners.  These kids KNOW how to garden and weeded this bed in no time flat.

Once the weeds were out, we transplanted small Quinault strawberries. 

 This variety is wonderful, because it will produce numerous berries and do so well into May/June.  They’ll also spread out and fill this bed quite nicely.

Rounding out our fully planted garden is kale.  As babies, these plants can easily be mistaken for beets, but they are quite different.  Large and leafy, these small cherubs will grow to produce large nutrient-rich leaves.  YUM.

Can’t wait until harvest!  Which at the rate these kids are growing — don’t blink! — will happen before you know it.  Take these upper elementary kids.  Savvy and sweet, thinning the corn and pumpkin, they decided a little corn/pumpkin dressing might be nice around the monument built in honor of their lost tomato plant, to sort of spruce things up a bit.

Clever, aren’t they?  And the good news?  They only grow more clever with each passing year…  Yes, I DO mean middle school.  Can’t wait!

In the meanwhile, I think it’s best to simply enjoy their enthusiasm.  I mean, doesn’t matter if it’s weeds or seeds, these kids take to a task like white on rice —

— and get the job done, tout de suite!  And remember the jungle tangle of black beans?  Well, it’s a jungle no more after these kids whipped through it, pulling excess bean plants as they went.

No one ever wants to pull perfectly healthy plants, unless of course they’re inhibiting one another’s growth.  But then, what’s a gardener to do?

P.S.  What I said was kale isn’t — it’s Swiss Chard.  Oops!  My apologies — but it is just as healthy and delightful!

Kids Say the Darndest Things

My kids have completely different styles when it comes to weeding the garden.  My daughter gets in, gets out — quick as she can.  The girl means business when it comes to weeds and she doesn’t like to waste her valuable free-time dawdling among the weeds!

My son, on the other hand, lingers.  He daydreams. 

Dawdles.  It’s not his thing, he says. 

Mine either.

He doesn’t prefer to weed.

Me neither.

So while in the garden recently, my daughter long gone, the dog uninterested in sitting with us out in the full heat of the sun (spoiled boy decided a swim in the pool would be a better use of his time!), I once again noticed my son idling amongst the rows.  He wasn’t pulling anything free from the ground.  Translated:  he wasn’t weeding.

Pausing from my task of planting garlic bulbs, I calmly asked him, “What are you doing?”

“Enjoying life.”

I raised a brow.   Really, now.   “Enjoying life, are you?”

“Yes.  I’m building an arena.”

Wondering if I heard him correctly, I repeated, “Building an arena?”

“Yep.  And these are my lights.”   He looked over at me with clear invitation in his eyes.    “Wanna see?”

Of course I did, so I rose from my spot and joined him along his row. 

“See.  There’s the arena and here’s my light.”   He bent a twig-like hay strand with his fingers to simulate a street light.   “This is the light part and this is its post.”

“Ah….”   Peering down into his creation, I said, “Looks good.  Who’s it for?”


I chuckled.  “Do ants enjoy going to the arena?”

“Oh, sure.  And here’s their door where they enter.” 

Sure enough, there was a hole opening in the ground forming a tunnel for the ants to enter.  I nodded.  “Perfect.”

And it was.  Creative and wonderful, it was an awesome rendition of his current priority:  sports.  Returning to my row, I pondered over his imagination.  Never short on ideas, I thought, kids sure can create anything out of nothing.  Which is a good thing.  Even better, I liked that he thought to consider a break from his chores to simply “enjoy life.”  I think it says a lot about his state of mind, his outlook and for that, I’m proud of him.

A little while later, I noticed he still had yet to weed.  Almost finished with my business in the garden, I knew he wasn’t going to take kindly to sitting out in the garden alone — weeding —  so I nudged him a bit.   “How are you doing?”

“Not great.”

“No?  What happened to enjoying life?”

“I still have to weed.”

“Yes, you do, but it’s not that much.  You can manage.”

He tossed a hay twig to the ground.  “It’s not fair.  You try to enjoy life, but it comes right back at you!”

I laughed.  Such observation from a seven-year-old!  “You’re right.  It does, doesn’t it?”  I shook my head at his wisdom.  When it comes to the “weeds” of life, it most certainly seems to — until you fully adjust your attitude cap;  a feat he’s still working to master.

“What the heck–why even try to enjoy it then?”

“It’s all about attitude.  Enjoy what you’re doing, whatever it is.”

He huffed in disagreement.  “I’m gonna go throw the football with Dad.”

“Yes you are — right after you finish weeding.”

And such goes life.  Despite his every effort to the contrary, my son learned it’s not all fun and games.  There are parts of life that feel like work, no matter how hard you try to make them feel like play.  But we push through.  We persevere. 

As a mother, it’s reassuring to know we’re not only growing vegetables out here in the garden, but building character to boot.

Progress Report

The kids are going strong.  Crops are coming in, as well as weeds — but we’re on top of them.  First, we loosen their grip in the soil and then we pull them free, forming small work piles ultimately headed for our compost pile. 

Granted it’s not the most exciting part of our garden, but it is a necessary one!  These weeds are battling for the same sun and water as our plants and we are rooting for our vegetables to win out!

Go veggies!

And there is plenty of weeding to go around.  While we mulched these corn stalks to prevent weed growth, they still have a plethora (abundance) of weeds growing around their base.  Most of these should be removed.  A few survivors won’t hurt, but  a “carpet” of weeds is definitely not helpful to our plants.

Maintenance is the key at this point.  For our tomatoes, we learned how to pinch the suckers from the vines.  These small growths at the elbow of main stalk and branches “suck” away energy from the main branches.  Very bad. 

We want our efforts directed toward tomato production, not branch production!

As the tomato plants grow larger, we must also stake them.  This basically means to tie the stalk of the plant to a sturdy stake (we used bamboo) so that when to tomatoes start coming in, they won’t topple over our plant. 

We could have used a cage, but using ties is easy and allows the plant plenty of space to breathe and spread its branches.  You can also utilize a trellis, encouraging the plants to climb.

As usual, we’re always on bug lookout.  It only takes one day for a hornworm to devour an entire plant.  Which would be wholly disappointing after all our hard work.

This little brownish varmint below had to be removed else he do damage.  I’m not sure exactly which type of worm he is, but we take no chances when it comes to saving our tomatoes!

If we’re lucky, we’ll spot a ladybug.  Maybe a frog, or two.  But so far, nada.  Could it mean we have nothing for them to eat?

Probably not.  We have holes in our poles bean leaves so something is chomping.

Another task is training the pole beans to grow up the fence.  We do this by gently tugging the leading vine toward the links of our fence and winding it through.  Aren’t they gorgeous?

Our sweet peas aren’t ready for training, yet.  As it is, they’ve only just peeked out from the ground.  But once they get going, we’ll do the same for them.

All in all, I’d say we’re off to a great start!

Should You Stake a Bush Bean?


They aren’t climbers like their cousins the pole beans. It shouldn’t be required, right?  Hence the name, bush bean.   

But I have to admit, I find staking my black beans gives them the extra support they need.  Unlike the kidney beans, they have these delicate climbers that are reaching for something.  I don’t know what that “something” is, but they do.  Couldn it be Mother Nature forgot to tell them they’re not climbers? 

Probably not.  However, this is my third season growing black beans — I LOVE black beans — and I’ve found they do better with bamboo stakes set next to their stalk. 

Not only does it give them something to curl around, it helps support the plant beneath the weight of all those glorious pods they produce.  A good thing.  Because strolling out to your garden intent on picking those gorgeous purple pods only to discover your plant “has fallenth over…”   It’s no fun. 

Depressing, really, as it signals your black bean bush (I use the word “bush” lightly) is not producing as well as it could be.  And you want as many black beans as you possibly can produce, because of all my plants, these are the easiest to store.  Which means I can eat black beans for months! 

Another method is to use a trellis for support.  While my kidney beans don’t want to twist their way up a bamboo stake, they do appreciate a little support around their “girth.” 

Like the black beans, these plants become laden with pods and can sag beneath the extra weight.  The trellis below does double duty in the garden.  Not only do I use it for my beans, but I can use it for my Limas, too. 

This way, I’m sure to reap as much bounty as possible from a season’s work.  At least until next spring when the new crop goes in.

And speaking of new crops, how long are these plants supposed to produce?  I have some Hungarian Wax pepper plants leftover from spring (they’re keeping the ground warm until my English peas go in) and they are still sprouting peppers.   Granted, she doesn’t look as lush and beautiful as she once did, but she’s still producing!

Is there a maturity stage where they no longer produce?  Like us, do they find their fertility waning after a while?

Sorry ladies, but it’s true.  We wane.   And if not our sparkling personalities and positive outlooks, at least some of our parts do. 

I wonder:  if I weren’t so busy rotating crops each fall and spring in hopes of achieving organic harmony, would ALL of my plants continually produce?  

I find it curious.  

Hmmm.  Perhaps this calls for an experiment!  I do have those three new rows I could use…

We’re Almost Fully Planted

We’ve almost filled our beds to completion, with only one bed left to fill.  I’m thinking strawberries would be nice.  Maybe a little lettuce, too. 

So far we’ve planted pole beans, corn, cabbage, broccoli, black beans, spinach, sweet peas, zucchini, squash, pumpkin, carrots, onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers — whew!  Plus a few herbs — basil, parsley, cilantro.  That’s some kind of garden!

And it’s coming along quite nicely.  The students learned what plants eat.  They also learned what eats plants.  Worms and bugs and flies, oh my!  Yes — and they’re everywhere, so our gardeners are vigilant.  We’ve made rounds through the garden taking turns for “bug watch.”  Actually found a few — we’re not sure what — munching on the pole beans.  Several eggs were on the underside of a leaf, so we brushed them off.  Our corn is being eaten as well, and received a douse of insecticidal soap. 

We’re hoping a few toads move in and we’ve sent invitations to some lovely lady bugs in the neighborhood.  Dragonflies are always welcome!  We hear slugs and snails like beer, but with an abundance of cats nearby, it might not be a good idea to set out open saucers of the stuff.  We wouldn’t want to lead them astray…

While we were planting, we noticed a few weeds had popped into the picture and as expected, our weed warriors launched their full attention to the matter (our compost pile enjoyed the fresh pickings).   Way to go weed warriors!

During our garden tour, we noticed the black beans were sprouting to life.  Camera ready, we captured them in varying stages of growth.  Here the bean first emerges.

The leaves unfurl from within.

No longer needed, the shell shrivels away.

Is that cool or what?  It’s certainly up close and personal and adds a whole new dimension to those beans you’re eating, doesn’t it? 

But that’s what gardening is all about.  Witnessing the growth of the vegetables we eat — literally having a hand in the process — it brings us closer to nature.  Caring for our plants, tucking them in their beds…  It inspires a connection, a bond. 

Since we’re organic, parents can rest easy knowing what’s going into their child’s body.  Kids enjoy it because everything tastes better when you grow it yourself!

The joy of gardening.  Careful–it’s contagious.

Hornworms and Tomato Curls — We Have Issues!

BIG issues.  Look at this fellow, chomping away on my tomato plant.  Pig.  He’s the sixth one in two weeks!  Not only does he favor tomatoes, but he’s partial to peppers, too. 

Then I strolled by the black bean plants and spotted this little beast.  Can this kid eat, or what?

Of course there are the usual flies in an assortment of colors.  This one is blue, but they come in gold and green.  Lovely if they weren’t hurting my plants.  I’d show you the crickets hopping through my beds, but they’re a tad more agile than caterpillars and worms and hard to photograph.  Hmph.

Oh.  And don’t forget the aphids.  Pests.  On a brighter note, I did harvest my first two squash today — this one included.

My sweet peppers were happier on the patio.  Screens do a lot to keep the bugs away.  This transplant went into the ground green and healthy and now look at him.  Poor thing.

What’s a gardener to do?  I’ve sprayed with insecticidal soap.  I keep them watered, fed and healthy.   For the most part

Vigilance.  That’s the answer.  I make bug watch walks twice daily now, just to be sure.  And if the bugs weren’t enough, I have leaf curl. 

My tomato plants are curling at the leaves and I don’t know if it’s due to a virus or the climate.  Could be either, but hopefully not both.  That would be bad.  Very, very bad.

But I won’t despair.  The “middle” of any growth cycle is always trying.  Do you know what happens to your body during middle age?  It isn’t pretty.  It’s difficult.  Everything becomes harder; harder to lose weight, harder to retain muscle, harder to see, harder to hear…  

Not to mention sagging middles in your novel!  (That’s writer talk.)  The period between sprouts and harvest is no different.  It takes work.  Maintenance.  Weeding, feeding, watching and waiting, but then comes harvest.  One of my favorite times in the garden!

For now, I work, I watch, I prune, I pick (worms right off my leaves) until the time comes when I can pluck, and pull — and EAT! 

Yes.  Harvest is a great time in the garden, but it won’t happen if I don’t work through the middle.  Neither will my golden anniversary.  Or my golden years, my gold-rimmed glasses…

Golden, like this squash.  Okay, it’s yellow but you get the point.  Life is golden, no matter how you slice it.  Beats the alternative, anyway.

Growing by Leaps and Bounds!

We’re talking both kids AND plants — these students have energy to share!  And share they do; their tools, their seeds, their worm poop.

Well, some things are easier to share than others, but from what I’ve seen, these gardeners are all about sharing the adventure of gardening.  Especially these little ones.

Our kindergarten students were in charge of planting black beans.  First they amended the soil (threw black dirt and formed two rows).  “Can I use my hands?”

“Yes, if you’re wearing gloves.”

Next they dug holes in two neat lines (carved them as they saw fit).   “Are these too close?”

Spying the holes side by side, I suggested they might want to stretch them out just a wee bit further.

Then they planted seeds in an orderly fashion (wildly orderly fashion!) and pointed at their handiwork.   “Is this good?”

“Remember:  only one or two per hole!”   Not handfuls.

Ensuring a good start, they sprinkled them with fertilizer (covered them with worm poop) until finally they tucked them in for a nice fall harvest (patted them down with their shovels).

Voila —  we have our bed of black beans!  At the rate these kids planted, jungle of black beans may prove more accurate. 

But if need be, we can “thin” the growth.  At least this way, we will be certain to have a superb “bean to sprout” ratio!

Sort of like our corn.  We’re going to have a bumper crop, for sure! 

Lower elementary planted sweet peas along the fence. 

When I asked who likes peas, only one boy claimed he didn’t. 

A response to which I duly smiled.  “You’ll LOVE these peas.  Plucked fresh from the vine, they taste like sugar.”

He returned a skeptical look. 

“Really,” I assured him.  “Vegetables never tasted so sweet until you grew them yourself!”

Another child piped in, “You can eat them right from the plant?”

“Yes sir, so long as you wash them first.  You never know what night visitors you may have had or what they may have been doing.”

Ewe.  But true.

And don’t forget the herbs! 

These girls worked like the three amigos, dropping their dirt and scattering their seeds like master gardeners — all this before running off to work on their kinetic challenge!

It’s all in a day’s work for these kids.  And just look at their progress!  

The “Brownie” beans are flourishing.  These were planted first and are really doing well.

The tomatoes are thriving.

The carrots are poking free.

Why, it’s beginning to look like a real garden out there —  thanks, gardeners! 

Until next time…

My Garden Blooms Anew…

Sigh.  What a beautiful sight.  No longer barren and half-dead, my garden blooms with life once again.  Fall, a time when many areas are closing down for the winter, here in Florida, I get another shot of bloom.  My corn is sprouting, my beans are flourishing, my onions are packed in for the long haul to spring and there are my tomatoes — flourishing — right along with their sweet pepper cousins! 

Which requires the utmost vigilance.  I’ve already removed TWO tomato hornworms from them; one before he managed any damage, the other after he ate the top of the plant!  Argh.  And two black caterpillars.  Don’t know what they were but certain they were up to no good.

My peppers had a better go of it on the screened patio, protected from the onslaught of scavengers now trying to devour them out in the wilds of the free, open space of my garden.  But I’m there everyday, spritizing and plucking and shooing the insects away, so they should survive. 

A wasp has landed on my bean plant.  Not sure if he’s a friendly, but any bug carrying a stinger automatically warrants a “friendly” status in my garden.   Translated:  I’m not going near him.  Besides, he doesn’t seem interested in eating the leaves.  Only perusing them. 

And that’s okay.  They ARE gorgeous and heart-shaped leaves.  What bug wouldn’t want to land on those pumpkins! 

But I digress.  Back to the garden.  Here we extended the garden by about twenty feet.  I’m sure my husband won’t mind if I liberally use the word “we.”  I did supervise.  Well, not actually in person, but I did direct the expansion.  I have four more rows and now we’re growing pumpkins — real pumpkins — and they need space.  While I realize it’s a little late in the season to get started on pumpkins, my first sprout was lost to, uh, shall we say, “early expansion efforts.” 

Okay.  My husband missed it upon first clearing.

My fault, of course.  I mean, who plants a lone pumpkin in a small cleared space at the edge of the garden then asks for the adjacent area to be cleared?  With a tractor?

Perhaps in hindsight, it wasn’t one of my better decisions.  But I’m an action-oriented kind of gal and that sometimes means, do first, think it through second.  Ugh.  It’s a curse.

Did you see the rogue sweet potato down in the corner?  Avid growers these sweet potatoes, so I simply let them be.  We’ll see how Mother Nature’s vine does compared to mine.

Granted everything is small at the moment — particularly these carrots — but in a month’s time my entire garden will be full and lush and headed well on its way toward harvest!

Sheer heaven, it is.  Sheer heaven.