School is back in session and it’s time to get our youngsters out of the cafeteria and into the garden–their very own school garden.
From aphids to zinnias, beets to watermelon, children can gain a wealth of valuable knowledge from participating in a garden, but they need guidance. And who better to guide them than you?
“Me? But I don’t have time for a garden.”
Of course you do—you simply don’t realize it yet! Gardens don’t have to be time-consuming. Nor do they have to be stressful. I mean, where in the garden manual does it say you must sacrifice every ounce of your free time and sanity for the sake of growing vegetables? More
The fall gardening season is upon us in Florida and that means I’m ready to tackle tomatoes, figuratively speaking of course. You want to be gentle with these babies, careful. Unless you’re using one of those upside down bag “thingys” and then—all bets are off. From what I understand, you can’t kill the things when growing them in those contraptions!
But I’m an in-ground gardener, doing things the old-fashioned way. Now that it’s time to start my tomato sprouts it’s time to share a little secret, the secret to beautiful, healthy, blossom-end rot free tomatoes. Epsom salts and eggshells. Yep, just mix some crumbled eggshells together and Epsom salts into your potting mix and you’re good to go!
This disease is the result of a lack of calcium. Calcium’s most important function during the crop fruiting stage is its role in cell wall/cell membrane stability. If Ca is deficient in developing fruits, an irreversible condition known as blossom-end rot will develop. Blossom-end rot occurs when cell wall calcium “concrete” is deficient during early fruit development, and results in cell wall membrane collapse and the appearance of dark, sunken pits at the blossom end of fruit so this blend does wonders to give your plants a head start. The magnesium helps plants grow bigger, heartier tomatoes but go easy. Too much Mg can cause trouble, too. More
And I don’t mean as in “trends” (because gardening is ALWAYS in style :)) but temperature. I mean, it’s seriously hot out there, dehydration worthy heat stroke-inducing hot. Gardening in Florida during July and August is not for the meek, the weak or those otherwise interested in vacation. Now this isn’t to say there aren’t plants that will tolerate it because there are–plenty! Okra, peanuts and peppers love the heat. Sweet potatoes and sunflowers soak up the sun like candy, but me?
Not so much. I have to admit, summer is not my favorite time in the garden. I still plant and grow, but it’s the weeds that really have me singing the blues. They’re everywhere. It rains, they cheer. It doesn’t rain, they hold tight until it does, and here in Florida, they won’t have long to wait. It’s a cycle. Reliable, predictable and important to note. Why?
It’s essential to know your limitations. I for one have decided to dial back on my summer garden. I hate to do it. It feels like I’m quitting–and I’m no quitter–but at some point you have to accept reality. Same as the aches and pains I’ve come to accept as part of the aging process, the temperature outdoors this time of year is plain too hot for me to enjoy the process. Sure I could wake up and head out early to beat the heat, but that would interfere with my coffee time. Course I could always wait until dusk, but the kids tend to get hungry around then and I’m on dinner duty. More
Summer is not the time to be gardening. Not in Florida, anyway. It’s the time for vacations with the kids, days at the beach, the lake, a friend’s house. Summer is too hot for gardening in Florida. Pretty much too hot for anything but water fun! However, I’m a year-round gardener which means there’s ALWAYS something growing in my backyard. And I’m not talking grass, I’m talking edible. :=)
Sweet potatoes love the warm weather and grow all summer long to deliver a bounty of golden goodness come fall. These babies are sprawling into the beds on either side where I have dutifully made room for them.
Okra is another plant that loves it sunny and hot and as you know, this year I’m playing around with a new variety! Red Okra, of the “Billy Bob” variety (the name still makes me smile.
My Valencia peanuts are thriving, burrowing away so that we may have peanuts to boil come football season. You have tried my Southern Boiled Peanuts recipe, haven’t you? More
Who’d a thunk it? It’s pretty neat, though, don’t you think?
We went out to clip our standard fare green okra (Clemson Spineless) this morning and lo and behold, our red variety have been sprouting up a storm! (Yes, you caught me. I’ve missed a few days of visits.) It’s a Billy Bob variety (and no, I’m not kidding) that apparently thrives in our warm Florida climate.
Gazing at these ruby beauties up close and personal, you know the first thing my son and I had to do was taste them.
Guess what? They taste the same! Can’t wait to see if they cook they same.
And lots of them? Well, if you’re like me, you’re probably wondering where and how you’re going to store them all. You see, my local seed store sells these sweets in bundles of 100. While it’s fun to plant 100 bulbs and harvest fresh sweet onions for your dining pleasure, 100 onions coming to maturity at one time is a lot. Once more, I planted the excess bulbs from our school garden, driving my total up to near 150.
“Hey, Trip–want some onions?”
“Sure.” The neighbor friend grins and heads on over to pull a dozen for himself which leaves me with 138.
A few nights of French onion soup will swallow up another dozen, a carmelized onion tart, sautéed onions for the burgers…an open invitation to the neighbors to pull to their heart’s content and well, I’ve only just broken the 100 point. Staring at my beauties resting quietly in their beds, I’m wondering, Who else would like some fresh onions?
Gardeners do love to share but we don’t like to waste. So while sitting in my chiropractor’s office waiting for him to twist my back into shape, I got to talking with another patient and lo and behold, a fellow gardener! We do frequent the same places, don’t we? After a while, conversation drifted toward our abundance of harvest and upon learning of my onion dilemma, he shared an onion storage tip with me. (You’re going to love this one!) More
As your peanut plants grow, it’s a good practice to till the soil around them. Once they blossom, the petals will fall off and the plant will drop “pegs” down into the loose soil around the plant–key word: LOOSE. The peg is a narrow root like branch that makes up the flower stem and peanut embryo. Once it buries itself in the soil, the new peanuts will form.
But if the soil is too compacted–as is the case with ours due to recent heavy rains–you’ll want to lightly till around your plants. Peanuts grow underground and the softer the soil, the more easily they’ll grow. And you want to make it easy for them to grow, don’t you?
Of course you do! I also amended my peanut bed with compost to ensure they receive adequate nourishment throughout their growing season. We’ll talk more about that when the time comes. (The plants above are showing the first signs of yellow blooms which means the pegs won’t be far behind!) About two months after your peanut plants have bloomed, check for peanuts.
Great! It’s the perfect time to solarize your soil. By using nature’s heat, you can “bake” the gremlins out of your soil and prepare for the next planting season. Here in Florida, that means fall. (Yes, we’re lucky that way, reaping twice the gardening pleasure and sunshine.)
Solarizing is simple. Basically, you cover your beds with plastic paper (I’m going with heavy-duty black) and leave it in place for six weeks. The heat gathering beneath the paper will cook the soil and whatever is underground will cease and desist. Simple, eh?
I do love simple. And organic. No pesticides here! What I don’t love is doing things over and over which is what I’ve had to do in the past. Every afternoon, round about 4:00pm, the clouds would gather, the temps would fall and the winds would blow sending my paper across the yard, twirled and tangled…even hopped my neighbor’s fence once!
The paper went everywhere but where it was supposed to be, so I decided to go heavy-duty and lined my rows with tiles and rebar and various other items I picked up around the garage. (Thanks, honey!) It’s not as pretty as anchoring the paper with pins, but summer winds are strong and tend to tear those puppies out. At this point in my gardening career, I’d rather have effective than pretty. Once my beasts have been baked out of the garden, I’ll be back in business.
When growing okra, daily vigilance is a must. Not because of bugs or disease–okra are pretty tolerant on these counts–but because of harvest. Okra will range in size from an inch to six inches–a big difference.
And in this case, size DOES matter. Those six-inch okra might look grand and delightful, but you don’t want to eat them. They’re tough and not nearly as tasty as their younger counterparts. Go figure.
Anyhoo, speaking of their younger counterparts, tender young okra are most definitely what you’re after when it comes to harvesting okra. The small ones are tasty straight off the vine, tossed in a salad, soaked in a tomato stew… There are a host of ways you can use okra, particularly if you enjoy Cajun-style cooking. YUM. My son prefers them Southern-style which means rolled in cornmeal and deep-fried. More
Black Turtle beans are some of my favorite beans to grow. Not only are they easy, but oh-so-delicious when combined with onions, oregano, garlic and olive oil. Very similar to black bean soup, I love this mix of cooked beans and rice–a definite “must eat” in our household.
Growing black beans requires warm weather and a mild fertilizer and that’s about it. For your first batch, you can order an organic black turtle bean online (or other variety). Plant bean seeds (bean and seed are the same thing) about an inch deep and water well. In a month your bean pods will form and in two months, you’ll be looking to harvest!
But how do you know when your black beans are ready? I mean, these are what we call “shelling” beans, which means we don’t eat the pod as a whole–like we do with pole beans or garden peas. We have to open the pods, remove the beans and dry them.
With this variety of black bean it’s a no-brainer. When your pod turns a beautiful deep eggplant color, your beans are ready to harvest.
“What happens if I’m on vacation and I miss the peak harvest?” More