Summertime in the Garden

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.

sweet potatoes in bloom 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.

 red okra

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

Red Okra?

Who’d a thunk it? It’s pretty neat, though, don’t you think?

row of red okra

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.

clemson spineless okra

Gazing at these ruby beauties up close and personal, you know the first thing my son and I had to do was taste them.

red okra

Guess what? They taste the same! Can’t wait to see if they cook they same.  :)

Got Onions?

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?

my sweet 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

Peantus Dropping Pegs

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.

add compost to peanut plants

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?

peanuts like soft soil

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.

Happy Gardening!

Hot In YOUR Garden?

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?

heavy duty black paper

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!

effective paper weights

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.  :)

Pick Okra at Peak of Perfection

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.

Okra in varying stages of maturity

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

How to Harvest Black Beans

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.

black beans for dinner

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.

black beans at maturity

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

Kids and Seeds

As our school year winds to a close, the kids are dutifully preparing for next year, eager for another season in the garden. We’ve planted our seeds, watched them grow and have reaped our bounty. Now comes the question: What to do with the seeds?

Why sell them, of course! We’re forward-thinking self-sustaining gardeners with a mind for planning, and we know that if we sell some of our seeds, we’ll have enough money to purchase more nifty magnifying glasses, spray bottles, worm poop and the like!  (We can grow and harvest seeds, but we’re NOT harvesting worm poop.)

And where are we going to store our seeds?  How about these fabulous seed packets?

seed packet variety

Aren’t they divine?  The kids made them and it was so easy. First, we sat in our circle of creativity. More

Planting Sweet Potato Slips

Wow. It’s finally happened. My sweet potato slips have sprouted!

sweet potato slips have sprouted

Aren’t they wonderful? Now mind you, not all of them have sprouted. As with humans, you have your early bloomers and your late bloomers and so it goes with these little beauties. But don’t dismay–Mother Nature has a plan! By allowing only a few to sprout, she’s encouraging you to “stagger” your planting.

“Stagger my planting? What the heck does that mean?” More

If You See Poop…

It’s a telltale sign. The poop looks like this…

hornworm poop

The beast looks like this…

meet the tomato hornworm

It’s the tomato hornworm and not a good thing for your tomato plants. Look for him. He’s there, somewhere, albeit hard to find. This is a closeup shot taken so you’ll know what you’re looking for, but this fat fella blends in well–and I mean REALLY well, so be vigilant and don’t give up. If you see poop, he’s there.

An easier sign to detect the presence of tomato hornworms is the abundance of bald stems.

tomato devoured by hornworm

No leaves, just stems. (He needs something to climb on, doesn’t he?) He’s there, in the middle of the plant. Can you see how he’s the same color as the leaves? 

Yep. Trust me. This one camouflages well, so look watch for poop or stems. If you see either one, slip on your gloves and get to plucking.  Definitely dispatch this guy from your garden or say goodbye to your tomato plants.