Broccoli Babes

As my peanuts finish out for the season, it’s time to introduce a new crop. To best utilize my garden space, I interplant based on crop rotation rules. Crop rotation is an organic gardening practice where you change the placement of your plants from season to season. Doing so improves the structure and quality of your soil as well as minimizes the risk of disease and pest infestation. I use a rotation of beans-leaves-roots-fruits. Basically, this means that after my “beans” have produced, I plant “leaves.” In this case, beans = peanuts and leaves = broccoli. Peanuts fix nitrogen into the soil and broccoli requires lots of nitrogen to produce big green leaves so this rotation makes good sense.


In between the broccoli sprouts will be spinach. Both love nitrogen and are good companions in the garden. Other crop rotation considerations are how my tomatoes followed peanuts from earlier this season, corn followed my bush beans. These peanuts (shown above) actually followed okra, although I normally try to follow a fruit group, say tomatoes, squash or peppers.


Above is my fall garden to date (just prior to the insertion of my tomato stakes and cables). Blueberry bushes are located in the farthest row. Black beans are in the ground next to them. Then there’s my corn, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, peanuts, broccoli and spinach. Still to come this season are sweet onions and carrots, cabbage and chard. Potatoes will go in around January. Can’t wait!

Beautiful Broccoli

I know most folks don’t care for the cold weather, but here in Florida it marks broccoli season and around my house, that’s one of the few vegetables everyone can agree on. Okay, that’s a lie. My son doesn’t prefer it–unless it’s covered with cheese and appears on his plate without stems.

Ack. What do kids know, anyway? Broccoli is beautiful, good for you, and fairly easy to grow. And it thrives this time of year.

broccoli head

While my son might not like to eat broccoli, he doesn’t mind helping with the harvest. We cut two nice sized heads this morning and plan to cook them alongside our spaghetti and meatballs this evening for dinner. I’ll steam them first, to soften them up, then pan sauté. Once browned, I’ll cover them with shredded cheddar and a sprinkle of garlic powder and pepper. It might sound a bit crazy to some, but it sure does taste good. And in the end, isn’t that what counts?

If you haven’t planted your broccoli yet and you live where the ground doesn’t freeze, rendering your garden about as plantable as a cement parking lot, it’s not to late to give these babies a try. They’ll take about 2 months of growing before you can harvest, but if you plant now, your January dinner table will thank you. For complete details, tips & tricks, check out my how-to grow section on the sidebar. Happy gardening!

September in the Garden

Is one busy time! Now that the dog-days of August are behind me, I’m gung-ho in the garden. So far, I’ve planted red beans, black beans, lima beans, broccoli, cabbage, kale, tomatoes, peppers, scallions–and these are in addition to my peanuts, okra and sweet potatoes still in ground. As the latter wane and the former blossom, it’s a great time to be in the garden. Mornings usher in cooler temps, a slight breeze and I think even the bugs have eased a bit.

Of course, I don’t have to worry about bugs, right? My babies are tucked away beneath the screens of safety!

broccoli under cover

Wishful thinking. Unfortunately, white flies are tiny enough to penetrate my barrier. Crickets don’t have anything else to do but crawl around the perimeter, looking for a way in. At least my tomatoes are safe from the dreaded brown moth that lays the hornworm eggs. UGH. I am definitely beating those beasts this season. And with my new daily maintenance schedule–a quick spin around the garden before breakfast and after dinner–I am SO on top of any marauders, they won’t stand a chance! More

Winter in the Garden

I realize that “winter” is a relative term when it comes to Florida, but we really are experiencing some cold weather this month. It’s been in the 30s…!!! Brrrrrrr. Thank goodness there’s no negative sign before that number. I think my face would fall off! Instead, it’s seasonably cold, just enough to give us a taste of winter.

A taste my cabbage plants are loving. They thrive in brisk, sunny temps.

cabbage is happy

Peppers normally don’t, yet strangely, I haven’t lost them. I didn’t bother to cover them, deciding on a minimalist approach this year yet look at them. They’re fine! Sort of. More

Now That Vacation Has Settled…

The students hit the garden running–literally. 🙂  It’s understandable.  Gardening is exciting!  I mean, have you ever seen what a real “bunch” of broccoli looks like on the plant?

bunch of broccoli

It’s cool.  Fascinating, really.  Mind you most of these kids have never seen broccoli still attached to the stalk.  No trip to the grocery store, no plastic wrap, and you can eat it?  You bet.  But eat it before it goes to flower.

bees are swarming the broccoli

By then, the bees are swarming and the plant is throwing its energy into creating seed pods. More

A Photo Journal of My Winter Garden

It’s February in Florida and that means different things to different gardeners.  Some have closed up their garden until spring, opting out of the fight with Jack Frost.  Others are focused on cleaning out and preparing for spring.  Me?  I garden all year-long–except summer.  It’s simply too hot and my garden is supposed to sustain me, not kill me. 🙂

You understand what I mean.  So this February, my garden holds mixed blessings.  My potatoes are thrilled with the warmer winter.

My sweet onions don’t mind either way… More

Picky Eater?

Okay, call me crazy (most folks do), but I have a finicky eater chomping away at the greens in my garden.  This little pest is devouring my Brussels sprouts.  Not my broccoli, mind you, taking up residence in the very same row.  Only my Brussels.  Chomped this one clear to the stem.


Frosty Mornings

With Christmas behind me and the new year ahead, I find myself looking forward to spring.  I’m sure many of my Arctic Amigos feel the same way about now, buried under feet of snow, no sign of their garlic bulbs, their tulips and daffodils mere glimmers of hope, reminding them “this blizzard, too, shall pass.”  And as any organized organic gardener would do, I’m plotting mine out in Excel.

“What?”  Glancing about, I ask,  “Doesn’t everyone?”

Realizing I’m standing alone, I think, perhaps not.  But it does make for easy record keeping; where I planted what and when, which variety matured first, when did I begin harvest, what goes where next… 

Sure, most gardeners use a journal for this type of business, but I’m visual.  And I like color (excel allows me to color code everything from roots to leaves, from fall to spring — oh joy!).

Okay.  So it’s not that exciting, but it does add a bit of fun to the process.  More work, but more fun.  Works for keeping track of Girl Scout cookies sales, too!  So while these carrots are tolerating the frost, hunkering down and going about the business of growing, I’m going about the business of planning.

My cabbage are thriving in the cold.  

As are my broccoli.

Even my tender sweet peas are tolerating the chill.  Not in stellar fashion mind you, but at least they’re still alive.

And tomorrow…  Well, it will probably be more of the same (with the winter we’re having).  Eventually the ground will soften and yield to my touch and I’ll till and I’ll plant and I’ll begin the process anew.  I’ll try new techniques, I’ll expand on what’s working…  And I WILL grow tomatoes to perfection.  If my students can do it, I can do it. 

That’s how the mantra goes, anyway.

Vacation’s Over!

With Thanksgiving behind us, leftovers gone, the kids have returned to school for their lessons.  And lessons they learned, especially in the garden.  As any experienced gardener knows, leaving a garden untended invites all sorts of drama.  Weed overgrowth, bug infestation, disease infection — it’s enough to send you running for the hills. 

But hold on cowboys and grab your hats, these students aren’t your average gardeners.  No, no!  They’re tough and determined (brave enough to endure the chill of Florida’s winter) and they have a job to do.  Weed warriors, begin!

Besides all that exciting stuff, it’s harvest time (code for:  time to reap our rewards).  Yay!  Is there a better time to be in the garden

No boys and girls, there isn’t!  Harvest time is when you FINALLY get the chance to reap the bounty from all your hard work and reap these kids did — all while learning valuable lessons about reproduction.  “How does a plant continue to grow without the help of a gardener?” 

Good question.  How about we take a look for ourselves.  Since our pole beans are the first vegetables ready for harvest, I cheered, “Everybody, start plucking!”  Woohoo!  A dozen kid pulling from the vine–now it’s a harvest party!

“Open up your beans and let’s look inside.”  Ooohs and aaahs all around.  “Perfect.  These beans are ready to eat.  But what happens if there are no gardeners with voracious appetites?”  (You can use big words like voracious with these kids because they’re educated.) 

“The pods will dry on the vine like those brown ones,” I said, indicating the dried and shriveling pod.  Passing it around, we discussed the differences between the pods we plucked and this pod I picked.  “Left unpicked, this bean will dry and the pod will shrivel up until the day it pops open and spits the beans out onto the ground.  Really!  I’ve seen it happen.  Pop!” 

Now that I have their full attention, I explain how the beans ultimately make their way into the soil and prepare to sprout anew.  Here’s a neat video presentation of the life cycle of a bean.  And the best part?  “You guys get to eat your beans for snack this morning!”  Hoorays and leaps for joy.  “Yep.  You have to wash them first, but then you can eat your first organic bean.  The one you grew yourself!” 

I think I’ve discovered the secret to getting kids to eat vegetables.  Have the kids grow them!  Talk about excitement over snack time–you’d think we were talking chips and Cheetos, but no, we’re talking healthy greens.  Warms a parent’s heart, I tell you.  Pure joy. 

The kids will also collect some beans for drying, preparing them for planting come spring.  It’s a great way for them to take an active part in the life cycle of a bean plant, witnessing the glory of nature firsthand.

Forget visions of sugarplums (that is so yesterday), these kids are dreaming of broccoli!  And now that they’re cleaned free of weeds, they’re ready to premier in their own harvest party.

Broccoli has gone to flower


Oh, boy.   Mandie missed the boat on the broccoli.   It bolted to flower. — a definite problem with the heat of Florida.   Broccoli prefers cooler weather — cooler soil, actually — and does not do well in extended warm temperatures.   When it starts to flower, you don’t want to eat it.  It’s basically bitter and tough.  Eck.

The same thing happened to my spinach.  It was moving along quite well until we had a week of warm weather in early April and then — BAM — shoots sprung straight up from the center.  The leaves changed shape and I had to remove the plants from the garden and place them in the compost pile.  At least they’re contributing to future growth if not my dinner plate.

But I guess that’s what they mean when they say “there’s a season for everything.”  You eat strawberries in the spring and spinach in the winter — in Florida.  Some crops like potatoes and onions, etc. can be grown spring and fall, but others like broccoli and spinach simply can’t hack the heat.  Not that I blame them.  Summer is vacation time in my book — vacation time away from the heat! 

But there is good news.  (No, she didn’t get her dirt, yet.)  The carrots are filling in nicely and the tomatoes are growing bushier by the day.  They need trimming and pinching, respectively, but both are doing quite well.

Remember:  when your carrots get to this stage, you want to “trim” them to thin them out.  Basically, the goal is to cut down on overcrowding, allowing each sprout the room to fill out mature into a nice sized carrot. 

If you don’t thin them, your carrots won’t have room to grow and you’ll end up with a bunch of tiny carrots.  Cute, maybe, but not great for eating.

Meanwhile, you should be pinching those tomatoes.  Any shoots that form between the main stems should be “pinched” off so that nutrients can be directed toward the larger stems. 

An overgrown tomato plant may look full and lush, but I’ve found the tomatoes tend to be weaker and more susceptible to disease than when they have strong branches and good air flow.

The healthier your plants, the less likely they are to fall prey to nature’s pests!   It’s one of the hallmarks of organic gardening.   Keep them healthy and strong and you’ll have less need for pesticides.   

In my garden, I noticed a sweet little ladybug had come to feed.  Perfect.   She’s welcome anytime.   Along with her friend the dragonfly.   Both are “natural pesticides” in the garden.   So are spiders, but I find myself stepping on those bad boys.   A habit I’m working to break!

So keep up the good work, Mandie!   Things are looking good!