cold

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

Even here in Florida making gardening a much less delightful propsect. Shivering between the rows is not this Floridian’s idea of fun, no matter how excited I am by the gorgeous cabbage heads forming before my very eyes. It’s cold. Cold is for snow, not gardens. Call me “The Wimpy Gardener” but I prefer sunshine and tepid breeze when I’m outside digging in the dirt. However, there is one upside to this frigid month of January ~ the seed catalogs are arriving!

seed shopping

Woo-hoo! Talk about the perfect “pick-me-up” on a frosty morning, colorful pages filled with ripe, succulent vegetables are it. Now I can start dreaming about warmer days and garden blooms with pictures to spark my imagination. (As if it needed sparking, but that’s a tale for another day).  It’s time to order those seeds for a head start on your spring planting. I don’t know about you, but I like to get my tomatoes sprouting in trays before I put them in the ground. Not only does it give them a jump on the season but it allows me to avoid harvesting in the heat of May/June. Get in early, get out early, that’s my motto. Remember: summer is for vacations.

So grab those catalogs and a warm mug of coffee, find a place by the toasty fire and peruse to your heart’s content.  You won’t believe the stuff they’re growing these days, from a rainbow of cauliflower to purple and blue “green” beans, I’m amazed–and thrilled! Santa brought me a new juicer this year, so in addition to my usual cabbage juice and carrot smoothies, I’m going to try wheatgrass. It’s been popping up in my world of late, which I take as a sign: Grow Wheatgrass. From what I understand, this stuff will cure what ails you, especially when combined with a healthy “raw diet” approach to eating.

I’m in. I’ve already begun my 2 week “detox” from most things sugar. Time to get serious with most things green. You in? ‘Cause you know I’m going to show you “how-to” do it every step of the way!!

Let’s get this 2014 party started!

Peppers in January?

“Who’d a thunk it?”  Especially after the frost just before Christmas, when I was out shopping and too busy to cover them, in addition to the fact that my local weather folks had it in the 40′s until I arrived home that evening.  Frost alert!  Maybe even a freeze!

AGH?  Are you kidding me?  This is not something to joke about!

But alas, it was true.  Two nights in a row.  Ho, hum.  Who expects to grow peppers in the winter, anyway?

Only the most optimistic gardeners like myself!  I left the peppers in ground after the damage was done, deciding to pull them out at a later date.  Then the green peppers started turning red, and the Hungarian Wax started sprouting a host of new leaves.  What the heck?

The curious sort, I left them in and kept an eye on the little fellas.  Checked one of the red peppers, turned it to and fro.  Didn’t appear frost-bitten.  Was it possible it was good? More

Poinsettia for Next Year

The Poinsettia I planted from last season did not fare as well as I hoped.

The reason?  I believe it has something to do with sunlight.  The year before, I re-planted them in pots and kept them on the back patio, south side of the house.  They weren’t kept in direct sun, mind you, but they were in a very bright location.  Those I planted in ground out front of my home, full shade, no good. :(

So this year?  You guessed it!  Someplace nice and protected–they are somewhat dainty, I think–but with plenty of bright light.  Which makes sense.  After consulting with my “grow-guides,” I was reminded these beauties prefer indirect sunlight, protected from cool drafts.  As a native of Mexico, this plant doesn’t like the cold, so whenever the temperature dips below 50-55 degrees, you must be vigilant and cover it else it shrivel up and die.  More

Lookee What We Found in the Compost!

You know it’s a good day in the compost pile when this little fella is making his home in your homemade dirt.  Can you see him?  He’s the curvy-looking stick. :)

It means nice, damp conditions.  It means nutrients.  It means this compost will be AWESOME for garden use–all of which we learned this week in our lessons (listed below).  But better yet, a compost pile is just plain fun. More

Compost 101

What is compost?  It’s the mixture of decomposed remnants of organic matter (those with plants and animal origins) used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients. 

How do you create compost?   

Air + Water + Carbon + Nitrogen = Compost

Like most living things, the bacteria that decompose organic matter, and the other creatures that make up the compost ecosystem, need air.  These microbes also need the right amount of water; think “wrung out” sponge.  If too wet or too dry, optimum conditions for bacteria activity will not be met and decomposition will be slowed or halted.  This is the reason some folks “turn” their pile.  It improves air flow!

Me?  I’d rather put Mother Nature to work.  I’ve learned my compost pile works fine without a single turn from me.  (LA-zy!)  Basically, I pile plants, lawn clippings, kitchen scraps and the like and let nature takes its course.  The materials break down and become black gold in our garden.  Composted soil provides nutrition for vigorous plant growth, improves soil structure by creating aeration, increases the ability of soil to retain water, moderates soil pH, and encourages microorganisms whose activities contribute to the overall health of plants.  LOVE it!

What not to compost?  Diseased plants, weeds gone to seed, coal ashes, dog/cat manure, lawn clippings that may contain herbicides. 

Once you’ve established a location for your compost pile, it’s important to know how much carbon versus how much nitrogen to include.  Too much nitrogen and your pile will smell, because excess nitrogen converts to ammonia gas.  Too much carbon and the pile breaks down too slow, because microbes need nitrogen to increase their population.  The ideal is a 30:1 C/N ratio. 

 Carbon is used for energy by the microbes and comes in the form of leaves, straw, hay, sawdust, etc.  These are the “browns” of composting.  Microbes also need nitrogen for the proteins that makeup their tiny bodies.  Matter high in nitrogen are the “greens” of composting (though not always the color green) and consist of “fresh” plants, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and the byproduct of animals such as manure and worm castings.

There are two types of composting:  hot and cold.  Hot composting is accomplished more quickly and best done within a bin.  Made up all at one time, it’s allowed to compost without further addition of material, although it does require frequent turning and proper moisture control.  Bacteria give off heat as they digest the material.  The enclosed pile will insulate the heat raising the internal temperature to 120 – 190 degrees.  This attracts more bacteria whose breakdown continues more rapidly. Hot compost is good because it kills pathogens and many weed seeds.

A cold pile (70 – 90 degrees) takes longer though it manages a steady stream of material additions; perfect for the family backyard pile (as in mine).  Simply begin your pile with the organic material of your choice, i.e. leaves, kitchen scraps, etc. and continually add to the top of the pile.  Within 6 – 24 months (depending on climate conditions) the material will break down—though turning the pile will speed up this process.  The bottom of the pile composts first (higher heat due to insulation).

When your compost is ready, you’ll know it.  Your material will be unrecognizable from its original form and look like gorgeous black dirt.  Like I said, around these parts we call it “black gold” for the garden!

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.

Potato or Potata?

Frittata, masha o potata fritta, it doesn’t matter.   Potatoes are THE crop to grow.   Especially for all you first timers.   It’s really hard to mess up this crop — believe me – I’ve come close, several times. 

But they still come up daisies, even when they’re pushing daisies.   As I mentioned before, my potato princesses died during the long hard freeze of January 2010.  A sad day, but salvation came in the form of their babies.  They survived! 

Amazing, but true.  I planted these at the end of October.   (the green you see are my chickpea companions which ultimately perished as well)  It was a risk, I knew, but I’m a risk taker at heart and figured potatoes in Florida?   How cold can it get?   Twenties, sure, for a night, maybe two.   I can hold off Mother Nature for that long, no problem.   Really?

Try four, maybe five and yep, you guessed it.   She kicked my fanny.   Like I always say (now, anyway), don’t go messing with Mother Nature.   You do NOT want her on your bad side because she WILL show you who’s boss.   Hint:  it isn’t you.

So back to my success story.  Yes, I went ahead, against the advice of my potato seed supplier and planted my crop of potatoes.  I love potatoes and haven’t had fresh papas since summer.   I missed “swimming” for the little guys, you know what I mean?    And yes, as forewarned, I lost them.   But tilling the soil for the next rotation – onions, in this instance – lo and behold, what do you know…potatoes!   Some nice sized ones, too.

Talk about thrill.  Well I looked down a few rows at my newest up and coming crop of these pups and thought, good job.  You planted them after the freezing cold, they should do fine.

Wrong.   Well on their way – poof — another wind blows down from Canada and we have near disaster.   Near disaster, because like I said, I know how to protect them.   With a quick glance upward, I first check with the lady upstairs.   Then breathe a sigh of relief. 

With some warm hay mulch and frost blanket, we can hang on for a few days. 

Thankfully, that’s all it was this time, though I did “miss the memo” regarding the last two nights.  I only happened to catch the late evening weather anchor mention the chance of frost — even freezing — but my husband waved it off. 

“It’s not going to freeze tonight.”  Translated: I’m not going out there at this hour to cover the plants and neither are you.  Then he rolled over and went to sleep. 

Hmph.  Lucky for me, the girls only incurred a few brown tipped leaves during their shivery nights, but now seem no worse for the wear.  A good thing, because I have several new potato recipes I can’t wait to try!

So, if you’ve always wanted to garden but felt your thumb was a bit too brown, trust me.   Potatoes are the answer.   Short on space?   I recently discovered a great solution.   The Lutovsky Potato box!   Produce 100 lbs. of potatoes using only 4 sq. ft. of space. 

No, I’m not kidding.   Visit the link and see for yourself.   Whether you have limited outdoor space or live in an apartment, you can grow and store a TON of potatoes.   They are generous producers and very forgiving.