Well I’ll be frostbitten…

Yes, I know it’s 80°F today in Florida, but last weekend it was cold. I mean really cold — 32°F of cold.  And as I mentioned, it was over the weekend.

Unfortunately, the garden lady doesn’t go to school on the weekend.  Yep.  Covered my potatoes at home but at school?  No could do.

So I did what any wise old sage would do and planned this week’s lesson around the realities of life. 

“Sorry kids, Mother Nature got us on this one.  Layered the landscape in cold when we were least able to protect against it.”  (That, and your garden lady completely forgot about to bring sheets with her to school on Friday.)  It happens.  It’s real life.  We cope.

Printing out the pages, I tucked them in my pretty floral folder and went to school.  Walked the kids out to the garden and stopped cold in my tracks.  “What the–” More

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

There’s Always Next Year

Ever catch yourself saying this as you stand and gaze upon your garden?

I have.  Am, I should say.  My garden is going through some “growing pains” at the moment.  Most horribly, our frost “bite” right before Christmas.  Weather man modified his forecast AFTER I was able to prepare.  (Aaagh!)  Watching the news one evening, I found myself gaping at the television screen.  Hard frost?  Freeze, north of us?  Oh no…

Yep.  I have three forty-foot rows that look just like this one.  We salvaged what tomatoes we could, pulled the plants and still have these to clean up.  Tomorrow.  There’s always tomorrow.  Same fate befell my wax peppers, forcing us to clean, cut and can Christmas eve and Christmas day.  (Like I had time for that?!?!) More

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.

Fabulous Red

With the frigid temps solidly behind us (I think), we can clear the beds, fear not the weeds, and look forward to spring!   It’s the border season here in Florida, a time to enjoy stored veggies and plan for our next planting — unless of course you are a “Brassicas” fan and I for one, say “on with it!”   There’s always fun to be had and for the moment, it’s found in the Brassicas section.  These kids love the cold, actually seem to thrive in it.  My red cabbage sustained no damage from the Florida freeze and that’s a wonderful thing — especially since I discovered so many wonderful recipes for red cabbage!  Forget that old German favorite grandma serves during the holidays with the turkey – this baby has evolved!   I found a great recipe in the Real Simple magazine and discovered it’s only one of the many ways you can serve this gem. 

But don’t forget those broccoli and brussel sprouts!   They also love the winter weather and this frosty photo shows quite clearly they “ain’t afraid of no cold.”   It’s proof positive you can still enjoy these sweets throughout the season.   I hear brussel sprouts actually become “sweeter” after a cold snap.   As I haven’t had a chance to bite in, can’t tell for sure.  

With all the excitement and reward going on with my reds and greens, I wonder:  Dare I put those potatoes in the ground…?  Glancing over at the vacant beds where my princess potatoes once blossomed, I hesitate.  And as much as I’d like to rely on the Farmer’s Almanac, I realize it’s not always accurate, exactly.

Hmmm…  Once again, I find myself “winging it.”   Aw, why not.   Now that I know how to protect them from frost, I should be good to go, right?

Stay tuned!

One potato, two potato

Three potato, score!   We made it!   Our potato houses were a success! 

Sort of.   Most of the plants still died off, but only after the hardest of freezes, so the good news:  I have found my potato frost protection.

My daughter and I came up with the idea.   Okay, so it was my loopy idea, but she handled the construction end and beautiful construction it was!   And quite practical, I might add.   (She gets that from her father.)   But when in need, resourcefulness must transform into creativity–momma style! 

So here’s the dilemma:   What do you do when you’re so eager to plant potatoes, yet uncertain as to what your winter holds in store–do you bite your nails and wait, or go full tilt and get those babies in the ground!   (Oops, that wasn’t a question, was it?)   All right, so I showed my hand too soon, but of course, you go ahead and plant those tubers!   They have sprouts, it’s warm outside–what else would you do?   I mean, no one’s stopping you, right?

No one, but Mother Nature, that is. 

Hmph.   Watching the weather forecast last week, I grunted under my breath.   Record lows were expected in our area for not one, but TWO weeks!  Are you kidding me?  C’mon!   Who invited the Ice Mistress to the party?   According to my kids, the culprit is most likely Jack Frost.  Saw him in a couple of movies last month and he looks to be quite a troublemaker, if you ask me.   But refusing to give in so readily, I lock my arms across my chest.   I have made my decision, and I’m sticking to it. 

Have no choice, really, since the potato seeds have already blossomed into lovely young women.   Only one question remained:   How best to protect them?   That’s when my creative juices started to flow, coursed wildly through my body, the ideas quickly ricocheting from one end of my mind to the other until it hit— 

But of course!  Every lovely young princess needs her very own castle…   Why not my princess potatoes?   A firm structure would not only be aesthetically pleasing, and provide protection from the frost, but it would insulate them against an extended duration of freezing temperatures—the real killer out there. 

I’m proud to report our experiment worked.   Aren’t they beautiful?   My daughter worked through the cold afternoon to decorate the potatoes’ new home–er, castle.   (Pay no attention to her lack of jacket–she thinks she’s a polar bear.) 

After all sections were completed, we placed them over the potatoes, added some mulch “landscaping” to beautify their surroundings (keep them warm), then retreated to the roasting temperatures of our own humble abode, holding our hands to the fire.   And waited.   It was a grueling evening–never mind the toasty flames and delightful movie–but we were confident our gals would make it through the night.

Upon our return the next day, we were thrilled to learn they survived!   Mostly.   Well, compared to the ones not fortunate enough to enjoy the luxury of their very own castle.   They were crispy critters, but not these girls!  Just look at their beautiful shades of green, fanning about them like the fullest of ballroom gowns.

After several nights in a row of freezing temps, though, our girls took a beating.  

For a while there, I thought we could still save them.

At this point, I could probably still categorize them as “living” things.

But after the weekend, I’ve since given up on the notion.   

Ever the optimist, I look for the positive.  No matter how dreary things seem, there’s always a trickle of sunlight.  In this case, flurryRedirecting the kids’ attention, I shout, “Hey kids, look!  It’s snowing outside!  Hurry, come see!”   The immediate patter of running feet through the house warms my heart.  

After all, an afternoon of family fun will heal any disappointment the garden can dish out.

P.S.  But just to prove I’m no quitter, I’ve already buried another half dozen tubers in the next bed over.   We’ve had our record cold.  What are the odds it will happen again this season?   (If you responded highly probable, I’ll kindly ask you to refrain from raining on my parade–at least until sometime between Feb and March, when my next attempt goes into the ground.)

Remember:  Gardening is an adventure!