garden

Save Your Poinsettia for Year-round Beauty

End of January usually finds me scouring my landscape for an opening suitable for my potted Poinsettia. Over the years, I’ve had meager success in transplanting these beauties to my yard. They’re still alive mind you, but not thriving as I had hoped.

poinsettias not doing well

The reason?  Well, I’d toss the blame off to a lack of sunlight. The front of my house faces north and the plants simply don’t get enough light to keep them happy. The rear is too hot for these gals, so I’ve steered clear of any attempt to spruce up my backyard with them. However, if I’m to be truly objective about the state-of-affairs, I’d have to bear some of the responsibility.

leggy poinsettia

I’m not good with watering. Okay, I’m not good with “remembering” to water. Or feed. I know, it’s a problem. Ask any of my plants that do not sit in the direct path of the sprinklers and they’ll tell you the same thing. She forgets us. A lot!

Hmph. Well, this year I’ve made new resolutions, one of which includes beginning my day with a stroll around the house. If I see the plants, I’ll remember to water them, right?

Of course I will. It’ll be great. I’ll find a spot to the west and nestle my potted Poinsettia in the ground. Prior to bloom, they prefer less than 12 hours of sunlight, which makes west my better bet, keeping them in the complete darkness from 5:00 pm to 7:00 am. I’ll water them regularly (Poinsettia don’t like to dry out) and feed them a well-balanced fertilizer come spring.

When summer rolls around, I’ll cut them back to encourage healthy new growth for the upcoming holiday season. When December arrives, I’ll cut back on the fertilizer and allow my gorgeous girls to bloom. Easy peasy.

Some general thoughts for growing Poinsettia: They 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.

Stimulating them with a little “root tonic” couldn’t hurt.  The shock from their lovely potted plant status to in ground can be quite daunting.  Hopefully, you have some worms on the welcoming committee as you place them in ground and all will be well.  All-purpose fertilizer should suffice throughout the year. Prune during the warmer summer months.

poinsettia and fern

I think I’m going to think of them like my ferns. Keep moist, keep out of direct sunlight and fertilize.

Note:  For my Arctic Amigos living north of the Florida border, don’t try this at home.  Save your plants, but keep them as indoor plants only.

Potato Planting Begins

Here in Central Florida, it’s time to plant the potatoes. Potatoes prefer cooler conditions, but are susceptible to frost and freezing. While neither happens often if Florida, they do happen, and we will have to cover our plants accordingly to protect them. But I digress. First things first, we need to plant them or there won’t be anything to protect!

basket of potatoes

As an organic gardener, I rotate my crops from bed to bed to stay ahead of the bugs and maintain healthy soil. We follow beans with potatoes, so we’re using our old Lima bean row this year for our new potatoes. We’re growing red potatoes, though many varieties exist. To keep things straight, I use an excel spreadsheet, though pencil and paper work fine. Whichever method you choose, you’ll be glad you did. It helps to keep your beds straight from season to season.

Before you begin, keep in mind that you will be “hilling” your beds as the plants grow.  This means that as your potato plants begin to grow leaves and attain some height, you’re going to want to draw or “pull” in more dirt around the base of the plants.  Hay mulch can also be used to serve this purpose.  The idea here is to ensure good coverage of the developing “tubers” or new potatoes as they grow.  Potatoes have an “upward” growth habit, whereby they will grow upward as the root system expands.  If they near the soil’s surface and become exposed to sunlight, they will turn green, and green potatoes are NO good.  (They’ll make you sick if you eat them.)  You can also start with a trench when planting potatoes.  Makes it easier to hill in the future, but with my garden I simply plant them “low” and hill as they grow.

my potatoes

We’re planting ours next to our peas because the two are great companions in the garden. However, tomatoes are not, so keep them apart. Tomatoes and potatoes are prone to early and late blight and can infect one another. Other good companions for potatoes include: bush bean, members of the cabbage family, carrot, celery, corn, dead nettle, flax, horseradish, marigold, petunia, onion and marigold. Other bad companions include: asparagus, cucumber, kohlrabi, pumpkin, rutabaga, squash family, sunflower, turnip and fennel.

potato holes

After we till our soil to improve aeration, we amend with compost and composted cow manure (they love the stuff).  Next, we form holes for our potato seed—about 2 inches deep.

Now it’s time for cutting our potato seed. Inspect each potato seed and look for the eyes. Eyes are the sprout nubs covering your potato. The idea here is to cut your potato seeds in half or even quarters, depending on the size of the potato and the number of “eyes.”  Each cut piece should have at least one eye, as this is where the future sprout erupts!

eyes on the potato

When planting, I like to put the cut potato piece “eye-side-up”—don’t want to make it too hard for my babies!—though I’ve learned that potatoes are prolific growers and will thrive in your compost pile without a second thought from you, without any regard to their “eye” orientation.

But just in case—keep it easy and plant “eye-side-up.”  Cover your potatoes with a mix of dirt and all-purpose organic fertilizer and water well.

Potatoes are heavy feeders so feed them every so often with a nice mix of fish emulsion, or a dose of good old-fashioned worm poop.  Potatoes are “pigs” when it comes to consuming nutrients which is why you want that cow manure and fertilizer mixed in at time of planting.

organic plant food

Another consideration is to stagger your planting. “Staggering” your planting dates means to plant only a portion of your potato seeds at one time, say a third of the row, then another third in two weeks, followed by the last third two weeks later. This ensures a constant supply of fresh potatoes. An important consideration in my home, because our “fruit cellar” (aka garden garage) is not sufficient to store potatoes long-term. Too warm. Staggering also prevents whining from the family.

“Potatoes for dinner?  Again?”

Apparently they don’t want potatoes for dinner EVERY night.  Hmph.

In about 2 – 4 months after planting and continuous hilling, you’ll reap a lovely bounty of fresh potatoes. And trust me, there is a difference between fresh-from-the-garden-potatoes and store-bought.  They taste sweet pie and smooth as butter.  We like to roast ours with garlic and rosemary.

prepping potatoes

And remember, no matter how you prepare your potatoes, they taste better when you grow them yourself. :)  But do remember these babies are not frost-tolerant and must be covered should the air turn cold. You can use a frost blanket or a household sheet, but either way, make sure you cover them from in the event of frost or you’ll wake up to this ugly site.

frost bitten potato

Brrrrr. I get the chills just looking at those poor suffering beauties! So do be cautious and happy gardening!

Homemade Sweet Potato Pie

During the holidays, pies seem to take center stage. We’ve already gone through our first apple pie, looking forward to our pumpkin, sweet potato and caramel apple pies later this week!  Well, it is that time of year, isn’t it? This version of sweet potato pie is one of our favorites. Made with garden fresh sweets (yes, they’re coming out of the ground this time of year!), it’s creamy and sumptuous and oh-so-good.

sweet potato pie2 cups sweet potatoes, cooked

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

2 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp nutmeg

pre-made pie crust (unless you can make your own!)

whipped cream (optional but totally necessary on MY pie)

Preheat oven to 350°.  Pre-bake pie crust to near golden completion, but not completely.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, combine potatoes, cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla and all spices and blend well.  I used a Cuisinart type blender for as it made the process easy and the result oh-so-smooth and silky.  Pour batter into awaiting pie crust and bake for 35-45 minutes.  Time may vary, depending on your oven.  When done, knife inserted should come out clean.

Place on rack to cool.  This pie is best served warm, though allowing it to cool somewhat will make for easier slicing.  Add a dollop of whipped cream and enjoy!

Recipe doubles well.

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!

Mysterious Tracks

Something has been traveling my bed of carrots. Of course, my first thought is varmints, figuring a family of slugs had marched through my carrot sprouts. I can’t help it. When you’re dealing with the wild of nature, you have to consider the possibility. An animal is usually responsible for any unknown marks through the soil–or kids. Beds of dirt are highly alluring to children.

tracks through carrot bed

But I’m going with creatures, since I know for a fact my kids weren’t anywhere near the garden the day before. Something about a mutiny or such, I don’t recall, but it’s neither here nor there. This culprit was definitely from the wild of nature. Now, some species of critters tend to be more obvious than others. Take this humongous pile of dirt. Yes, that one pushing up from beneath my black paper.

mound of dirt beneath paper

Now I don’t know how familiar you are with moles, but this is a sure-fire sign that one of the little buggers has been hunting around my garden–next to the sweet potato section. Any guesses why? Hint: No, it’s probably not my delicious potatoes sitting underground, but more likely something disgusting.  Worms. Grub worms, those ick things that crawl around within the dirt and devour my plants, killing them. Ugly, beastly, the moles love them. YUCK. My next response? Gorge away, my dear mole, to your heart’s content and goodbye grub!

unwelcome grub

Not that we like killing any sort of wildlife, mind you, but nature does have its cycle of survival, and grubs, well, grubs lose in the battle when it comes to moles. They lose when it comes to armadillos, too.

But I digress. What happened to cause those odds-shaped tracks in my carrot row?

worm-discovery

Earthworms. Fleeing earthworms, to be exact. Seems they rather enjoyed the torrential downpour we’ve had  of late–a couple of weeks ago–but once the saturated ground dried up, the earthworms decided to vamoose (also known as run, scat, hightail it out of the carrot bed).

Which is unfortunate. I’ve tried to save the fleeing worms in the past, but once they become dried-out and disoriented, they succumb to the ants rather quickly. It’s sad, but nature can be brutal. Just ask my tomato plants. While the above variety of worm fell victim, the variety below usually prevails.

hornworm number two

Ugh.  Where are my gloves?! It’s time to go plucking. (Gotta love gardening…there’s always an adventure!)

 

 

Breakfast Kale

Looking for a healthy option for breakfast? Look no further because you’ve come to the right place–your garden. My kale is flourishing (despite a few wilting leaves due to the midday Florida sun) and that means it’s time for chowing!

kale in garden

One of my favorite ways to eat kale is sautéed with eggs in a breakfast scramble. Okay, I like this for lunch and dinner, too, but with kids around, we like to keep our food themes “stable.”

“Eggs are for breakfast, Mom. Not dinner.”

This is where I smile and say, “Sure honey, whatever you say.” Eggs and kale ARE perfect for the breakfast plate, and simple. Because everything we do here at BloominThyme is simple, not to mention delicious!

Kale Scramble

healthy kale breakfast2 eggs

12 leaves of kale, torn into large chunks, no stems

1 TBSP olive oil

1 TBSP butter

garlic powder, salt & pepper to taste

Heat oil and butter in a saucepan on medium heat. When butter is melted, toss in kale leaves and sauté until soft. More

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

Bug-Free Zone

I don’t know about you, but gardening in Central Florida can prove a constant battle with the bugs. Course, having a “nature swamp” behind you certainly complicates matters. Bugs zip in, dive-bomb your plants and veggies, and then flee to the cover of safety when they see you approach. It’s frustrating, especially as an organic gardener. My okra are suffering. I can’t simply spray them with toxic substances that will kill and repel the little beasts. I must garden with a sense of eco-responsibility and parental caution. I can’t put just anything into their growing bellies!

Tough being so responsible. But not one to give up, I think I might have found my answer. Sitting by the pool after a grueling day of battle, I shared the dilemma with my husband. As if reading my thoughts, hubby peered over at me and asked, “You’re going to tell me next that you need a greenhouse, aren’t you?”

Bingo. I smiled in reply. That would solve the problem, though I didn’t share the same aloud. I don’t know about you, but married people communicate on entirely different levels than non-married types. One must ease into these things. Simply blurting out the truth doesn’t always work. Okay, blurting out your truth thoughts to a spouse SELDOM works, though it does happen. On occasion. When I’m not thinking straight.

But on this particular day I was thinking fine and dandy and guess what? While pondering my response, it occurred to me: Why not bring the greenhouse to the garden?

Looking up and around me, I thought, a screen enclosure works wonders around the pool. Why not the garden?

Hah! I rose and went for the computer to begin a search. This could work!

Floating covers are sold for the same purpose, but in Central Florida, they tend to mold in the summertime (as does everything else). Screen, on the other hand, does not. After a quick search on the internet, off to the hardware box store I went and purchased a roll of screen. Transferring the wire hoops that I used for the purpose of pest/bird protection in my peanut row, I draped the screen over my okra plants and secured it with landscape pins.

drape screen over wire hoops

Voilà. A screened greenhouse for my garden! The sprinkler system fits neatly beneath the screen. The bed is covered…

screen enclosure

Marvelous, darling. Simply marvelous. I mean, don’t my little guys look happy under there? Water penetrates with ease. The screen protects my plants from the blaze of afternoon sun and bugs can’t break through the barrier.

bug-free screen zone

Genius, is what this is. Genius. Now, for this row of baby okra I used 4 ft. by 25 ft. However, as my plants grow, I’ll need a wider strip of screen. Luckily, the rolls come in 5, 7 and 8 ft. lengths as well. Come fall, I’m definitely installing this concept for my tomatoes and other bug-sensitive plants. What do you think?

Carrots: My New Favorite in the Kitchen

My carrots are on their way out–actually have been for quite some time. Planted in the fall, these beauties have been hanging out for a while “in ground” until I summoned a need for them. Mind you, it’s supposed to be a little over 2 months to harvest, but as with all things in the garden, there is leeway. Lots.

If your carrots aren’t getting enough water, they might take an extra month. If they aren’t getting enough food, same idea. My carrots are very tolerant when it comes to these things because they have to be; I’m their gardener! But it’s not that big of a deal, really. I mean, over Easter we harvested a bunch of carrots and made carrot cake. A couple of weeks later we harvested a bunch for carrot soup, and they were all good. Some were a bit small due to overcrowding (not enough “hair cutting” on our part), but once we cut the greens off and cleaned the skins, we plopped them into a food processor and came up golden. :)

carrot soup with cream

So, since we like to experiment with our garden harvest, we tried carrot soup. Sampled some during a Mother’s Day luncheon and it was so delicious, I had to try my hand at making a bowl of my own. The results were mixed within the family–I loved it, my husband tolerated it, my son thought it tasted like curry and my daughter wrinkled her nose. Carrots aren’t her fave. More

Think “OUTside” the Garden

With so many things to do in the garden, it’s a wonder you can plan for tomorrow, let alone next week or month—but you should try.  The payoff will be well worth it.  From fastidious pruning for an increase in yield, to prepping for vegetable storage when your harvest comes in, you’ll want to be ready for the abundance of joy you’re going to reap!

What should you be thinking about when it comes to crafting this marvelous plan?  Why, your kids for one!  Are they weeding?  Digging?  Bug dispatching?  Wonderful!  Reward them with some “down-time” in the garden, as in “no chores.”  You do want them to come back, don’t you?

teacher's gift

We’ve all heard about creating the classic corn husk dolls, but have you considered using those same husks to make mini baskets?  Basket weaving is an excellent exercise for little fingers to practice dexterity—beats the DS hands down—as well as producing a keepsake for their bedroom, or a share for school.

Growing berries?  Perfect!  How about mixing them with a dash of organic sugar and make your own preserves?  They make great teacher gifts.  Speaking of teachers, how about teaching your children the value of seed saving?  When all these vegetables reach maturity, they’ll be chock-full of seeds.   How about collecting them and storing them in your very own seed packets?  (You can find simple how-to templates in the Kid Buzz section here on the website) More