gardening

NOT My Favorite Part of Gardening

Well, you knew it couldn’t all be hayseed and harvest, fun in the sun. There is an undelightful part. It deals with hornworms. The dreaded, well-camouflaged green beast that can devour an entire tomato plant within hours. Seriously. And you can’t see them. Really. I found half a dozen that I missed on visual inspection.

meet the tomato hornworm

Not because my eyes are old and slack but because these little guys are extremely good at concealing themselves within the leaves. As you can see, he fits in very well with his environment. Even my eagle-eyed kids have trouble spotting these guys. So how did I find them, you ask?

It’s not pretty. Effective, but not pretty. You must “feel” your way through the leaves. When you come across a plump, gushy body, you know you’ve found one. Ick.

Once you get over the ick factor, you must peel the beast from the leaf/stem and dispatch it far, far from your garden. And once you’ve found one, it would behoove you to continue your search. There will be others. And really, you’ve worked too hard for those sweet ruby-red fruits to lose them now.

**sigh** The things we do for our garden…

Make Earth Day Your Own

Earth Day began back in April of 1979 coinciding with the birth of the environmental movement. Poor air and water quality were fundamental to the movement, along with protecting endangered species, a push that drew support from all sides of the political spectrum in an effort to save the earth we inhabit. We’ve come a long way since those first days but we’re not there yet. While many of us yearn for a gas and oil free lifestyle, our technology is not quite there. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make real differences in our every day lives.

Most of us recycle our plastics and glass, newspaper and cardboard. Many of us conserve water with every flush, every faucet turn, but how about moving our conservation efforts into the kitchen, the backyard? Eating is a must for life, but sometimes we prepare too much. We seal the leftovers, eat what we can, but why not compost? What goes in, must come out, right? :) As I tell the kids, there’s nothing easier than growing our own dirt. Kitchen scraps, fall leaves, grass cuttings–it all works! And the things our compost pile can grow–squash, beans and sweet potato (as seen below). It’s so EASY!

compost progress

It’s a real way to make a real difference. A good beginning. As with any new endeavor, start small, allow those new lifestyle actions to grow into habits. How about saving the gas it takes a truck to haul your fresh veggies around town, across the country, and grow your own? It’s a lot easier than you think. I mean, if my compost pile can do it, you can do it. And instead of depositing that old newspaper into the recycle bin, use it as “mulch” around your plants in the garden. Does a wonderful job of retaining moisture and breaks down into the soil without any harmful effects. More

Quality Time in the Garden

You’ve made your beds, planted your seeds, nurtured your seedlings through the perils of sprouthood and now you spend your time watering and feeding.  (My Arctic Amigos might be a bit behind on this schedule but think of what you have to look forward!!) You meticulously weed, prune and pinch and stand watch—for bugs and spots, all things that go bump in the night—all the normal stuff a gardener does throughout the growing season.

Ashley's beautiful garden

And what a fine gardener you’ve become!  You’re diligent, vigilant and looking forward to harvest.  But as you linger among the layers of leaves and sprays of bloom, your mind wanders, your longing builds, your connection to nature grows deeper.  Where you didn’t expect it, you’ve grown quite attached to your garden, lovingly caring for it as you would a child.  Why, if you could, you’d spend hours out here—days—toiling about the promise of produce.

Strolling down a row of squash, you notice a bright red ladybug busily traveling the expanse of the broad green leaves.  Bending near to watch her work, you get that tingly thrill of discovery.  Sure in the grand scheme of things, it’s a common bug doing a common job, but to you she’s incredible—beautiful!—and you revel in the miracle of nature (and she’s eating those bugs before they can do any more damage!)

ladybug in action!

Now if only there was a bench nearby.  You glance from one end of your garden to the other.  Boy, would that be handy right about now.  You could sit, relax and enjoy the wonders unfolding before you.  A pretty bench, one with an intricately carved iron frame supporting slatted teak strips. Better yet, one that rocks to and fro, gently keeping pace with the breeze.  More

Bloggers in Bloom!

Taking part this year in the Authors in Bloom Blog Hop where you’ll find ten days of gardening tips, recipes and giveaways! Decided the more the merrier and why not? Gardening is merry and fun. :)

authors in bloom

Better yet, creating scrumptuous dishes with our produce makes it all the better. For new gardeners, herbs are a great way to begin the adventure and lend themselves to all types of recipes. A simple way to use herbs are by making pastes and freezing them. Not only will you lock in the flavor, but you’ll make it easy to enjoy the fresh taste of herbs all year round.

For a simple basil paste, I use about 4 cups of basil (or 4 oz. stemmed) and approx. 1/4 cup olive oil. Place the leaves in a food processor and drizzle with olive oil. I pulse to begin and then hit a steady high if need be. Transfer paste to freezer-safe bags, flatten to remove all air and place in freeze. That’s it! Fresh herb paste ready to use when you’re ready.

basil paste

Variations include oregano and parsley. Use other herbs that don’t keep their same bright flavor when dried such as the mints, lemon basil, lemon balm or lemon verbena, and use cold-pressed nut or seed oils. Be sure to label the containers. More

Hello Spring!

With spring upon us (well, some of us :)), it’s time to finalize your garden plans.  By being prepared, you’ll be certain to be ready for your first day of planting.   While this day varies from region to region based on frost dates, most gardeners can plan on March-April to begin their outdoor festivities. 

But why wait?  You can start many of your seeds indoors and get a jump-start on the season!  Which brings us to the first item on the checklist:

1 – Order seeds.  Grow what you’ll eat—not what’s easy.  I know it’s tempting, but there’s no sadder day than the one when you witness perfectly good food withering on the vine because no one wanted to harvest it. The “excitement” factor was missing. The “ah-ha” moment, if you will. Rule number one: Gardening should be fun!

2 – Design layout.  If building container beds, get your lumber now.  I don’t know about you, but my husband likes a bit of notice before he’s asked to perform.  Getting your creative juices warmed and flowing now will help speed the process later.  “Oh, honey…  About that little favor I mentioned! “

3 – Sharpen your tools.  Or simply clean them off, know where they are, organize them.  You get my drift. The last thing you need is to be searching for that trowel when you need it.  Mine is indispensable because it weeds (its primary function), digs, buries and levels.  You gotta love a multi-tasker.  Other essentials include gloves, hat, sunscreen and water bottle. 

For you serious gardeners, you might want to add a long-handled hoe (I prefer the triangular-shaped head) for the job of cultivating your rows.  Not me.  I’m a busy gal with a bad back – ”till as you go” is more my speed!

4 – Turn your compost.   You do have a compost pile, don’t you?  It’s too easy not to—just toss, pile, and turn.  Easy as 1-2-3!

5 – Organize your rows/containers based on companion planting.  Like people, plants do have their favorites, so keep them close.  Besides keeping the harmony, it provides a natural pesticide helping ease your workload.  The sooner you break out the excel program (my preferred garden journal), the sooner you’re planting seeds and keeping track.  Bear in mind your crop rotation as well—unless this is your first time playin’ in the sunshine!  For serious techies, try this nifty program for planning your garden.  Really cool.

6 – Check your water supply.  Now’s the time to fix those leaky drip hoses or grease any squeaky sprinkler heads.  And if you can’t fix them–replace them–before spring fever hits and they’re scooped from the shelves by other eager beavers.  Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency in the eyes of the store manager.

7 – Gather your mulch.  Discarded newspapers, lawn trimmings, hay, pine straw and bark…  All of these lend themselves well for use as natural mulch, though be sure to wet your newspaper down (or layer it with another form of mulch for a good thick cover).   Trust me.  Your neighbors will not be happy when your “mulch” blows across their lawn. 

8 – Prepare soil.  Remove weeds and add compost.  100% organic, it provides an excellent soil amendment, rich in the nutrients your plants need.  Also, till your beds ahead of time.  This will introduce air into the soil and accelerate bacteria activity, which in turn helps release nutrients into the soil.  If your worms have been busy, be sure to harvest their castings ahead of time, giving the “worm poop” plenty of time to dry before use.  Word to the wise:  after you’ve taken the time to remove weeds from your soil, be sure to cover your beds with row covers (or a hefty dose of mulch).  Otherwise, you’ll be wedding again before your seeds/seedlings arrive on scene.  In my house, that’s call for mutiny.

9 – Soil test.  If you’re not sure what shape your soil’s in, take a sample to your local garden store.   I take mine to the seed and feed and they test it on the spot.  You do-it-yourselfers will prefer a home test kit.  They’re simple to use and give a good idea where you stand soil-wise.  Then, depending on what you’re planting, you might want to adjust the pH (acidity-alkalinity) by adding lime to raise pH, or peat/pine/sulfur to lower it. 

10 – Dream.  Until your seedlings are ready to hit the garden, sit back and wistfully dream of the day when your beds will be lush and full, and flourishing with life.

It helps to pass the time until planting season really begins!

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

Summer Gardening is Hot!

And I don’t mean as in “trends” (because gardening is ALWAYS in style :)) but temperature. I mean, it’s seriously hot out there, dehydration worthy heat stroke-inducing hot.  Gardening in Florida during July and August is not for the meek, the weak or those otherwise interested in vacation. Now this isn’t to say there aren’t plants that will tolerate it because there are–plenty!  Okra, peanuts and peppers love the heat. Sweet potatoes and sunflowers soak up the sun like candy, but me?

summer sunflower

Not so much. I have to admit, summer is not my favorite time in the garden. I still plant and grow, but it’s the weeds that really have me singing the blues. They’re everywhere. It rains, they cheer. It doesn’t rain, they hold tight until it does, and here in Florida, they won’t have long to wait. It’s a cycle. Reliable, predictable and important to note. Why?

It’s essential to know your limitations. I for one have decided to dial back on my summer garden. I hate to do it. It feels like I’m quitting–and I’m no quitter–but at some point you have to accept reality. Same as the aches and pains I’ve come to accept as part of the aging process, the temperature outdoors this time of year is plain too hot for me to enjoy the process. Sure I could wake up and head out early to beat the heat, but that would interfere with my coffee time. Course I could always wait until dusk, but the kids tend to get hungry around then and I’m on dinner duty. 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

Stake and Tomatoes

Take it from me—trial and error gal—don’t learn this the hard way.  Your tomatoes want big stakes, firm stakes.  Sturdy, semi-permanent. They want to know there’s support for them when the wind blows, that they won’t lose their ruby-red jewels dripping from their vines.

triangle cage

Trust me when I say, “think strong” (as in men, too.;)). Next time you’re shopping for tomato cages and you see this packaged structure, walk on. Don’t stop. Don’t waste your time.

Admittedly, I thought this three-walled triangle style cage would be the secret to success. It was–for a while. But when the tomato plant grew and the tomatoes hung heavy, it fell over like a twig.

And this round, loopy one? More

Ever Juiced a Carrot?

We bought a Jack LaLanne juicer a few years back to make the most of our garden.  While there are a wide variety of juicers on the market, we chose this brand for no other reason than the commercials stuck in my head.  Besides, Jack was a fit guy, a motivational sort and I thought, if it worked for him it can work for us!

close up carrot juicing

It does, but so do most of them.  And healthy doesn’t begin to describe a life of juicing.  You’ll be infused with energy, discover a spring in your step (probably because you’ll be pounds lighter!), your complexion will be brighter, your skin luminous–what’s not to like?  Actually, the hardest part about the juicing lifestyle for me is the clean up.  I know, I know….wah.  But truthfully, juicing is so simple and makes great use of your harvest, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to start.

juicing carrots

My daughter enjoys juicing, so long as I handle the mess.  (See what I mean?)  She finds it easy and fun though I’ll warn you, before you pull out that juicer, harvest a lot of carrots, or spinach, strawberries–whatever it is that you want to juice, because you’re going to need a bunch of it. More