BACK to School Special!

Kids are going back to school and what better way to greet them than with a brand new book?  Wild Tales & Garden Thrills, by D.S. Venetta, is a new fiction series for elementary-aged children (grades 2 – 4) that connects kids with nature and the food they eat. And what better place to do so than a school garden?

EVERY school should one!

Venetta, Dianne- Beans, Greens and Grades (final) 800 px @ 300 dpi

Lexi and Jason Williams take center stage at school when Principal Gordon enlists their help to establish a garden at Beacon Academy. The kids are THRILLED to be selected as Green Ambassadors for this important project, but quickly learn how challenging it can be to work with others toward a common goal. Not only must they teach their fellow students how to garden, Lexi and Jason feel the pressure to make it fun and exciting (or become known as “The Most Boring Gardeners Ever” in school history). When the principal reveals a generous amount of grant money has been offered to continue the green program if the children succeed, the stakes rise.

No worries! Lexi and Jason are up to the task, assisted by their student council members. But as they formulate, organize and implement the plan for Beacon Academy’s first school garden, the kids are sidetracked by trouble, toils and trauma. Everyone has their OWN opinion on how to care for their plants, what should be done, and who should be doing it.

Hey–wait a minute. Who’s in charge around here? Find out in book 2 of the Wild Tales & Garden Thrills series!

And don’t miss the back-to-school special offer! Get the entire series–coloring books included–for over 30% off. Talk about getting kids excited about gardening–this series is it! Visit for full details.

Sustainability Education has never been so FUN!


“This is a story that kids will be absorbed in without realizing how much they’re learning–about seeds, planting, plant life cycles, bugs, fertilizer… If you’re looking for a chapter book to get kids excited about nature, gardening, and science, this one would fit the bill.” ~ Queen Bee Books


How To Solarize Soil

Now that its summertime and the family and I are consumed with thoughts of frolicking through rolling waves and sparkling pool water, my garden is at rest. July in Central Florida is simply too hot to grow most fruits and vegetables so we gardeners go dormant. Not completely, mind you. Peanuts and peppers thrive in the heat, but most beds have been closed.

But closed doesn’t mean “off-duty.” Quite the opposite. As any savvy gardener knows, work WITH Mother Nature and you will reap plentiful rewards! What are we doing this July?

heavy duty black paper

We’re solarizing our garden. Using heavy black paper, we cover our empty beds and allow the sun to do the work. What work?

Ridding our soil of microscopic varmints. Nematodes, to be precise. The kind that devour plants from beneath the surface. They’re a horrible nuisance in the garden. Absolutely horrible.

However, not one to despair, I vow to rid my garden of every last beast if it’s the last thing I do. I’ve got a fall garden to think about and I WON’T be put off.

So I’m solarizing my garden. I’m covering every last row with heavy black paper and using the power of the Florida sun to cook the beasts out of hiding.  If they want to survive, anyway, they’ll have to “abandon garden” and flee for safer—cooler—soil.  Solarize is the technical term. Basically it means to cover your beds with plastic paper–I’m going with hot black–and leave it in place for six weeks.  The heat gathering beneath the paper will cook the soil and whatever is underground will cease and desist.  Simple, eh?

effective paper weights

I do love simple. Key to remember in this process is to secure the paper. Florida summer means heat but it also means afternoon thunderstorms. Winds pick up and if you haven’t secured your paper in place, Mother Nature will whip it up and away and into shreds. She’ll toss it everywhere but where it was supposed to be. Remember: work WITH Mother Nature, understand her ways, and you can succeed. I used heavy white tile, miscellaneous rebar—whatever is heavy enough to keep the peace (read: the paper in place).

mound of dirt beneath paper

Occasionally one must be wary of other underground pests such as moles. Those babies can move a lot dirt and re-shape your paper. Be vigilant. You will prevail.

Come fall, everyone will be happy. Mother Nature will have cooled off, the varmints will have cleaned out, and my soil will be ready for seeds. Wunderbar!

BEWARE Squash Predators

It’s squash season in most gardens and if you ask me, this is one beautiful plant. Planted next to one of their favorite companions–corn–they are quite happy.

school squash and corn

But one must be vigilant, because there are critters out there aiming to devour squash plants and can do so in a matter of days. And the results can be devastating.



For those of you who have never seen a squash bug and wouldn’t know how to spot one if he were crawling along your planter, take a good long gander…

squash bugs

Ugly. Plain and simple.  These bugs are not pretty and they’re ruthless in their attack.  (Apparently summer squash is one of their favorites.)  They also lay eggs.  Check the undersides of your leaves for these telltale signs you might have a problem. More

5th Annual Authors in Bloom Blog Hop

Woohoo! It’s time for the 5th Annual Authors in Bloom Blog Hop which means spring has sprung and you reap the rewards–with giveaways galore!

AIB Logo

Yes, this is one of my favorite times of year. Leave are a spectacular green, Crepe Myrtles sprout anew, grass grows lush and full and of course, my organic garden goes into full gear. Tomatoes and peppers are in, sweet onions are coming out, blueberries are blooming and I’m grinning. It’s utterly joyous!

You’re with me, aren’t you? You’ve donned your gloves, pulled out your hat and digging through the dirt–the glorious, compost-amended rich soil that your plants adore. Oh, yeah. You know what I mean. There’s nothing better than running your gloved fingers through the stuff as you drop those seeds or pull those onions. And garlic. My garlic will soon follow my sweet onions and I can’t wait. This year’s harvest looks divine. Wouldn’t you agree?

garlic 2016

I’m so happy with the little darlings, I’m going to share a tip with you on how to grow garlic without fail in one word. Phosphorous. Using an organic fertilizer high in phosphorous and low in nitrogen (bone meal) you will give the plant the power to develop a healthy root system without wasting energy growing a beautiful green leafy top. Remember, the glory of growth is going on underground.

Second, plant in early fall. Not late fall, not early spring, but early fall. This gives your garlic the time it needs to grow and mature into that earthy delicacy you so adore. Don’t worry about winter snowfall. Again, garlic does all the hard work below the surface. You can cover their sprouted tops if you like, just make sure to remove the cover when the snow clears. They do love a good dose of sunshine!

When planting garlic, do so in well-drained soil. Garlic belongs to the root family and soggy roots do NOT bode well for healthy bulbs of garlic. You’ll get soggy bulbs, mini-bulbs, icky bulbs. YUCK. For full details, check the How-To section on my website.

AIB garden giveaway

Now for my giveaway… A beautiful bronze Boehm limited edition “Peace” rose, Grow Giggles, Harvest Love dish towels and natural soaps. Soaps are gentle and perfect for cleansing those hands after a trip to the garden.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Carrot Balls?

I always talk about soft dirt. Plants like soft dirt. And I worked very hard to make my carrot bed very soft. However, something has gone awry. My carrots look comfy and cozy in their raised beds…

row of carrots

But alas, when I harvested them this weekend, a few did not fill out as intended.

carrot balls

They look more like carrot balls than finely-tapered carrots! ACK. Ugh. The trials of gardening. I don’t have an answer for this one. Carrots right next to them were beautiful. These were stunted. Cute, but stunted. No worries! I’m going to chop them all in my Cuisinart and make a lovely carrot cake.

light and fluffy slice

At that point, no one will care one iota about their shape when they came out of the ground. Ta-da! Gorgeous, isn’t it? Fluffiest Carrot Cake ever!

Easiest Vegetables To Grow?

I get this question a lot and for me, I have to say it’s my sweet peas. These beauties put up little fuss; they don’t need heavy water or fertilizer, they don’t need special soil or conditions. They only need support–because they’re going to grow so tall! These happen to be my neighbors — nice, huh?

awesome peas

They’re also very forgiving. Recent windstorms in our area blew my sweet peas clear off their support structures, but alas, they continue to grow. It’s a miracle!

sweet peas with solid high support

Okay, “miracle” might be pushing it, but they have survived. What they don’t survive is a trip to the house. Sweet peas are what I refer to as my “garden snacks,” because I eat them while in the garden. More

Fashion in the Garden

If you don’t have a garden bag, now’s the time to get yourself one.  And by all means, make it cute.  Functional, but cute.  Pretty, sleek, stylin’…  Whatever floats your boat—but do make sure it’s one you’ll want to carry out to the garden.  We’ve got business to attend!

garden bag

Now garden tool bags come in all shapes and sizes these days as do their price tags.  You can keep it simple and small, but keep in mind what you’ll be using it for and plan accordingly.  Me?  I TRAVEL to get to my garden which means I’d better have everything I need else I’m trekking back and forth up the hill to the garden shed.  Which isn’t all bad.  It’s good exercise!  Though with my New Year’s resolutions I now get plenty of exercise and am proud to say my jeans are snug no more. 

Okay, that’s a lie.  They’re not slipping off my body by any stretch of the imagination, but I digress—we’re talking gardening here, not gymnastics.  And you need to be prepared.  For a quick rundown of things you might want to include, take a look below.

The short list:

hand shovel and trowel

gloves you’ll wear, but may wish to store

pruning shears

seed packets

spray bottle for organic pesticide mixture, ie. old coffee, compost tea…

bags of fertilizer, ie. your worm poop, eggshells, Epsom salts…

pen/paper for listing things to do, reminders and the like

water bottle More

It’s A Record-Breaking Size!

I harvested a humongous sweet potato. And I mean humongous. It might not be record-breaking by Guinness standards, but it sure is by mine. A whopping 9 lbs — BIGGER than my newborn babies, mind you, both of whom weighed in below 8 lbs. Pretty incredible, huh?

Record size sweet potato

I think so. And you’ll never guess where I found it.

Birthing the big sweet potato

My compost pile. Yep, it was lurking deep beneath my kitchen scraps and lawn leaves, hidden from view save for the glorious array of green leaves above surface; the mega sweet potato. I’m telling you, if you don’t have a compost pile, you need one. More

Spring Checklist

Being prepared for spring planting season is job one in my household. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Kids are job one. Hubby a close second and the garden a very near third. (Good greens, some days it feels like everyone wants a piece of you, doesn’t it?) Anyhoo, you’ll want to be certain that you’re ready for YOUR first day of planting. You know, when all threat of frost has passed? Depending upon where you live, that day will vary by date but not in enthusiasm.  “Let the outdoor festivities begin!”

Now, in order to prepare for that glorious day, you’ll want to make a thorough run-through on your checklist.

1 – Order seeds.  If you haven’t already! And remember: 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! Seriously, composting is easy and productive. Why just look at these gorgeous potatoes my compost served up for me.

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! 

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.  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. Consider ordering a bag of corn gluten. Sprinkled around your young plants, these granules are amazing at keeping the weeds away.

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!

Garlic Trouble

Garlic is a pretty sturdy plant, resistant to most bugs and varmints due to its wonderfully pungent smell. Aphids flee, animals skee-daddle but weeds? They flock to the source.

garlic overtaken by weeds

It’s a problem for a garlic because unlike the squash family, their leaves are wholly inadequate when it comes to shading the ground for weed prevention (think Three Sisters). In fact, if you’re not careful, weeds will completely overrun your garlic and you’ll be stuck with nothing but roots to show for your efforts. And six months is a long time to put forth effort only to come up empty. Ugh. It’s happened to me, but not this year. I spotted this awful mess and cleaned it up, right quick!

Garlic weed-free

Aren’t they gorgeous, now? My garlic is happy and weed-free. Until next week, that is. Unfortunately, garlic is a bit high maintenance when it comes to weeding. Not water and not fertilizer, but definitely high maintenance on the weeding. Oh, well. Everything can’t be easy in the garden. And garlic are worth the effort. For full details on how-to grow, check here.