gardening

Valentine Fun in the Garden

Have you ever wondered about the similarities between plants and men?  Probably not!  Most sane people don’t.  But me, when I’m not writing, I spend a lot of time in my garden—maybe too much—and my thoughts?  Well, they naturally veer in that direction and I realized men and plants have much in common!

Ever wonder, if your man were a plant, which would he be?  Just for fun, I’ve listed a few.

Corn – Tall and slender with silken hair, this man provides well and yields a harvest of golden treasure.  While pleasing to look at, beware:  he also tends to be needy; easily blown over by the slightest of breezes—not the man for you hardier types.

Peanut – This good ole boy is made of solid stuff, on the inside and the outside, not to mention he’s filled with sweet old-fashioned appeal.  For most ladies, it’s a tough combination to resist.  Add the fact the kids love him and you’ve got yourself a marrying man!

row of peanuts

Watermelon – This well-rounded fun-loving guy is always welcome at a summer barbecue and usually proves a big hit with the kids.  Prone to balding, his colorful personality distracts one from notice.  However, take heed.  If left to his own device, this one can grow wild and get quite out of hand!

Garlic – This fellow is somewhat distant, as he spends long periods of time out of sight, only to emerge when conditions improve.  Strong and distinct, he’s not for everyone, but given the right environment, he can show great depth, even mellow his pungent tone with time.  A worthy peer, indeed.

line of garlic

Okra – Strong, of firm build, this one likes it hot and enjoys it spicy—very at home in the Big Easy, too.  Generally speaking, he blends well with others, can plant himself anywhere, but caution:  he can be seedy, even a bit slimy at times.

Potatoes – These fellas are generous producers, enjoyed by most everyone as they appeal to a variety of tastes.  They can get easily crowded, though, so give them plenty of space.  If you do, you’ll have yourself a real winner with this one.  Note:  be patient with the sweeter types—they need a little more time before they’re ready to hit the dinner-date table.  But if you can wait, go for it.  You’ll reap the gold with this gem!

Onion – Sometimes sharp, sometimes sweet, this notable companion enhances every dish he meets.  But don’t be fooled.  You have to watch yourself around this double-edged treat.  He tends to “age” those around him quicker than most, and will often make you cry.  But if you like a challenge, give him a try.  He will infuse your life with flavor!

Raspberry – Sweet at first sight, this guy may follow up with a tart bite.  He generally likes to be left alone—literally thrives out in the wild of nature.  Ah…an adventurous type yourself, you’ll feel drawn to this bright and colorful character, but be forewarned:  he’s got thorns and lots of them.

school squash and corn

Squash – Talk about diversity, this one has it!  From sunny yellow summers to cold and cozy winters, this man will keep you well supplied no matter the season.  The cutest of pumpkins, he’s always welcome during the holidays, and his cousin plays a mean racquet ball—for you sportier types.  But keep him moving; stagnation easily leads to illness with this one.  Rest assured, if variety is your thing, take heart.  This dazzling character can fulfill your desires, tenfold.

Carrots – Bred from firm and solid fiber, these men are steady and strong and always there for you.  Given proper attention, they can also become quite sweet in nature; a true hidden treasure, if ever there was one.  They do need some elbow room, exhibit a bit of thinning at times, but if you’re willing to work for it, this one’s a keeper!

carrots-anyone

Beets – Down to earth is putting it mildly with this guy—he’s knee deep in it!   Quiet, mellow, well-rounded…  It’s a wonder he doesn’t rank top of the list for every woman in town.  Perhaps he can come on a bit strong, in an easy-going sort of way.  But if you have thick skin and like to keep it real?   This one’s for you.

Lettuce – This boy likes everybody and everybody likes him.  Similar to the granola-type male, this fella stays healthy and fit, slim and trim.  How could he be anything else?  He has a knack for blending well with any crowd and blend well, though be careful—once he mingles, it’s hard to separate him from the mix!

lush lettuce

Tomatoes – This popular guy is an all around favorite with the ladies, most drawn to his bright and cheery appearance and radiant personality.  A real reliable kind of guy, sweet with a hint of tang, meaty and quite robust—he comes in all sizes.  Yes, this one is tempting.  Be sure you’re in for the commitment—he’s going to need it if you expect him to produce.

school tomatoes

My husband?  He’s definitely a raspberry with garlic tendencies, yet aging like a carrot.

Me?  He claims I’m a Venus flytrap.  Yes, I gave him the evil eye—at first.  But then, I got to thinking.  Imagine the unique and stunning plant for a moment, with her beautiful red, heart-shaped petiole, her pair of symmetrical lobes hinged near the midriff—I mean, midrib.

Lovely so far, isn’t it?  Catches insects and spiders with a bat of her eyelashes.  Tolerates fiery tempers—er, fire well.  Tolerates fire well.   Actually uses the flames to suppress the competition around the neighborhood.  (Sounds like a feisty gal to me!)  Sure, she can be difficult to grow, but what plant doesn’t have its difficult days?  You know, the more I think about it, the more I heard compliment.

Why Must They Suffer?

February brings cold and this week, even Florida won’t escape the freeze. As a gardener, it’s important to stay vigilant. I’ve set my tomato seeds in sprouting trays and will keep them safely indoors during the dip. But what about my poor babies left out in the cold, exposed garden?

They’ll have to be covered. The sensitive ones, anyway. Broccoli and cabbage don’t mind the cold. Peas, either. But my new potatoes I put in ground a week ago? This photo proves how susceptible they are to a wintry blast…

frost bitten potato

Many of my plants are not happy about this cold front. At all. But as I plan my method of protection, I can’t help but wonder, Why do plants suffer during cold snaps?

The answer may surprise you. Like other living forms, plant cells contain water and water can freeze.  According to scientists, during a frost, if water in plant cells freezes, it can damage cell walls.  Why?  Because solid ice takes up more space than the liquid from which it was frozen.  The crystals then rupture the tough cell walls and when the ice melts, any liquid drains out, dehydrating the plant. Soil can also freeze, which threatens plants’ abilities to get nourishment.

Is it true that watering your plants when it gets cold will help protect them?

Yes.  When water from sprinklers turns to ice, the heat released protects the plant from injury. As long as a thin layer of water is present, on the bloom or on the ice, the blossom is protected. This is important. It’s not the layer of ice that provides the protection. It’s the water constantly freezing that keeps the temperature above the critical point. It’s one way citrus growers protect their crops.

orange freeze

Other factors that can affect how damaging a cold spell will be include how long the temperature remains low, whether or not it’s a clear evening versus a nice warm “blanket” of cloud cover, are the plants located in low spots or high across the landscape—even the difference in heat retention between dark soil and light!  Amazing, yes.  But true?

I sure hope so! Temperatures are dropping this week and I’m hoping my black paper will help soak in the sunshine. I’ll keep you posted.

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!

Don’t Let This Happen To You

It’s not pretty. In fact, this photo should come with a warning label: ghastly and unsightly. Seriously, I almost ran for the hills when I saw it.

My zucchini have been stricken by some horrible affliction. Not sure whether it’s the result of a virus or a steep fluctuation in temperature, but they are horrid.

lumpy zucchini

ACK! Pull the hand from your eyes–I told you it was horrible but you must look. You must understand what can happen to you. This zucchini is enormous in size, but inedible. At least, no one in my family is going to dare eat it. Holes, lumps, scars, it’s awful. Simply awful. Some would suggest this is the result of a virus. The Cucumber Mosaic Virus, to be exact. Passed from aphid to zucchini–or cucumber, squash, any member of this veggie family–the virus will attack your plant and cause these unsightly lumps. The good news, it won’t move from plant to plant or linger in your soil (whew!) but it will destroy your zucchini plant. Disclaimer: humans can spread it from plant to plant so be careful!

The other option is extremer fluctuation in temperature. I’ve read where swings in temperature say 10-20°F can affect your zucchini this way. It has certainly been the case with my garden. One day we’re a balmy 80°F and the next, a frigid 35°F. Brrrr….

Either way, I’m sad to see my zucchini succumb to Mother Nature, but she can be nasty when she wants to be. She can also bless you in ways you’ve never imagined. So I won’t mention this little incident to her. Just keep it between us, okay? But DO be aware. ;)

 

 

I Can Taste Victory

And it’s glorious! After battling worms and bugs and flying creatures, at last I can see the red through the vines–the tomato vines!

line of tomatoes

Okay, so they’re not red, yet, but I can visualize them just the same. Fabulous red tomatoes–gobs of them–will soon be dangling from my beautiful, leaf intact, tomato plants. Yes, as many of you know, I’ve had my share of hornworms and bug invaders, blossom-end rot and general leaf wilt but today? I am on the road to tomato bounty victory. And it feels good.

What’s my secret? Why, many, thank you for asking, the most important of which I daresay is dust. Dipel dust, to stop the caterpillars and worms before they get a chance to grow fat and hungry.

dusted tomato

Prior to that flash of brilliance were the screen I used to cover my babies when they were young and tender. The Florida sun is hot and brutal in September.

tomatoes under cover

I gave them their usual dose of eggshells and Epsom salts, and paid daily visits–except when traveling–where I plucked and pinched (leaves mind you, not worms) and generally admired the gorgeous girls. You remember pinching, yes? That little sucker, there, between the branches.

don't forget to pinch your tomatoes

I made sure to mulch well and check my water source often. Although I use water from a well source, the misters sometimes clog and it’s crucial to catch this issue early. And how will my tomatoes reward me?

With gobs of decadent plump red tomatoes. Stay tuned!

Disclaimer: I’m staring down 35°F weather over the next two days. Tomatoes do not like 35°F temperatures. Not even a little bit. Ugh. I’m going to cover them and keep you posted.

In Love with Kale

No, I’m not talking handsome men named Kale but gorgeous vegetables! With the cooler weather, these babies are thriving in my garden and I’m using them in everything from soup to salad. Kale is packed with Vitamin K, A, and C. In fact, one cup of cooked kale has over 1000% more vitamin C than spinach. Add 3 grams of protein and you’re golden.

plentiful kale

Salad is an easy option for this vegetable, but cooked kale is easier to digest. Cooking–steaming kale in particular–helps with its cholesterol lowering ability. Hot soup counts, doesn’t it?

kale in chicken soup

My new favorite way to eat kale is in chicken soup. I made this homemade version the other day and with a few dashes of Parmesan cheese, the combination is to die for. Reminds me of wedding soup, sans meatballs.

For a quick snack, try kale chips. They’re easy and delicious. Simply brush the leaves with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast until golden brown.

kale chips

Of course, you remember my kale scramble, don’t you?  This meal graces my breakfast table at least once a week. Because it’s delish–and, I have that much kale.

add eggs to kale

If you’re not growing kale, give it a try. And if it’s TOO cold outside, don’t worry. Kale works great for containers, allowing you to easily bring the fresh greens inside!

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!)

 

 

Mom & Me Mani

With fall fast approaching and most gardens winding down, what’s a gal to do with the extra time on her hands? If you’re like me and my daughter, you take out the nail polish and get painting–painting those gorgeous summer flowers on your nails before they disappear!

flower nails

While it’s nowhere near as wonderful as gazing upon the real thing, it is a fun way to spend a weekend afternoon with the girl who means the most to you. When my daughter and I heard August 30th was officially Mom and Me Mani Day, well, the decision was made! I mean, not only do I love spending time with my daughter, but I enjoy watching her use two or three colors to do her nails. Now in my day, we used one color, much like I still do for my pedicure. But her? No way. The more the merrier. She paints pictures, designs, initials–whatever strikes her fancy at the moment will end up on her nails. For example, the first letter from every boy’s name in the band, One Direction…

Me? I like flowers and vegetables, and considering she led the last mutiny in our vegetable garden, we went with flowers. While hot pink is my all-time favorite color, we went with tomato red and autumn orange, plus a dot of pale pink in the center. As you can see, my daughter has the perfect hands and nails for a beautiful manicure. I do not.

Mom and Me mani

But I’m a gardener first, a beauty second. As a young teenager, my daughter’s priorities are reversed–exactly where most girls her age are in life, with one pointed difference: my gal can identify vegetable plants by their mere leaf shape. Can most teens make this claim to fame?

I’d venture to guess, no, giving us mothers one more reason to get out and get gardening–our youth needs us! And even if we don’t teach them the basics of organic gardening, we can spend a wonderful afternoon together painting our nails. Since I have no nails to speak of, I have the added pleasure of living vicariously through my daughter’s nails. They are quite lovely, as is she.

Julep colors to create this design: January (Red), Brielle (Orange) and Jennifer (Pink).

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