gardening

Where Have the Students Been?

You mean between field trips to the butterfly gardens and fossil museum?  Christmas break and Martin Luther King Day?  Well, they’ve been in the garden, that’s where, expanding and tilling and generally having a grand old time!

You see, we have learned a valuable lesson.  Plants need sunlight to grow and they need a good dose of it–especially during the winter months.  During spring and summer, our Florida kids enjoy an early afternoon break in the shade, but right now?  Not so much. More

Out Of This World

And into the next—that’s what I discovered with my current garden coaching project. While poking around the peas and carrots, conversation changed from the ground to the sky. No, not the weather.  The stars.  And it just goes to show, you never know what’s going on over the neighbor’s fence.  Incredible.

When he’s not gardening, working, or hanging out with the family! Justin is staring up into the sky, but the stuff he’s seeing? It’s not what you and I see.

This picture was not downloaded from the NASA website. It was downloaded from Justin’s new blog: J Low’s Astrophotos.  He took theses photos, not NASA.  I’m still in awe. More

Why I Adore Fall Gardening…

It’s cool outside, somewhat cloudy overhead, the ground soaked through.  Rich, composted dirt, lush green growth, there’s a sense of calm hanging in the air.  Walking alongside my beds, admiring Mother Nature in all her glory, it occurs to me that there is more than vegetables and produce here.  There is color, texture.  Emotion, peace.  It’s a sensory experience.

Take my black beauty eggplant and cinnamon basil.  I never noticed this before, but they share common coloring.  Side by side, they’re beautiful, striking.  Leaning close, the scent of spicy basil is distinct, memorable.  Moving further, I’m drawn to my red cabbage. More

Super Greens!

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I love salads, all kinds. I love growing them and I love eating them. And cooler weather in Florida means fresh lettuce in my garden. A sample, if you will…  Swiss chard — healthy and colorful.

 

Romaine  — strong and delicious; a classic. More

Companion Planting and Your Garden

As my fall garden season approaches, my mind is filled with visions of splendor.  With a freshly tilled garden, I can see my plants grow lush and full, their bounty promising a fruitful harvest.  What do I want to grow this year?  More important question is what do I want to eat?

Pumpkins.  Or should I say, homemade pumpkin pie.  The kids and I are set on pumpkins this year, both at home and school, so those babies are first on the list.  Second?  Beans, of course.  Who doesn’t love beans?  And onions–but not in adjoining beds.  No.  These two do not care for each other and will not yield the fabulous crop of my imagination.  Why not?

They’re not good companions in the garden and companion planting is KEY when it comes to organic gardening.  What is it and why do we do it?  In a nutshell–or bean pod–it’s organizing your beds according to plants that help one another and steering clear of those combinations that don’t.  For more details, my friends have Companion Planting have explained it pretty well:

Companion planting is based around the idea that certain plants can benefit others when planted next to, or close to one another.  It exists to benefit certain plants by giving them pest control, naturally without the need to use chemicals, and in some cases they can give a higher crop yield.

Generally, companion planting is thought of as a small-scale gardening practice, but it can be applied on larger-scale operations. It has been proven that by having a beneficial crop in a nearby field that attracts certain insects away from a neighboring field that has the main crop can prove very beneficial. This action is called trap cropping.

While companion planting has a long history, the benefits of companion planting have not always been understood. Traditional recommendations, for companion planting have been used by gardeners for a long time, but recent tests are proving scientifically, that they work.

Other ways that companion planting can be beneficial is to plant a crop like any Legumes, on an area where it will feed nitrogen into the soil, then it will not be necessary to use any chemical fertilizers for the next crop.  (Corn and beans are excellent companions.)

The African marigold, along with other plants, are well-known for companion planting, as they exude chemicals from their roots or aerial parts that suppress or repel pests and protect neighboring plants.  (My roses love marigold!)

Companion planting also exists in a physical way. For example, tall-growing, sun-loving plants may share space with lower-growing, shade-tolerant species, resulting in higher total yields from the land. This is called spatial interaction, and can also yield pest control benefits, for example, the presence of the prickly vines is said to discourage raccoons from ravaging sweet corn.

Another type of companion planting is called Nurse cropping, where tall or dense-canopied plants may protect more vulnerable plants through shading or by providing a wind break. For example, oats have long been used to help establish alfalfa and other forages by supplanting the more competitive weeds that would otherwise grow in their place. In many instances, nurse cropping is simply another form of physical-spatial interaction.

Beneficial habitats-sometimes called refugia—are another type of companion planting that has received a lot of attention in recent years. The benefit is derived when companion plants provide a good environment for beneficial insects, and other arthropods, especially those predatory and parasitic species that help to keep pest populations in check. (Ladybugs are super-beneficial insects, too!)

So as you contemplate your next crop, take companion planting into account and organize accordingly.  It really will make a difference, particularly when it comes to alleviating trouble spots.  From bugs to weeds, companion planting is the way to go.  And anything that takes the “work” out of gardening is a friend to me. 🙂  For an idea of who likes who in the garden, check out their complete list of companion plants.

Where Garden Meets Kitchen

Summer gardening is a challenge in Florida.  Okay, who am I kidding?  Between scorching drought and rising floods, a sprinkler system run amuck and intermittent vacations, I’m not gardening a whole heck of a lot this summer (though I am solarizing a host of underground beasts hiding out in my beds).  Instead, I’m creating delicacies in the kitchen with my spring produce.  Yes!  Doesn’t that sound marvelous?

Now that the sun is shining and my spirits have recovered from a rainy beach vacation, I’m turning my attention to crafty ways to use my herbs–those that survived the downpour post-drought, that is.  Yep.  You guessed it.  We’re talking rosemary, the feisty old gal.  Hard to kill this beauty (another point in the “I love you” column!) which is why I have two of these babes.  They grow like weeds with or without my help, so this week when the kids and I cut them back, we decided to pack them with butter and lemon juice.

I saw this in a magazine once, where they mixed fresh herbs and froze them–or did they refrigerate them?  I don’t recall exactly, but what I do remember is how simple a process it seemed and how handy to have these cubes on hand when I need to whip up a fancy dinner for hubby and the kids.  Fresh fish with herb butter anyone?  How about a little rosemary lemon drizzle on that pasta?  Mix it up with olive oil and we’re talking salad dressing galore.

And pre-prepared–the key behind the project.  Because I assure you, if I had to collect fresh herbs, chop them finely and mix with lemon juice and olive oil just to eat a salad?  It wouldn’t happen.  Nope.  Nada.  Never.  I simply don’t have that kind of time OR forethought.  *sigh*  It’s a curse.

Any-hoo, let’s not bother with all that–let’s make it a craft for the kids!  C’mon guys, think of it:  you can pop a rosemary lemon ice-cube into your lemonade any time you want for instant rosemary lemonade!  Yay!  Simply steep your rosemary according to my recipe, grab an ice tray, mix the herb liquid with lemon juice (we used concentrate) and fill your tray.  Freeze them for individual ice cubes that you can pop into a beverage, at your leisure.  Psst…they go great with vodka, too.  Five o’clock, summer style. 🙂

While you have the rosemary out, chop it very fine, mix with softened butter and do the same in a separate ice-cube tray.  Or heck, mix and match in the same tray.  That’s what we did.   I do love a multi-tasker!  No rosemary?  Try basil with butter, chives, even parsley.  Maybe a combination of your favorites?

And while you have your thinking cap on, try freezing a little cilantro and lime juice for an easy addition to homemade salsa, or mango smoothies.  My kids are big on smoothies.  Seems to be the most appealing way for them to eat their fruit.  Me?  I say, whatever works.  Then it hits me.  Why stop there? 

Hey kids, how about making mom a little mango sorbet with your ice cream maker, and throw in a cilantro/lime cube while you’re at it?  Fresh mint and vanilla ice cream?  Mmmm….  Don’t forget the chocolate chips!

The possibilities are endless.  Just be sure to cover your trays with plastic wrap so they don’t absorb any undelightful odors from your freezer.  If you’re only working with butter, the refrigerator will work.  Also, when the butter hardens, individually wrap your squares for easy use. 

Easy-peasy-lemony-squeezy!  Told you I was all sunshine and spirit today…  So rather than cry over the heat and humidity, use what herbs you have now and save some for later.

How to Make the Most of your Garden with the Kids

Please welcome Laura Clarke to my blog today!  She’s a keen blogger and loves making the most of the garden, especially when it comes to the kids.  Currently, she’s working on behalf of Tiger Sheds, a company out of the UK.  If you’re “in the area” why not stop by the website and take a look see?  Something for everyone there… 🙂

How to Make the Most of your Garden with the Kids

Kids love to be outside at this time of year and there are plenty of things that need to be done in the garden that the kids can help you with and enjoy! Whether it’s sowing seeds, picking out the weeds or watering the plants there are plenty of activities that will keep your kids entertained and also keep your garden looking great at the same time.

Grow some vegetables

No space is too small to grow your own vegetables, fruit or herbs and kids will love watching the plants grow to have edible produce that they can enjoy. Tomatoes are favourites with children as they can easily grow in a grow bag in a warm garden shed or greenhouse. Strawberries can also be grown in hanging baskets and herbs in small pots. Cooking with their own produce will give children a new-found appreciation for the lengths it takes to get food to the table.

Let them plant your pots

Show them how to fill your pots with soil and how to sow the seeds and bulbs and then get them to water them. They might not be the cleanest gardeners, so beware of soil scattering everywhere, you could even get them to sweep up the mess they made. Teach them how from tiny seeds or bulbs big plants will grow and how they have to be looked after by giving them plenty of water to drink and sitting them in a nice sunny spot.

Get them to weed your flower beds

Weeding can be a chore at the best of times so by having some little helpers on hand could save you precious time. Kids gardening kits are easily available and are great for little hands. As we all know kids love digging and playing “grownups” so they will really enjoy doing this. (Just make sure you brief them fully as to what constitutes a weed–we don’t want any plants uprooting!)

Give them the task of watering the plants

Giving children jobs to do in the house in return for their pocket-money is nothing new, so why not extend the jobs into the garden and have them water the flowers. Filling up a watering can and watering the garden can be a great game–they will forget it’s a job.  Receiving their pocket-money at the end of the week will be so much more fulfilling.

Create a child’s garden

Depending on how big your garden is depends on how much space you can give to the kids. If you have a small garden, give them a large window box to look after or for large patches, why not give them a flower bed? Tell them it is their responsibility to make sure their patch looks as good as the rest of the garden and show them how to keep it tidy. They will be very happy once their flowers bloom and they see their hard work pay off.

Getting your kids involved in garden maintenance means they’ll be less likely to dig up your favourite plants, plus they’ll feel pride in looking after their very own. So get outside and let’s start gardening as a family!

Tomato Update

Okay, so I’m not sold on the red paper thing.  Not because I doubt it reflects the perfect rays of sunlight to ripen my fruit to ruby red perfection, but because it’s interfering with my plant’s ability to absorb water.

You see, cutting slits in the paper for my tomato plants to grow does not allow sufficient water to get to the roots.  Florida downpours can do the trick, but my sprinkler?  Not so much.  My plants are stressed and susceptible to attack by the fungus and worse, the dreaded hornworm.  In fact, much of the water ends up in puddles on top of the paper–despite my every effort to weight the paper down in all the right places, encouraging the pools to funnel down toward my plant.

Nope.  Not working for me.  I’m sure there is an answer to this dilemma.  It just remained out of my reach for this first season of experiment. 

 Needless to say, I’m open to suggestion.  I hate to give up, but I hate wasting time, too. On to brighter beds, my Hungarian Wax Peppers are doing well.  Not huge by any stretch of the imagination, but they are producing some rather robust peppers.  Used one last week for some homemade Pico de Gallo.  Tomatoes, onions, peppers, cilantro, little lime juice and voila!  A delightful homemade salsa! 

You see, there is good news.  Even though my tomato plants look horrible, they have produced.  And isn’t that what’s important?

I think so.  Did find an interesting development with my sunflowers this week.  Now granted, I’m no expert with these mammoth marvels but I had no idea that the flowers could actually form all the way down the meaty stalk.  In our school garden, the flowers were solely at the top of the plant.  Our second batch, too. 

But mine?  I have blossoms running all the way down the stem!   Which is pretty cool, if you ask me.  Not only do I get the huge flower up top, I get the added benefit of these little beauties.  

I realize this may be an anomaly, but that’s okay.  I’m not too picky when it comes to my plants producing.  They produce, I pick ~ and that’s about as far as I care to dwell on the matter.  Remember, I’m a happy gardener!  And happy gardeners don’t sweat the small stuff.

Maintain Vigilance

One thing to keep in mind about gardening is maintenance.  Not only do things go “bump in the night,” they go chomp in the garden.

Tami’s lettuce have gone to flower, now taller than her okra, and the bugs are in hog heaven–sans the swine.  Ick.  At this point, Tami need only remove the plants and put them in the compost pile–her new compost pile!  Yep, she’s decided to join the organic ranks and start her own compost pile, beginning with the pile of oak leaves she recently raked up.  Smart.  Very smart.  Best of all, it’s mere feet from her garden.

The okra are growing gangbusters and spitting out “cobs” all over the place.  One thing to keep in mind when you’re growing okra, is these guys are fast operators.  Once they begin producing, you’ll want to visit every day.  This will ensure you harvest your okra at its most tender because trust me, large cobs of okra are tough and NOT delicious.  Great for seed saving though!

Always a silver lining (if you know where to look).  Moving right a long… Tami has her first watermelon.  Isn’t it adorable?

Won’t be long before this little guy is burgeoning from the vine.  Note on watermelon harvest:  in Florida, these babies have a tendency to explode during hot summer days, so while you’re visiting each and every day, keep an eye on the melons.  Give em’ a tap and when you hear the nice dull “thump” sound, pull that rascal from the vine and haul it onto the picnic table.  Another good indicator is to check the curly tendrils.  Light green = not ready.  Brown and dry = thump it baby, thump it!

Another technique is to press your thumb nail into the skin.  If it makes an indentation, not ready.  No mark, you should be good to pull.  Tomatoes are a much easier fruit when it comes to harvest detection.  Red, they’re ripe.  Green they’re not–unless you’re a Southerner and like your tomatoes green.  Tami’s are looking mighty fine.

Her basil could use a little pinching.  I prefer to pinch the budding blossoms from mine before they reach 1/2 inch, then toss them into my lunch salad.  Mmmm…  Aromatic and delicious.  Did you know that basil eases digestion?  Wunderbar.  Nothing like making my roughage go down “easier.” 🙂

Have you seen the recipe for my favorite summer salad?  Strawberry and goat cheese and oh-so-delicious!  Add basil for an added delight.

And since we’re speaking of maintenance, these squash need some attention.  Fungus.  Very hard to rid the Florida garden squash of fungus, what with all our rain and humidity, but we must. 

This plant wants to survive and produce more squash.  It simply needs a helping hand.  So Tami will remove the diseased leaves and allow the center healthy green ones to thrive.   Remember, your plants want to produce and sustain you.  They just need a little help sometimes!

And the Summer Splash Winner Is…

Congratulations go out to Colleen Kosinsk!!  And a big thank you to ALL who entered and followed along with the Summer Splash Bog Hop not to mention a HUGE thanks to our host blog, “I’m a Reader, Not a Writer.” Be sure to check with her site often as she offers a ton of giveaways and wonderful recommendations for your next read.

Hope you enjoyed my garden humor and for those of you like romance and women’s fiction, be sure to check out my author site ~ Dianne Venetta.  And if you liked the garden-themed T-shirts for kids, they’re available for purchase.  Check here for details.  Happy Gardening!