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!

Who Knew?

Tami is a first time gardener and doing quite well.  Her plants are thriving, tucked away in beds that would rival the Grand Hotel.  No longer lonely, her cucumber are now joined by watermelon.

 Tomatoes and basil are happy as larks–as well they should be–these two are perfect garden companions! 

Today she learned about pinching tomatoes.  Pinching tomatoes?  But doesn’t that ruin the fruit?

Nah, we’re talking pinching the suckers from her tomato plants.  You know, those sprouts that shoot up between branches? 

You want those pumpkins out.  And like the term sounds, you simply pinch and pull.  Easy! 

Her peppers are divine.  I lost my first batch due to a sprinkler malfunction.  And if I wasn’t out gallivanting on a girl’s weekend, I may have noticed.  But I was so I didn’t. Se pasa.  Anyhoo, hers are beautiful, as is her nearby squash.


We learned another valuable lesson today.  When you buy your blueberry plants from the big box store, beware of the “weeds included” aspect.  While they don’t label it as such, we discovered it indeed happens.  With no experience growing blueberries, Tami had no idea this monstrous growth coming out of her blueberry plant wasn’t a blueberry plant.  She was just excited to see her plant take off so well!  (We gardeners do get excited.)

But upon closer inspection, you can tell this is no blueberry plant.  I’m no expert, but this looks like a weed to me.

Which she promptly plucked and disposed.  Another issue she had to deal with was aphids and ants.  Now at first glance, I thought maybe the ants were eating the aphids.  I mean, I don’t know what ants eat, so it seemed logical.  But upon further research (that’s what I do when I don’t have the answer) I learned that ants don’t eat the aphids.  They eat what the aphids are secreting! 


Yes.  That was my first reaction, too.  But nature is what it is and when aphids attack a plant to suck the life blood from its veins, they secrete a sweet waste product known as honeydew.  Are you still with me?  We’re getting deep in “it” now.  Well, we all know that ants like sweet stuff, right?  Seems they LOVE the honeydew waste of aphids.  They like it so much, they’ll protect the aphids against predators just to keep their stockpile producing!  Yep, they’ll lash out and attack a poor little old lady bug for no reason–other than she’s after the same stuff they want.  Doesn’t seem fair.

Survival of the fittest, I guess.  Now how to rid your plant of these pests?  Well, you can plant mint around your plants to prevent the ants from bombarding in assault.  Or you can try diatomaceous earth.  It makes a great barrier in and around your plants that ants aren’t interested in crossing.  Talcum powder or chalk dust works, too.  CAUTION:  when using diatomaceous earth, be very careful not to inhale.  These tiny crystals, or shards, are lethal to insects that have exoskeletons (ants, fleas and the like) because they “cut” their insides to shreds whereby the insect bleeds to death.  As for humans, it can irritate mucous membranes not to mention can be drying to hands and feet.  So be forewarned. 

As for ridding your garden of aphids?  Since it may be too late to call out the lady bugs, you can use your diatomaceous earth, a prepared garlic and oil spray, insecticidal soap or do like I do and simply “wipe” them from the leaves.  If the damage is severe, I’d cut the entire leaf off. 

On a lighter note, how about those beans?

Gorgeous.  Just gorgeous.

Scientists Say…

Red paper mulch will increase your tomato yield!  Increase my tomato yield? Now that’s what I’m talking about–woohoo!  Let the celebrations begin!

But how is that possible?  According to the Agricultural Research Center and scientists at Clemson University, red plastic paper “reflects onto plants higher amounts of certain growth-enhancing light waves from sunlight.”  And is said to have “boosted tomato yields in research plots up to 20 percent, while conserving water and controlling weeds.”

Wow.  Now that’s some serious cabbage–er, I mean, tomatoes.  You mean I’m going to reap 20% more bounty this season?  All because I laid this red paper around my tomatoes?

Count me in!  I’m game to try anything.  And is there any better color than “red” for my “red sauce” producing tomatoes?  I think not.  So how do my babies look dressed in red?  All transplanted and settled in, we’re off to the races.

To my 100% organic friends, I apologize.  I know using plastic is not good for the environment, but they’re promising me 20% higher yield.  That’s hard to resist.  And it kills nematodes!  Important for my nematode-infested ground.  Isn’t the trade-off worth it? 

Eventually the “green” scientists will develop something red AND biodegradable.  We’ll see.  Until then, I’ll suffer through plastic and perhaps sneak it into the recycle bin when I’m finished with it.  After I use and re-use it, that is.  Several times.  As many times as I possibly can!

Hm.  Once I get past my anxiety and guilt (hopefully assuaged by a bumper crop of San Marzanos), I’ll let you know how it went.  Until then, consider me the “mad” scientist in the garden willing to try most anything–once!  Why not?  I’m adventurous. 🙂

How about you?  Ever tried red paper mulch in your garden?

Seed Shopping!

Yes it’s that time of year again when the seed catalogs arrive.  Eagerly you run to the mailbox (or jog—ice tends to be slippery) and pull out those gorgeous pages filled with plump ripe fruits and vegetables, a colorful array of flowers and herbs and immediately you begin planning for spring.  Leafing through as you walk, you are amazed by the sheer variety of buttery lettuce leaves, the fantastic diversity of beans.  Who knew beans were not only green, but purple and yellow?  That corn came in red?  At least the carrots all look like carrots, a subtle (and welcome) reminder you have not lost your mind.

But I digress.  It’s time to buy your seeds!  That is, if you haven’t been seed saving.  Now mind you, for those of you who are saving seeds I completely understand how you can become so excited over your tomato crop and making sauce and ketchup that you completely forgot to save a few ripe tomatoes for the purpose of plucking seeds.  Yes, you plopped them right into the boiling water to blanch them for skin removal without even thinking.  It happens.  It’s okay.  More San Marzano tomato seeds are on my list, too.

Take heart!  You’re enjoying the thrill of gardening, reaping what you sow and cooking the dickens out of it.  For my raw food fans, the concept remains the same.  Chopping seeds in your Cuisinart isn’t helpful for seed saving so slow down, take a deep breath, and think before you throw the switch. 🙂  I’m just sayin’…

And this spring I have a few experiements to share with you.  For my tomatoes, I’m going to try some red ground paper.  Supposedly it not only keeps the weeds at bay but it helps the tomaotes grow bigger and plumper.  How?

I have no clue.  Like I said, this is new for me.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress to be sure.  I’m also going to add a little diversity to my herb garden.  Yes, I must confess, I’m a sucker for brightly colored-pages and one of my seed catalogs really snookered me in this year so I’m going with it.  Maybe I’ll get crazy and make some herbal tea with chammomile, or add some lemon balm to my (husband’s) iced tea.  A little mint anyone?  Keeps the ants away!

Anyway, as you can see I have big fun planned so grab your hat—we’re going gardening!

Building Our Bean Fort

How fun is that?

It’s WAY fun and what an endeavor this has turned out to be–for adults and kids alike!  Just look at this beauty.  Isn’t it amazing?

But let’s start from the beginning, when our middle school students took on the task of building the framework for this project.  It began with a request for my future engineers.  Hands shot up.  Then my architects.  More hands shot up.  Then my laborers.  More hands shot up (don’t you just love eager and exuberant?) and then the assistants, coordinators, you name it.  “Now that’s what I’m talking about!”  Enthusiasm 101. 

Once we assembled our crew, the design process began. 

Now I’m no engineer–but I am smart enough to know how to delegate, so I handed the technical aspects over to the kids. 

Good thing too, because every time I did pipe up it wasn’t as fruitful as I’d hoped.  (But I’m a writer not an engineer!)  No matter.  The kids politely moved past my suggestions and continued solving the problem amongst themselves.  They dug the foundation, tied the framework together.

Then they worked to stabilize the structure and all was running efficient and smooth, much like a well-oiled machine, especially when they came up with the bright idea to use PVC pipe for our roof support beams.  In case my husband is reading this–Yes, I know.  You told me to bring our PVC pipe from homeYes, it was a great idea

What can I say?  (I forgot.)  Moving right along…  While all this fort construction was going on, we turned our compost pile.  Look at all that gorgeous dirt!

Any-hoo, back to the roof.  All was running well–

Until it came time to attach the roof.  A bit of a “mutiny of ideas” ensued as to how we best support the lattice top–cross-wise, lengthwise, overlap–though fortunately it was short-lived.  

“We’re working together around here, right?”  I looked around at disgruntled faces and nodded my head (this is an excellent psychological warfare tactic–nod and they will agree).  “Right?”

Right.  And back to the roof we went, now secured attached and utterly stupendous.  It’s certainly something to be proud, wouldn’t you agree?  I mean, this is a masterpiece of teamwork, energy, determination (all the more amazing under the warm and humid conditions we had to endure). Gotta love Florida!  At least it gives us TWO growing seasons which equals TWICE the fun, right kids?  (We’re nodding again here.) 

Enter lower elementary, a.k.a. our bean planters. 

Their job was to “build” the walls.  Okay, maybe not actually build but certainly plant the seeds for future “wall” growth.  And we want our walls to be dense so don’t be shy kids–plant as many as you can!

This bean fort is going to be really cool.  Almost private, like a real hideaway.  And it will fit a good 5-10 kids!  “Party in the fort1!” Depending upon their size and agreeability, of course.  Better yet, won’t this make for a great photo opportunity?

We think so and since we plan to hang out a bit, we want it to be comfortable.  What’s more comfy than a hay covered floor? 

Awesome.  And more than beautiful, our bean fort will be edible. 

 Yep.  Green beans will be hanging within our reach.  Organic green beans.  Yum. Pluck em, peel em, plop em in! 

But that’s not all we did this week!  Upper elementary planted tomatoes.  And because they’re experts in the garden, they know plants need nutrients to grow full and lush and were sure to include them. 

What do tomatoes need? Epsom salts and eggshells!  Or magnesium sulfate and calcium for you non-gardener types.

Blossom-end rot (ugly black spots) on our tomatoes can be due to a lack of calcium.  And nobody wants to eat rot spots.  But we also like BIG tomatoes so we included magnesium sulfate because magnesium helps chlorophyll formation while sulfate aids in strong healthy cell development. 

 And we do look forward to our plump red tomatoes.  Makes sense to give them the best start we can.  Besides, handling crinkly eggshells (pre-cleaned) and crystallized Epsom salt is kinda neat.  

So what do you think?  Need a bean fort in your neck of the woods?  It’s easy to do, great fun and will be the oh-so-popular place to be! 

The hardest part will be waiting for it to fill in… 🙂

Oh, and lower elementary will be keeping a journal on the entire process, sort of our “record keepers” for the project.  Love teamwork.  But we are a community of gardeners and gardeners enjoy sharing the adventure!

Fiddling with Floating Row Covers

And I do mean fiddling, because as a first-timer using this method, I frankly have no idea what I’m doing.  But I’m desperate.  The squash bugs were BAD this year.  They ate my squash, my zucchini–they’re even after my watermelon as we speak!   They’re beasts, pure and simple.  Hungry beasts.  And with our pumpkin seeds freshly planted, I don’t want to take the chance of losing a single one to squash bugs.  (The kids would never forgive me!)  As to these barren looking beds of mine you’ll have to trust me.  There are seeds under there.

But how does one work these floating row covers to prevent squash bugs, exactly?  I’ve seen pictures.  I know they’re supposed to allow light and water in while keeping bugs out.  Hopefully they’re allowing a nice breeze to whistle through, else we run into a fungus problem.  Then of course there are the afternoon thunderstorms to consider.  When the wind picks up around these parts of Florida, it usually picks up my row covers right along with it!  Anchor pins are not what they’re cracked up to be.  My rock weights don’t always work, either.  Mother Nature is a tough old broad.

So setting my metal half-moons in the dirt, I then cover them with an ultra sheer fabric cover.  That is what a floating row cover is, right?  (Anyone feel free to jump in here.) This should be simple…

After anchoring the ends with pins and rocks, I can only hope it will withstand the winds of summer.  Will this row cover be here when I return this afternoon?  Weather gal did forecast rain for today…

But gazing upon my handiwork, I think really?  Or will I come home to find the white fabric clear across the street in the neighbor’s yard?

That’s the question–or problem, depending on how you like to look at these things. 🙂  How about challenge.  Let’s say we forget all this “problem” talk and move on to the challenge.  The thrill of the game, the test of wills, the exciting match between myself and Mother Nature.  So long as she doesn’t hurl a hurricane my way, I at least stand a chance, don’t you think?

We’ll see.  Stay tuned!

If kids were vegetables/fruits, mine would be a…

Carrot – These boys and girls are bunches of fun and pure gold, inside and out.  At times they may appear feather-minded or flippant, but not to worry, they usually hop to their senses in short order!  For them, life is joyful.  Who can argue with that?

Corn – All sunshine and candy this child is as sweet and happy as they come, complete with flaxen hair and slender frame, though not all are blonde.  Ever heard of Indian corn?  Browns, reds, these kids come in all colors and flavors!  Occasionally blown off-balance by life, these little ones can prove susceptible to sudden surprise.  But who isn’t?   

Watermelon – Is it summertime, yet?  That’s the question spittin’ from these kids, cause they’re all about outdoor play, picnics and swim parties.  Don’t look for these rosy-cheeks anywhere near a computer game when the sun is shining but by golly Miss Molly when they’re finished—they move on quick, leaving a “scatter” of evidence behind. 

Onion – While these little ones spend more time in tears than many of their peers, despair not—they sweeten as they mature, especially when kept close to home.  Once fully grown, these boys and girls realize how versatile they truly are and find themselves in high demand and welcome most everywhere.

Strawberry – Bright and cheerful, these spring babies are a real treat.  They love the sun, love to shine…they simply love life.  But caution:  prone to a sweet tooth these kids will wallow in crème and sugar if you let them, with a tendency to plump.  And while plump can be perfect, TOO plump is not!  Encourage these sweeties to keep it fresh and minimize the sugary add-ons.

Cabbage – These cherubs are as quiet as they are cute.  No trouble, no talkback, they’re good-natured and easy to mix.  Invited to parties year-round, they blend easily with any crowd and in the rare event they turn sour, don’t fret.  Simply run a hand over their soft heads, hush them to sleep and they’ll be lulled back to good sense in no time!

Chili Pepper – These kids will keep you hopping, skipping AND jumping!  Firecrackers for sure, these kiddos are sharp-minded and rambunctious—a definite hand-full that adds zing to your life.  Many a day you may question your sanity, but never your luck.  While spicy and hard to handle, you wouldn’t trade them for the world.  Not for a second.

Pole Beans – Fresh outdoorsy types, these kids love to climb and see the world.  Tall and slim, they’re forever exploring yet easy to manage.  Need something?  Ask these sweet babies.  They’re quick to produce and don’t disappoint.

Pumpkin – As the name entails, these kids are cuter than pumpkins, round and merry and oh-so-ready for fall.  Apple pie and haystacks are what lure these kids (not to mention a great goblin costume).  But watch your back!  These mischievous critters are practical jokesters, known to spook a time or two.

Weeds – Wouldn’t be fair to overlook these little fellas.  Can’t because they’re everywhere!  Underfoot, out the door, around the corner!  And they’re quick, too.  Staying on top of these kids will take constant supervision and planning ahead.  They need freedom to roam and room to move and if you’re smart—you’ll allot them a space all their own.  No can do?  Ruh, roh.  These resourceful kids will make it happen.

Enjoy them while they’re young!

Gardening Out West

Beautiful countryside, plain and simple.  Montana, Wyoming, Colorado…  These are some of my favorite places.  From snow-skiing to summer hiking, I could definitely hang out in these parts long-term.  But my family is in Florida and so am I–parked here for the long run.  We do have to have priorities.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t flit across the country and enjoy these gorgeous spots–I mean, I could stare at this view ALL day long.  Say hi to the moose, follow the deer, stand by and watch the playful antics of otters…  Bears can have their privacy, no problem.  No sense in tangling with those beasts.  Respect.  We respect them and leave them alone.

Besides, I’d be too busy in the garden.  Can you imagine–gardening in the cool of summer as opposed to the sweltering heat?  What a difference it would be.  Beautiful blue skies, moderate temps in the 70’s, a light kick of breeze…

Kinda like gardening in the spring here in Florida.  But we have no view.  I do love mountains.  And the vegetables–they definitely appreciate cooler temps.  My salad leaves have totally rebelled and refused to grow past an inch.  My swiss chard, too.  (Apparently they’re taking cues from their lettuce neighbors on the patio.)

Hmph.  What I wouldn’t give to stroll down rows that looked like these.  This photo was taken from an organic garden in Montana last month.  Unfortunately it wasn’t me behind the lens.  Didn’t make it out west this summer (for too many reasons to mention).

Not sure what those are but they’re rich, lush…amazing.  And so organized.  These must be professionals.

My garden looks nothing like this one.  It produces, just doesn’t look so…clean.  Can I blame it on the kids?  (That works for most other messes in and around my house.)  Moving right along.  This photo was taken from a community garden in Vail, Colorado.  (Photos courtesy of my friend Sheri Lou — she travels well.)  As you can see, it’s divided into sections whereby each gardener works his own veggies or flowers.

I like the concept.  Any community, church, or school for that matter can achieve this kind of coop and what fun.  Great way to mix and mingle with the neighbors, don’t you think?

Worth a try in your part of the world!  Perhaps next summer I’ll have the chance to stroll this one in person. 🙂


Be a Garden Coach!

With the end of July fast approaching, the garden gals are wrapping up for the summer and looking forward to their fall growing season–we in Florida are fortunate that way–and they couldn’t be more excited.  Just look at Ashley’s carrots.  Carrots in July! It’s nearly unheard of in these parts.  Too hot.

But let me tell you, that’s part of the thrill.  As their gardener “guide,” it’s exhilarating to see two women who didn’t believe they had the time or the talent to sustain their own garden–do so–and with spectacular results.  Better yet–they realized it was so much easier than they ever imagined!

Well you, too, can be an inspiration for a fresh green energetic wannabe.  All it takes is a little “know how” and a friend with less–“know how” than you, that is.  Sorry, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to garden OR to coach someone else to do the same.  It only takes the desire to help, the time to share, the willingness to show up and the grace  to remember you were once where they are today.

Just think of it:  you could teach them everything you know.  Teach them how the “know-it-alls” don’t always know it all, and remind them that plants can grow all by themselves.  You’ll tell them Mother Nature is kind, has a sense of humor and is usually forgiving–so long as you’re earnest in your outdoor endeavor.  And she prefers organic.  All they way. 

No sense in ruffling her skirt.  Have you been caught in one of her temper storms? They’re something to steer clear of, to be sure.  But if you mind your manners and be kind to the earth, you’ll reap some of the most gorgeous bounty imaginable.  And so will your protegé. 🙂

So be a garden coach!  That’s my own term, garden coach.  Do you like it?  If you do, then slap it on your happy cap and help a friend or neighbor start their very own backyard garden. Or front yard.  Times and landscape design are a changin’ and you DO want to be cutting edge. 

A trendsetter–a garden coach!  Today’s twist on the old volunteer. Easy, manageable–and totally rewarding.