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

Hot In YOUR Garden?

Great! It’s the perfect time to solarize your soil. By using nature’s heat, you can “bake” the gremlins out of your soil and prepare for the next planting season. Here in Florida, that means fall. (Yes, we’re lucky that way, reaping twice the gardening pleasure and sunshine.)

Solarizing is simple. Basically, you cover your beds with plastic paper (I’m going with heavy-duty 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?

heavy duty black paper

I do love simple.  And organic. No pesticides here! What I don’t love is doing things over and over which is what I’ve had to do in the past. Every afternoon, round about 4:00pm, the clouds would gather, the temps would fall and the winds would blow sending my paper across the yard, twirled and tangled…even hopped my neighbor’s fence once!

effective paper weights

The paper went everywhere but where it was supposed to be, so I decided to go heavy-duty and lined my rows with tiles and rebar and various other items I picked up around the garage. (Thanks, honey!) It’s not as pretty as anchoring the paper with pins, but summer winds are strong and tend to tear those puppies out. At this point in my gardening career, I’d rather have effective than pretty.  Once my beasts have been baked out of the garden, I’ll be back in business.  🙂

Solarizing My Garden

After a rather distressing spring, I’ve been solarizing my garden, row by row, bed by bed.  The last straw was my beautiful sunflowers.  Strong and sturdy, yet they were no match for the underground beasts.  So as I harvested each row, I laid down heavy black paper, secured with anchor pins–not the best choice for Florida summer storms, but we’ll discuss that later.  The important point here is to rid my soil of varmints.

And I do mean varmints.  Lost my squash, my zucchini (to both above ground pests and below), then my peppers and sunflowers.  Even my garlic weren’t stellar, though I can’t imagine how they suffered underground.  🙁  Sad any way you look at it.

But I shan’t despair!  (Been listening to Gone with The Wind–yes, still–so my verbage may shift between past and present.)  I shall 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 put it off until tomorrow.  I need to think about it today! 🙂

So I have a plan.  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.”  Solarize is the technical term for what I’m doing.  Basically this 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?

I do love simple.  What I don’t love is doing things over and over which is what I had to do because my anchor pins were not sturdy enough to keep my paper in place.  Every afternoon round about 4:00pm, the clouds would gather, the temps would dip, the winds would blow and there went my paper–across the yard, twirled and tangled…

You name it.  Everywhere but where it was supposed to be.  So I decided to go heavy-duty and dumped bricks and old tiles, rolls of 9 gauge wire and even piles of sand onto my paper to keep it in place.  It’s not pretty but it is effective.  And I’d rather have effective than pretty.

Additionally, my darling husband has offered to re-till my rows for me next month by adding a handy contraption to his tractor that will do the trick.  Wunderbar!  Imagine what would take me days to complete with a broken back to show for my trouble, he’ll be able to manage in a matter of hours, if that.  Gotta love technology!

Then, I’ll re-line my walking rows with this heavy-duty paper (the other eventually tears, rips and disintegrates) and we’ll be in business once again.  And I’m itchin’ to get back out there.  Not until it cools off, mind you, but itchin’ just the same.

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.

Summer Heat in the Garden

While I love a good old-fashioned sun-shiny day, I don’t enjoy heat stroke–which is what you’ll end up with in Florida these days, if you’re not careful.  Now granted I’m not known for being real careful and I do tend toward action before planning, but even I know to stay out of this heat!  If only our plants could be so wise.  Or fortunate.

Look at this poor thing.  Drooping, withering, begging to be let into the patio.  Reminds me of my dog (though he’s not satisfied with merely being on the patio, oh no!).  He wants to be in the house, on the tile, never mind he’s wet from his recent dip in the pool. 🙂

Silly boy.  Sad plant.  This is Ashley’s topsy-turvy experimental tomato plant and looks a lot like the tomatoes in my garden (which BTW have no blossom end rot, thank you very much).  Only my compost pile tomatoes seem to be enjoying the weather. 

While this fellow was having a good run there for a while, he’s no longer enjoying the ride.  So like any warm-hearted gardener, she’ll take this poor baby inside and place him on a sunny corner of her porch. She’ll water him and feed him and nurse him back to health and hope he responds. 

Which he will.  Given the proper care and feeding he can thrive once again.  It only takes effort.  Why, one only has to look at her lettuce to know this woman has basketfuls of effort! 

Whoever heard of lettuce growing outdoors in the heat of Florida?  Not me.  Mine are long since burnt, I’ve the plastic store-bought bags of lettuce to prove it.  We’re fresh out of greens at my house!  And carrots.

But Ashley’s harvesting those, too.  Sure this little guy is a tad on the slender side, but he’s golden and gorgeous and he’ll taste just the same. 

Guess there is a silver  (icy and refreshing) lining to an otherwise scorching day:  Gardeners can achieve success, despite the heat.  Save for those leggy basil of hers.

Didn’t stand a chance really, because basil will do that to you.  If you don’t diligently pinch their buds they will quickly grow legs that can outrun Twiggy! 

“What? You don’t know who Twiggy is?”

Hmph.  Fine.  When I think of her contemporary, I’ll get back to you.  Until then, enjoy your summer garden! 

Or what’s left of it.

p.s.  Julie’s still recovering from vacation.

Out of the Garden

Yes, I’ve been gone.  Doing exciting things, mind you, but not in the garden.  No.  Where have I been?

First, I was chasing scallops with my family off the west coast of Florida.  Not really fair, as they’re pretty easy to catch.  They basically sit there while you reach down and grab them.  Fun for the kids, though and we do eat what we catch.  Couldn’t that be considered living off the land (or sea), at one with nature? 

It felt natural.  The sun, the sea, the salt… 

Either way, I wasted no time before I was off rubbing elbows with romance writers!  This past weekend was the annual Romance Writers of America Convention and what fun.  Two thousand women roaming the halls of one hotel – can you imagine? – filling their minds with craft, career, the dream of publication.  (You don’t realize what 2000 people looks like until you all sit down for lunch and then whew, that’s a lot of estrogen!)

Okay, that’s not entirely true.  There were a few men scattered throughout the venue, but they were completely outnumbered.  Brave.  Very brave.

Some of the highlights?

I was hall mates with Nora Roberts.  Yep.  Her room was two doors down from mine and we crossed paths more than a few times.  No, I didn’t accost her.  Not because I didn’t think about it.  (Hello?  This is Nora Roberts were talking about.)  It wouldn’t be good manners.  But it was pretty neat.  Here’s a woman who’s reached heights in her career most only dream of.  How can you not be in awe, I ask?

I am.  While there, I also had the opportunity to reconnect with some editors, agents and writers I haven’t seen in a while.  A good thing.  After all, these are the people who understand my need to write, even when it doesn’t make sense to the rest of the world.  Met some wonderful new editors, agents and writers and look forward to talking with them again soon.

The best part?  My passion for writing was set on fire.  More than love it, I’m driven to pursue the dream of becoming published, and connecting with readers around the world.  So stay tuned for my first series of short stories to appear online here (on the blog) in the upcoming months, followed by what I hope will be a variety of fun-filled, heart-touching fiction and non-fiction books — about gardening, about life, about women and all they love.

Mandie’s still growing strong!

Most of her garden is cleared out now, but her tomatoes are still thriving.  Sort of.  Despite the weeds and stake neglect, they’re still producing —  Whoa, Dolly, look at them go!  While they may not be pretty (July heat is tough on a girl), they’re still supplying Mandie with fresh from the garden goodness. 

And just look at that sweet potato!  Off to a wonderful start, this plant will literally take over and fill the planter box with sumptuous golden sweets, with little or no effort on her part.

A good thing.  Apparently, Mandie’s summer has been a busy one, taking them in and out-of-town and around the state.  But didn’t I say, summers are for vacation?

They are indeed.   But don’t forget:  August starts Central Florida’s fall planting season, with pole beans, broccoli, collards, corn, onions, squash–the list goes on!  In fact, I’m seeding my tomatoes right now for transplanting in September.  Didn’t have good luck with my spring batch, but fall is a new season and hopefully new results. 

We can all hope, can’t we?  Besides, my local ag center is offering a course in master gardening which I just might check out.  Would make this whole gardening adventure a lot more fruitful if I knew what I was doing.  I’m mean really knew what I was doing.  Then I might actually warrant Mandie calling me Master!  (Not that it’s proved an obstacle, mind you, but it would make for a nice feather in my cap.)

For now, Mandie is holding her own, looking forward to starting her fall garden.  This woman is hooked

But fresh vegetables will do that to you.  They not only do they taste better, but every bite’s infused with pride, pleasure, and the will to continue the process.  So get ready and plan YOUR fall garden — right along with Mandie.   If she can do it, YOU can do it.  Trust me.  Too busy means nothing until you’ve walked in this woman’s shoes.

Too Late for Brussel Sprouts?

A controversial vegetable in our household, yet my brussels sprouts thrive.  Despite the heat, humidity and bugs, my first attempt has proved successful.   While this plant prefers cooler weather, much like cabbage, it has remained true to my devotion  — a little love talk helps — and provided a wonderful bountiful harvest.  Granted, a little worse for the wear under the summer temps, but good, solid growth.  Interesting growth habit.  Looks a bit like a palm tree, doesn’t it?

Why did I choose to grow brussels sprouts?  Because I like brussels sprouts.  I enjoy their fresh, crisp taste and healthful benefits and I alone tend to their needs.  No one else.  You can imagine my pleasure when a friend came to harvest this weekend and gushed with delight at the sight of my brussels!   Whoa, Nelly.  Could it be?  An equal devotee to the brussels sprout?

Indeed.  Like most things in life, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  To each his own goes the old saying and critically important when planning your next crop of vegetables.  I mean, sure okra is easy to grow, but who eats it?  It’s reputation for slime is legendary (obviously spread by folks who’ve never tasted it fresh from the plant — not a speck of slime to be found!) and its common preparation, fried.  Which doesn’t sit well with the whole “fresh from the garden” goodness.  Corn, on the other hand, epitomizes home-grown summer splendor, but not always gardener friendly.  Heavy feeder, heavy drinker.  Beans?  What’s not to like about beans — easy, yummy and keep for months!

But brussels sprouts?  Few fans, to be sure.  With one success under my apron, do they warrant an entire row this fall?  Not hardly.  Who can eat that many brussels sprouts by themselves?  Not me.  Not even frozen.  Remember, I have Limas and peas, cabbage and broccoli, spinach and lettuce  — when do I have the time to slip in another serving of brussels sprouts?  My “greens” are covered.

Starches, beans, fruits and nuts… my food pyramid is on target.  But the brussels experiment does remind me, thoughtful planning is essential to a well-rounded dinner plate.  For that matter, lunch and breakfast, too.  The key to remember is grow what you’ll eat.  Limiting your harvest to the family favorites keeps your meals fresh and timely, with little need for freezer storage.  After all, in the old days, they didn’t have the luxury, did they?  They ate what the season yielded.  It’s no coincidence we eat sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving and peach cobbler during the summer — it’s what Mother Nature intended!  Like most mothers, she understands the value of planning meals ahead of time.  Something I’m still working to master.