hot

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

Lookee What We Found in the Compost!

You know it’s a good day in the compost pile when this little fella is making his home in your homemade dirt.  Can you see him?  He’s the curvy-looking stick. :)

It means nice, damp conditions.  It means nutrients.  It means this compost will be AWESOME for garden use–all of which we learned this week in our lessons (listed below).  But better yet, a compost pile is just plain fun. More

Compost 101

What is compost?  It’s the mixture of decomposed remnants of organic matter (those with plants and animal origins) used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients. 

How do you create compost?   

Air + Water + Carbon + Nitrogen = Compost

Like most living things, the bacteria that decompose organic matter, and the other creatures that make up the compost ecosystem, need air.  These microbes also need the right amount of water; think “wrung out” sponge.  If too wet or too dry, optimum conditions for bacteria activity will not be met and decomposition will be slowed or halted.  This is the reason some folks “turn” their pile.  It improves air flow!

Me?  I’d rather put Mother Nature to work.  I’ve learned my compost pile works fine without a single turn from me.  (LA-zy!)  Basically, I pile plants, lawn clippings, kitchen scraps and the like and let nature takes its course.  The materials break down and become black gold in our garden.  Composted soil provides nutrition for vigorous plant growth, improves soil structure by creating aeration, increases the ability of soil to retain water, moderates soil pH, and encourages microorganisms whose activities contribute to the overall health of plants.  LOVE it!

What not to compost?  Diseased plants, weeds gone to seed, coal ashes, dog/cat manure, lawn clippings that may contain herbicides. 

Once you’ve established a location for your compost pile, it’s important to know how much carbon versus how much nitrogen to include.  Too much nitrogen and your pile will smell, because excess nitrogen converts to ammonia gas.  Too much carbon and the pile breaks down too slow, because microbes need nitrogen to increase their population.  The ideal is a 30:1 C/N ratio. 

 Carbon is used for energy by the microbes and comes in the form of leaves, straw, hay, sawdust, etc.  These are the “browns” of composting.  Microbes also need nitrogen for the proteins that makeup their tiny bodies.  Matter high in nitrogen are the “greens” of composting (though not always the color green) and consist of “fresh” plants, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and the byproduct of animals such as manure and worm castings.

There are two types of composting:  hot and cold.  Hot composting is accomplished more quickly and best done within a bin.  Made up all at one time, it’s allowed to compost without further addition of material, although it does require frequent turning and proper moisture control.  Bacteria give off heat as they digest the material.  The enclosed pile will insulate the heat raising the internal temperature to 120 – 190 degrees.  This attracts more bacteria whose breakdown continues more rapidly. Hot compost is good because it kills pathogens and many weed seeds.

A cold pile (70 – 90 degrees) takes longer though it manages a steady stream of material additions; perfect for the family backyard pile (as in mine).  Simply begin your pile with the organic material of your choice, i.e. leaves, kitchen scraps, etc. and continually add to the top of the pile.  Within 6 – 24 months (depending on climate conditions) the material will break down—though turning the pile will speed up this process.  The bottom of the pile composts first (higher heat due to insulation).

When your compost is ready, you’ll know it.  Your material will be unrecognizable from its original form and look like gorgeous black dirt.  Like I said, around these parts we call it “black gold” for the garden!

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.