how to grow

Vacation Woes & Garden Envy

Two aspects of gardening we don’t often discuss, but I know exist. At least they do for me.

Recently I helped out a fellow gardener by harvesting some of their crop while they were out of town. Didn’t have to ask me twice. Free bounty? Count me in! However, I was reminded of what it means to be a gardener on vacation.

Weeds. And lots of them. The longer you enjoy your time away, the worse your garden woes at home. Especially after a big rain. Yikes. My back hurts just looking at all the weeding that needs to be done! Every summer the same thing happens to my garden. I’ve resorted to covering most of my beds with heavy black paper to ease the burden, but invariably there are weeds. Usually in my peanuts–about the only crop I grow over the summertime, due to the heat.

But the good news? The bounty was some of the best I’ve seen in a while.

Look at the size of these eggplant plants! They were over three feet high. And take a gander at all that bounty! If you recall, my eggplants were a measly 18 in. tall. “Shrimps” by comparison.

But my envy didn’t stop there. The jalapenos were also amazing and abundant. And tall. Way taller than my plants. In fact, all of the plants were bigger than mine. I’m not sure if his plants are organic or not, however I do know one thing. I’m jealous!

However, looking on the bright side. I do get to enjoy the fruits of his labor–literally. The eggplant was delicious, as were the peppers!

Get Your Blueberries Early!

I love blueberries, plain, on yogurt, in a pie or straight from the bush…

Blueberries are magnificent in every way. And best of all, they’re easy to grow. Seriously. Sun, pine (acid), water, done. That’s it. (That’s pine mulch around the base of the plant.)

All you do is dig a hole, add water and pine bark mulch (acid), and they’re good to go. Oh, and twine. I’m not the only one who loves blueberries. Birds love blueberries and are usually out and about at the crack of dawn dive-bombing the plump ripe berries before you’ll ever get a chance to stop them. Sheesh! If you run twine over the bushes, it’s “problem solved.” I used to use netting until I learned it keeps the bees out, too. Not good. Blueberry blossoms need bees.

Blueberry bushes will begin showing up in your local plant stores soon and if I were you, I’d grab a few. A few—because they need other blueberry bushes for pollination. You do want some, don’t you? Of course you do! And now is the time to find blueberry plants at your local garden center. Just remember, blueberries need to cross-pollinate, so make sure you purchase at least two different varieties for your garden. I have several, including Southern Highbush Sharp Blue, Windsor, Jubilee, Jewel and Gulf Coast. If you can get your hands on some Highbush Misty, they are supposed to get along well with Highbush Sharp Blue. I also have some Rabbit Eye varieties to round out my berry garden.

Special note: Blueberries require a certain amount of “chillng hours” to produce fruit. Chill hours are considered between 32 degrees F and 45 degrees F. I chose these varieties because in Florida we don’t get a lot of cold weather and these bushes require the least amount of chilling hours, ranging from 200-500 hours. So choose wisely according to your growing region.

Plant in organic-rich slightly acidic soil (4.0 — 5.0 pH) and mulch well. Feed with a 12-4-8 fertilizer and prune during the summer months after harvest for more vigorous growth.

Best results = tons of berries. Look at those beauties!

Quick fun facts about blueberries:

July is National Blueberry month.

Blueberry muffins are the most popular muffin in America.

Blueberry muffins are the state muffin of Minnesota. (Who knew muffins had state status?)

Maine produces more blueberries than any place in the world. (I’ve actually visited some blueberry orchards in Maine and was quite frankly, surprised to find them there!)

Blueberries are relatives to the rhododendron and azalea bushes.

Not only interesting and beautiful, blueberries are FULL of antioxidants. So get shopping! The early bird gets the best bush.

 

Microgreens and Greenhouse Production

I live in a rural area. I’m out in the fields or anything (thought that would be nice!), but I do live on six acres and have access to a small downtown within five minutes. Let’s call it semi-rural. One of the benefits of where I am is that several of my neighbors have livestock–cows, goats, horses, chickens… You get the picture.

Well, some of them also have greenhouses which I find fabulous. Actually, I’m quite envious but accept the fact that it’s not in my cards. While I want to be a farm girl, I’m really not. Maybe when the kids move on and I need something to do, but right now, my plate is pretty full and farms require work. Fun work, but time committed nonetheless. Plus, my husband knows that if I’m having problems maintaining said greenhouse, I’m going to slide my gaze his way.

Not gonna happen. Speaking of plate, full–his is overflowing!  **sigh**

Which is why it’s nice to have neighbors. Mine provides me with wonderful eggs and possibly greens–if I weren’t growing a bounty of lettuce on my own. However her set up is so cool, I asked if I could share. This is her greenhouse full of lettuce in varying stages of growth.

I learned that the fan perched in the upper corner is crucial for air circulation. Without it, fungus can become a problem. And while this photo appears dark, it was QUITE bright inside, despite overcast skies outside. So bright, I had to don my sunglasses!

But the view was amazing. Look at all those gorgeous greens! Now I’m sure you’re thinking, Wow, that’s a lot of lettuce. Who’s gonna eat it all?

How about the entire community? Every weekend, she lugs this produce straight to our Farmer’s Market. Did I mention she’s a pseudo commercial grower?

This woman doesn’t mess around. Those are hydroponic tubes you see and not cheap to construct and maintain, unless of course, you think of how much can be produced. She begins with seed cubes that range 1-3 cents per cube, depending on how many you buy at a time. One tray = $1.50 – $3.00 Now imagine the lettuce heads you can grow!

When they grow a couple of inches, she transfers them to the tubes by breaking the cubes into individual sections.

She can also stop right here and sell–or better yet, consume–the greens at this stage–as microgreens. You might have heard of this new phenomena raging at restaurants across the country, but basically these seedlings are POTENT with nutrients. More so than if you wait until the lettuce forms those full and fluffy heads of green were used to seeing. (See above)

And, you don’t have to wait months before harvesting! We’re talking days, depending upon the type of seed your using. Wheatgrass is a good example of the powerful nutritional value of sprouts.

Very healthy, and easy to grow. I know cancer patients who swear by it, as well as many fitness buffs. The second tray is sunflower sprouts. Delicious and fresh-tasting!

So next time you’re in the garden, consider growing and consuming microgreens instead of waiting for a full head of salad–they pack a powerful health punch. And you don’t need a fancy greenhouse to grow them. Simply scatter your seeds over a tray of dirt, or in a bed of dirt, cover with a light dusting of soil or perlite and you’re off to the races. Some of the most commonly grown plants for use as microgreens: amaranth, arugula, beets, basil, cabbage, celery, chard, chervil, cilantro, cress, fennel, kale, mustard, parsley and radish.

And by all means, enjoy. That’s what gardening is all about!

Strawberry Season is Here!

And a very popular time for kids in the garden! Okay, at least for mine, anyway. And grandma. Don’t forget her. Exciting outings are usually her idea, and strawberry picking tops the list.

February and March are peak strawberry months in Florida. For those who live in and around the Central Florida area, the Plant City Strawberry Festival takes place from March 2-12th and includes headline country music stars, like Willie Nelson, the Gatlin Brothers, Rascal Flatts, 3 Doors Down and more! From the Strawberry Festival to our local Strawberry Farm, we love this time of year!

Sweetens school lunches.  “Peanut butter and jelly, Mom, and make it fresh strawberry!”

And afternoon snack time.  “Can we make strawberry smoothies?  Pleeeeeease.”

Of course we can!   If that’s how I get fresh strawberries in your belly, then that’s how we do it. (Beats the ice cream alternative.)

We in the gardenfrisk household used to grow our own strawberries, though for some reason, they never turned out quite as large and luscious as the ones at the farm.   Pesticides? Maybe. Commercial strength fertilizer? Could be. But since I don’t know for sure, let’s just say the kids and I have some work to do this season to compete with Farmer Jones down the road.

 

Pine needle mulch is the first key.  Strawberries prefer acid soil. As for food, I hope they like fish emulsion. It’s stinky, but seems effective. So long as we don’t drench them in the stuff while the fruit is blossoming, we should be good to go, right? You can grow them in containers and allowing them to climb on a trellis. They love it! For a complete review on the subject of growing strawberries, the Florida Strawberry Growers Association provides a fantastic educational download for kids and adults alike.

Another great use for strawberries is to make your own preserves. For easy instructions, check my recipe page. It’s great fun and could be the perfect spring gift!

If you’d like to find a farm near you (this is an international source, mind you), check this link.   In addition to strawberries, you’ll be able to locate blueberry farms, pumpkin patches–all kinds of stuff!

Lemon Blossoms Abound

Tis’ the season for lemon blossoms. I have one potted bush outside my patio that produces nicely. Last season, it produced almost half a dozen lemons. However this year, I’m hoping for much more.

Just look at these gorgeous blooms!

And every bloom equals a future lemon.

A few are currently bursting from the stem.

Gets you excited, doesn’t it? Which brings me to the bad news. I’m going to have to wait months before these babies are ready for picking! Ugh. Guess I’ll spend my time gazing upon them until then. If you’re interested in trying your hand at growing lemons, remember these important tips:

Lemons require LOTS of light. They are sensitive to the cold and need protection from frost. They prefer well-draining soil that is slightly acidic. Keep soil evenly moist, though do water deeply at least once a week. And if you’re growing your lemon tree in a pot like me, remember to keep it outside when the blossoms are bursting. You need bees to complete this transformation from blossom to fruit. Happy gardening!

What Happened to My Brassicas?

I’m a bit disappointed as I write this post. My coveted Brussels sprouts and cabbage have not blossomed as I’d hoped. As I’d worked so hard to ensure.

I don’t know what happened. I watered, fertilized and weeded. Consistently. Carefully. Lovingly. I even applied snail bait for those horrid beasts that attack from underground. Could also be nematodes, though I’m not sure how to rid my garden of those creatures. I’ve tilled, rotated, solarized…

But alas, it has been to no avail. This cabbage was planted months ago. Months!

It’s not like I’ve never had success before. I have. Just look at these beauties. Gorgeous! I’ve grown both red… More

Sweet Onion Savvy

I just picked up my sweet onion sets and couldn’t wait to get them in the ground. They take about six months to grow, meaning my November planting won’t be ready to harvest until at least May, maybe June. But the wait is worth it.

fresh sweet onions

Come spring, I’ll have tons of sweets. And I do mean tons. My local seed store sells these gals in batches of 100, so whether I need that many or not, that’s how many I’m planting. Which brings me to rule number one in my garden: keep it simple and make it easy!

onion-sets-in-channels

Remember my corn channels? I have onion channels now. It’s my new favorite way to plant. I simply drag a hoe down the row, place my onions at the proper distance apart – about 3-4 inches – then back fill them with my compost, ultimately covering them 1 inch deep. Mine are actually closer to 6-8 inches apart, but then again, I want to make sure my babies have room to grow and EXPAND.

back-fill-onion-sets-with-compost

Next, I set the gals upright and water well. Easy! Onions require a moderate amount of fertilizer in equal parts of N, P, K and medium water. Remember not to give them too much nitrogen, or you’ll end up with all leaves and no fruit. No good! Relatively few bugs prefer their pungent taste and smell which makes them all the easier to grow. Wunderbar!

set-onion-sets-upright

And they’re quite content next to their friends, broccoli.

Me? I’m quite content thinking about all the goodies I can make with delicious sweet onions. French Onion Soup, Onions Au Gratin, Baked and Savory Sweet Onions, Sautéed Cabbage and Onions–the list goes on!

All Berries But No Leaves?

My blueberry bushes have been producing a bonanza of berries this spring, but I noticed that some plants are missing leaves. The blueberries are on the stems, but no leaves. Weird.

blueberry babes without leaves

Then I saw a question asked in the Southern Living magazine about the same problem and the Grumpy Gardener replied. The response? He said that young blueberry bushes tend to overbear, setting so many berries that the fruit is inferior.

Huh, I thought. Sounds about right. Youngsters can be over-eager at times, that’s for sure. So he advised using pruners to shorten the flowering stems in spring allowing for fewer flowers and bigger, tastier berries in the future.

big beautiful mature blueberries

Now I’ll be admit, I’m conflicted over this piece of advice, because some of those berries from these young bushes tasted perfectly fine to me. And as a HUGE fan of blueberries, I can’t fathom the idea of wanting less berries. Bigger, I like. Fewer, not so much. Hmph. What’s a poor gardener to do?

big bowl of blueberries

Plant more blueberry bushes! That has to increase my odds on getting the best berries from the best bushes, right? Plus, one day they’ll ALL be mature and I’ll be collecting bowl after bowl after bowl of berries. Ah… Life doesn’t get any better!

It’s A Record-Breaking Size!

I harvested a humongous sweet potato. And I mean humongous. It might not be record-breaking by Guinness standards, but it sure is by mine. A whopping 9 lbs — BIGGER than my newborn babies, mind you, both of whom weighed in below 8 lbs. Pretty incredible, huh?

Record size sweet potato

I think so. And you’ll never guess where I found it.

Birthing the big sweet potato

My compost pile. Yep, it was lurking deep beneath my kitchen scraps and lawn leaves, hidden from view save for the glorious array of green leaves above surface; the mega sweet potato. I’m telling you, if you don’t have a compost pile, you need one. More

How to Grow Okra

It’s summer which means okra around these parts. This veggie loves warm weather and is the perfect plant to grow in Florida. From March through September, you’ll find okra in my garden. I start these plants from seed. in ground. about 1/2 – 3/4” deep, then stand back and watch them grow. It’s almost that easy.

clemson spineless okra

In about a week or so you’ll see the first leaves popping up through the soil. Okra cab grow several feet in height so be sure to give them plenty of space when planting, about 12-18” apart. More