how to grow

Beautiful Broccoli

I know most folks don’t care for the cold weather, but here in Florida it marks broccoli season and around my house, that’s one of the few vegetables everyone can agree on. Okay, that’s a lie. My son doesn’t prefer it–unless it’s covered with cheese and appears on his plate without stems.

Ack. What do kids know, anyway? Broccoli is beautiful, good for you, and fairly easy to grow. And it thrives this time of year.

broccoli head

While my son might not like to eat broccoli, he doesn’t mind helping with the harvest. We cut two nice sized heads this morning and plan to cook them alongside our spaghetti and meatballs this evening for dinner. I’ll steam them first, to soften them up, then pan sauté. Once browned, I’ll cover them with shredded cheddar and a sprinkle of garlic powder and pepper. It might sound a bit crazy to some, but it sure does taste good. And in the end, isn’t that what counts?

If you haven’t planted your broccoli yet and you live where the ground doesn’t freeze, rendering your garden about as plantable as a cement parking lot, it’s not to late to give these babies a try. They’ll take about 2 months of growing before you can harvest, but if you plant now, your January dinner table will thank you. For complete details, tips & tricks, check out my how-to grow section on the sidebar. Happy gardening!

New How-To Grow Section

This fall I’m switching it up and adding a new “How-To” grow section under my “Gardening Guide for Easy Vegetables.” It will outline instructions on how to grow beautiful, healthy organic vegetables. Over the next few weeks, more pages will appear, each outlining directions from seed to sprout, problems to watch out for, good companions, bad companions and specialty tips, as in the case of tomatoes.

It’s my way of organizing information in an easy to find navigation of my site. Since every plant is unique and beautiful and requires different care, I’ve listed some basics.

Ashley's overflowing with growth

General tips of the trade:

Plant depth will reflect seed size. The smaller the seed, the more shallow planting depth.

Heirloom seeds are preferred over hybrid, because we practice self-sustaining gardening and seeds harvested from hybrids won’t reproduce the fruit they were harvested from. Instead, you’ll get a surprise veggie!

Keep in mind that plants like soft, fluffy beds. If your soil is too dense or too loose, like Goldilocks, your plants will complain. Homegrown compost fits the bill best!

Mulch keeps the moisture in and natural hay or pine straw works perfect, though pine should be reserved for your more acid-loving plants like potatoes, peanuts, strawberries and blueberries.

Companion planting helps keep your plants healthy and happy. Two plants that work well with everyone are lettuce and okra.

Fish emulsion is a great all-around organic fertilizer. Gives mild dose of nitrogen and stinky enough to keep the bugs at bay.

Now, I’m getting ready for fall gardening–care to join me?

Sharing Seeds

One of my favorite aspects about gardening is sharing…sharing tips, tricks, harvest and of course, seeds–the magic beginning to that next great crop. As a self-sustaining gardener, saving seeds is the name of the game. No more trips to the seed store, we grow our own, harvest our own and start the process anew—all on our own. Wonderful, isn’t it?

But from time to time you come across a fellow gardener doing something awesome and you find you find yourself filled with green. Not the jealous kind or green, or the envious kind. (Well, a little, maybe. I mean, after all, one gander at their growth and you want it for your own!) I’m mostly talking the curious green-thumb kind of green.

“Hey, what’s that you’re growing? How did you do it?” More

Lettuce for Lunch, Anyone?

It’s my staple foodstuff for the midday meal. I eat a salad every day, varying the additions to my bowl of lettuce. Some days it’s avocado, chickpeas and feta or goat cheese. Other days I’ll add a can of wild caught salmon and strawberries. Most days it includes spinach, and always olive oil and balsamic–glaze or vinegar. Add a little pepper and you have a feast!

fresh lettuce

Really, if you add the right ingredients, you can get FULL on your salad. And for those of you in the warmer climates, NOW is the time to eat lettuce fresh from the garden. Here in Central Florida it’s simply too hot for this tender-leafed veggie to grow. You can grow it on your patio, but I tend to have a problem with plants that rely on ME for their water. A timed sprinkler system? No problem. Me and my memory and schedule? No way. I’d starve if I had to live off a patio garden.

 arugula bed

Unless of course, I went with hydroponics. Now that’s a self-watering, self-nourishing kind of system if I’ve ever seen one. And it might be exactly what my northern friends need to continue consuming their fresh greens. You can grow your greens in towers like these or in bins. Your choice. But either way, it’s worth taking a look-see.

 salad-wall

But I digress. For Southern gardeners, now is the time to grow your lettuce and I, for one, am celebrating. Once again, no worries when it comes to growing too much. I have the PERFECT way to keep it stored and tasting fresh for days. Check this earlier post for how you can, too. Enjoy!

Time to Plant Those Sw-eeeeet Onions!

Sweet onions are delicious when purchased from the store, but they are butter creamy delightful when pulled from your garden. You can eat them raw without the “bitter” taste, or sauté with to a sugary caramel glaze. How about baked onions? This recipe is easy and really brings out the flavor.

Baked Sweet Onions

Hmmm good! Best of all? They’re easy to grow. EASY. But they take time. Six months’ worth. But take it from me, these gems are worth the wait.

However, now is the time to plant. Contact your local seed store and see if they have the seed “sets” in stock. If not, maybe they can order some for you. The kids and I planted this row over the weekend. One hundred and twenty-four sweet baby onions! YUM! More

Peantus Dropping Pegs

As your peanut plants grow, it’s a good practice to till the soil around them. Once they blossom, the petals will fall off and the plant will drop “pegs” down into the loose soil around the plant–key word: LOOSE. The peg is a narrow root like branch that makes up the flower stem and peanut embryo. Once it buries itself in the soil, the new peanuts will form.

add compost to peanut plants

But if the soil is too compacted–as is the case with ours due to recent heavy rains–you’ll want to lightly till around your plants. Peanuts grow underground and the softer the soil, the more easily they’ll grow. And you want to make it easy for them to grow, don’t you?

peanuts like soft soil

Of  course you do! I also amended my peanut bed with compost to ensure they receive adequate nourishment throughout their growing season. We’ll talk more about that when the time comes. (The plants above are showing the first signs of yellow blooms which means the pegs won’t be far behind!) About two months after your peanut plants have bloomed, check for peanuts.

Happy Gardening!

How to Make Sweet Potato Slips

Summer is fast approaching (in Florida, anyway) which means it’s time to get your slips in the ground and growing.  They require a long growing season and they require warmth.  But they don’t grow from seed potatoes, rather the “slips” created from your sweet potatoes.  How does one create a sweet potato slip?

The technique is easy.  You simply cut your sweet potato in half, perch it upon the mouth of a jar or glass (suspended by toothpicks works well) submerging the bottom half in water.  Voila!

creating slips

Place in a sunny location and keep the water level high enough so that the bottom half remains wet and then watch your potato sprout.

After a while—times vary, but you can expect to wait days, even weeks in some cases—shoots (leaves) will form on the top of your potato.  You can gently remove these and place them in water, again half-submersed, and a tangle of roots will develop.   More

Confessions From A Corn Field

Sort of.  I have a confession to make.  I have no plans to plant corn this year. *sigh*  It’s proven a tough plant for me.  Too tough.  Which makes for a very sad day in my household because corn is delicious–especially fresh from the cob.  It’s fun, because the kids can craft corn husk dolls on their way to the compost pile.  It’s versatile, because we can eat it standing between the beds of our garden or hauled up to the house and boiled, roasted or grilled.

kidney beans and corn

And giving up is not in my DNA.  But since I’ve gone organic (the first season after my wonderful neighbors helped me start my garden), I can’t seem to feed my corn enough, de-bug it enough, de-disease it enough.  I won’t say I’ve scored a zero in the endeavor, but the cobs I have harvested are few and far between. The consensus seems to be… More

Tami’s Last Hurrah

After a long summer of vacay and summer rain, Tami’s garden has survived, albeit her tomatoes and compost have succumbed to neglect.  What can she say?  She’s busy.  It’s hot.  You get my drift.  It was a valiant first effort that will blossom anew this fall, with more tolerable temps and a fresh new attitude.  But not all is lost.  Her green peppers look great.

Turning to red as they mature.  While it doesn’t look as pretty, it will taste sweet and delicious.

Don’t even ask about mine.  Talk about succumb!  I’m not sure who was harder on them—me, or Mother Nature.  But we won’t go there.  We’re talking about Tami’s garden at the moment.  The basil is blooming up a storm.  Needs pinched, but it’s still producing, still thriving.

Her aloe is gorgeous and full and the perfect remedy for an oven burn.  Slice off a piece of one thick, juicy leaf and smear the oozing liquid over the burn and voíla!  No scar, quick healing.  Careful:  the stuff is stinky and it will stain.  So take care when using.

The blueberry looks lost but not forgotten (entirely).  A little weed pulling and this baby is back in action! 

Now for all you tomato lovers, take note:  this is what hornworms can do to your plants.  In a matter of hours. 

Yep.  It’s ugly—and the main reason you want to make daily visits to your garden, for the sake of vigilance.  Beyond the garden is the compost pile.

Or two.  The overgrown pile in the foreground can easily be remedied with a weed whacker and transferred/mixed in to the second pile.  No big deal, giving the dirt time to “ferment” and turn rich and organic.  I do love nature when it proves low maintenance, don’t you?

Now, for my next project….  Who will it be?

Monster Okra

Now this is enough to scare you plum out of the garden–so don’t let it come to that.  Okra are one of the easiest and tastiest veggies to grow and when eaten fresh from the vine (stalk, stem…) are not slimy in the least.  They are divine.  My son prefers them fried–and they are good this way–but I like them fresh.  But if you let your okra grow to gargantuan proportions, they will be tough, stringy and icky.  Leave these mammoth pods for seed saving.

And the only way to prevent this from happening is to visit your garden every day during harvest time.  Like I said, okra are EASY to grow and grow they will–inches a day!  Or so it seems.  These are Tami’s okra (no, we haven’t forgotten her) and in need of plucking.  But in between home and the beach, work and vacation, it can be downright hard to visit your garden every day.  (Yet another reason I close most of my rows for the summer.  Summers are for vacation in my household!) 

For optimum taste, you want your  okra about two inches, maybe a tad more if you’re frying them. This little guy is perfect, isn’t he?  Gorgeous AND delicious. 

Speaking of gorgeous, her pepper plants are thriving.  Beautiful and green and only a couple of holes to speak of, these babies are blooming and producing.  Now remember, perfection is overrated.  I don’t mind one bit if the leaves have a couple of blemishes.  So long as they don’t kill the plant or prevent peppers from blossoming, I’m good.  How about you?

Now her tomatoes are wild and wooly and taking full advantage of her divided attention.  They need pinched and pruned, but Tami’s been too busy to do either.  Like I said, Florida during the summertime can be very distracting.  Sunny skies, warm waves and beautiful beaches…  Who can stay home?

It’s tough.  Forgive her.  She’ll get back into the swing of it soon.  Why, she has this cute little melon fella to take care of! 🙂 

Isn’t he adorable?  Precious.  Just precious.  So if you’re in the same predicament as Tami, don’t worry.  You’re not alone.  For all you lucky gardeners out west and up north, take heart–this is YOUR season to shine.  And do share!