lettuce

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!

Super Greens!

;

I love salads, all kinds. I love growing them and I love eating them. And cooler weather in Florida means fresh lettuce in my garden. A sample, if you will…  Swiss chard — healthy and colorful.

 

Romaine  – strong and delicious; a classic. More

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!

Tami’s Growing Strong

For a first time gardener, Tami is doing AWESOME.  In this bed you can see her plants look great—squash, peppers, tomatoes and basil are all thriving together in harmony. If you remember, she planted the basil right in between her tomatoes, because these two make wonderful companions in the garden.  Funny, they make wonderful companions on the dinner plate, too.  Coincidence?

She’s pinched tomato suckers and pulled basil flower heads to keep these two healthy and happy.  To continue this progress, she can prune her tomatoes once they begin to grow past the top of her tomato cage.  This will also help to keep them full and strong.

The next bed over is residence to her okra and lettuce AND her first harvest.  Already!  Can you believe it?

Okra and lettuce make great companions, especially here in Central Florida because the canopy of the okra shades the more delicate lettuce leaves allowing them to flourish with ease.  (I’m about ready for a salad.  Anyone else?)

Upon closer inspection, we notice remnant damage on her okra leaf from the aphids and ant battle.  Not sure if this is from the diatomaceous earth of the aphids sucking the life out of the plant.  Will have to get back to you on that one.  But the plants appear to be fine in general, with no lasting trauma.

Next up is our pole beans which suspiciously resemble bush beans.  Now these varieties can produce very similar bean pods, but the big clue?  No climbers. 

Hmph.  Never know what’s in these bags we buy these days.  Remember our weed plant inside the blueberry?  It happens.  Course in my garden it’s usually do the fact that I occasionally forget what I’m planting where—despite my fabulous excel program!  Sheesh.  Yet another reason to become self-sustaining!  (Just keep your brain cells more organized than mine.)

Go figure.  Anyhoo, everything looks great.  Beans are plump and her cucumber and watermelon are bursting with life from their in ground “hill” site.

Warning for Edible Garden Growers

If you decide to incorporate an edible garden into your landscape, be sure you’re not the only one who knows about your new endeavor.  If you are, you may emerge from your home with the same great disappointment as I did today.  The lawn fellow sprayed my bright tender greens with insecticide.

Shudder, chills, mutter, groan–the horror!

But yes.  Alas, it’s true.  My sweet wonderful landscaper put an end to my glorious edible salad bed landscape, shown here in the foreground of my rosemary hedge.  It’s not his fault. I didn’t label it as edible landscape. I didn’t advise him I was cultivating foodstuff around the house. I merely amended my soil with compost and worm poop and assumed (yes–I know what that stands for!) that he would know that it was new growth.

Yet he mis-identified my tender green sprouts as weeds.  But with nothing else to do–you can see my lawn is a barren wasteland of frost damaged grass–he decided to spray the perimeter for weeds. Under normal circumstances I’d be celebrating, but today?

Not so much.  So please, take a word of advice from a woman who knows:  communicate with the man (or woman) whose job it is to care for your grounds. You’ll be glad you did.

As for me? Next time I’ll be sticking big, broad, conspicuous white plant labels in my newly planted edible landscape! No sense in risking it, right?

Not a chance.

Bounty of Spring Squash

Would you look at Ashley’s squash?  They’re fabulous!

“Time for dinner, kids!”  And while she’s at it, she’ll throw a little fresh salad together.  Why not?  She has plenty! (Sure they look a tad peaked, but it was hot today!  Not to worry, they’ll clean up fine.)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen potato plants this big.  These things are monsters!

And despite conventional wisdom (and space restriction on our part), they DO get along with squash.  Like old friends these two, wouldn’t you agree?

See, we can get along, without any trouble at all.  Though her cucumber needs some assistance.  This baby is sprawling–like she owns the place–antics for which we simply have no room.  Like a good mother, Ashley will guide her to the fence and encourage some good climbing behavior. 

Speaking of good mothers (with sensitive spots), Julie’s garden is doing well, though she hasn’t the heart to remove this stray melon. 

While it may seem fun right now, this fellow has no business mingling with those carrots.  It’s Julie’s job to remove the wayward lad–before he gets unruly.  Which he will.  He’s a melon and talk about wandering!  Don’t get me started.  He’s only going to get bigger.  Sorry, but the boy needs to go. 

Her tomatoes are doing well, even sporting little tomato sprouts.  However, they’re also sporting squiggly white lines. 

Do you know what that means?  (I didn’t either until I looked it up.  Never posed a problem at my house.)  Anyhoo, these lines indicate she has leaf miners.  Not good.  Granted the damage is mostly cosmetic, unless of course a large number of leaves are affected.  If so, the overall vigor of her plant could be significantly reduced.  If left intact, the tunnels–those lines are actually tunnels–can allow fungus and bacteria to enter.  

Best thing she can do at this point is to remove the damaged leaves, water well and keep it healthy.  Beneficial wasps are natural predators for leaf miners, so sending an invitation to her neighborhood wasp center could prove helpful.  Otherwise, her tomato plant is healthy and robust should recover from the trauma.  Good work, Julie!

Edible Hedges

We’re eating hedges, now?

Please, we’re getting creative with our garden location and thinking outside the box—the planter box!  Why limit ourselves to traditional methods of gardening when there are so many other ways (and places) we can garden?

Gardening is simply too exciting.  Take rosemary, for instance.  I love rosemary and not just because it thrives without much attention—always a plus for me—but because the mere touch releases a heady rise of fragrance into the air.  It stops me in my tracks.  It reminds me of the simple pleasures in life.  And in this fast-paced world we live, it’s something we could all be reminded of more often.

My rosemary is located just outside my patio door, one herb of many in my kitchen garden (unlike my vegetable garden, this one is located close to the house for easy access when cooking).  What began as a small plant, no more than 12in. tall (a Christmas gift I received a few years back), it now consumes the entire corner of my herb garden!

I’ve cut it back several times and used the clippings for rosemary lemonade, gift tag attachments, cooking additive, aromatic sachets and the like, but a trip to California changed the way I look at rosemary.  California will do that to you, won’t it?

In the dry desert climate and undoubtedly fertile soil, this plant lines the sidewalks, flanks entryways and generally grows like a weed, albeit a fragrant one.  But then it hit me—why not at my house?  If I can grow the plant in my herb garden, I can grow it elsewhere, right? What a beautiful concept…practical, productive, this plant can serve as both décor and edible delicacy. I do love a multi-tasker.

Then I got to thinking, if my rosemary can have dual functionality, what other plants can do the same? How about a lavender lined walkway, bordered in front by a sumptuous row of assorted lettuce varieties? Colorful, delectable, munchable.

Shoot, while we’re at it, why not move the whole garden up to the house? I have to change out those pretty flowers each season, anyway.  Why not replace them with edible foliage? A lovely strawberry edged path? And if it gets too cold, I’ll transition them into containers.  They do look so lovely in brightly painted ceramics.

Why, with this new attitude twist, I feel like I have an entirely new garden adventure ahead of me!

Fresh Lettuce

I love fresh lettuce.   Fresh spinach, too.   Even more now — now that I’ve learned to store them!  (For easy storage tips, check my earlier post 

And don’t they look marvelous in my Longaberger basket?  One of those girls’ night out binge purchases.  But I must say, it’s stood the test of time pretty well.  I hate to admit how long I’ve owned it (let’s just say, this baby could be in college by now!).   The free-fall of years reminds me of how “young at heart” I’m growing!  Though it does tend to beat the alternative, doesn’t it?

Back to the garden.  Just because you have fresh lettuce in the garden, doesn’t mean you eat it everyday.  This, I’ve learned by doing.  While I had every intention to include the healthy greens on my daily menu, I realized a girl gets bored eating the same thing over and over! 

Pity.  My waistline is shrieking, “Lettuce!  Lettuce!  Eat more lettuce!”   But those M & M’s in the candy dish keep drowning out the voice of reason.   It doesn’t help that my daughter is becoming a grade-A baker, either.   She’s learned the secret to baking phenomenal brownies and now I’m paying the price.  Because I’m the adult.   Because I can tell her, “No, honey, only 10 M & M’s for dessert.”  

Who’s telling me no, as I scarf another handful in passing?  Certainly not my husband– if he knows what’s good for him.   And he does.   Bless his heart

So as I continue to fill my basket with good intentions, I long for my other vegetables to mature.   The good news?

My cabbage are almost ready.  The bad news?   There’s half a pan of brownies sitting in the fridge, calling my name.   Oh wait, er–never mind!

I think that was my stationary bicycle.

Weeding, anyone?

Kids are busy these days.  Not only after school with their various activities, but during school as well.  From bakes sales to book sales, science projects to theater productions, these kids are occupied and while this is all wonderfully intellectually and emotionally stimulating, sometimes it translates into limited time in the garden.  There are simply not enough hours in the day to accomplish all we’d like to accomplish.  A familiar concept to most adults I know.

Yet the garden continues to grow — or should I say, the weeds continue their assault.  They don’t hold for busy students and they do need to be pulled.  If they’re not, the lettuce doesn’t stand a chance at reaching full maturity. 

Can you say garden coordinator?

Yep.  Know this going in:  garden volunteers will be required to do more than their fair share on occasion, sometimes due to scheduling conflicts, but sometimes due to necessity.  Little fingers are not as deft when plucking weeds around delicate young plants, not to mention they’re easily distracted by all the new growth exploding around them.  Which we encourage at every stage in the growth process!

But take heart.  Time spent in the garden is never wasted and with the right perspective, can be the most enjoyable time of the day.  Even weeding.

You heard me right.  Alone among verdant green plants, soft morning light and cool luscious temps…is glorious.  Digging through rich black dirt, the faint scent of musty fresh earth clinging to the air, you feel connected to nature, at one with the world.  For those of you whose nostrils are flaring at the mere description, your mind reeling off a thousand things you’d rather be doing, remember:  life is 90% attitude and %10 activity.  No matter what you’re doing, you can either enjoy it, or loathe it — you’re choice.  Like I remind my kids, slip on your “right attitude cap” and let’s get busy!

And better yet, when you’re finished, the sense of reward and accomplishment you’ll feel is worth the effort.  Aaaaah….just look at that sumptuous bed of savory salad waiting to be reaped and devoured.  Sure there’s still a few weeds, no one here is advocating perfection — only production.

My mouth waters just thinking about the fresh wholesome goodness soon to be reaped!  And the students do like their veggies.  Just look at these girls devour their pole beans during snack time — not only healthy, but these kids taste pride and joy in every bite because they had a hand in growing them. 

The sight of young people gorging on greens…  Does it get any better?   Next week:  watch for fresh green peppers to make their debut on the menu!

Have you started your sprouts?

I have.  I’m bound and determined to grow tomatoes from seed.  If my compost pile can do it, I can do it.  I simply haven’t succeeded, yet.  But I will.

My first attempt was this last spring.  My sprouts were off to a great start, but I think a bit too late.  By the time I transferred them into the garden, the scorch of summer proved overwhelming.  They fried.  Not the first day, though, as luckily for me it was overcast.  Which cast false hope.   It was the second day, despite a good dose of morning water, when they fried.  Didn’t stand a chance, really.  Have you been to Florida in July?

It’s hot.  Big fun, tons to do, but hot.  So, we’re trying again and so far, so good.  Not only have my tomatoes poked their tiny green leaves from the soil, but my peppers are fantastic and leafy, along with my herbs.  Small leaves, yes, but sprouts are small. Very small.  (Yes, that little sprig is a tomato sprout — trust me.) 

And just to prove Mother Nature isn’t the boss of me, I’ve planted lettuce, a real no-no in the Florida heat.  Mine are in containers on the patio, away from the heat.  Seems you can have your gourmet salad mix, and eat it, too!  I do love my salads.

So if you’re a southern gardener like me, and it’s much too hot to toil away in the garden –we are talking serious health risks, here, just ask my kids; they’ve researched it to be sure they’re off the garden hook this month), then start your sprouts on the patio.  Feed them with some fish emulsion and keep them moist — not wet, not dry, but moist. 

Another issue I encountered.  My seedlings were cast in a solid rock of soil which did not promote easy growth.  Too much water.  But can you blame me?  Usually my plants don’t get enough water — I was a little anxious — so I over-watered.  It happens!

But I learned my lesson.  This fall, with loose soil and an extra dose of patience, I will put my sprouts in the ground with confidence (so long as the temperture cools a bit, first).  And you can, too!

So find a place on your patio to place them and get to work.  I found this pretty display rack through an online vendor to make the best use of space and keep the sprout trays off the ground.  The husband won’t complain about the mess and they look decorative as opposed to “farmy.”  I mean, when you’re sitting out to dine al fresco by the pool, you don’t want to feel the fingers of chores tickling at your neck, do you?

No Ma’am, I don’t!  And neither do the kids.  It’s enough to coax them out there on a hot summer day without a constant reminder while they’re playing around the house.  Jimney Cricket, that would be a challenge of the first degree!  

But even better, having them close at hand is a constant reminder of my success.  A good thing.  I need all the positive reinforcement I can get, especially when it comes to my sprout mission.  So what are you waiting for?  If you like peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins and parsley, get going!