peppers

My Garden Blooms Anew…

Sigh.  What a beautiful sight.  No longer barren and half-dead, my garden blooms with life once again.  Fall, a time when many areas are closing down for the winter, here in Florida, I get another shot of bloom.  My corn is sprouting, my beans are flourishing, my onions are packed in for the long haul to spring and there are my tomatoes — flourishing — right along with their sweet pepper cousins! 

Which requires the utmost vigilance.  I’ve already removed TWO tomato hornworms from them; one before he managed any damage, the other after he ate the top of the plant!  Argh.  And two black caterpillars.  Don’t know what they were but certain they were up to no good.

My peppers had a better go of it on the screened patio, protected from the onslaught of scavengers now trying to devour them out in the wilds of the free, open space of my garden.  But I’m there everyday, spritizing and plucking and shooing the insects away, so they should survive. 

A wasp has landed on my bean plant.  Not sure if he’s a friendly, but any bug carrying a stinger automatically warrants a “friendly” status in my garden.   Translated:  I’m not going near him.  Besides, he doesn’t seem interested in eating the leaves.  Only perusing them. 

And that’s okay.  They ARE gorgeous and heart-shaped leaves.  What bug wouldn’t want to land on those pumpkins! 

But I digress.  Back to the garden.  Here we extended the garden by about twenty feet.  I’m sure my husband won’t mind if I liberally use the word “we.”  I did supervise.  Well, not actually in person, but I did direct the expansion.  I have four more rows and now we’re growing pumpkins — real pumpkins — and they need space.  While I realize it’s a little late in the season to get started on pumpkins, my first sprout was lost to, uh, shall we say, “early expansion efforts.” 

Okay.  My husband missed it upon first clearing.

My fault, of course.  I mean, who plants a lone pumpkin in a small cleared space at the edge of the garden then asks for the adjacent area to be cleared?  With a tractor?

Perhaps in hindsight, it wasn’t one of my better decisions.  But I’m an action-oriented kind of gal and that sometimes means, do first, think it through second.  Ugh.  It’s a curse.

Did you see the rogue sweet potato down in the corner?  Avid growers these sweet potatoes, so I simply let them be.  We’ll see how Mother Nature’s vine does compared to mine.

Granted everything is small at the moment — particularly these carrots — but in a month’s time my entire garden will be full and lush and headed well on its way toward harvest!

Sheer heaven, it is.  Sheer heaven.

The Kids Are Off and Running — Literally!

It’s great to see their excitement.  When it’s time to garden, the kids line up, water bottles in hand, anxious to head for the garden.  Once the door opens they dash out, run cross field and straight to the garden!  I tell myself their exuberance has nothing to do with escaping the monotony of being in one room all day long, cooped up as the teacher pours information into their absorbent minds.  No.  This an excitement solely geared toward the adventure of gardening. 

That’s what I tell myself.  Besides, it is exciting

First stop — a quick review through garden etiquette.  No stomping across beds, no throwing worm castings or top soil on the walkways (black gold!), no putting unidentified things into your mouth, no digging without gloves, no rough handling of the sprouts…   Now that we have that settled, we’ll amend the sandy soil.  In additon to putting in  seeds, we’ll be transplanting ; a delicate process indeed.  (Don’t mind those brown weeds you see – we’re not after perfection but production – and those dead old things pose no risk.)

Our tomatoes and peppers have had a great start but now it’s time to introduce them to their new home.  And don’t forget the basil! 

Fifth grade students handled the task with grace and aplomb.  (These kids really are amazing.)  Settling in the tomatoes and peppers, they moved on to the onions and carrots, astonished by the size of the tiny carrot seeds. 

With incredible focus, they learned to “pinch and roll” the multitude of seeds into the channels drawn across the top of the bed, gently covering them with a fine veil of black dirt, not to mention of healthy shake of worm poop!  Er–I mean, worm castings.  We do want to keep this scientific, and all.

Finished with the task at hand they were ready for their next assignment.  It was then I had to break the news.  “Sorry kids, but it’s time to head back to class.”

Met with the expected frowns and protest, I assured them we would meet again next week for another exciting chapter of gardening! 

Cheers abounded as they cleaned up their work area and trotted back to class.  Turning back, I collected my things and thought, not bad for their first attempt at transplanting.  And to think we only lost one tomato.  It was during the process of “staking” the plant to its bamboo support when one boy pulled it out and asked, “Is this okay?”

I nearly fainted from shock.  “Agh!  No–you killed it!”  (You have to understand, I raised these babies from seeds!  It’s devastating when you lose one.)

He looked at me and I looked at him.  I nodded.  “You’ll have to give that one a nice burial, perhaps in the compost pile.”  Then I assured him, “Don’t worry.  It happens.  And look.”  I pointed to the tender sproutlings left behind.  “At least you had the trio!  We’ll just stake those two and we’re good to go!”

Then the Brownie Girl Scouts whipped in for an afternoon of gardening and boy o boy —  talk about energy and enthusiasm — these girls were all over the business of planting pole beans and got right to it! 

From dishing out dirt, tossing in seeds, patting in fertilizer, it was all I could do to keep up with their frantic pace.  I can’t be sure, but we may have pole beans growing all over the garden at the rate these spirited gardeners worked! 

But I never met a bean I didn’t like, so we’ll welcome them anywhere they show up.  Next up:  corn.  And lower elementary.  Talk about energy in the garden–you can’t beat this! 

Working in shifts, these kids were meticulous in their corn planting duties, surprised you could plant the kernel from a corn cob and it would turn into a whole plant.  Didn’t even phase them that our kernels were red.

“Ever seen red corn before?”

Hands shot up.  “I have!  I have!”

With a hand to my hip, I raised a brow.  “Really now…”

When I said they were telling me “stories” they assured me that was not the case.  They’ve seen it.  For sure.  (There is such a thing, but it’s fun to test their determination which I must admit, remained adamant.)

Our kernels are red, because they were chemically treated to keep them viable and strong for planting and sprouting.  While we’re growing organic, it can be hard to find untreated non-hybrid seed, so this will prove our exception.

Digging diligently, they added dirt and raked it smooth, careful to keep to the rows and not the beds.   We spaced out the holes, staggered our pattern and discussed the reason why.  (Corn grows real tall and needs a little elbow room!)

We even tossed out the worm poop to give them a good and healthy start.  Plants LOVE worm poop and kids LOVE tossing it.  And they refuse to call it “castings.”  It’s poop.  Plain and simple.  You gotta love kids

Another great day in the garden was had by all, not to mention great progress was made.  We’ll invite the little ones (primary/kindergarten) later next week to try their hand at bean plopping and poop tossing (something tells me they will LOVE LOVE LOVE it!)  

And what’s NOT to love about the care and feeding of your plants?

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!