squash

Too Close for Comfort

Justin and Eyry have been enjoying their garden without much issue, until now.  Recently, we experienced a few days of unseasonably heavy rain and fog, and their squash did not fare well.  Sad sight, isn’t it?

One problem was weather, perhaps bugs, but another is spacing.  As you see here, they look pretty and full, but beware… More

What Shape is YOUR Garden In?

Good shape, poor shape, the kids have discovered all kinds of shapes in their garden this week, especially when it comes to leaves.  They’re long, short, ragged, smooth, small, wide, narrow…  Well, you get the idea.  Brussels sprouts tend toward the round side.

Oval with a point as in oregano.  Pepper plants share this shape (but it’s too cold for those at the moment). More

Updates

Remember the horrible squash washout?  The one where someone–Mother Nature, mystery visitor or something–washed the end of my squash row to nothing?

Well, I solved the mystery.  I didn’t tell you, but it happened again. Twice.  The first time I thought it may have been the rain, but the second? More

We Have Sprouts!

It’s a very exciting day when you visit your garden and discover your seeds have sprouted.  (Germinated–for you scientific types out there.)  Last week Lower Elementary worked hard to plant their red beans and this week?

Simply marvelous.  Gorgeous, really.  Bean sprouts are one of my favorite sprouts in the garden and you can easily see why. More

I’m Ready for Fall Gardening!

And I have a new secret weapon.  But first, how did I get to the point where I needed a new secret weapon?  I mean, I’m organic, I rotate my crops, my soil is in tip-top condition, right?

Yes, well, just when you think you have it all figured out, the bugs find you.  The ones you can’t see.  The ones that lurk beneath the surface and devour your plants one by one–even as you plant them!  It’s awful.  Discouraging.  My spring garden was not what it could have been.  So I solarized the beds to kill the varmints and now I’m ready for fall planting.  Yes, those are my plastic-covered rows plus everything but the kitchen sink.  Do you know how hard it is to keep that stuff down during an afternoon storm in Florida?

It’s not easy and I have no shame in using whatever it takes to keep my paper down–bricks, tiles, rusted iron rods–you name it, I used it.  However, when I pulled back the black sheets, my soil didn’t look so good.  Now “they say” that solarizing the soil helps to release the nutrients within.  Hm.  Funny, but it didn’t look that way to me.  Rather than healthy nutrient-rich soil, it looked like a bunch of hot sand to me. 

So I decided to amend my beds.  Now I have a compost pile, but it’s nowhere near enough to cover my garden.  As you can see, my garden is big — 100 X 40.  And I have a big appetite for this fall’s garden.  You might be thinking that I marched right down to the “compost store” and loaded up on the stuff.  Nope.  I’ve been hearing rumors about something better.  Similar, but better.  It’s called mushroom compost and according to those who have gardened with the stuff, it’s simply AMAZING.

And cheap.  We were able to buy a trailer full of the stuff for $10.  Yep.  No kidding.  $10.  Enough to fill the entire bed of a full-sized pickup truck.  (In Central Florida, we contacted Monterey Mushroom Farm–but they have branches across the US.)  Once home, it was time to unload the secret weapon.  Caution:  mushroom compost stinks.  Raking it into beds is not only hard work, but stinky.  As you mix it in, it’s not so bad.  But take a couple of tips from me.

***Rent a tiller.  You’ll still have to shovel the compost into your row, but rent a tiller to mix it in.  Unless you want your workout for the week to count as one day in the garden and then you’re good to go.  :)

***And use the commercial-grade paper to line your walkways, NOT the black weed paper.  It disintegrates.  If you double it up, like I did here between my squash and zucchini rows (pictured below).  It will hold up better, but trust me–raking those beds was like déjà vu.  Feels like I’ve done this before!

As it stands, I have my red beans, okra, squash and zucchini in.  Here’s another tip:  instead of forming individual holes for your beans, make channels down the length of your bed–like you do for carrots, only deeper–and then drop the beans in, about 4 – 6″ apart and then cover with an inch or so of dirt  .  We used organic compost to cover the beans, hoping that it will hold the moisture better than that depleted-looking sand next to it.  Normally, I form wells around my newly planted seeds, as seen above with the squash and zucchini.

The kids helped with this one and the job went much quicker.  (Yes, this Labor Day weekend we labored.)  I formed the channels, she dropped them in, he covered them with compost.  The white dots you see are snail bait.  This was last season’s tomato row and I didn’t have time to solarize it, nor do I think that red paper helped in dissuading the varmints from taking up residence.  

But our efforts will prove worth it.   Ultimately, once I uncover all the beds, I’ll use the heavier black paper to replace the lighter-grade paper you see her walking on above.  I enjoy gardening, but I do not like to repeat my efforts when I don’t have to–it’s not smart!

And we’re smart gardeners. :)  I’ll keep you posted on how my magic mushroom compost works out!

Spring Harvest!

Now I realize many of you are still waiting for the ground to thaw and my heart goes out to you.  Truly, it does.  Here in Florida, we don’t even know what frozen tundra looks like!  No clue.  The kids have studied that kind of thing in class, but they don’t live it nor do they garden by it.

Okay, that’s a lie.  Jack Frost does nip our noses once in an ice crystal moon, but it’s rare.  Thank Goodness!  Otherwise, we wouldn’t be harvesting up a spring storm–squash, sweet onions, black beans, pole beans and soon to be potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes and sunflowers!  Woohoo!  Are you jumping up and down with me?

Figured you were.  Gardening is plain old exciting, isn’t it?  Take a look at these harvest bunnies in action. 

You probably guessed these kindergarteners above are in charge of the pole bean harvest.  But what about these lower elementary students?  Can you tell what they’re after by looking at the plants?  Ask your kids.  Bet they can! :)  

Now most folks aren’t familiar with growing black beans and wouldn’t know how to determine when to pluck them.  Actually, it’s real easy.  Think “black bean” and you’ll know.

 

Isn’t that a gorgeous shade of purple-black?  I call it eggplant but most of the kids refer to it as purple.  Though some times these pods can fool you.  As the kids were shelling them, they learned this the hard way.

 

“How come mine is purple?”

“Why is mine blue?”

Because Mother Nature enjoys the mellow end of the rainbow?  Is wonderfully creative?  Likes to play tricks on gardeners?  Your guess is as good as mine, but if you ask me, I think these beans are beauties. 

And going to pull in a bunch of money!  You see, the students are harvesting beans and seeds for their first annual school fundraiser (of course we’ll only be selling the mature, black ones).  We’re talking total self-sustainability here,because not only do we plant the seeds and grow the plants, harvest the seeds and replant–we’re going to pay for all the gardening supplies that we need to do the job!  Gloves, tools, garden tape, fresh mulch and alas, those seeds we have to master harvesting. 

It’s not because we’re not near fabulous gardeners, but carrots take a couple of years to produce seeds.  Who has that kind of time?  And onions.  Those babies are tough to get started from seed and we’d just assume deal with the onion “sets” (onions in sprout form).  Besides, sweet onions take long enough as it is!  We planted ours in October.

So for our first annual seed selling fundraiser, we’ve harvested black beans, pole beans and squash (squash, courtesy of the middle school students) and will soon harvest the rest.  We also found a few friends along the way.  Some nice…

Some not so nice…

But we didn’t just harvest and “discover” this week–we ate.  Of course we did!  Sautéed squash and sweet onions was on the menu today.  Glazing the squash and caramelizing the onions enhances the sugary taste of this dish, perhaps even lends a cinnamon quality to it?  That was the reaction from our taste test!

You can find the recipe for this savory sweet delight in my recipe section.

In Full Bloom

The kids’ garden is in full bloom this week and looking quite gorgeous.  From cucumbers to potatoes, beans to sunflowers, we are growing awesome…

Do you recall when we “hilled”our potatoes?  That’s the process for drawing dirt and/or mulch up around your potato plant as it grows.

We do so because potato plants grow upward, forming new potatoes along the way.  If we don’t “hill” the plant, the top potatoes may be exposed to sunlight and turn green.  Not good.  Green potatoes can give you a belly ache (so don’t eat them!). 

With the warm weather we’ve been having in Florida (across the country for that matter), our potatoes have become a bit “leggy” — a.k.a. tall and spindly.  Just look how tall they are compared to these weed warriors—they’re almost 3 feet tall!

Which is fine.  They’ll still produce some beautiful potato babies.  Speaking of kids and potato babies, you can see what happens when the first batch becomes over-excited planting the second batch—we have stray potato plant sprouting in the middle of the walkway!  Sheesh.  We’ll leave it be.  It should still develop and deliver a wonderful bounty.

Unless of course these beasts get their way.  We found them devouring a few of our plants, but no worries!  One by one we plucked them off.

Our radish are roaring up and out of the ground.  The kids covered them with the hope it will give them more time to mature.

The same with our sweet onions.  They were popping up through the mulch!  (And weeds.) 

But since their tops are not falling over brown, we know they’re not quite ready to harvest, so we covered them up as a well, giving them a bit more time underground.

The tomatoes are bushy and beautiful.  We pinched the suckers to encourage better growth and fruit production.

 

We even spotted our first few tomatoes.  Can’t wait to harvest those plump ketchup-makers—or salsa, whichever we prefer!

 

And look!  Our first black beans are forming.  When these pods turn deep purple, we’ll know it’s time to harvest.

Speaking of harvest, don’t the corn and squash look incredible?  Ahhh….

We actually harvested quite a bounty of squash this week. Plan to eat some and save some—for our seed-saving-selling fundraiser next month, of course!

 

Look for more on how the kids plan to create and design their own seed packets next week. :)

Hornworms and Fungus (& other fun stuff)

Ashley has been busy!  Doing what, you ask?  Harvesting, of course!

One of the more glorious times in the garden, she is reaping what she sowed (is that a word?).  Anyhoo, she is happy as a lark with her first bounty of potatoes, zucchini and beans.  You know this by how CLEAN they are!  I assure you these babies didn’t look like this when she dug them out of that inky black dirt.  Way to grow, Ashley!

And while you may not be aware, she was privately battling a topsy-turvy experiment gone wrong (one stiff breeze whacked the entire contraption from her tree) but is happy to report:  success!

Isn’t it beautiful?  You’d never know the trauma this poor thing endured by looking at it, would you?  And quite lush now that it’s comfortably (and safely) secured in a real planter with real support. Not that I have anything against topsy-turvy, mind you.  In fact, I’ve heard of several that have done fine, just not this one.

Off to Julie’s and lo and behold, we discover this unfortunate sight.

Yep, those white spots are fungus (or mildew) and are not good.  Most probably a result of humid conditions (surprise — it’s Central Florida!) and/or leaf watering, but if these leaves aren’t removed and quick, this nasty stuff will spread.  Some might attempt to spray it with a mix of antibacterial soap and water, allowing the mixture to dry before rinsing it off with a hose, but me, I’d remove them and move on.  Because I don’t have time to spray, dry, rinse and repeat.   Of course…my kids are home on summer break…  Why, there may be all sorts of things I suddenly “have time” for! Division of labor works wonders on a schedule. :)

Another more gruesome discovery were these piles of frass (poop).

“Oh, hey–thanks for sharing!” :(

Sorry, but I had to show this photo.  It’s important you learn how to spot signs of hornworm invasion–other than the more obvious stems-without-leaves syndrome!

These are common pests and quite the pigs, I might add.  Found one myself this morning during my daily garden visit.  The beast was so big and fat I thought he’d explode at my mere touch!  Of course he was dispatched immediately.

Prevention would be most opportune in combating these fiends, specifically Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis).  Purported to be organic and safe to everything but hornworms, this may be the answer.  One thing for sure, I’m going to check into this magic potion because I absolutely dread the “hornworm search.”  Unless they’re HUGE, I have a hard time seeing them (don’t usually wear my glasses to the garden) and HUGE hornworms can down a plant in a matter of days so by the time they reach this size, I am so-out-of-luck.

I’ll keep you posted!

Watch Out for Squash Bugs!

Ashley has some beautiful squash growing in her garden.  Actually, she has a lot of beautiful EVERYTHING growing in her garden–just look at this overflow of flourishing foliage!

But she must be vigilant, because squash bugs can devastate a squash plant in no time.  I should know–look what they’ve done to my compost squash!  Before:

And now for the horrible ruins left in their aftermath:

Do you think they’ve moved on since eating me out of compost and squash?  Of course not.  For those of you who have never seen a squash bug and wouldn’t know how to spot one if he were crawling along your planter, take a good long gander…

Ugly.  Plain and simple.  These bugs are not pretty and they’re ruthless in their attack.  (Apparently summer squash is one of their favorites.)  They also lay eggs.  Check the undersides of your leaves for these telltale signs you might have a problem.

 Yes, I realize I’ve scared some of you clear out of the garden with these photos, but organic gardening requires vigilance and stiff spines.  Sure it would be easier to spray these marauders, but then you’d be forced to consume toxic chemicals–and you don’t want to consume poison.  I mean, isn’t eating healthy part of the gardening process? 

It is.  But gardening is also fun, so ask one of your kids to handle the duty of bug dispatch (squash em, Danno).  They enjoy it far more than you do!  Just be sure they’re wearing gloves.  You can also try planting marigold nearby, as squash bugs tend to keep their distance from these golden glories. 

On to a more postitive note (though still dealing with squash), Julie’s garden is thriving as well!  Yes, that’s squash AND zucchini in her garden.  Vigilance…  Vigilance…

Though she has a bit of explaining to do. 

“Julie?”  I mean, I’m all about garden decoration, but antlers? 

Seems our theme is a bit off…

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!