Get Out and Get Your Berries!

It’s that time of year again, when the strawberries are calling your name.  From Plant City, Florida to your local grocery store, the filed up the road or the guy on the corner making your purchase all the more convenient, it’s time to get your strawberries.  And here in Central Florida, it’s a beautiful time to get outside and get pickin’…

We go to our area strawberry farm, Oak Haven.  They have plenty of u-pick hours for the kids to race down the rows (only kidding–they prefer you don’t run :)), a country kitchen open on the weekends, serving up the best strawberry shakes and now, strawberry wine.  Ah….  Fun for the whole family!

Out back, they also have a playground and zip line (of sorts).  Definitely a place to check out if you’re looking for something fun to do.  And speaking of great country fun, the Plant City Strawberry Festival is opening its doors THIS week.  From February 28 – March 10, stop by and enjoy fresh strawberries, strawberry shortcake, petting zoo, garden shows and live music from some of the hottest names in country!

 So if you’re not growing strawberries in your garden this year, don’t dismay.  There’s plenty to choose from out there.  For a strawberry farm in your area, check the website Pick Your Own.  This is a GREAT resource for everything fruits and vegetables.  It’s a BloominThyme favorite!  For recipes to highlight your bounty, how about a little Strawberry Goat Cheese SaladJuicing? Maybe the kids would like to give their favorite teacher a sweet giftStrawberry cupcakes always sound good around my household. 

But no matter how you like your strawberries, get outdoors and enjoy the season.  Blueberry pickin’ will be here before you know it!!

Tami’s Plants are Moving IN!

It’s moving day at Tami’s garden and the leaves are a wavin’ (very exciting day).  You remember those glorious beds she prepared?  She’s filling them!  The first bed will be home to okra, aloe and lettuce, with okra providing the needed sun-relief for delicate lettuce leaves.  In Florida, we like our salads, but tender lettuce leaves don’t like the blast of Florida heat.  Enter okra and their lovely canopy of shade.

Next bed over we’ll find tomatoes, basil, bell peppers and squash snuggled together in a wonderful example of companion planting.  These plants all get along well and it’s even believed that basil will improve the flavor of nearby tomatoes.  Hm.  Perhaps even sweeten our peppers?  We’ll keep you posted!  Note:  No, your eyes do not deceive you.  She has yet to fill this bed with dirt.  It’s still in the layout stage. :))

Along the fence line we’ll find green beans (and soon to be cucumbers).  These folks love to climb so why not encourage them?  Saves on space!

Tami also picked up some blueberry and strawberry plants (because gardening is SO fun and a gal can get carried away with little or no effort) at the store so we’ll place those together off to one side.  Why together?  Because strawberries and blueberries both like it acidic (think low ph) so they’ll get enjoy the same growing conditions.  An easy way to acidify the soil is with pine needles–or bark.  Either work and they both make GREAT mulch material for our sweet baby berries.

But Tami will need to get another blueberry plant or two if she wants fruit because these guys and gals need cross-pollination for best blueberry production.  If they’re self-fertile, they can produce on their own, but she’ll get better results with more bushes and different varieties.  Others are self-sterile (like Rabbiteye) and require cross-pollination in order to produce blueberries.  Who knew?  So check the varieties best suited for your region and make sure you have the necessary number of bushes and varieties to produce fruit.

Tami’s on her way to the plant store now!  To round out her lovely backyard garden plot, she’ll transplant her tender watermelon and cantaloupe sprouts, both of which need plenty of room to roam–which is why she planted them OUTSIDE her planter beds.

They’ll thank her later (with plenty of delicious fruit!).  Since it’s the vines that will spread, she’ll confine her energy and organic soil to the sprout area, and line her border with weed paper.  This will eliminate some hoe work (no need to remove all that grass out there) and keep her vines happy and weed-free. 🙂  A good thing!

And in her neck of the woods, rabbits tend to pose a problem, so she’ll attach these white tubes around her beds and line them with screen.  No sense in going to all this effort to have the rabbits turn around and eat you out of garden and greens!  Nope.  No sense at all.

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!

The Last Hurrah before Spring Break!

The kids are antsy and itchy and not because of anything in the garden, oh no–it’s almost spring break!  Try corralling that kind of distraction for an afternoon of weeding and you’ll get dips and dives in enthusiasm–until they spot the strawberries.

“Can I have one!  Can I have one!” 

Zeroing in on the plants in question, I do the quick math in my head:  5 strawberries, 10 kids…  And this is just the first group out for the day!

“Please, can we pick them?”

What could I say?  This is the day they’ve waited for, the one I promised would come and fill them with more excitement than they could contain.  Glancing between kids and berries I had no choice.  “Yes”–hands flew outward–“but not before I get a picture!”

Talk about the difficulty of delayed gratification–you’d a thought we were on a ten-hour bus ride with no stops for bathroom breaks the way these kids were bouncing, bobbing, bursting for release.  But the berries were worth it.  🙂 

Upon our return, these cucumbers will be great fun.  They’ll climb right up this fence–ours for the grabbing!  (Someone sense a pickling lesson in our future?)

The kindergarteners joined us this week for the honor of planting the ever popular watermelon seed, dropping several into each hole.  They have no idea how much space one watermelon plant needs, let alone five in each hole.  But they had fun and each had a turn (THE most important factor in gardening with the wee ones).

While weeding, we noticed this little guy–another near catastrophe in the making.  Poor thing had no idea what was going on, what, with all these little hands darting in his direction! 

And speaking of things flying at high speeds I leave you with this note of caution:  when gardening during Science Olympiad week, keep your eyes peeled.  While supervising the garden activity, I was surprised by a splash on my ankle.  Turning, I spotted the group of middle school boys–laughing.  Never a good sign.  Apparently, their project was some sort of water balloon launch and I was in range. 

Eyeballing the little pumpkins, I thought, it’s all fun and games until the garden coordinator gets wet!  (Though I had to admit, they’re distance and precision were pretty good.) 

To his credit, the young man came over and apologized to which I promptly accepted.  He’s just lucky it was my leg and not my lens.

p.s.  The upper elementary kids surprised me with this wonderful shamrock filled with limericks about their *fabulous* garden coordinator, yours truly.  Each and every rhyme is a true creative gem–I wish I could post them ALL here for your reading pleasure–you’d love them.  I will cherish it and the salt and pepper snail shakers (my favorite kind of snails–the pretend kind!). 

Thanks kids and have a GREAT spring break!

Still Growing Strong

Our school garden is doing well.  REALLY well.  Our black bean bushes are flourishing.

Our pole beans are plumping.

Our strawberries are beginning.

Our broccoli are growing (pay no mind to those soft weeds).

We even decided to add some sweet onions.

All in all, not bad for a garden we tend twice a week!  Only once this past week as lower elementary was rained out.  Our success lends credence to the idiom:  too much of a good thing can spoil the outcome.  While we would LOVE to be out there every day, we simply cannot manage it.  End result?  The garden is blossoming with health, despite our absence.

Lost My Strawberries…

To what, I’m not sure.  Could be fungus, nematodes, who knows.  The end result is the same.  They’re dead, or dying, a slow and painful death.  Who it’s more painful for, I’m not sure.

Our strawberries were a hit in the garden.  Kids loved showing them to their friends, plucking berries from the vine, popping them into their mouths.  Who can resist a plump, ripe strawberry on a spring day?

No one in this family, I assure you.  So now what?  Well, since I don’t know what killed them, I had to remove the entire bed.  But before I did, my daughter clipped runners from some of the healthier looking plants in a last ditch effort to salvage what we could.  These particular plants are the Quinault variety, an everbearing variety that I hope will survive to produce for another season.  Or two.  I am an optimist, first and foremost.

Of course, this could be the problem, too.  (Not the optimism part!)  It may be a simple matter of life cycle.  Perhaps, beneath the scorch of summer sun, my sweet berries sucked in their last breath of carbon dioxide, releasing it with a sigh of oxygen.  Plants are so giving that way.

After we removed the plants, I decided it would a good idea to solarize the bed, killing any bugs or fungus that may be present.

This process uses a clear plastic covering to heat the soil.  Try to attach it to the ground, retaining as much heat within the covering as possible.  For best results, leave the plastic covering on for about 6 weeks.  This is an organic (except for the plastic) way to kill harmful organisms that kill your plants.

Placing the plants and runners into soil, we hope to get them in the ground come fall, perfect timing for them to get reestablished and producing come spring.

We love our strawberries.  They’re such a great crop for Florida and kids.  So with our fingers crossed and our toes counted, we look forward to a successful rooting and healthy propagation of these baby berries of ours.

As well as strawberry smoothies, strawberry shortcake, strawberry topped sundaes, fresh from the garden goodness…  The list goes on!