tomatoes

Spring Bounty for the Kids

After all their hard work, the kids are sliding down the home stretch.  First they pulled their sweet onions and next week?

Potato mania!  The kids can’t wait to roast them with their leftover sweet onions and rosemary.  Mmmmm….  Until then, they had to maintain.  Let the weeding begin! 

Promising them a bit of the fluffiest-carrot-cake-ever ( the remainder of Monday’s post) proved an excellent motivator.  Totally unfair of me, I know–but totally effective!  Those weeds didn’t stand a chance against these guys!

While weeding, we noticed our black beans are forming pods.  When they darken to purple, that’s our sign to harvest.

We trained our cucumbers to climb the fence, as we expect a full wall of bounty come May.

And of course our tomatoes are gorgeous.  Something about the dirt on this school ground puts my home garden to shame.  Would you look at these?

Mine at home are not even half the size (and I loaned the kids some of MY tomato sprouts!).  Go figure.  At that, I’ll leave you with their black eye peas.

They too are flourishing.  Unfortunately, I don’t know too many recipes for fresh black eye peas which means I’ll have to rely on tradition.  Now if only I can find that ham hock I bought for New Year’s…

These Kids Can Grow!

Just look at these tomatoes!

Green peppers anyone?

While most everything in the garden is growing gangbusters, our cabbage are not.  None of the seeds we planted germinated, so we had to settle for transplants; a little green, a little red.  Tossed in a couple of cauliflower to boot!

During this process, one boy asked what we were going to do with all this cabbage.  I replied, “Why make coleslaw, of course!  And sauerkraut!”

Not familiar with the latter, he peered at me with a look of mild shock.  “Sour crap?”

Everyone burst out laughing. 

I suppressed a chuckle.   Kids.  “No,” I assured him.  “Not sour crap.  Sauerkraut.”

He drew a blank.  “What is that?”

“A German delicacy.”

“It’s really good,” chimed in another student.

“It’s my favorite!” added yet another.

Doubting the veracity of their words, but apparently none too concerned, he shook his head and returned to the task at hand. 

And so it goes with kids.  Try new things, take it in stride… 

We can all learn something out here in the garden of life!

Growing by Leaps and Bounds!

We’re talking both kids AND plants — these students have energy to share!  And share they do; their tools, their seeds, their worm poop.

Well, some things are easier to share than others, but from what I’ve seen, these gardeners are all about sharing the adventure of gardening.  Especially these little ones.

Our kindergarten students were in charge of planting black beans.  First they amended the soil (threw black dirt and formed two rows).  “Can I use my hands?”

“Yes, if you’re wearing gloves.”

Next they dug holes in two neat lines (carved them as they saw fit).   “Are these too close?”

Spying the holes side by side, I suggested they might want to stretch them out just a wee bit further.

Then they planted seeds in an orderly fashion (wildly orderly fashion!) and pointed at their handiwork.   “Is this good?”

“Remember:  only one or two per hole!”   Not handfuls.

Ensuring a good start, they sprinkled them with fertilizer (covered them with worm poop) until finally they tucked them in for a nice fall harvest (patted them down with their shovels).

Voila —  we have our bed of black beans!  At the rate these kids planted, jungle of black beans may prove more accurate. 

But if need be, we can “thin” the growth.  At least this way, we will be certain to have a superb “bean to sprout” ratio!

Sort of like our corn.  We’re going to have a bumper crop, for sure! 

Lower elementary planted sweet peas along the fence. 

When I asked who likes peas, only one boy claimed he didn’t. 

A response to which I duly smiled.  “You’ll LOVE these peas.  Plucked fresh from the vine, they taste like sugar.”

He returned a skeptical look. 

“Really,” I assured him.  “Vegetables never tasted so sweet until you grew them yourself!”

Another child piped in, “You can eat them right from the plant?”

“Yes sir, so long as you wash them first.  You never know what night visitors you may have had or what they may have been doing.”

Ewe.  But true.

And don’t forget the herbs! 

These girls worked like the three amigos, dropping their dirt and scattering their seeds like master gardeners — all this before running off to work on their kinetic challenge!

It’s all in a day’s work for these kids.  And just look at their progress!  

The “Brownie” beans are flourishing.  These were planted first and are really doing well.

The tomatoes are thriving.

The carrots are poking free.

Why, it’s beginning to look like a real garden out there —  thanks, gardeners! 

Until next time…

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?

Tomato Transplants Are In

I did it!  I transplanted my precious seedlings into the garden.  (Those specks you see are organic weed-preventer granules.)

I started these from seed about 6 weeks ago and decided it was time they moved into their new home.  It was touch and go there for a while.  Poor little babies.  Sun was scorching, heat was dreadful — I had to water them twice while I was out there!  But they made it.  The fates were shining upon me (actually rained upon me – better luck, in the case of sprouts) and all turned out well. 

Until the next day.  Not one to waste water, I turned off the sprinkler due to the massive rainstorm the night before.  Bad idea.  I was so busy during the day, I forgot to check on them!  Wasn’t until late afternoon I remembered.  Ugh.  Multi-tasking gone wrong.  They almost died. 

My peppers suffered, too.   But a fresh spritz of water brought them back to their grand stature in no time!

A good thing, because I nearly fell over from heat stroke getting them in.  It’s hot in Florida and presents quite the dilemma for this gardener.   Do you keep your sprouts on the patio for a longer period of time, sparing them (and yourself) the horrendous heat of September?  Or do you go ahead and get them in to set roots, deep and early. 

Remember last year?  Our first frost came and caught my tomatoes in full bloom!  I had a wagon full of green tomatoes and my family was none too happy about it.  No red tomatoes means no red tomato sauce.  A bad day in an Italian household, let me tell you. 

So this year I’m going with sooner rather than later.  I put out these lovely kitchen towels for inspiration. 

My plants are in and have plenty of time to develop the strong root system they need to produce big beautiful tomatoes. 

All I have to do is baby them during the day.  Which is okay.  I can manage it. 

On second thought, maybe I should set a timer

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!

Share the adventure with a friend

 

Mandie’s garden is doing SO well — why, look at those tomato plants grow!   They are awesome and healthy, except maybe for a few bugs here and there.  But wildlife is to be expected.  But when caught earyly, completely manageable.  Exercising due diligence, she went in to investigate immediately upon spotting the leaf damage. 

Ugh.  Tiny caterpillars are the varmints of late.   Awfully industrious little beasts, aren’t they?  But that Mandie’s on top of them, refusing the critters the run of her garden.  Removing damaged leaves, she quickly sprayed the plant with insecticidal soap. 

Conch peas are flourishing, despite the battle with aphids.  But it’s an easy problem to solve.  Mandie needs ladybugs.  Ladybugs LOVE aphids and if I had known she needed some, I could have pulled a few from my garden and handed them over!  Always willing to share

Speaking of sharing, I did bring her some sweet potato slips.  Now that the weather is warm, they’re thriving on my patio and simply aching to be planted.  Yes, sweet potatoes ache, I’m sure of it.  They yearn to be in the soil where they can spread like underground melons, enriching the world with their golden bounty of sweet, healthy goodness.  

Now that her lettuce and broccoli are gone, I thought she could use a littler “filler” plants.  Sort of a pick-me-up to tide her over the hot summer season.  And because they’re so easy to grow, we placed one just outside her planter box, anxious to see how they spread.  Besides, it will make for a lovely ground cover — so long as the boys don’t venture in that direction!  But of course they won’t.  Their playground is clear on the other side of the yard, along with Lucky’s run.  Kinda sounds like the name of a snow ski run, doesn’t it? 

Don’t mind me.  Just a dip into cooler territory (much needed this time of year).  Either way, it should be a safe environment for the sweet potato plant to stretch out and develop some tubers.  Of course, a bit of tilling in the area wouldn’t hurt matters.  Soft dirt is always good encouragement for growth!

A good thing.  These boys are having so much fun with their new garden, I know they’ll want to swim for sweets come fall.  Whether it’s more thrilling than carrots, one can’t be sure, but I’ll go with the notion that digging for treasure is digging for treasure, no matter what kind of gold you discover.

And if this carrot looks to be on the “thin” side, it’s because we may not have “thinned” the plants well enough prior to the growth spurt  —  a must if you want plump, rich carrots.

A fine example of why you should follow instructions and do as the Master tells you.  (Still love the whole “master” thing.  Considering persuading my kids to start using the term!)

Good luck with that.  

Though to their credit, they have been preparing my morning coffee for me!   Ah,  but it’s the little things in life…

 

Conch Peas Live!

I knew they’d be okay.   Once host to a few bugs, (okay, so it was more swarm) they have recovered nicely.   With a little fish emulsion, they’ll continue to flourish.

Next door, the lettuce is flourishing a bit too much.  Bolting.  Yep, blame it on the heat, but this plant is heading for bitter territory.  Granted, it’s still edible, but by now it has lost most of its sweet flavor. 

It’s too hot.  Lettuce likes it cool.  Eat up, Mandie.   Before you have to pull it.   At least you’ll make way for new plants!

Carrots are good.  (Ignore the spelling.  I’m sure it was one of the boys who scribbled in all those “t”s.)   Foliage nice and thick, I sense there are some real beauties growing under that bunch of green.

Meanwhile, tomatoes are growing by leaps and bounds, the promise of red, plump, juicy fruit drawing us near.   Unfortunately, the pepper fellow is too near and must be moved.  (I must have been gone when Mandie planted this pup, for I would have surely seen this coming.  I’ve never had to move any of my plants.  Ever.  Hmph.  I also have some swamp land to sell you – couple of lots right behind my house!) 

But I digress.  Back to our poor little pumpkin.  Already hampered by his proximity with the lush tomato, this sweet boy will never have a chance and should be moved as soon as schedule permits.  Speaking of schedule, don’t ask about the dirt in the second box.   Nope.  Not good.

 But there is good news!  We just so happen to have some space available nearby to move our pepper plant —  bye, bye, buttercrunch — a bright sunny spot, perfect for peppers.  They do like it HOT!

As do we.  Florida is fun, fun, fun but tough on plants.  So remember:  pamper those cool weather plants if you plant them in spring and eat quick.   Before they fall prey to the sunshine and heat.  Unless you’re at the beach, it’s intolerable.

You may be asking yourself why we haven’t met our Chihuahua friend.  The answer is simple.  Mandie is a busy woman and has thus far been unable to accommodate my film schedule.  But she promises this will change.  After all, who can stand the suspense?

Mandie’s in a bind and on a roll!

Okay.   Things are good, sort of.  Still no dirt and the weeds are sprouting.  Maybe not sprouting, more like shooting for the stars.  I mean, look at these things!  They’re taking over!  Aaaaaaaagh!

Of course they are.   They’re weeds.   That’s what they do.  But have no fear.  Mandie assures me she’s on dirt patrol.  It will be delivered any day now…

Well, I’m not holding my breath on that one but I am looking toward the positive — the other box!   Good news — these babies are growing with awesome results. 

The lettuce is fanning open, begging to be plucked for a beautiful salad, the tomatoes are blossoming, the broccoli is blooming and the potatoes are growing larger, safe and sound, tucked away in their underground incubator after being properly hilled. 

Carrots are sparse.   More fertilizer, more water and they’ll be fine.  Just give them some time.

Conch peas?  They’ve been touch and go and Mandie is concerned for their welfare, certain they won’t make it. 

Me, I think they’ll pull through, so long as she keeps an eye on the aphids.  Ladybugs, anyone?  They’re one cure, but so are insecticidal soap and finger smudging.  Either way, keep up the maintenance, Mandie!  Once they gain a little more stature and strength they’ll be fine.

More good news?  No Chihuahua tracks in the dirt.  Very good.  They can be lethal to the delicate greens struggling through the sprout stage, not to mention pure terror for those meant for human consumption!  Who wants to eat salad stepped on my the pup who’s been who knows where…???

Not me and if Mandie knows what’s good for her — not her, either.   But she assures me it won’t be a problem.  The boy is on a leash when outdoors.  Hmmm.  I have kids and I have a dog.  I know how habits slip and slide until the next thing you know, the dog is sitting smack square in the middle of the kitchen floor which is off-limits to him!  (But he’s so cute, Mom.  How can you be mad?)

Hmph.  As one who has lost this battle, time will tell if she proves any tougher.   Good luck with that girlfriend!  Where no dog seems to have made tracks, one of the boys apparently has.  Left this Easter bunny plant creation next to the lettuce (in case he gets hungry, I presume). 

They’re so smart and creative at this age, aren’t they?  And green.  Chalk up one more for Mama’s column!