Sunday, January 23, 2011

fruit trees @ lowes

A friend asked me about peach trees at Lowes and chill hours. Here's my answer. 

chill hours are a complex calculation--essentially, amount of time that it's "cold" in an area, under 45°, although duration of the cold, and its severity, are very important. (so, one long stretch equals more chill hours than several short stretches of sub-40° temps and a few hours at 22° means a lot more than a few hours at 32°.) anyway, the measure matters when it comes to deciduous flowering/fruiting trees--chill hours are directly related to flowers and fruiting during the next growing season.  over the past decade we've averaged something like 300 hours in our part of volusia county, though the standard deviation has been pretty high. some winters we get 150 some we get 650. (here's what i've written about it.)
even if we don't receive enough chill hours, that doesn't mean a tree won't produce the next season, but production will be suppressed. it's a threshold number--more than X chill hours in a season is optimal. 
350 hours is really the outside number i'd look for here in our area. most of my trees have fewer than 200; my flordaprince, for instance, requires only 150. but i think there's probably a tradeoff--these trees have been chosen for their ability to produce fruit in an area that is not entirely appropriate for stone-fruit production, and my guess is that a tree with 350 chill hours, all things held equal, produces tastier fruit. 
since you have a LOT of space (you could put 30 trees in your front yard, easily!), i recommend buying the flordaking they have at lowes. they looked like really healthy trees. my only reservation: i don't know what rootstock they used, and i don't think it's indicated anywhere. rootstock is incredibly important when it comes to nematodes, which may or may not be an issue where you live. that's why, ultimately, i choose to buy my trees from JUST FRUITS & EXOTICS, where i know for sure they've chosen the right rootstock and done a good job with the union. but the trees are more than twice as expensive for smaller trees. 


Monday, January 17, 2011

Seasonal Vegetable and Fruit Guide for Central Florida

A rainy MLK day has put me to thinking about vegetable gardening planning. People write me all the time asking when they should plant seeds or set out transplants. It's far more complex than up north, where there's a flurry of activity in early spring, and then a waiting game. For me, Florida has four seasonal vegetable gardens: A Spring Garden (full of summer vegetables), a Summer Garden (tropical vegetables), a Fall Garden (a shortened version of the Spring Garden, and one I often omit), and a Winter Garden (frost-proof vegetables).

Gardening is very, very local stuff. Thirty miles or so north of here (north of highway 40) is a completely different zone, and forty miles south of here (somewhere south of Melbourne) begins a much more tropical zone with many fewer freezes, historically speaking. So, my thoughts here are pertinent for a very narrow band of Central Florida--roughly the I-4 corridor, broadly conceived. St. Augustine to Tampa.

These are optimal planting times for broad categories of plants. I say optimal because I hardly ever manage to get my act together sufficiently to meet these dates--seeds aren't ordered, or they don't germinate, or I don't have space in the garden. But, anyway, this post is mostly for me, to set some goals for future seasons based on five years of gardening and thinking about these things. Not long, all things considered. I'll start in the middle, where all good stories begin.

August 15: The Florida Summer Garden is still going strong: Cassava, sweet potatoes, roselle, hot peppers, lima beans and yard-long beans, peanuts, okra, and trombone squash (Cuccuzi) are all still producing. But mid-August is the right time to sow your Winter Garden staples: Cruciferous/brassicas like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, collards, as well as beets, chard (which is like spinach only it tastes good), and maybe turnips. (Despite everything you've ever read, beets transplant just fine.) Maybe it's a little early to try lettuce seeds, but they're cheap, so go ahead a sow a row or a pot of them for transplant later. (I've found lettuce to be somewhat picky when it comes to germination temperatures and conditions: If I sow too early, they don't sprout, either because of temperature, soil moisture, or various fungi that thrive. If I sow too late, they take forever to germinate.) My gardening friend Christine said she planted carrots mid-August and that they did great--much earlier than I've done it, but, hey, it's just seeds.

If you want to do a Fall Garden, now's the time to sow your heat and disease tolerant tomatoes and peppers. I rarely put in a Fall Garden since I'm so busy in August; what's more, I don't really want to eat fresh tomatoes in December, and too often, my tomatoes start to really produce the very week that we get our first big cold front... too much frustration with too little satisfaction. Maybe if I lived forty miles south, it would be worthwhile.

In the fruit department, August means persimmons, chestnuts, grapes, and bananas.

October 1: Mid-Late September: The sweet potatoes and peanuts I planted in my Summer Garden in mid-June take around 110 days to mature, so most of the Summer Garden stuff should be ready for harvest now through mid-October. Limas and yard-longs are declining. Everything is suffering from fungal issues. Time for general garden cleanup, spread a yard or two of compost, wait a week, and then transplant your large brassica and lettuce seedlings from mid-August into the garden. Don't forget a row of onions (short day onions!) planted densely, a row of carrots, some potatoes, turnips, and a row of peas. Mulch and sit back. It's still hot out there. My traditional date for harvesting sweet potatoes is October 15, so there's a bit of a conflict here--I should plant out my cabbages and broccoli, but the garden is still full of sweet potatoes and peanuts. So I typically harvest some sweet potatoes to clear space, while leaving others in the ground for a later harvest. (I never plant sweet potatoes in rows, in fact, I never plant sweet potatoes. Since I inevitably miss some tubers and roots during harvest, the vines pop out in March. I leave some to grow and others I cut and distribute throughout the garden.)

January 1: Start tomatoes, peppers, eggplants for transplanting on March. You want large, vigorous seedlings to go into the ground as soon as the weather becomes consistently warm and the cold fronts have passed. This means protecting them from temperatures below 35°. Germination will be slow. (You could start cucumber, melon and squash seeds now, but I never have... they grow so quickly that I doubt it's worth sowing them much before the end of January... But if you have space or a greenhouse, why not?)

The Winter Garden is in full production: Brassicas, spinach, and lettuce mostly, but sweet peas should be producing if the winter hasn't been too cold. Onions can be thinned and used as scallions. Beets, turnips and radishes should be large and completely indifferent to cold spells. Anything green and leafy thrives this time of the year, especially if you got them into the ground early and they are large. Sow the peas every couple of weeks so that by mid-February, when things have warmed up, you have tall, thick rows of peas. The potatoes will get burned with every freeze, but they come back. Start more broccoli and cauliflower to replace declining plants. If you have the space and the organizational skills, you can rotate into your garden brassicas all winter long, remembering that by May they won't be producing very well. That means the last round of broccoli and cauliflower should go in the garden as seedlings no later than the beginning of February. Remember to sow lettuce every few weeks--I use window boxes, and then transplant the seedlings when they're an inch or two.

This year, with the coldest December on record, I haven't lost anything in my garden, even though I didn't bother with blankets. Several nights of 21° or 22°. The peas got burned, and the potatoes suffered, but everything else came through with only minor damage. Of course after a week of below-freezing nights, the growth rate on everything slows down to a crawl.

So far as fruits go, it's high season for citrus and strawberries. Mid-January is the perfect time to put in new fruit trees.

March 1: As winter ends, I resist the temptation to re-sow winter crops in the sunniest, best spots in my garden clear, leaving space for the tomato, peppers and eggplant seedlings that I started in January. The Spring Garden in Florida is filled with what northerners would call summer crops. Our "summer" lasts from the beginning of March to the middle of June--much shorter than the May to October growing season up north. Our days are furthermore much shorter (30° of latitude makes a huge diurnal difference), and the conditions are often very dry. So we Florida gardeners have to be really organized in order to get good tomato crops: large transplants by the first of March 1.

You can still harvest winter crops--last year I cut my last broccoli head in early May--but don't bother resowing them. [June 2013: I left a few broccoli plants in the ground this spring, and I'm still harvesting small florets, though the quality isn't great and the plants have a case of whitefly. It's been a cool spring, but it's clear to me that the brassica season can last well into late May at least.] Lettuce tends to bolt quickly, but I still manage to grow some heat-tolerant varieties until the weather turns really hot in late May. If you've got the space, small potatoes (like Russian bananas and fingerlings) can be planted in a sandy, sunny spot. They take maybe six weeks to produce a small harvest.

I wait until the first hot week of March to sow my pole beans--otherwise they rot or get rust. I tend to replace peas with beans this time of the year: The peas are slowing down and will burn out soon, and the beans will grow up the strings to replace them.

March is the time to start sweet potato slips: I stick a couple of sweet potatoes I harvested the previous October in a nursery pot full of pine mulch and a little compost and let them run all over. A good time to start roselle, too, if you're going to grow it.

The first week of March is also a great time to direct-sow watermelons. I had tremendous success with Asian-hybrid icebox watermelons from Evergreen Seeds last year. They can be sown at the tops of rows of winter crops, and their vines guided to run down the rows. By the time they need more space (and start to root at nodes) your winter vegetables will be ready to pull.

The only fruit I know that ripens in March is the loquat. There are a few selected cultivars out there, but the wildings that people grow as shade/ornamental trees produce bushels of fruit. I like to eat them out of hand, but they're even better made into butters and jams. The peach, plum, persimmon and blueberry plants are all in full bloom.

May 1: The height of the Spring Garden. I've harvested my first tomatoes, peaches and blueberries at the beginning of May and look forward to weeks of great fruit and veg. My favorite time of the year. It's hot, dry, but comfortable. Winds are dying down so I can fish.Windows are open, and the garden's full of flowers and vegetables.

June 15: I think of June 15 as the end of the Spring Garden and beginning of the Summer Garden. Some tomatoes, particularly the small-fruited ones, will continue to produce until the beginning of July. But most tomatoes need several hours of 70° or lower temperatures to set fruit, so they generally stop producing around mid-June for me. I always pull my last tomatoes out on July 1, my birthday.

The Summer Garden is an African/Tropical garden--now is the time to plant or transplant cow peas, lima beans, cassava, sweet potatoes, peanuts, hot peppers, Trombone squash, luffa, Okinawan spinach, eggplants, chaya, and roselle. All of these should be planted by the end of the third week of June. (Hot peppers are year-round plants for me, if they are container-grown and protected from cold. I had several three-year-old plants that died last year in the severe cold snaps. Generally best to sow them in January with the sweet peppers, but transplant them into containers rather than the ground.)

I had great luck with watermelons planted in March last year--they produced a harvest in July and another fruit set in August that was destroyed by raccoons before I could harvest them. Peanuts are dead easy, pretty, and good for your garden. Buy a package of green peanuts from the grocer and stick them where ever there's a bare spot. Nothing beats the production of sweet potatoes in Florida. I have harvested fifty pounds from a small plot.

I think of June through August as a time to let my garden grow wild. I make sure it's watered during our droughty periods, and I fertilize regularly, but, let's face it, Florida can be pretty miserable this in late summer. Better to spend my free time fishing in the Lagoon or working in the cool comfort of my office.

Later, rinse, repeat... August sowing/reaping is right around the corner.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Seeds planted today

A quick note... Among many other things this weekend, I planted:
Pack I (6 seeds per item)
1) Johnnys Hybrid Slick Pik squash
2) Tien Chin Long (Asian hybrid cuke)
3) Suyo Long (another long Asian hybrid cuke from Johnnys)
4) Tasty Jade (cuke)
5) Shishito Peppers
6) Sweet Treat Hybrid Peppers (Tomato Growers)

Pack II (6 seeds per item)
1) Sweet Cayenne (Tomato Growers)
2) Tacoma stans
3, 4, 5) Zahara Zinnias (a mix called "Raspberry Lemonade")
6) saved seed from my Liatris, which bloomed very well this year

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Planted today in my Parks seed starter:
1. Bella Rosa tomato
2. Mountain Magic tomato
3. Virgina Sweets tomato
4. Applause tomato
5. Sungold tomato
6. Little Fingers eggplant
7. Baker's Creek Cherry from Miles tomato
8. (ABC) Luna Hibiscus
8 (DEF)/9. Maverick Scarlet Geranium

I also transplanted 15 tomato seedlings from the end of November into Styrofoam cups-- Sungold, Tomande, Goji & Jetsetter. 

Sunday, January 09, 2011

New garden bed...

My new bed--seven rows, six feet each. I spent yesterday morning shoveling two cubic yards of compost and topsoil, filling in the bed. (I'd barrowed out fifteen loads of sand for another project, which is, apparently, about two cubic yards!) I spent $40 on the soil amendments at Volusia Shed. That gave me about ten or so inches deep of good soil to work with. I mounded the rows another few inches, and threw the old mulch into the furrows. So now a good deep strata of soil in the rows--more than I've ever planted in. We'll see if the trouble and expense (minimal as it was) were worth it.

I transplanted seedlings of parsley, green cabbages, collards, leaf lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower; and sowed turnips, carrots, cos lettuce, and mache. Sprinkled some pine straw, since I try never to leave soil bare. The hose and wand sprinkler are a temporary fix, until I finish extending my "irrigation system" into this new area. (My irrigation system is microdrip connected to PVC and spigot timers.)

The space is roughly ten feet by eight. In that space I fit a dozen parsley plants, twenty-odd cabbages, a dozen collards, half a dozen each broccoli and cauliflower, god knows how many lettuce seedlings, four feet each of turnip and carrot seeds (so, say, twenty-five each), and then some various other greens (the cos and mache). When I add pots of herbs and some window boxes between the rows, I'll have quite a lot of veg in a tiny area. Next week, I'm adding two new plums and another persimmon (all from Just Fruits) in the east side of the bed. If there's room, I'll probably transplant my Kaffir lime from its pot--it's proved itself quite frost tolerant, despite indications otherwise. It has half a dozen limes on it, and though I've left it out a few times in sub-35°, it not only hasn't had any visible damage, it's kept its limes. (Yeah, I know, you're supposed to eat the leaves, but the limes are very juicy and have a coconut-tropical zip to them.)

Also planted my ranunculus and freesia bulbs... More general garden cleanup. Now, a nice Campari and orange juice and loafing, listening to bad French pop...

Friday, January 07, 2011


A note to myself: Snow Crown Cauliflower (Johnnys). High quality, smallish heads, but very quick to mature. Planted tight--maybe 12" center in raised row of compost. Sowed in cells Oct 1, transplanted 3rd week of Oct; harvest ready Jan 1 after exceptionally cold December. Could have started them earlier--next year, Sept 15.

Growing beans in Florida

My two cents. 

Forwarded conversation
Subject: beans and misc

Date: Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 10:17 PM
To: "" <>

I have tried with no luck over the past 9 months to grown bush and pole beans. The bush beans keep drying up into little twigs and the pole beans got attacked by black aphids. Do I just suck or am I overlooking some trick. Particularly with the bush beans. Seriously, 4 different plantings, different places, etc. All germinate fine but then die.

Also, what date should I use for my frost free date when calculating when to start seedlings inside?


From: Central Florida Gardener <>
Date: Fri, Jan 7, 2011 at 8:45 AM

well, i plant my beans when i see the first week of warm (80+) weather predicted... whenever that is. beans need a lot of warmth to grow and there's no use starting them early. i get lots of production from my beans in april, may. i then usually switch over to lima beans. i have only ever grown fortex (pole), rattlesnake (pole), and willow-leaf limas (pole from southern exposure). you might have luck with other varieties, but these are the only ones i have used.

they need SOME organic material and fertilizer, but not much. too much of anything just makes them very green, lush--but no beans. 

my guesses for why things haven't worked: 1)not enough CONSISTENT moisture. water EVERY DAY. this is not up north. our soil drains very quickly. use a heavy layer of mulch. 2) timing; the best time of the year is spring. some people plant a fall crop, but i have better uses for my space, moreover there's lots of fungal issues in the fall and i don't use any chemicals in my garden. 3) wrong variety. try the ones i've listed. 4) wrong spot. Full sun is a LOT of sun in the summer. a little afternoon shade is probably a good thing. I think the best exposure is 6 hours of morning sun and then partial shade the rest of the day. that's florida. we have strong sun. 

finally, i assume you're asking about spring tomatoes and peppers, since those are the only two crops that you need to worry about. start your seeds NOW (last week, really). nurse them along. as early as the end of feb, transfer them to the garden. 

good luck!

Thursday, January 06, 2011


First head of cauliflower this morning. I have six or seven heads out
there, all of them ready to pick. In the past, I've made the error of picking heads too
late: The cauliflower goes all "ricey" with an unpleasantly fine
texture. It's still very usable at that stage, if you puree it, but of
course it's best to pick it while the lobes are still large and tight. So, I need to figure out how to use a lot of cauliflower... and soon.

Unlike broccoli, cauliflower doesn't produce additional heads after the first harvest.
I need to clear this row and transplant my cabbage seedlings into it.
We still have until at least mid-March to grow cruciferous crops...

We'll make cauliflower and hazelnut sandwiches from Nancy Silverton's
excellent book, The Sandwich Book.


Our first major rain event in months. At least two and a half inches here in West Volusia. I'm sure it's a record amount. We needed it. 


Red beets. First beet of the year. Tennis-ball sized. I got these as seedlings back in October from a local organic co-op in Orange City. For supper tonight: Thinly-sliced red beets, green apples and sharp cheddar on a pizza. Sounds odd, but it's hard to beet...

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

a reader's question about cucurbits

Forwarded conversation
Subject: cucurbits
I am a shareholder with a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) down here in Osceola County. We have tried at different times of the year to plant cucurbits in our garden. The various varieties include cucumbers (Diva and Genuine), Zucchini (Plato), Summer Squash (Yellow Crookneck and Summer Zephyr), Butternut squash, Acorn Squash and small pumpkins. The plants all do well flowering well and sometimes even producing enough for our shareholders to have one or two in their boxes for a couple of weeks. I am amazed and bewildered at how little production we have when most of my experience has resulted in so much produce that you can't give it away for the abundance of it all. That however has been my "northern" experience. Down here, there must be a specific season or growing condition that we have missed, althought the strange weather conditions of the last couple of years have definitely impacted our production, I wondered if you had any suggestions. I liked the one about the microperf plastic bags to protect from insect infestations.
We have had great flowering and healthy plants in two forty-five foot rows and not had more than a couple of dozen fruit to harvest in a week. I thought perhaps we might need to "assist" in the pollination, but that is a tedious process I would like to avoid if possible. Is there something specific to Florida growing that I should know?
Thanks for any help you can provide.

for what it's worth, my response:

cathy--i'm in a rush, but here's my two cents: 1) people VERY often make the error of thinking that lots of blooms should produce lots of fruit. but cucurbits flower a lot, much earlier than they are ready to produce. think of it this way: generally speaking, the volume green matter equals the production capacity. (so, a three-foot cuke vine isn't going to produce many cukes). that's why the plants get so big, and they take a VERY long time to come into production. our problem in florida is that we have only, maybe, 6 or 8 weeks of prime cuke/squash weather. (most cukes, unless specially bred, won't set fruit when the nights are warm, over, say, 74°--they need a cool period in the evening to fertilize. let's not even talk about the bugs!) we'll never get the harvests you got up north. 

what this tells us: we must get those cukes in EARLY. beginning of march, large seedlings IN THE GROUND. i've only ever had luck with cukes when i've gotten them in very early. plant fast-growing, disease-resistant hybrids. be VERY liberal with water and fertilizer--unlike up north, where cucurbits are grown as least-hassle plants. 

finally, consider metki squash, trombone squash, luffa, and armenian cukes. i've also heard some people have had tremendous luck with asian hybrids--i'm going to try some this year. 

happy planting!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Warnings for Inland Volusia County, Florida : Weather Underground

Warnings for Inland Volusia County, Florida : Weather Underground: "Statement as of 8:57 am EST on January 1, 2011

... Record cold average temperature set at Melbourne for
month of December...

a record cold average temperature of 54.0 degrees was set at
Melbourne for the month of December in 2010. This breaks the
previous record of 56.2 degrees set in December of 1989."