Sunday, September 30, 2007

Leu Gardens

A lovely late-summer day. "Cool" temperatures (86 degrees or so) and very low dew point of upper 50s combined to make a gorgeous taste of the cool, dry season that lies at most a month away. We spent the morning at Leu Gardens, enjoying the weather, butterflies, and the blooms. Leu has a great Bamboo Garden, and in today's heavy winds the creaks and cries from the timber bamboo were eerie and beautiful at once.

I finally finished unloading the mushroom compost from my truck. Driving the 'hood, I noticed ten large contractor bags full of live oak leaves! Very exciting. My garden is now heavily composted and thickly mulched in leaves.

A great day.

More rain, now a cool morning...

The winds have started blowing out of the north-east. That brought a bunch of rain off the Atlantic yesterday, dousing us with a good one-and-a-half inches of rain. I don't know if that made up for a pretty dry August and a very dry spring, but I imagine the lakes and rivers are all back more or less to normal. This morning in the garden it was a cool sixty-nine degrees and very pleasant, except the blasted mosquitoes, which were hungry but torpid.

Salsa, anyone?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Crowder Succotash

Kind of a bummer day. I was stuck at home with my sick daughter. We both had head colds, mine came with an ear-ache. (God, when was the last time I had an ear-ache? When I was six?). It was hot and humid this morning, then it poured rain all afternoon (more than an inch and counting). We managed to plant some beets, peas and lettuce before the deluge commenced. Oh, I also mowed under some crowder peas, but not before I harvested a few gallons, along with okra and peppers ('Pimientos de Padron'). So, tonight I made a sort of succotash, and served it over mashed sweet potatoes. Very tasty -- more than made up for the wasted day.

Crowder Pea Succotash
- a few rashers (4-6 oz.) of smoked bacon, diced medium
- 2 pounds of sweet potatoes (preferably the white "Japanese" ones), peeled and diced in 1" chunks
- 2 medium onions, diced
- a couple of spicy red peppers, sliced into 1/4" rounds
- a few handfuls of okra, sliced medium
- 3 cups of shelled crowders, with some young beans broken into 1-inch pieces*
- 2 cups of corn (fresh or frozen)
- a can (28 oz.) of tomatoes (I really like Muir Glenn's fire-roasted diced tomatoes)
-"sweet" fresh herbs (like parsley, basil, chives), chopped fine
- salt (I like really flaky sea salt) and freshly ground place pepper, to taste (lots!)

*(or substitue canned black-eyed peas)

In a large cast-iron skillet that you can cover, slowly fry the bacon until crispy. Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan, boil the sweet potatoes in salted water until tender. Mash the sweet potatoes, and season to taste with salt, pepper, warm milk, and butter (and we add goat cheese, which binds the potatoes nicely).

When the bacon has crisped, remove it, leaving behind the drippings. Over medium heat, slowly fry onions until they color. Chuck in the pepper, okra, peas, corn and cook slowly for a few minutes.
When everything has softened a bit, dump in the tomatoes, raise the heat, and bring to a merry simmer. Clap the top on, lower the heat to low, and let cook until the okra (in particular) has softened. Serve the succotash over the mashed sweet potatoes, with chopped herbs & reserved bacon sprinkled on top.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fall seeds...

The boy & I started planting his half of the kids' garden. Our timing was off, but the boy was really excited about starting his garden, so we planted anyway and can hope for the best. We're a bit early for the 'Bright Lights' Swiss Chard and the 'Summer Glory' lettuce blend (Parks); and a bit late for the 'Miniature White' cucumbers.

For the first time, I used some shade cloth over the greens. Maybe that will allow us to sneak the plants into fall without summer's noticing. The cukes are marked forty-nine days, giving us a good chance at harvesting some before our likely frost date around the end of November.

I've been busy at work (I have to get rid of that job thing), so instead of growing my own from seed, I purchased some tomato seedlings from Nize, my friend and local organic grower. Don't get me wrong -- I was ready with a bunch started indoors. But the darn cat ate them. And the dirt they were growing in. And then vomited them everywhere. But mostly on the furniture.

Sometimes it's hard to love the cat.

Anyway, I couldn't find time to replant, and it's probably too late to start now. So, I bought some small, organic seedlings. In my own plot, I put some 'Purple Cherokee', 'Roma' and 'Better Boy' into my grow holes filled with mushroom compost.

I should quickly run down what's blooming well in my garden...
  • The zinns have started to fail. Not enough sun, so fungal issues.
  • The Torenia that's been growing for months now is also looking ratty. But the cuttings I rooted still look fine, which makes me suspect a nematode problem. I'll check when I yank them.
  • Confederate Rose is blooming daily.
  • Roses. 'Our Lady of Guadalupe' continues to bloom nonstop. 'Tuscan Sun' is a close second. My 'Natchitoches Noisette' hasn't bloomed as much this year. It's the fourth year it's been in the ground, and it may well be starting the slow decline that is the inevitable fate of all roses not grafted on 'Fortuniana'. My English 'Abraham Darby' looks great, but I'm still waiting on 'Teasing Georgia', an English Rose I bought in the spring from the (now defunct) MerryGro Farms. It's growing well, just a little reluctant to bloom. But I think I should have a nice flush in November. It's not a great time for roses here, but fall's blooms are right around the corner.
  • My geraniums made it through the summer for the first time. They look great. Keeping them pretty dry was, I think key. And so did starting them from seed. I should probably try to remember to plant some of the seeds I got from Swallowtail next week.
  • Brugs rock. And so does my Datura. I need more.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Froggy weather

A persistent and slow-moving low pressure area off the Southeast Florida coast has soaked my part of Volusia county. Forecasts predicated about an inch of rain... my rain gauge reads a mite bit over four inches. The ground is just plain spongy, and the retention ponds are almost filled.

We haven't had a rain like this one in two years. It's welcome to stay around as long as it likes.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Mississippi Crowders

Mississippi Crowder Peas (Cowpeas, Southern Peas, Vigna uniguiculata). Aren't they lovely? The top are the seeds I'm saving for next summer; the bottom, some freshly-shucked peas for tomorrow's sup.
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Confederate Rose

I bought this 'Confederate Rose' (Hibiscus mutabilis) about a year ago from Bioscape. The bloom starts off almost white, goes pink during the day, and the next day it's practically carmine.
There's quite a lot of variablity in the species. I think I've read that the single blooms throughout the year; this double/triple only started to bloom this week, but if it blooms like last year, it will bloom until hit by frost, and again all spring. The leaves go a bit wilty in the heat of the afternoon sun no matter how much it gets watered, but I'd say it's very drought tolerant: It made it through a dry spring without hardly any irrigation, and it's in almost full afternoon sun.


The boy and I put this little garden patch together this sultry day. He looked at me and said, "Dad, this is how hard kids should be working, not sitting on their rumps watching t.v." Emerson says somewhere how eerie it is to hear your own words echoed back to you.

This corn (Silver Queen) went in around August 20th. It's a bit beleaguered by God knows what, but it seems to be growing faster than the bugs can eat it...

Probably too early for this romaine, but I couldn't pass up the nine-pack at Lowes today.


Glads, from I order from this outfit pretty often. The quality of the bulbs is really outstanding.
The bloom on my Mississippi Silver crowder peas.

Dahlia 'Sunshine' from I'm really happy with these dahls. I'd had no luck this year with any dahlias, so I'm pleased to see them blooming abundantly now, during the toughest time of the year in FLA.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Seed planting calendar

I got this very useful & detailed seed planting calendar and recommended varietals from the really excellent Simon Seed Farm and Garden Center in Leesburg.

If you ever find yourself in that way, make a trip -- it's kind of a wonderful throwback to a time when everyone had a small veg plot and many people still raised some small livestock... not because they had to, but because they loved having living things nearby. (Click on the image for a full-sized copy.)

Strawberries for Central FLA

Johnson Nursery is the best source on the net I've found for ordering bare-root strawberries for winter planting here in Central FLA. (I have planted 'Sweet Charlie' and 'Chandler'. I didn't notice much difference between the two.) It's best to get them in sometime in October, if you can... Use plenty of compost, mulch heavily, and ignore the recommendation to plant them eighteen inches apart: I planted them a foot apart (in the French hexagonal method), and they could have been closer still.

I planted thirty last winter, and decided I needed at least twice that number, if not thrice, to get a large enough yield to do much more than eat them out of hand.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Late summer garden...

We had a taste of some nice, cooler (only 88 degrees!), drier weather last week. But now it's tropical out there again! Even in the doldrums, some plants manage to put on quite a display. This Salvia leucantha (Texas or Velvet Sage) is in a pot, which gives it a bit more altitude and prominence in the garden. The Brugmansia next to it is about to burst into bloom...
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'Black Currant Swirl' Datura

A real winner in my garden. I got it as a seedling this season. It's grown to about three by three feet. Aside from needing to be staked to keep it from sprawling across a path, it's a very low maintenance, high bloom plant. Lovely dark foliage sets off these blooms nicely, I think. This is the first season I've grown Datura and Brugmansia. They make a very nice addition to the summer garden, blooming madly when other plants have stopped blooming or are blooming weakly.
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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Before and after...

I planted sweet potato slips back at the beginning of May. I got the slips from my good gardening buddy Bill. Before I planted them, I spread a few wheelbarrow-fulls of trash wood mulch from the dump.

The sweet potatoes sprawled all summer, getting a bit bug-eaten but otherwise carefree and pretty enough in their own way.
I decided today was the day to harvest -- some of them were huge, some of them needed another month. I harvested about ten pounds in the, maybe, ten by ten area where I let them run wild.

The same bed, after I cleaned it out and spread about a hundred pounds of mushroom compost. That Russelia rotundifolia in the center is a remarkable butterfly attractant.

Family fun...

Hunting for the elusiva batata...
It's as big as 'is 'ead!
Fortunately I like sweet potatoes...

A load of...

Mushroom compost... one cubic yard, to be exact. Not exactly pleasant smelling... some anaerobic breakdown going on. I picked it up from West Volusia Shed Co., for $18. They give it away (or almost give it away) in Apopka, but in my old truck it would likely cost more than $18 in gas to drive to Apopka, not to mention wasting an afternoon driving there & back, when I could be gardening!
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Monday, September 03, 2007

A garden update in pictures...

My poor, benighted corn ('Silver Queen'). The bugs this time of year are really bad, but I hope that the corn will outgrow/outlast the flea beetles and aphids...

Blue Fortune Agastache (I think)... Highly attractive to bees. Leaves smell like licorice when pinched.

August brings lots of blooms on the roses (here's 'Abram Darby', an English rose that does well here), but their quality is often disappointing. This bloom has been damaged by heavy rain and a bit of fungus.

Dahlia 'Sunshine' from This dahlia's the first I've found that blooms here in the fall. No disease problems, and a ton of blossoms on the way. Grows under the shade of a huge 'Prosperity' rose.
New to my garden, Rudbeckia triloba.
Duranta erecta, 'Sparkling Showers.' First time it's bloomed all summer. I have a huge D. erecta 'alba' growing nearby. Nice wildlife value, and the flowers work very well in bouquets.
Isn't okra wonderful? (Annie Oakely Okra from Pinetree)

WFIYG? (September edition...)

So, what's fluttering in YOUR garden?

We've had a couple of deluges this week here in western Volusia -- more than 2.75 inches this week. It's been so very dry an August... no complaints... but my tomatoes and cuke seedlings have washed away. I guess that's why God made seeds cheap.

There's LOTS of weeding to do and so much of my garden has grown out of bounds that I've had to move the goalposts several times already this season...

But fall is nearly here, and I can already sense the changes: There was a relatively cool and dry breeze out of the north. The sun is intense, but the sunshine already looks autumnal -- the greens in my garden are a little less washed, and it's not painful to be in full sun.

It's a great time for butterflies, hummers, &c. I took all these photos in, maybe, 15 minutes this morning at 10am. I've never had this many butterflies. This morning alone: Monarchs (only a couple -- these are mostly late-spring visitors though some stick around all year), Fritillaries (the most numerous butterfly in my garden right now), three kinds of Swallowtails (the black Tiger, Black, and Pipevine), two kinds of Sulfurs (Barred and Little... and a third, a nearly-white Sulfur... maybe just a phase of the Barred?), Long-Tailed Skippers, Zebra Longwings...

Someone will probably correct me with butterfly identifications. I'm rotten at telling the difference among the swallowtails.

(If you have a reasonably fast connection, these photos are better in a slide show from my Google account.)

Gulf Fritillary on orange zinnia.

Black Swallowtail

Zebra Longwing in flight.

Tiger Swallowtail on Hamelia patens.

Black swallowtail on citrus.

Argiope spider.

A female Agapostemon splendens (aka green sweat bee)

Pipevine Swallowtail (I think!).

Russelia rotundifolia with a visitor... (look carefully). check out how popular that ruellia is!

A Long-Tailed Skipper.