Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chard and turnips... &c.

The chard and turnips that I sowed back in October are ready for harvest, so about sixty days from seed to harvest. That's considerably longer than the times listed, but of course those are days-to-harvest numbers for spring sowing. I pulled up some of the turnips two nights ago--the size of golf balls and sweet enough to eat like radishes. I browned them in butter, then tossed in their still-tender leafy greens and cooked them for a few more minutes. A dash of vinegar and plenty of salt, and that was supper.

Squirrels have played havoc with my radishes and carrots... I don't know how the know, or why they do it, but every time I sow those two seeds, the darn beasts spend the night digging in those rows. This has happened at least half a dozen times this fall, and as a result, I have hardly any carrots or radishes growing and I had to order more seeds...

On the plus side of the ledger, my lettuces are finally doing well, Jericho in particular. The warm weather has quickened the tomatoes and I harvested the first Jetsetter a few days ago. Very tasty and much better quality than I'm used to for winter tomatoes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Latest seed order...

From Pinetree. Cheap seeds, good selection. These have all worked well for me.

Pinetree Garden Seeds
PO Box 300
New Gloucester, ME 04260

Product #: SP17-MUNCHING MIX 4 OZ
Product #: 431-TOKYO CROSS TURNIP (F1 hybrid 30 days)
Product #: 303-FRENCH BREAKFAST RADISH (25 days)
Product #: 7201-SUGAR SNAX CARROT (F1 hybrid 63 days)
Product #: 189-CRESS-UPLAND (25 days)
Product #: 19102-DINOSAUR KALE (53 days)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

March in December...

Not feeling much like Christmas out there... but compared to what other parts of the country are suffering now, I'll take the warmth and sun. Funny that I was just complaining about the cold.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A quick update in pictures...

Some Apollo Arugula, window boxes with salad greens, blackberries, Dinosaur kale, Jetsettter tomatoes, and cassava canes for next year.
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Florida in December

Yellow Oncidium orchid...

Cassava cuttings

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Jetsetter in December...

It's been an exceptionally cold winter: No frosts yet, but still, very cold. It seems every week we get into the mid- or upper-thirties. My tomatoes, though, have been setting lots of fruit, which is slowly ripening. If we get through the winter with no frosts (doubtful), or I nurse these plants through them, I'll have a great harvest this spring.
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Cassava harvest...

Harvest from my first try with cassava. I got some cuttings from a gardening friend (thanks, Felix!) back in, what, May? Made numerous cuttings from the original piece and shared with friends, then planted what was left in the garden: three small pieces.
From grazing in your garden

(You can see the cassava cutting in the lower left corner, beginning of June.)
If I'd gotten it planted in the garden earlier, I would have had a better harvest. Still, considering the space I gave it and the total lack of water, fertilizer, etc. -- not bad. Certainly no worse than sweet potatoes. And now I have fifteen linear feet of cassava stem to make cutting from.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fall tomatoes...

Delta Charlie knows what he's talking about, and he recommended two cherry tomatoes for fall planting:
Hi all, the first of the fall tomatoes just started to ripen. The winner of the race for the earliest tomato looks to be the Sweet Quartz cherry and just behind it was the Golden Gem. Had some for lunch on Sunday and they sure were good!
My Jet Setter tomatoes are coming along nicely, but still green. Tonight's near-freezing temperatures may do them in... so be it.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Growing lettuce in FLA

From a post over on the Florida Forum of GardenWeb... my thoughts on salad greens in FLA:
i direct-sowed a bunch of lettuce in september but nothing came up (but the brassicas all came up--broc, collards, rocket). christine (happly_fl_gardener) probably correctly diagnosed the problem as soil fungus, and the small seeds couldn't germinate. (maybe dusting them with fungicide or soaking them in a bit of weak need might have helped.) in the past, i've always direct-sowed my lettuce, but typically i don't plant it until mid-november or later.

at the beginning of october i sowed a bunch of red sails lettuce (from tony--thanks!) in a large windowbox in a mostly-soiless mix, and they all germinated. i've also got a bunch of jericho lettuce going in windowboxes...

anyway, long story short, i learned some things: soil's just to microbiologically active when temps are above, say, 80 here in florida. little seeds (like carrots, parsley, lettuce) don't germinate because they rot or are rendered otherwise sterile. if you want to start lettuce early, i think a soil-less or nearly so mix is necessary. if you want to direct sow, then wait until things cool down--evening temps below 60.


I grew up in a household that canned: Every fall, my mom dragged out the pressure cooker and canning kettle, and went to work on the tomatoes, corn, and peppers from my father's large kitchen garden. (He was an excellent gardener, but never saw fit to include children in his past time.) Reading this article brought to mind those steamy August and September afternoons helping my mom in the kitchen, but it also dug up memories of my grandmother's root cellar, located in the basement of the wash house on her turn-of-the-century farmhouse where she lived the better part of five decades. When she died, the shelves were still full of large, half-gallon jars with produce from her small plot out the back door. The smell down there was always odd but not unpleasant: the mineral scent of the limestone that provided the foundation and floor, the sourish smell of pickles and sauerkraut, the scent of fabric softener and bluing from upstairs.

No real need for a root cellar here in Florida, except for making beer. Actually, I think if we had one we'd use it more in the doldrums (August and September) than the winter, when there's plenty groing fresh in the garden.

Food Storage as Grandma Knew It
The Worleys, like a number of other Americans, have made the seemingly anachronistic choice to turn their basement into a root cellar. While Ms. Worley’s brownstone basement stash won’t feed the couple through the winter, she said, “Ithink it’s a healthy way to go and an economical way.”

According to a September survey on consumer anxieties over higher fuel and food prices from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University in Ames, 34 percent of respondents said that they were likely to raise more of their own vegetables. Another 37 percent said they were likely to can or freeze more of their food. The cousin to canning and freezing is the root cellar.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bustling about the garden...

Let's see... What to say about my gardens. First, my flower gardens are in disarray. My Prosperity rose suddenly up and died. This rose was about five years, and has (had!) a trunk the size of a wine bottle. I noticed a problem at the beginning of September, and within a few weeks, it was dead. I have no idea what's wrong with it, but in the same bed I have other roses on Fortuniana that are also looking much worse than they did a few months ago. I have no clue what's going on--no evidence of insect damage, and I tested the pH--just a bit under seven, so ideal for roses. It's heavily mulched, rich soil. I can only guess that the stress of a very dry spring followed by Fay's twenty-two inches weakened the plant and left it susceptible to disease. Whatever. It's dead now, and I am going to radically rethink that bed. Primarily, I've decided to move away from roses as structure and towards other shrubs that require less maintenance. Nothing is more beautiful than a rose in its prime, but the fact is that roses are temperate (and temperamental) plants, and we live in tough climes here in FLA. That bed is essentially a blank template, and I'm going to rework it to have a lot more blooms, a lot denser foliage, and lower water and chemical needs.

Sigh. Very depressing about my Prosperity. It was a favorite of mine.

The veg garden is flourishing with the moderate temperatures and cool nights. We had a doozy of a rainstorm a couple of weeks ago, and no rain since. That's been ideal, since it's let me water modestly every day and kept the seeds I sowed from being washed away by the torrents of rain we get here. No fungal problems, surprisingly little insect damage aside from the inevitable snail damage on the lower leaves of seedlings. But they're growing fast enough to outgrow what problems there are.

A note to myself: August first is not too early to start Brassicaceae. I started them on August 15, and had great germination and fine growth, so a couple weeks earlier shouldn't make much difference. On the other hand, the lettuce and carrot seeds I sowed still haven't germinated after six weeks, so I'll likely have to resow them. Perhaps with the cool nights we've been having, the seeds will still germinate. I simply don't know how long small seeds like that persist in soil before decaying or getting eaten. We'll see. Fortunately, the salad seeds are all saved from last year, so, nothing ventured, nothing gained will be my attitude.

Best things in the garden right now: Kales, collards, broccoli, and arugula. Herbs are starting to come back from their summer simpering.

Spent half an hour this morning doing a heavy fall pruning on my Old Garden Roses. Oh, I also tested the pH around my blueberries. Despite lots of pine bark mulch, careful preparation of the bed, etc., the pH has risen from around five to seven--far too sweet for the blueberries to thrive. So, I threw a lot of garden sulfur around them and watered it in thoroughly. I expect that by early spring the pH will have lowered substantially and they'll put on some decent growth.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Garden clean-up, more seeds... it's HOT

I did some horticultural penance for all the fishing I've been doing lately. Spent a HOT October morning and afternoon (it had to have been close to ninety out there, and precious little breeze) doing more garden clean-up and organizing today. I dug up another patch of sweet potatoes. In this bed, I'd spaded a bit and thrown a heavy layer of trash mulch on top, and the results were much better than my earlier patch--lots of nice batatas (probably six or seven pounds) for roasting this fall. They're out curing in the gazebo. I still have one more patch of sweets left out there, but I'll let them go another few weeks and eat them for Thanksgiving.

I pulled up the kids' garden and reconfigured the area to plant more vegetables (radishes, carrots, peas) in a few weeks. I spaded in a wheelbarrow-full of mushroom compost and a bunch of shredded green trimmings, and covered the ten-by-fifteen foot area with a heavy layer of grass clippings I snagged by the side of the road. I'll give it a week to cool down and then sow some seeds. That area gets a lot of morning and then late-afternoon sun. Should be perfect for winter growing.

I sowed turnips (Seven Tops), a mix of salad and herb seeds (Summer Glory saved seed, Red Sails, mache, chervil) , and some Pak Choi (saved from last year's crop) in my main vegetable bed. It's about two-thirds planted, so I'm glad to have the extra space in the bed I created today.

That's the Apollo Rocket and Sea Foam chard above. One month after sowing, the arugula is almost ready to start harvesting. What a great plant--it'll produce until May at least.
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Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Over the past couple of weeks, I've direct seeded chard ("French" Swiss Chard (!!) and my old standby, "Sea Foam"), beets, carrots ("Sweet Treat"), "Champion" collards, and arugula (T&M's excellent "Apollo"). I've also got some "Pimiento de Padron" and Cachucha peppers seedlings in buried pots. My tomatoes ("Solar Set," "Jetsetter" and "Sungold") are all flowering and doing well. Last night I planted this new-to-me salad varietal:
Jericho Lettuce
Lactuca sativa
14-16 in. head height.
Hardy Annual

Bred for the hot desert of Israel, this robust, bolt-resistant variety stays sweet and crisp in hot weather. Holds up the best in summer heat of all varieties trialed in New Mexico research farm. Very large, medium green, dense 14-16" heads are great for packing. (avg. 26,000 seeds/oz.)

My flower garden suffers...

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Finally, I've identified the stinkbugs on my tomatoes... The leaffooted bug Leptoglossus phyllopus (L.). On this useful IFAS site.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Tragic. And not just for the destruction of the wholeness of community and health. As the world gets flatter and smaller, it also gets more monotonous and uglier.
Mediterranean Diet Declines, and Weights Rise - "Small towns like this one in western Crete, considered the birthplace of the famously healthful Mediterranean diet — emphasizing olive oil, fresh produce and fish — are now overflowing with chocolate shops, pizza places, ice cream parlors, soda machines and fast-food joints.

The fact is that the Mediterranean diet, which has been associated with longer life spans and lower rates of heart disease and cancer, is in retreat in its home region. Today it is more likely to be found in the upscale restaurants of London and New York than among the young generation in places like Greece, where two-thirds of children are now overweight and the health effects are mounting, health officials say."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Potatoes and peanuts...

I planted some sweet potato slips and raw peanuts (from Publix) along the edges of my main bed, in some sunny spots where the last bit of weedy grass lived in my back yard. Not a big space, a narrow slice about ten feet long and five feet wide. I used the mower or weed whacker to keep them in line all summer. They made a nice enough ground cover--aside from the mowing, no maintenance (no fertilizer, no water). The peanuts were very well behaved and dense enough to keep most weeds out. The sweet potatoes had good days and bad.

Anyway, I dug them up today. I expected more sweet potatoes, but suspect my harvest was reduced because I never tilled or spaded the area. The sand was surprisingly compacted when I dug the bed. What's more, I didn't improve the soil at all. When I've grown sweet potatoes in the past, they were in fairly rich beds.

The total yield for peanuts was only a couple cups, but that's the fruit of four or five plants, from a handful of peanuts that I seeded back in May or June. So, return on investment is pretty high.

I have a couple more beds of sweet potatoes scattered about them corners and edges of the yard. I'll leave them another month or so, seeing as how many of the potatoes I dug were meager.
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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Seeds are up...

So, I wouldn't go quite so far as to say that the dry season is upon us... but, for the first time in months, this evening was quite pleasant. Hot and not exactly dry... but not muggy. We had a nice shower around four that cooled things off, and the sun was so low that it could no longer warm things back up. When I did my after-work walk through the garden, it was wholly pleasant.

I noticed that most of my seeds were up--broccoli, collards, arugula, and chard.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Fall planting begins...

A pretty pleasant day, all things considered. It was around ninety, but the relative humidity was lower and there was a nice breeze out of the north-east. I did a lot of maintenance work around the garden (weeding, whacking, mowing), but found time to plant the following:
  • Seafoam Chard
  • Champion Collards (from Southern Exposure)
  • Broccoli de Cicco (S.E.)
  • Chervil
  • Parsley
  • Apollo Arugula (T&M)
It might be too early, but the forecast for the next week is the upper 80s and dry, so we'll see. The real hazard is still bugs this time of the year... Usually I start my vegetable seeds in cups or pots, but I direct-sowed these, since all the seeds are large and the soil is well tilled and covered in pine needles. Next up, beets and carrots. Then, a bit later, lettuce crops.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Getting ready for the fall garden...

Spent the afternoon yesterday ripping out all my tired, old summer crops, excepting some Cuban oregano, fennel, and scallions. I hoed the bed, and was surprised by how compacted the sandy soil had become. I spread about 3/4 of a cubic yard of mushroom compost in the fifty by thirty area (the soil has been amended frequently over the past few years), then a heavy cover of pine straw. I'll let the compost cool down a bit, then start my fall planting sometime mid-September. I haven't decided what, exactly, I'll plant, but probably first things will include Seafoam chard, beets, and broccoli. My tomatoes (Jetsetter) are in and doing nicely. I have a couple other smaller beds that I'll plant a bit later--right now, I've got cassava, sweet potatoes and peanuts in them. Since those crops won't be ready until October or November, I'll do lettuce and radishes in those beds, during the coolest part of the year.
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Friday, August 22, 2008

Flooding from Fay

The rain was just starting to let up for the first time in three days when I took these videos:

Here's what that second area looks like in the dry season:

What Mary said...

My friend Mary dropped me this perceptive note...
A little rain with your coffee ? I miss the sun too . I have not been out of the house enough to tell what is occurring on our property or the three near-by retention ponds. The R. ponds are 1 acre , 1.5 acre and 5 acres . I can imagine they are more like lakes today than ponds . One pond was built when the road was widened to accommodate 100 year floods . After the 2004 hurricanes dumped a total of 64 inches of rain , two more ponds were added . With this record setting amount of rain for one storm , they might be wishing they had added a fourth pond !!

I am sure we have close to the same amount as you quoted - almost 20 inches . Since we are on a septic system , I have stopped doing laundry and dishes to avoid a back-up . Don't want to add to the umpteen inches or more of H2O already there . Drainage is good on our property and so far - no damaging flooding . The rains from Fay have been slow and steady which has saved us by allowing percolating
and soaking into the ground . The good news is no lightning --- yet !

Even after Fay decides to end her Florida vacation , we will still have thunder storms following her . The weather forecast does not look good for the next 5 days - thunder, lightning and more rain. The following storms might just do us all in with the fast rainfall that can cause flash flooding . Since the ground is saturated there is no place for very heavy rains to go ! Lightning has also been a huge problem in the past for us here . Now people will have to deal with the St. Johns River flooding.

Beach erosion has been major and the millions and millions of dollars spent on bringing in sand earlier this year has been for nothing . This is not good for tourism and business in general . The small business owners were not making any money before this storm . 5 days of shops closed and destruction from flooding may just close these businesses especially in downtown DeLand . I worried before this
storm about my friends who own their own stores . Now ? The citrus industry is affected as well . This much rain causes fruit split and destroys much of the winter crop - mine included . Citrus trees are very sensitive to flooding and cannot have their roots under water for more than a few hours or they suffocate . I have one tree that is slowly dying from the hurricanes of 2004 . This storm will definitely be the final blow to that tree.

The worst part for us Floridians is that we have not seen the sun in almost a week . That's not normal ! I should be watching a glorious sunrise but instead am sitting in the dark with pounding rain outside . When ( if ? ) the storm gives us a break , we will walk about and do a check of the fencing , cows and neighbors . Now the radio is predicting tornadoes this afternoon . Oh , joy ! What next ? If the economy and housing crisis did not drive away newcomers , this storm might just do it . Water front property anyone ? Hope you are dry and safe and not going stir crazy!
I am going stir crazy. And I need some sun. I haven't seen it since last Sunday while fishing at Canaveral.

Lake Okeechobeee

This news is very, very good. It won't solve our water problems for the long term, but it does reset conditions back to normal. Since 2004, our droughty conditions have only made our man-made mess worse.
Wunder Blog : Weather Underground:

Lake Okeechobee Update
After the recent rains from Tropical Storm Fay, Lake Okeechobee has responded quite nicely. Based upon the latest information provided by the SFWMD (South Florida Water Management District), the average lake level now stands at 12.52 feet. To put this into perspective, in the past three days, a little over 40% of the deficit has been erased.

With all the rainfall still ongoing north of the lake and the constant rain bands swirling in from the southern side, Okeechobee will likely continue to rise and will likely be above the 13 foot mark by Sunday for the first time in nearly 21 months (if my memory serves me right here). If the lake were to reach or exceed the 13 foot mark, the lake would only be about a foot below normal.

All in all, while Tropical Storm Fay has become a nuisance for all Florida, it has served as a blessing in disguise. For the past four years, all Florida has been mired in a severe water shortage crisis that has resulted in water restrictions throughout the state. (Yes, there are still water restrictions in place in South Florida.) With this significant rainfall received by Tropical Storm Fay, it will replenish most the depleted water supply and will fill Lake Okeechobee to near normal levels. In addition, this will also help hold off the salt-water intrusion"


Well, I've emptied my rain gauge three times now, each time it was overflowing at six and a half inches. That's more than the local weather station at DeLand's water treatment indicates, but I'm pretty confident of hte accuracy of my gauge -- I mean, it's a straightforward rain gauge, set about two feet off the ground, clear of any trees or anything that would affect its accuracy. It's impossible, or nearly impossible, for a gauge to read in excess, though fairly easy for a gauge to underestimate rain.

In other words, we've had, at a minimum, here on the north side of DeLand, twenty inches of rain.

Crazy flooding on the street, though I don't see any indication that houses have been affected. The usually dry retention ponds are all overflowing their banks. The one across the road from me has at least ten feet of water in it, and long ago breeched its banks to spill all over the intersection. There's at least a foot of water standing at the corner.

I took a quick stroll through my sodden garden. A fair amount of damage--okra's gone. At least one banana washed out. My false roselles (a lovely burgundy hibiscus), which had reached about twelve feet, have been blown over. (They'll probably recover with staking.) A noticed some of my salvias had split. They'll be fine, but won't bloom as heavily this fall. Lots of pots knocked over.

In a word, a mess; but things could be much worse.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Gearing up for fall...

It's still blasted hot out, but already the quality of the sun's light has changed and the days are growing noticeably shorter. My fall tomatoes and peppers are doing well--I'll try to transplant them into the garden by September 1, reserving some seedlings to replace the inevitable attrition.

For the first time, I've left the strawberries to do their whole runner business, so I won't have to reorder. The plants appear quite healthy and they've put out lots of "daughters." (Typically here in FLA, we grow strawberries as annuals; however, I ordered some new hybrids last year that touted disease resistance.)

Anyway, busy time of life for me, but I need to get my ducks in a row if I'm to have a good garden in November... My order from Pinetree seeds.
7201 SUGAR SNAX CARROT (F1 hybrid 63 days)
3601 RED CLOUD BEET (F1 hybrid 50 days)

The Sea Foam chard is the only one I'd consider growing here in FLA. I've grown it side-by-side with other cultivars, and there is simply no comparison. I had pretty good luck last fall, for the first time, growing beets. They are really finicky about germinating during the winter, but the ones I got to grow produced nice beets. Chervil is a total mainstay for me--grows in the shade all winter until late spring. A great addition to salads. The carrots are just a lark. I have had the
best luck with Sweet Treat (another hybrid), but why not try another, too?

I'll sow most of the dry/cool season crops throughout October, as soon as the weather cools down a bit.

Friday, August 08, 2008

herbs in the summer

From a post I did on the Florida Forum of GardenWeb:

it's a tough time for herbs in the garden. here's what's coping with the heat/humidity/deluge/drought of late summer.

- rosemary: in pots, doing well. i've discovered that it's key to buy rosemary from local growers (mine are from seminole springs). i always underpot these. partial sun in the summer, full sun the rest of the year

-african blue basil: in the ground. not at its best now, but still tons of blooms and bees. i don't consider this a culinary herb, but i do use it in thai dishes. lots of camphor flavor.

-other basils: i had italian (genoa) basils in the ground and full sun, but they've all burned out/gone to seed. the surprise winner here is a purple basil still going strong. in years past, the purples have burned out early. this one i got from a friend, so i don't know the variety, but i plan to save the seeds. tony's greek columnar basil in a pot is thriving and about 3' tall right now.

-mint: spearmint, in a pot, almost full shade, lots of water, doing well.

-sweet marjoram: surprise of the year. got some from seminole, planted in the ground, still doing very well in nearly full sun.

-thyme: started to decline in july when we had so much rain. now dead. oh, well. i need to remember to get more.

-parsley: the ones in the ground went to seed at the beginning of the summer. i have one plant in a pot from winter that's still eking out life, but prognosis is poor. i've found just buying a new plant from the produce market once every other month or so works best. we use a LOT of parsley. i keep these in morning sun, afternoon shade.

-mexican tarragon: in a pot, next to the parsley. done very well. doesn't like to get dry, but thrives with lots of water.

-chives: great, no problems in a pot near the parsley. in the past my pots of chives have lasted more than a year. i throw them out because the flavor seems to grow worse with time.

-oregano: i don't know what kind, but purchased a couple years ago from seminole. even though it's in full sun in a small pot and has not been repotted since i bought it, this is more a mound of oregano than a pot. it's colonized the kumquat pot next to it, flowed across a garden path, and never looks unhappy. i should use this as a groundcover!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Supermarket Chains Narrow Their Sights

The trend deepens and broadens...
Supermarket Chains Narrow Their Sights - "Some independently owned, small-to-medium-size chains have been selling extensive lines of local seasonal fruits and vegetables for years, lines they are now expanding.

For the largest supermarket chains, though, where for decades produce has meant truckloads transported primarily from the West Coast, it’s not always easy to switch to the farmer down the road.

But soaring transportation costs, not to mention the cachet customers attach to local food, have made it more attractive not just to supermarkets but to the agribusiness companies that supply them.

Growers like Dole and Nunes have contracted with farmers in the East to grow products like broccoli and leafy greens that they used to ship from the West Coast. Because of fuel costs, in some instances the cost of freight is more than the cost of the products."
Hannaford Brothers, with 165 stores in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts, has always sold local produce, but in the last two years its customers have pushed it to offer more. “There’s been a 20 percent increase in sales” in the last year, said Michael Norton, a company spokesman. “Our research tells us consumers have about five or six reasons for wanting local: freshness and taste; keeping farmland in the community and having open spaces; a desire to be close to the food source and know where it comes from; support of local farmers and keeping money in the community. Embedded in all of this is concern about food safety. All this creates pretty powerful interest.”
Since the advent of modern grocery, retailers have dreamed of getting rid of produce altogether. Veg and fruit present all sorts of difficulties from a perspective of efficiency and cheapness, and what's more, the markup was minimal if not a net loss for the store. A shift in perspective on the part of the consumer could, perhaps, change all that. Local food has a cache and character that industrial food lacks. That added value, combined with higher transportation costs forcing retailers to source locally, might do communities a world of good. I might be accused of mercantilism or autarky, but our mantra, for everything from energy to broccoli, should be:

Shorten. The. Supply. Chain.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Shipping Costs Start to Crimp Globalization

This article on expensive oil's affect on global trade tells the story of profligate waste and chasing pennies. A great lesson in externalized costs. As hard as it is now, the run-up in oil prices will be seen, in say a decade, as the best thing that could have happened, much as the oil crises of the 1970s are considered, among many political economists, as crucially important in modernizing the US economy and weaning us, slightly, from oil addictio:

Shipping Costs Start to Crimp Globalization - "Soaring transportation costs also have an impact on food, from bananas to salmon. Higher shipping rates could eventually transform some items now found in the typical middle-class pantry into luxuries and further promote the so-called local food movement popular in many American and European cities."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Grow Your Own

It's official...
Grow Your Own

“Edible landscape” seems to be going head to head with “staycation” as the most popular catch phrase of Summer 2008. Lawns may not be disappearing before our very eyes, but citizens are definitely swapping out blades of grass for bushels of beans in increasing numbers. [...] Urban agriculture has been around since at least the 18th century, but it’s an idea whose time has truly come — now — in the United States. The reasons range from the fact that our hands are always found glued to computer keys and not even occasionally in the dirt, to the scary existence of industrially grown tomatoes that may (or may not) cause salmonella, to the fact that a drive to the market can now cost more than the food you purchase there.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

What to do with a mess of cowpeas...

My 'Mississippi Silver' cowpeas have kicked into full production. They love all the heat and humidity you give them, but they're also very drought-hardy.

Though advertised as a bush bean (Southern Exposure Seed Exchange), they'll vine when given the chance, and produce a bit more heavily. I grow them around the border of my garden, with sticks and bamboo stakes. The trick, I think, to harvesting them is to leave them until the individual peas are clearly defined and the hulls go every so slightly yellow--the peas are still green, and they slide out of the hull without a problem.

At the end of the season, I pick the last round to dry and use next year, and mow them down as green manure.

Here's the dish I made tonight, based roughly on a recipe from Ronni Lundy's excellent southern cuisine cookbook, From Butterbeans to Blackberries:

In a large kettle, cook two cups cowpeas until tender--about five minutes in heavily salted boiling water ought to do it. If you have a couple handfuls of young cowpeas (shell and all), pole beans, or yard-long beans handy, toss them in during the last minute or two.

Scoop the beans out with a slotted spoon, and toss in a half a pound of elbow macaroni. Cook until al dente, drain, and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil. Set all of this aside to cool.

Meanwhile, chop finely one large scallion and one rib of celery. (You could also use a sweet Italian pepper here, but not a green bell pepper, which even animals won't eat...)

Roast a large green tomato over an open flame on the end of a fork (as Luny puts it, like a marshmallow over a campfire), or broil/grill it until it's softened a bit and the skin is all black. (Failing either of these, a cast iron skillet over medium heat works, too.) When the tomato has cooled, peel it, but don't worry if there's still some charred skin. Chuck it in a blender, along with 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup plain yogurt (I prefer full fat), one medium garlic clove, and a heft amount of salt (at least a two teaspoons, but you go with your own preferences). Blend at high speed until very smooth.

Mix the yogurt dressing, the scallion and celery, and elbow mac and cowpeas together in a large bowl, and combine well. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed. If things aren't zippy enough, consider a shot of red wine vinegar.
Eat at room temperature with a big plate of cornbread and a glass of bourbon. (I'm from Kentucky...)

Really satisfying and easy vegetarian cooking. But I imagine it would complement some barbecued ribs, too.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

News -

News - "A dedicated wildflower lover, Jennifer Reinoso is especially dedicated to a few small colonies of native terrestrial orchids that grow in the median and alongside U.S. 92 west of Daytona Beach. For five years, with permission and assistance of the Florida Department of Transportation, she has monitored and protected these threatened orchids.

Under her care, they have flourished.

'I love Florida's wildflowers,' she said. 'Many people consider wildflowers nothing but weeds, (but) some of them are quite beautiful when blooming in masses. . . . I hate it when the wildflowers are mowed down!'

Almost a decade ago she became one of some 17,000 drivers a day on U.S. 92 and, on her way to and from work, she noticed occasional single spikes of white and reddish flowers. As a member of the Volusia County Orchid Society for 23 years and an American Orchid Society judge, Reinoso knew they were orchids.

'I am passionate about orchids,' she said.

The white ladies' tresses, while beautiful, are quite common, almost like weeds, said Reinoso of DeLand. But the coral red blossoms in the grass were leafless beaked orchids (Sacoila lanceolata), a threatened species in Florida because their populations -- although present in half the state's counties -- are rapidly declining."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss -

A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss - "For a fee, Mr. Paque, who lives in San Francisco, will build an organic garden in your backyard, weed it weekly and even harvest the bounty, gently placing a box of vegetables on the back porch when he leaves."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Trying to Build a Greener Britain, Home by Home -

Trying to Build a Greener Britain, Home by Home :
In an era when movie stars build $5 million eco-mansions, families here have made their old Victorian houses eco-friendly, too.

But they have done it through inexpensive and nearly invisible interventions, like under-roof insulation, solar water heaters and hallway meters, that leave their homes still looking like old Victorian houses.

“When people talk about an eco-house they picture a sleek house in the countryside with solar panels and wind turbines. Well, good for them. But that’s not how the average person lives,” said Mischa Hewitt, of Britain’s Low Carbon Trust, a nonprofit group.

Turn on a computer and the device — a type of so-called smart meter — goes from 300 watts to 400 watts. Turn off a light and it goes from 299 to 215. At 500, the meter is set to sound an alarm.

“I’ve become like one of Pavlov’s dogs,” Mrs. Marchant said. “Every time it bleeps I think I’m going to take one of those pans off the stove. I’d do anything to make it stop. It helps you change your habits.”

Little changes...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Tomatoes and Peppers

Today, for fall/winter garden,I planted some Solanaceae:
  • Nepal tomato
  • Black Plum tomato
  • Jetsetter tomato (these three tomatoes were recommended highly for fall planting on the Florida GardenWeb forum)
  • Sweet Spot X3R Hybrid pepper
  • Little Fingers eggplant
And, because I had some seeds, papalo and epazote to replace my exhausted herbs.

Most of those seeds were purchased from Tomato Growers Supply. Or search this site for other sources.

I've only ever had modest luck with fall-planted tomatoes. This time, I'm going to grow only the three above (and probably the couple of Sun Gold tomatoes that have been growing since early spring -- they will continue to produce until frost, if I let them). Give them a ton of room and a strong pole.


Path to Freedom:
"Since the early 80's the Dervaes family has slowly transformed their ordinary city lot into a self sufficient urban homestead.

View an eco-pioneers life on an urban homestead as this family shares their homegrown revolution, being the change they wish to see by living the solution."

Friday, July 18, 2008


I fertilized them today, lightly, with HOLLY-TONE PLANT FOOD from Espoma. Low in nitrogen, especially for the ones I just planted.

I need to rip my Brightwell out and put it into a pot to be closer to the Climax. Right now, they are at the opposite ends of the row. These are the two last Rabbiteyes I have left; the rest are all Southern Highbush. I fair amount of money to learn a lesson... (That said, the Climax is growing the best of the bunch.)

I need to fertilize these again at the beginning of October.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Latest Southern Exposure order...

For fall planting...

· Willow-Leaf White BEAN, LIMA (POLE) 14g seed, USDA Certified Organic

· Jericho PVP LETTUCE .5g seed, USDA Certified Organic

· Burgundy OKRA 5g seed, USDA Certified Organic

· Belgian White (Lunar White) CARROT, WHITE 3g seed, USDA Certified Organic

· Premium Crop - hybrid BROCCOLI .3g seed

· De Cicco BROCCOLI 2g seed, USDA Certified Organic

· Champion COLLARDS 1g seed, USDA Certified Organic

· McCaslan BEAN, SNAP (POLE) 28g seed

Turf Wars

Turf War: Books: The New Yorker
If you're looking for more reasons to hate your lawn, read this...
The greener, purer lawns that the chemical treatments made possible were, as monocultures, more vulnerable to pests, and when grubs attacked the resulting brown spot showed up like lipstick on a collar. The answer to this chemically induced problem was to apply more chemicals. As Paul Robbins reports in “Lawn People” (2007), the first pesticide popularly spread on lawns was lead arsenate, which tended to leave behind both lead and arsenic contamination. Next in line were DDT and chlordane. Once they were shown to be toxic, pesticides like diazinon and chlorpyrifos—both of which affect the nervous system—took their place. Diazinon and chlorpyrifos, too, were eventually revealed to be hazardous. (Diazinon came under scrutiny after birds started dropping dead around a recently sprayed golf course.) The insecticide carbaryl, which is marketed under the trade name Sevin, is still broadly applied to lawns. A likely human carcinogen, it has been shown to cause developmental damage in lab animals, and is toxic to—among many other organisms—tadpoles, salamanders, and honeybees. In “American Green” (2006), Ted Steinberg, a professor of history at Case Western Reserve University, compares the lawn to “a nationwide chemical experiment with homeowners as the guinea pigs...

The easy explanation for the failure of the anti-lawn movement is that change is hard. People have been trained to expect lawns, and this expectation is self-reinforcing: weed laws are all but explicitly about maintaining property values. When Haeg installed an “edible estate” in the front yard of a Salina, Kansas, resident named Stan Cox, passersby kept asking Cox whether his neighbors had complained about it yet. Everyone “claims to like the new front yard, yet everyone expects others not to like it,” Cox writes. For a developer, meanwhile, putting in turfgrass is by far the easiest way to landscape; what is sometimes called “contractor’s mix” grass seed is specifically formulated to provide a fast-growing—though not necessarily long-lasting—green. (Lowe’s, which sells fifteen pounds of contractor’s-mix seed for $23.52, advertises it as an “economy mixture that provides quick grass cover.”) The lawn may be wasteful and destructive, it may even be dangerous, but it is, in its way, convenient."

For the record, I have a small (maybe 1/8 acre) St. Augustine yard. (My entire property was yard when I moved in; it's taken me eight years of work to reduce it to half the size.) It's beautiful, and I feed it and use all sorts of chemicals on it, but only when needed, and only in the smallest amounts. No matter what anyone says, lawns are beautiful, relatively cheap, and relatively hassle-free. The options that the article lists, while admirable, will take a very different attitude towards land use to come into common use.

Cactus bloom

A surprise yesterday morning.
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Some pics to accompany the previous post...

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About the garden...

The weather's been dreadful the past few days--we've had TEN INCHES of rain in three days, and not a ray of sun. The weeds are running amok, especially the Asian Dayflower, which thrives in this kind of weather. The bugs are unbelievable. And did I mention the electrical storms?

So, not much desire to spend time in my garden. I've pulled up all the remaining full-sized tomatoes with the exception of a couple Tiffany, which is a very disease-resistant bush. It's even managed to set some fruit in the last few days, though my experience has been that fruit this time of year isn't very good, and tends to collapse on the vine from the bug onslaught and the heavy rains. (They crack in all this rain, then gnats or fruit flies get into them...) But the tropical stuff loves it: My malanga has finally leafed out after surviving squirrel attacks, the cassava seems to grow a few inches every day. Sweet potatoes are running everywhere. And the cowpeas and yardlong beans are hitting their summer stride. Peppers continue to produce spottily.

I've been making a very tasty Thai salad based on shredded peppers (hot and sweet) and shredded greens (sweet potato leaves, various herbs, Okinawan spinach), banana blossoms, and cherry tomatoes. Blue crab on top. Dressed with a lime-based vinaigrette. Tasty.

Let's see, in the flower garden: My roses are looking surprisingly good for this time of year. I have yet to spray them since very early spring, and they don't have much black-spot to speak of. This time of year, probably because of the heat and water, they tend to spend their energies on vegetative growth, not on flowers. I'm growing a couple new-to-me plants that have earned a place in my garden: Blue Scaevola aemula (Fan Flower) and Angelonias. The Angelonias aren't constant bloomers, but they sure are a nice, low-maintenance plant that's easy to propagate. I'll also make Buddleia in pots a permanent part of my garden. They have to be deadheaded frequently to stay in bloom, but they're such wonderful blooms and their fragrance fills the yard.

Oh, and I should mention the surprise of the summer: In the corner of a bed, I left some Allyssum that I started from seeds in the spring. Though I think of it as a delicate spring flower, it's flourishing right now. Not a lot of flowers, but enough, and very compact and well-behaved.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

a note to a friend...

too busy right now to blog much, but here's a note i sent to a friend who asked me what's going on in the garden...

hey, mary! we just got from the keys, where i attempted, unsuccessfully, to catch all the fish in the straits. but i got most of them. what fun! the garden was a bit of a mess when i got back -- it's amazing what hell can break loose in the space of a few days, but it's summer in fla, i guess i should have expected it. a good mowing and an hour weeding took care of the worst of the problem. i'm definitely in tropical mode -- yardlong beans, crowders, sweet potatoes sprawling everywhere, yucca growing six inches a day, peanuts blooming, malanga finally leafing out. i finally got around to planting a bunch of okra, too. your white ruellia has finally started to bloom -- pretty stuff! does it bloom just in the summer? amazingly, my snaps still are going strong. this year, instead of pulling them when they started to fail, i cut them back almost to the ground. they seem to bounce back this way really well. i've also been deadheading them aggressively, which seems to help them to bloom faster.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Associated Press: Wal-Mart branches out into locally grown produce

Wait! I thought only dirty fucking hippies cared about crap like this...
Wal-Mart branches out into locally grown produce

Wal-Mart stores in Arizona now stock Grand Canyon sweet onions while aisles in New York display state-grown eggplant, as the world's largest retailer says it has become the nation's largest buyer of locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to purchase and sell $400 million worth of produce grown by local farmers within its state stores this year, an effort the company says will only grow. Academic studies show buying locally cuts down on transportation mileage while also assuring customers of a product's providence amid mass recalls.

'Wal-Mart would not be the first' to buy local, said Rich Pirog, associate director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. 'But they're obviously, without question, the largest retailer to go down this route.'

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Local Food Movement Attracts New Breed of Midlife Farmers -

In recent years, as the local food movement has grown and farmers’ markets have proliferated, a new breed of back-to-the-landers has emerged. Some, like their predecessors in the 1960s and ’70s, are earnest, college-educated young people, turning their backs on professional career paths in favor of a life of hardscrabble idealism. But many others, homesteaders in their 40s and 50s, have already enjoyed the perks of professional life, and may even have made a fortune, or at least a comfortable nest egg. [...]

(Even affluent urbanites who may not be ready for such a radical lifestyle change are finding themselves drawn to the idea of organic farming. At an organic farming association fund-raiser in April at Guastavino’s restaurant on East 59th Street, some 300 attendees — most of them looking very much like classic Upper East Side ladies who lunch, to whom “buying local” may have previously meant shopping at Bergdorf’s — sat in rapt attention as a panel of farmers and environmentalists described the perils of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.)

It seems to be the change in home life, as much as in career, that appeals to the post-professional farmers.

Although Mr. Gibson estimates that he spends 12 hours a day raising his grass-fed Angus and persuading the public to pay premium prices for it, he says he has more time than he ever did in his former life to focus on what matters." (Local Food Movement Attracts New Breed of Midlife Farmers)
It's a welcome shift in priorities, I guess; but it smacks of the cultish, too.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Solution, or Mess? A Milk Jug for a Green Earth -

In the long run, the explosion in commodity prices will be a good thing. Capitalism, for all its inherent problems, is really good at solving problems.
Solution, or Mess? A Milk Jug for a Green Earth - "The company estimates this kind of shipping has cut labor by half and water use by 60 to 70 percent. More gallons fit on a truck and in Sam’s Club coolers, and no empty crates need to be picked up, reducing trips to each Sam’s Club store to two a week, from five — a big fuel savings. Also, Sam’s Club can now store 224 gallons of milk in its coolers, in the same space that used to hold 80.

The whole operation is so much more efficient that milk coming out of a cow in the morning winds up at a Sam’s Club store by that afternoon, compared with several hours later or the next morning by the old method. “That’s our idea of fresh milk,” Greg Soehnlen, a vice president at Creative Edge, said."

Envisioning a world of $200-a-barrel oil - Los Angeles Times

Envisioning a world of $200-a-barrel oil - Los Angeles Times.

Not so long ago, it was just dirty frickin' hippies and know-nothing Kentucky farmers who were preaching "shorten the supply chain."
"Local distribution patterns could change too. Stephen Gaddis, chief executive of Pacific Cheese Co., a Hayward, Calif., cheese processing and packaging firm, thinks high fuel prices will push restaurants, retailers and food manufacturers to look for suppliers closer to their operations.

'Local sourcing is ideal. You won't pay as much for freight, and when you use less fuel it's better for the environment,' Gaddis said.

Soaring diesel prices will make companies rethink whether they should have large, centralized plants or build smaller ones around the country.

That's what Pacific Cheese is doing. It's building a packaging plant in Texas to be closer to one of its larger suppliers and expects to serve its Southwestern clients from there.

In the near future, however, consumers can expect to pay for the higher cost of producing food and moving it around the country, say food executives, farmers and economists. Even having a deep-dish pizza with extra cheese brought to your door costs more now that chains such as Pizza Hut are charging for delivery."

Can tomatoes be grown in Floridas heat? - Florida Gardening Forum - GardenWeb

July has been the end of tomato season for me in the past. The bugs and diseases get bad, but the main problem is that tomatoes stop setting fruit when the temperatures get much above ninety or when the lows don't get below seventy... in other words, most tomatoes stop setting fruit in July. (The exceptions are small-fruited varieties, which continue to set fruit all summer.) A recommendation from the Florida Forum...
Can tomatoes be grown in Floridas heat? - Florida Gardening Forum - GardenWeb: "Well, my second mater from this summer experiment was actually much better tasting that the first one. The Solar Set is clearly setting fruit better than the Solar Fire. I have them double-potted (7gal in 10gal) to keep the soil heat down and as you can see they are up under the canopy of a live oak tree so they are only getting six hours of direct sunlight. I didn't give them any CRF and I have not been the best at hitting them with MG, and I didn't cage them because I really didn't expect them to do as well as they have so far...."
Fruit set is just one problem... Bugs, heat, drought and disease are equally flummoxing. But if I ever feel the need for August tomatoes, I might give these heat-setting tomatoes a try.