Sunday, December 26, 2010

New garden bed

It doesn't look like much here, but this hole is the start of a new, small garden bed. It measures ten feet by eight feet, and I've dug out a cubic yard of sandy soil--roughly the top foot of "soil." I'll back my truck up to it, and fill the bed to the top with mushroom compost. The area gets a lot of sun in the spring and summer, but this time of the year it's shaded out by my house and the large live oaks in the front yard. It will give me some space for rotating crops from season to season.

I've got a bunch of cabbages, collards, and broccoli ready to plant, once I get the bed finished.


Our  average December high in this part of Volusia county is the mid- to low-70s. It's reached or exceeded the average only three times this month. We've set one record low, and several record "low-highs."

Freeze damage in the garden is on par with last year: Bananas killed to the ground (several were at bearing stage for next year--three year cycle in my garden). All tropical crops are dead or burned to the ground. Blueberry leaves are bright red. Cruciferous crops are fine, but growing slowly. Peas were damaged by our several days of low-20s, but might recover when the weather warms. My poor tomato seedlings are hanging on, but they haven't grown a centimeter since they sprouted. They'll likely succumb to disease, since they can't "grow out" of any problems.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A late-December update

Late-December harvest... the first turnip of the season was
fantastic--sweet and crunchy, no heat. It would be a pity to cook
them... Citrus is sweet and escaped the freeze. But I spent the
morning whacking the frost-killed and damaged vegetation after a week
of record-cold temperatures.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Freeze & more winter sowing...

Pretty hard freeze last night. My guess is it got to 28° last night here, on the highest point in DeLand. Maybe a degree colder. This morning at 8:30am, my microsprinkler droplets were still freezing on the lettuce... So much for my prediction of a warm winter, at least so far. My tomato and pepper seedlings are safe indoors, on the fridge, out of the path of feline devastation. 

We've got more freezing temperatures headed here tonight. 

This morning after a long, cold, run (I never did warm up the entire time), I planted some seeds from my Johnnys' order: celery, cabbage, kale and mache. 

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Making hardwood lump charcoal

I got a Big Green Egg off of Craig's List recently. It's a kind of ceramic oven/grill that uses lump hardwood A smallish bag of the stuff costs $7 and fills the egg four or five times. Not terribly expensive, but not cheap, either. (You can probably use briquettes in the BGE, but hardwood lump is much better: It burns very hot and very clean with no smoky flavor imparted. My friend Bill makes cookies on the BGE--no smoky taste! If I want smoke, I can add chips or chunks of hardwood.) 

So yesterday I tried my hand at making some natural, hardwood lump charcoalI used windfall and old bits of lumber leftover from projects to feed the the fire that heated the inner kiln, a thirty-gallon drum propped up inside the fifty-gallon barrel you see above.  I filled the inside drum with lumps of well-aged, mill ends of Live Oak and Black Cherry that I bought from a local saw mill that gets all of its lumber from domestic tree jobs. So, while making charcoal is never a green endeavor, this was pretty good. All waste wood. 

A total success. It took about four hours to dry the wood completely, then another hour of firing it until the off-gassing started. That was pretty impressive--flames shot out hole I drilled in the bottom of the drum like the afterburners on a rocket. This morning I opened the kiln and found perfect lump charcoal. I used maybe two dollars worth of hardwood in the drum, and got probably $25 worth of lump charcoal. I'll need to do this several times before I pay off the $60 I spend for the barrel and the drum...

The Florida garden in December

Cauliflower, turnips, carrots, lettuce...

I planted seedlings of this chard (I think it's Lucullus, but I'd have to check) on October 2 and harvested some yesterday for supper. Pretty good turnaround for this time of the year. I braised the stalks in tomato sauce, and served the leaves steamed and lightly dressed in olive oil and salt. Very tasty. 

Seedlings for "spring" garden. When I harvest my turnips and cauliflower, I'll replace them with these collards, broccoli and cauliflower seedlings... Probably sometime mid-January or early February.
Sweet peas are setting a bunch of peas... just in time for a frost. Sigh. Maybe they'll make it. 
You can tell by the shadows and quality of light that it's December...
Short days, cold nights, and an approaching frost. Still, it's very

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

latest Johnnys seeds order

Winterbor (F1)-Packet
Vegetables > Kale & Collards > Green Kale

Conquistador (Pelleted)-Packet
Vegetables > Celery & Celeriac > Celery

Bolseno (F1)-Mini
Vegetables > Tomatoes > Indeterminate > Traditional Italian

Vegetables > Beans > Beans, Pole

Arcadia (F1)-Packet
Vegetables > Broccoli > Hybrid

Gonzales (F1)-Packet
Vegetables > Cabbage > Early Green

Vegetables > Greens > Corn Salad/Mache

Tasty Jade (F1)-Mini
Vegetables > Cucumbers > Specialty

Navarino (F1)-Packet
Vegetables > Carrots > Early

Unwin's Striped Mix-Packet
Flower Seeds > Sweet Pea

Cassius (F1) (OG)-Mini
Vegetables > Cauliflower > White

Suyo Long-100 Seeds
Vegetables > Cucumbers > Asian/Burpless

Stainless Harvest Machete - 6" Blade-1 Unit
Tools and Supplies > Hand Tools > Harvest Tools

Green Forest (Pelleted)-Packet
Vegetables > Lettuce > Romaine/Cos > Green

Seed order

I like Swallowtail. Good selection, great prices, fast to ship. Here's my latest order. I'm a little late for geraniums this year, but they'll still bloom for a few weeks this spring if I get them germinated before Christmas. I'm surprised more people don't start geraniums from seed. I've found them very easy, and they're perennial here in Florida if you can nurse them through out hot and rainy weather--I put them in a shady, mostly covered spot and let them go dormant. I had a couple that were many years old, but died last winter in the cold. 

I dug up some goldenrod last year and planted it in my front bed, where it's very dry and sunny. It did OK this year, but not great. I was amazed at the number of bees it drew in October and November, so I've decided to put a bunch of them in one of my butterfly beds. 

--  --------  ------------------------------------------------  -----  -----
  1  AN9014A   GERANIUM, MAVERICK ORANGE 10 SEEDS                $3.29  $3.29
  1  AN10320A  GERANIUM, MAVERICK SCARLET 10 SEEDS               $3.49  $3.49
  1  AN9197    GERANIUM, INSPIRE SCARLET 10 SEEDS                $2.97  $2.97
  1  VG221     TOMATOES, ARKANSAS TRAVELER - 30 SEEDS            $1.99  $1.99
  1  PR11292   HIBISCUS, LUNA MIX - 10 SEEDS                     $4.49  $4.49
  1  PR875     GOLDENROD, GOLDEN BABY - 100 SEEDS                $2.49  $2.49
  1  PR105005  YELLOW TRUMPET BUSH, MAYAN GOLD - 10 SEEDS        $4.49  $4.49
  1  HR57      EPAZOTE - 200 SEEDS                               $1.49  $1.49
  1  HR83      RED PERILLA - 1/2 GRAM                            $2.65  $2.65

Friday, November 26, 2010


So, I've concluded that this winter will be as warm as the last was cold... so, today I planted my spring tomato plants. Tomande, SunGold, a couple others. And my Sweet Spot peppers. These tomatoes aren't actually my first choice for spring, but they're what I had on hand, so... good enough. And if we get a freeze and I forget to bring in the tomatoes, no real loss. I used up the last of each packet. Time for reupping.

Peas began flowering yesterday. Everything is going gangbusters in the garden, what with abundant sun and warm temperatures. I've been irrigating daily in my vegetable beds, but only for a few minutes with my micro-mister system.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

a quick winter update in pictures

Warm and sunny weather this November... I don't think I've ever had such a fine winter garden. Peas, potatoes, tons of salad (especially Bronze Arrow, my current favorite), chard, broccoli (starting to head already), cauliflower, long row of sweet onions, turnips, radish, carrots, parsnips, beets, Brussels sprouts, collards...

Detroit Red beets

Snow Crown cauliflower

Sweet Treat carrots

Blue Wind broccoli

Bronze Arrow, Apollo Rocket...

Sugar Sugar Snap peas

Friday, November 05, 2010

Florida Winter Garden Pictures

Hakurei Turnips. I'll have to thin these, but they can be grown very close together. Small, sweet, tasty turnips. Very quick to mature--very like sweet radishes.

Some heading lettuces growing in window boxes. you can see how I use the spaces between rows here to squeeze in window boxes. When I need to weed or harvest, I just move the window boxes aside. You can grow a surprising amount of food in one of these cheap windowboxes--carrots, beets, turnips, lettuce. I've done it all. I use a mix of about 5::1::1 pine fines, peat, and perlite, with added micronutrients and high-end slow-release fertilizer. I supplement that with monthly feedings of liquid fertilizer. Essentially growing hydroponically in soil.

Tabasco peppers.

You can see these chard plants below, from the beginning of October, when I had just transplanted them. They're almost ready to harvest. Grown in a circle, cut from an old barrel, filled with very rich organic compost. 

Onions and peas. I should have planted these peas much earlier than I did. They really appreciate a blast of heat at the start--I think I could plant them as early as mid-August.

Cutting salad greens. The two top producers for me are Bronze Arrow (Southern Exposure, I think...) and Apollo Rocket, a hybrid arugula that I love.

The Florida Winter Garden

I didn't put in a fall garden this year--no time in July to start tomatoes and peppers for November and December harvests... This summer was so busy, last winter so cold, that I decided it didn't merit the trouble. What's more, it's hard to work up an appetite for tomatoes and eggplants in December: My Midwesterness rebells against it. Winter is for greens, onions, potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower. All things perfectly suited for my Florida winter garden.

We've had the first major cold front blow through last night, bringing much needed rain and a drop of twenty-degrees or so... I ran the AC a bit yesterday to bring in the cooler outside air into our over-warm kitchen, but I'll probably have to run the heat tomorrow morning. The high mid-week was 90°... the low tonight is forecast for 38°. The front brought about more than an inch of rain, which doesn't erase our debt after a rainless October, but is surely appreciated.

Let's see... The carrots, beets and turnips are all growing well. Broccoli and cauliflower are large, but no heads yet. The cold weather will slow them down and I probably won't get heads until Christmas.

Lettuce is still a week from when I can regularly harvest it. Peas are growing well, but only a foot. Potatoes and onions are up. Oranges are oranging. Roses are loving this cool, dry weather.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sweet potato harvest, end of the summer season

A hot day to dig sweet potatoes. My patch was half the size as previous years'--I planted a bunch of peanuts instead. It's hard to beat the sheer biomass of batatas. In addition to twenty-five or thirty pounds of tubers, there's a big pile of leaves and vines cooking in my tumbler. Digging those potatoes, some of which are a foot below the surface, also serves to aerate the soil. I dug in a ton of compost, fertilized, and then planted my winter garden:

  1. Red Ace beets
  2. Super Sugar Snap peas
  3. Javelin F1 parsnips
  4. Sweet Treat carrots
  5. Cherriette radishes
  6. Nantes carrots
  7. Hakurei F1 turnips
  1. Rainbow chard
  2. Brussels sprouts
  3. White sweet onions
  4. Honey Gold potatoes (very small waxy potatoes I got at Publix)
Anyway, I also did general garden cleanup. About eight hours in the garden. With a hell of a head cold. But today was the only break I have before Christmas.

I already had a bunch of broc, lettuce, cauliflower, rocket, and sweet peas growing. Much of what I seeded today won't produce until March or April.

Man, it's DRY out there. I also spent some time adjusting my microsprayer system, so I could reduce the amount of irrigation. Now the system covers half my garden. It's very effective and uses a fraction of the water used by overhead sprinklers.

Wheh. I'm beat.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

An early dry season

An early onset of the dry season. I think it's fair to say that it started last week, after Nicole blew out of the Panhandle and clobbered the Carolinas. In its wake, the weather has been excellent.

Anyone not from Florida will never understand what it's like when the first "backdoor fronts" make it to Florida. Precipitable waters (hanging in the atmosphere) drop from two or more inches to one inch. The dew point falls to the upper 50s. Humidity goes from 60-75% in the middle of the day to the upper 30s. The days are still warm, but the nights are cool. Really perfect weather, and the promise of month after month of even finer weather.
Posted by Picasa

More quick shots from the October garden

The "Blue Wind" broccoli Snow Crown cauliflower I planted a few weeks ago, transferred into the garden. I've been very pleased with my new seedling mix, which is about half-and-half pine screenings (from pine fines) and perlite. Aged over the summer in a bucket. Lots of aeration, but excellent water retention.

I have way more yardlongs than we can ever eat, so I'm letting most of them mature for beans.

The Central Florida garden in early October

I got this blooming cactus from a friend (thanks, Mary!). It blooms at night, and I've missed most of the flowers this season, but our recent, much-cooler nights, this bloom lasted until mid-morning. Prettier than any orchid bloom I know.

I've done peanuts before, though usually just a few in corners of the garden. This year I planted two short rows in the center of my garden and was very pleased with the results. A handful of green peanuts from the Publix refrigerator case. They grow very densely and choked out every weed. Very pretty, dark solid mass of green leaves with small yellow flowers. No disease or insect issues. Easy to harvest, too! And though I worried about nematodes, I didn't see a single bit of evidence of RKN on these peanuts. So, I end up with a quart or more of peanuts and a bunch of green matter for my compost bins. And a weed-free patch of garden at the end of summer. The yield isn't as much as sweet potatoes, but peanuts are surely prettier and controlled weeds better. Next year I'm going to plant half the summer garden with peanuts and the other half with sweet potatoes. Maybe some cassava and African basil around the outside. Oh and Okinawan spinach. And all my hot peppers... But that's it. Well, and scallions, chaya, and yard-long beans.

Lucullus chard in a barrel ring. Filled with pricey but excellent organic compost from Pierson.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Bees swarming

For the last several years we've had a beehive in a crack in the stucco exterior of our house. Most of the year I'm only somewhat aware that there are thousands of bees living in my walls, but this time of the year they swarm, presumably because they have an extra queen in the hive. I know when they're swarming because I'll find bees flying in the bedroom...

I leave the hive alone. I need pollinators and love bees. My garden is always full of them, and I never mind them when they sting me in the garden, regretting only the misunderstanding has to end in the bee's demise.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Cool season planting

I'm a bit behind in this, but only a week or two. I planted the classics for the cool, dry season... which is just 'round the corner:
  • Cauliflower (Snow Crown)
  • Broccoli (Blue Wind)
  • Collards (Champion)
  • Lettuce (Jericho)
The garden's pretty beat-up. The end of August saw periods of prolific and extended rain, followed by very dry and muggy conditions. With waning days, that spells FUNGUS. My watermelons succumbed (those that were left after the #*(&(*#%R raccoons ate six of them in one night). My eggplants are struggling but will make it. Bye-bye, cucuzzi.

On the plus side, a drop of one or two degrees at night has done wonders for fruit set on my limas and yardlongs. I got hardly any beans in August, but now the vines are covered and I gathered my first good basket of the season yesterday. I've talked to other gardeners in the area and they had the same problem--lots of growth, lots of blooms, but little in the way of beans. I guess our above-normal nightly temps are to blame.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


So... well. Now. Hm. I was so happy to see that my watermelon had started another cycle of blooming and fruiting. I planted it in spring, it produced a nice haul for July, and in August started flowering and setting fruit. Six, to be exact. I was getting ready to pick them in the next week or so. And then, this. Sigh. If you've ever read Sutree by Cormac McCarthy, you'll know EXACTLY what I thought when I saw these watermelons this month. If you know me, you'll know the stream of cursewords that came a moment later. The beast even nipped off the immature melons.

I've decided to be buddhistic about the whole affair.

It's been a weird August. So warm in the evenings that even my limas and yardlongs have been setting poorly. Lots of flowers, prolific growth. Just not a lot of result. The sweet potatoes and peanuts have, predictably, loved all the warmth and rain.

I'm looking forward to fall...
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A quick update in collage...

I only have one eggplant this year, and it has only just started to set fruit... but it has set four or five already and its growth rate has ramped up with some extra fertilizer, compost and a thick layer of mulch. I picked my first watermelon yesterday--it was GREAT. Very sweet, pure melon taste. I probably should have picked it a few days earlier, as the texture was slightly coarser than it should have been. It's very hard to tell with melons... I'm planning to pick several more this week. Let's see... I have a major aphid infestation with this hot and dry weather. I'm banking on a weekend tropical storm to knock them out. If not, I'll treat them next week. I noticed this morning the first hint of color on my grapes--looks like, despite our cold temps, I should have grapes starting early-/mid-August, as usual. Limas are finally producing pods, but the aphids are there, too. I planted "Star of David" okra, which is supposed to reach six feet at maturity. It sure does vigorously. Peanuts are doing well. Sweet potatoes are running everywhere. My trombone squash is setting a lot of fruit... Click the collage for more detail.
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I answer questions...

I get lots of emails with questions. When I have time (like this morning), I answer them.

Hi there,
My name is . I recently bought my first house in downtown Orlando. My got a huge corner lot that is was in pretty pathetic shape garden-wise. I really want a color and scented garden. Is there anything you can suggest? So far I have a few jasmines, plumbago, butterfly bushes, verbenas, a purple "yellow bell" looking thing whose name I can never remember, and some little succulents whose name I can also never remember. I also want to plant fruit trees, mostly blueberries, citrus and strawberries. Do you suggest any other fruit? Sorry to bombard you with questions, I think I am a little garden happy right now.
Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

p.s. if you have any nursery suggestions I will take those too!

dear , it's a tough time of the year to start anything aside from woody perennials (like your jasmines and plumbagos). heck, even those are difficult unless it's very rainy. best to wait until the first cool front in november to try to plant much of anything new. right now i'm on standby--weeding, watering, waiting.

the easiest fruits to grow, imo, are grapes, citrus and bananas. a little harder are peaches & persimmons. blueberries are somewhat difficult inasmuch as it is very hard to keep the pH down (keep the acidity high). i really recommend sunshine blue blueberries, as these are very indifferent to acidity. you can get the sunshines at lowes in the cool months--very inexpensive, very productive bushes that don't grow too big. perfect for the backyard grower.

citrus can be got at a bigbox store, or at just about any nursery. i recommend that you order your grapes from a good nursery, esp one like JUST FRUITS AND EXOTICS (google it!). i grow nesbitt. very productive and easy. peaches, plums and persimmons can be purchased from JUST FRUITS and also from CHESTNUT HILL TREE FARM. i really like my flordaprince peach. i just planted some gulf-series plum, and i'm told they are fairly easy and productive.

for the best bananas you should attend the swaps that are organized on gardenweb, or post something on the swap page there. lots of very good gardeners down in orlando with tons of pups to give away.

finally, if you're look for something easy and pretty, i really recommend the new red knockout roses that are widely available. own-root, vigorous, and they are blooming heavily for me. i might make a big bed of them out front of my house this winter.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cucuzzi Squash

First cucuzza/trombone squash of the season. I think the common names are interchangeable. In any case, it's not really a squash, but a gourd: The flowers are white, bloom at night, smell like honeydew. The vine runs like crazy: Right now it's gone up a six-foot pole, across the top of a ten-foot conduit, down the opposite pole and now is running across another trellis. The picture below is from a week ago. The vine has probably doubled in length since then. This squash hadn't yet set when I took the picture below on the tenth, so, mind you, this fruit is less than a week old! And now it's, what, forty inches long? Wow!
When the vine gets really big it can support several of these fruit at a time.
The flesh is perfectly white, crisp, and sweeter/nuttier than regular squash. I think it's superior to zucchini squash, especially raw.
I'm making squash enchiladas from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen tonight: Corn tortillas dipped in a mildly hot chile sauce, fried, and dressed with squash and salty cheese.
Elsewhere in the garden... My metki cucumbers have started to produce, lots of hot peppers, peanuts are doing well, okra are up but weeks from producing, eggplants are doing well and finally starting to set fruit, tomato seedlings for fall are doing OK, grapes haven't started to color, limas are only just now flowering (got 'em in too late), the yardlong beans have started to twine, and sweet potatoes have the run of the place... Typical late-summer garden.
I need to get up the nerve to pick one of my watermelons!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

More summer bounty

Trombone squash, aka Tromboncino... bent on world domination.
Good harvest of Nesbitt grapes this year... they've ripened at the beginning of August the past couple of years. This year will likely be a little later.
Pomegranate! I have two fruits on my small tree.
Metki Painted Serpent (Cucumber Armenian (Cucumis melo L. var. flexuosus)).


Never grown watermelon here in FLA before. I planted the seeds (Asian Sweet from Evergreen seeds) at the end of the first week of March, and transplanted them into the garden sometime in April, in a sunny spot where I usually grow sweet potatoes. One of the few things that fared well while I was away for five weeks. I have six nice, football-sized melons (not sure how big they'll get), and the vines are continuing to sprawl everywhere. I expect a few more to set. Not bad from two seedlings.
Posted by Picasa

Late summer garden...

Posted by Picasa