Saturday, November 26, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

One last picture...

Stupid Blogger's gone all wiggy on my background, so, for the moment, something generic... 

Purple Queen

Maybe not the most exotic plant in the garden, but tough as nails and sometimes very pretty.

Rain lily

From Quick shots around the garden mid-october 2011

Monday, October 03, 2011

Flowering cactus

Usually I only get one bloom at a time, but this morning there were four... I love this cactus. I find that keeping them very pot-bound and feeding the lightly but regularly does the trick... I started this one maybe two years ago (maybe one) from a single piece of cactus from my friend, Mary.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Winter planting...

A quick note: I harvested a small patch of sweet potatoes (disappointing yield), then ripped everything else out of my large garden bed. Raked it all very deep. Carted in three or four loads of compost mix, spread it on top, and planted seeds: Rainbow Hybrid Carrots (Johnnys, pelleted); parsnips (Javelin), broccoli, cauliflower (Snow Crown), and chard. Transplanted seedlings into my front bed: cabbage (Gonzalez), broc (Blue Wind), and some other cruciferous. 

It's beautiful out. More like mid-May than the first week of October. (In Florida, that means "much cooler and the relative humidity is bearable.) Lots of yard and garden cleanup, too. I'm sweaty, smelly, and ready for a beer...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Time to sow cool-weather flowers...

I'm always a bit later than I want to be with sowing seeds. It's been a busy time, and this weekend is the first opportunity to get my winter/spring flowers into their nursery pots. Here's what I'm planting today: Alyssum, calendula, geraniums, nasturtiums, poppies (maybe), sunflowers (worth a shot-small-flowered ones, only), pansies (star of my winter garden, so easy from seed), and maybe snapdragons. I've grown snaps for so many years now that I get hundreds of volunteers popping up all winter. But if I start some short-cycle ones now, I might actually get blooms by December or so. 

I could plant petunias, too, but I hate them. So I won't. 

If I can find some stock (Matthiola) at Lowes, I'll plant those, too. I forgot to order them. They're easy to grow, and I've had some success with them in the past.

I don't bother with seeds for foxgloves and larkspur. I just by bedding plants when they finally appear at the nursery.

Oh, and my latest Burpee flower order:


adding... super sugar snap peas, too. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tecoma stans I grew from seed

Just marking time...

I made the error of putting my first set of seedlings in the garden too early. Hard to say what killed more--unbearable heat, sudden deluge, or bugs... I'll keep these veg (mostly cruciferous) in a protected area for another couple weeks before I trust them to Mother Earth... Right now, just tapping my foot, waiting for some cool weather, hoping it rains a bit more often, and enjoying the butterflies. This time of year, the real star in my garden is my chaya plant, the white waxy blooms of which are favorites with the winged and buzzing sorts.

Aside from my chaya, about the only thing blooming right now are:  Hamelia patens, cosmos, milkweed, dune sunflowers (Helianthus debilis), yellow lantana, jatropha, zinnia (Zahara mix), white Mexican petunia (Ruellia), and blue salvias. How about your place?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Monday, August 08, 2011

I get questions...

A reader writes...
Hey Michael, my wife and I love your blog, I'm in Deland as well and I'm just now starting my new garden. I've got it tilled and I plan to get a truckload of that compost mix from Volusia Shed to amend it. Do you plant in it immediately or do you let it rest? So far I've got several small type tomatoes(my kid loves them), brandywines, some peppers, and some broccoli seeds started. Probably direct sew some pickling cukes and carrots as well. I'm also very interested to see how your onion experiment goes. I tried shallots this last spring but they didn't bulb out well, might try them again from seed this winter.

I've planted seeds in compost almost immediately and never had a problem... That's unexpected, but then again, it's gardening, which is always full of unexpecteds. I imagine that a lot depends on the age and other qualities of the compost, and generally speaking, if it's possible, wait a few days before planting in newly-spread topsoil. Can't hurt, right? I recommend NOT TILLING IN THE TOPSOIL! All you'll do is bring nematodes up from the sand into your amendment. Spread it a few inches deep, and plant directly in it. Again, this isn't particularly intuitive--you'd think there'd be drainage problems, or that the soil would be too rich. But that's not been my experience. Our "soil" is so well drained and so poor... I suppose it's worth trying some cukes, but you'll likely have pickleworm and foliar problems--the days are too short in fall and we the wet and humid conditions are very difficult on all the cucurbits. Best to wait until March 1 (or even earlier!) to transplant healthy seedlings. 

I've never known anyone with any success when it comes to shallots in FLA. In many respects, though, onions are the ideal household crop: In ten feet of sunny and rich row, I must have harvested 35 red onions this spring. Considering the price of red onions at the grocer's, I can't think of any crop that beats onions on economics! And here's the interesting thing: I picked the onions when I got back from my long six-week trip, so sometime at the end of June. The tops had completely dried and disappeared, but the onions themselves were in perfect conditions. I am STILL eating those onions! They're as good as the day I picked them. Heck, onions from the store go bad after a few days! I have no idea why these onions have such excellent keeping qualities, but I suspect it's because they were so thoroughly cured in the field. Anyway, those were from sets I got late in spring from Lowes. Sets are great, since you get bulbs in a matter of a few weeks, but they are unavailable until March. But I suspect I can get a couple successions of plantings using seeds. Onions are completely indifferent to the mild freezes we get... 

I try to answer all the questions I get... But sometimes I'm on the road or too busy. Sorry if you've written recently and I have missed your email. 

Sunday, August 07, 2011

end of tomatoes

I was still getting a few Juliettes a day, but they were suffering from a myriad of problems, so I went ahead and ripped out all the remaining tomatoes in my beds. Being gone all summer has meant my late-summer garden is lean: Sweet potatoes, lots of yardlong beans, some cowpeas, hot peppers, one sweet pepper, lots of herbs (oregano, mint, thyme, rosemary and Mexican tarragon, basil are all doing fine) and watermelons. The latter have produced some pretty good melons lately. I've given the sweet potatoes and watermelons the run of the place.

Purchased a yard of mixed compost and peat moss from Volusia Shed and moved about half of it into my beds. I spent the rest of the day pulling weeds and doing general landscaping maintenance--lots of work around the house has piled up, and my yard is sorta embarrassing right now!

Seedlings are doing great. I fed them with a half-strength mixture of Miracle-Gro today as their growth had halted. I've also moved them into full sun. 

I saved back a couple cuttings from my Juliettes and I think they've already rooted. I'll put them back in the garden in a few weeks, after the compost cools down. When I do that, I'll plant some carrots and lettuce, and around September 1, I'll transplant the cruciferous seedlings into the garden. 

Oh, so far, so good with the red onion seeds--I'm optimistic that I'll have a row's worth to get into the garden in early September. It's hard to see why I've always waited for sets to show up at the gardening center when growing from seed seems pretty easy.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Seeds planted August 28th

In rows, all Johnnys unless otherwise:
1, 2: Blue Wind broccoli
3, 4: Gonzales cabbage
5: Edible Amaranth (Evergreen)
6: India Spinach beet

1, 2: Bionda chard
3, 4: Snow Crown cauliflower
5,6: Moneta beet

A week later, everything's up, though poor germination for the India Spinach beet.

Monday, July 25, 2011

I get questions...

A reader writes:
I'm curious about your plant list as I'm new to gardening. I found some planting guides from the county extension services/IFAS offices that say for central FL, in August we should plant pole beans, broccoli, sweet corn, bunching onions, pumpkin, summer squash and watermelon. You said you are about to plant lettuce, carrots, peas and onions. I have all but the carrots planned to start in September and the carrots in October. I'm in Lakeland, just a little south of you. Could the guides be too conservative or once skills are developed you can plant earlier or later than recommended? 
Those dates (I presume) are for seedlings, which require at least four weeks to get to size. So, plant seeds now and they should be ready for transplant by the beginning of September. I wouldn't direct sow anything now: While generally I prefer direct sowing, the conditions are not suitable for it. Too much violent rain, too darn hot, too much humidity, and the earth is just writhing with buggies who love to eat your seed. Better to have some control--I like a mix of half and half peat/perlite in seedling trays. Microwave the medium for a while to get it clean, then soak it well. Keep things under cover, but where they get some sun, until the seeds germinate and break the surface of the medium. Then, move to a partly-sunny, shaded & protected site, with protection from the elements. And hope for the best! So much can go so wrong so quickly this time of the year.

Hold off on adding liquid fertilizer until the seedlings have their first "true leaves."

In the fall, I would not plant any melons/cucurbits at this time, even in Lakeland: October and November are wet, cloudy and humid... perfect conditions for molds/fungi. Just not worth it when it comes to pumpkins, etc. Same holds true for pole beans: They can certainly be grown, but they are prone to rust and take up a lot of room that would be better used growing other things.

My gardening friend Christine started her carrots mid-August, direct sown, last year. By September, they were already a few inches tall. I'm going to give it a shot this year, using seed tapes from Johnnys.

Generally speaking, it's crucially important to get crops in as early as possible. Better to have to replant than to get things started even a week or two late.

A week or two in the fall can mean a month's difference in harvesting schedule: You want plants as large as possible before it gets cold and growth slows down. I've sown broccoli a couple weeks apart, and gotten crops from the early seeds before Christmas, but had to wait until February for the seeds sown later. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Back in the game...

Since May 11, I've spent a total of twelve nights here in DeLand. On the road... Now, I'm back. Florida welcomed me with a might storm last night: at least four inches of rain, likely closer to six, in a short time. I've never seen the flooding so bad.

The garden looks pretty shabby now--hot days, abundant but irregular rainfall, fungi and bugs have taken their toll. The Juliette tomatoes are still producing pretty well--two plants have produced an abundance of pear-shaped cherries, more really than the family could eat. I got back into town and, after one week of no one picking them, I managed to get about a pound of fruit. For whatever reason, presumably skin thickness (though I don't detect it), these tomatoes are pretty resistant to stinkbugs. The only thing that eats them is us and the birds.

Let's see... my grapes are ripening. I opened one of my pomegranates today: Typical Florida fruit. Pale, but acceptable. Persimmons are ripening. Sweet potatoes have the run of the place. Beans are producing scantily because of our warm nights. Basil is hanging in there, but it cannot cope with these conditions... Herbs in pots (thyme, oregano, rosemary, mint) are doing OK and will get rejuvenated when the hot weather breaks in six weeks or so.

August first is my traditional seeding day for the cool season--brassicas and carrots, the former sown in jiffy pots and the latter directly sown. I'll try to get some lettuce and chard started (including that Indian chard I bought recently from Evergreen), but I've always had trouble getting those crops started when it's so warm. Here's my Johnnys order... I'm going to give growing onions from seeds a shot this year--last year I had to wait until early spring to get appropriate sets, and while I had a very nice crop, I would prefer to get them in earlier.

Gosh, I wish Johnnys shipping weren't so dear!

Blue Wind (F1)-Packet
Vegetables > Broccoli > Hybrid

Snow Crown (F1)-Packet
Vegetables > Cauliflower > White

Super Sugar Snap-Packet
Vegetables > Peas > Snap

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

Desert Sunrise (F1)-Packet
Vegetables > Onions > Hard Storage > Red

Moneta (Monogerm) (F1)-Packet
Vegetables > Beets > Round Red

Sugarsnax 54 (F1) (Pelleted)-Packet
Vegetables > Carrots > Main Crop

Mokum (F1) (Pelleted)-Packet
Vegetables > Carrots > Early

Rainbow (Pelleted)-Packet
Vegetables > Carrots > Colored

Bionda di Lyon-Packet
Vegetables > Quick Hoops™ crops > Quick Hoops™ crops for Zone 8 and above

Saturday, June 18, 2011

my Evergreen Seeds order

I'm in the mood to try something new in my summer garden... I've grown Amaranth, which is really tasty and a breeze. It's been a long time since I've grown Malabar Spinach. And I'm intrigued by the description of the India Spinach Beet, which claims that it's a popular hot-weather crop in India, which shares some of our meteorological conditions, so, it's surely worth a try. Oh, and the squash sounded like fun. I love hybrids. 

  • Edible Amaranth, Tender    41501         1   1.85
  • Malabar Spinach, Green     28001         1   2.10
  • Edible Amaranth, All Red:  58301         1   1.85
  • Calabash, Hybrid Lattoo:   64401         1   2.20
  • Japanese Turnip, Hybrid    54501         1   2.20
  • India Spinach Beet: India  57901         1   1.95
adding... India Spinach Beet

India Spinach Beet is a fast growing vegetable, native to Indian hot and raining summer weather. Leaves are smooth, tender and uniformly green. First cutting can be done in 25 to 30 days after sowing and subsequent cuttings can be harvested in 15-20 days. Instead of the cutting method, some people like to harvest by picking outter leaves for eating, while the plant continues to produce more new inner leaves. This vegetable is strongly resistant to heat and is one of the most popular greens during hot summer in India and Southern Asia.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Responding to some questions in the comments...

"How do you battle stink bugs? We barely get a tomato from our plants because the stink bugs beat us to them?"

For whatever reason, I haven't had much of a problem with them this year, though in years past they've been a nuisance. It's very important to pick your tomatoes before they are too ripe--I usually try to pick them right after they've blushed, or maybe the next day. They ripen up just fine on the countertop, no discernible difference in flavor. You can also control the population with a pair of needle-nose pliers and a quick hand. The problem is that the bugs seem most active during the hottest part of the day, which makes the whole affair unpleasant on several levels.

This is my first year for home gardening and it's been very exciting. However, my squash and cucumbers have fallen victim to pickleworms!! I wanted to ask if you were successful with bagging your plants to resolve the problem? Do you bag the entire plant or just the blossoms/fruits? Thanks so much!

I've had great success in the past, but I was away from home during the initial invasion of pickleworms and now the cukes have stopped setting fruit, so this year, no chance to try it. In the past the biggest obstacle has been heavy rains that would ruin the bags... I wish we had that problem right now!

I hope that trombone squash comes up! I saw it in a youtube and loved how the slices are almost uniform when using just the neck, AND no seeds from the neck either! Never heard of those limas either, are the beans actually black
The tromboncino is really tasty, too! One fruit weighs at least a pound, and there are no seeds to speak of anywhere in the body. Oh, and the limas: These are a passalong plant, supposedly a hybrid of Willow Leaf limas and another black lima. There's a whole story about a dying agronomist in Tennessee... anyway, I found them when I was rooting through my bag of bean seeds and thought I'd give them a try. It's a bit late to plant limas, but they'll still produce.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Before dashing to the office, I planted:
  • Perilla
  • Basil (Genoa... I couldn't find a more heat tolerant one in my seeds)
  • A bunch of Trombone squash seeds (from 2007... I'll be mildly surprised if any germinate.)
  • Mississippi Silver cowpeas
  • Black Jungle limas
No room in the garden for peanuts. I'm continuing to plant sweet potato slips as they come available from my "stock." Now... Off the salt mine!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A note on green beans: Late-spring crop

Most people I know here in Florida plant two bean crops--one for the fall (mid-August plant date) and another for spring (first warm week plant date). I don't usually bother with the fall beans.

Typically by June, the spring bean crop has burned out. I've always wondered if the vines decline because of heat/humidity/pests, or if the vines decline because, well, annuals die after a season. So, this year, about May 1, I planted a second crop to test: a short row of Rattlesnake Beans (Southern Exposure, known heat resistance).

When I returned on Saturday after a month away, I found that my early-spring crop was dead or nearly so, with only a few vines producing the typical misshapen and stringy beans I've learned to expect for this time of year. The May-planted Rattlesnakes, though, are growing vigorously, full of blossoms and perfect, mottled, narrow, tender beans. We'll see how long they continue to produce, but it seems that it's possible to extend the green bean season for at least a few weeks into mid-June or later. Since the Rattlesnakes are saved seeds, and beans are generally a low-hassle crop, the cost and trouble are almost surely worth it.

My Willow-Leaf limas, planted a week or so later than the Rattlesnakes, are blooming and vigorous. Strangely, my yardlongs seems puny. They haven't started to run or bloom. I need to throw some cowpeas in the ground where the declining pole beans are planted. Maybe I'll grow some extra limas, too.

Man, it's HOT out there. I'm "lucky" to be suffering from some serious jet lag. I was up at 3am this morning, and cleaning up the garden before sunrise.

I noticed the bee hive has gone crazy with the new super. I counted more than 60 bees a minute exiting the hive at dawn--a steady stream.

A few other mumblings and reminders, while I'm sitting here: Cucumbers are basically done. The ones that are setting are generally beset by the #(*&##%* pickleworm. I need to tear them out. Sweet potatoes are only now beginning to run. I need to plant peanuts. Peppers seem to be slow this year--lots of fruit on them, but the heat will probably limit the fruit size. I need to get some basil seeds. I harvested a bunch of large, sweet red onions. I'd all but forgotten they were there. Tops were all dead, but the onions themselves look good. 

Summer harvest

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Back home

Back after a month on the road. Ridiculous tomatoes. These are today's harvest--my wife tells me it's small compared with previous days' harvests. I'll do some updates to the blog later this weekend when I'm recovering from jet lag. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ladybug larva having an aphid snack...

All this dry weather, I have a bit of an aphid infestation. I'm away from my garden for a few days, and a friend is looking after it. She tells me that the #$%*(#$^* pickleworm has arrived, but so far the invasion is pretty limited. Dozens of tomatoes every day, peppers, loads of cucumbers... The traditional squash season is over. I might plant some Tromboncino squash when I get back.
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A quick update in pictures....

My beans are suffering a bit from some nutrient deficiency... note the cucumber to the left. This is my smallest cuke!


The hive with its new super.
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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Answering some questions from the comments

Lisa, gardenias are exceptionally difficult to grow in pots. I can all but guarantee you that your gardenia was suffering from over watering this winter. I recommend either planting it in the ground or planting it in a small pot with a fast draining medium. Try googling "garden web Mel's mix." If you are serious about growing gardenias in Florida, there is one absolutely crucial secret for success: you must get a gardenia grafted on Miami rootstock. Plant it in a mostly sunny spot, ideally somewhere with some afternoon shade. Take good care of it for the first one or two years, and then forget about it.

Farmer Dave my fig trees are in full sun. They are planted in a very thick covering of mulch, which I think is crucial for fig culture here in Florida, with all our nematodes. Contrary to most information I have found about figs, I think please require quite a lot water and they like a rich soil . This year I gave my fig trees a significant feed of phosphorous in early spring. This seems to have done the trick, because my fruit set is large for a relatively small fig tree. (My fig tree has been in the ground for about three years, and is approximately 10 feet tall by 6 feet wide with several trunks.) In any case, I have a good gardening friend with five or six fig trees growing on her property. Each of these big trees produce at lease a bushel of fruit per year. So, fig trees can certainly thrive here given the correct conditions.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Juliette tomatoes

Hmmm... Well, they aren't exactly cherry or grape tomatoes, though they grow in long clusters. The flavor and texture is very reminiscent of Roma tomatoes, as you might expect by their appearance. A little dry, very balanced between sweet and sour, medium skins, not a lot of seeds, all of them in a narrow cleft in the center of the fruit. 

I like cherry tomatoes--great to snack on (my daughter loves them), and a nice addition to a lunch salad. (My favorite: Fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs, and feta, dressed liberally with olive oil and a big pinch of Aleppo pepper...) 

I suppose these are all-purpose tomatoes--good enough for salads and sauce. In any case, they live up to the descriptions when it comes to vigor, productivity and disease-resistance. I've never grown a more vigorous tomato, and the vines are just covered in long clusters of 10-12 one-ounce tomatoes. 

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Busy bees

My kids' 4H group has placed these hives all over town in community gardens, local growers, and convenient backyards, like ours. They harvest the honey and sell it at fairs. Not bad money, really...

Between this hive with thirty-thousand bees, and the one living in the south corner of my house (our apiarist estimated fifty-thousand bees)... I don't have a lot of problems with fertilization!

First full-sized tomato of the season

Tomande. A superior tomato. In the past I've grown it as a cool-season tomato. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


I picked up a bunch of this stuff last year, when Lowes was clearancing it. Yes, it really works, and it's organic. I used it last year, and it made a difference, though I don't know if it made a "50%" difference, as advertised on the label. 

I sprayed it in the garden and yard on Sunday, and noticed an immediate improvement in late-afternoon wilt on my cucumber plants and what little St Augustine is in my front yard. It's pricey (it retails for around $25, though I think I paid less than $10), but a quart is enough to treat twice all my beds and the in my yard. And I only spray it once a year, in spring. 

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gardenia in full bloom

I have a couple of these large gardenia bushes... They are about five years old, six feet tall, six feet wide. It's important to get bushes grafted onto Miami rootstock and give them a bit of shade in the afternoon. One of the bushes gets a lot more sun than the other, and though it blooms a little better, it's not as large as the shadier one. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

A panoramic shot of my backyard gardens

Mostly Tomande tomatoes, which is what I had on hand when sowing my spring crop. Great tomatoes, but I'm worried about the deep ribbing across the tops. When our rains start (and they will start... sometime!) those handsome ridges are like bacterial sponges... ah, well, que sera.

The twine line at the top marks six feet. That's quite a lot of growth from March 1, their transplant date. 

Large tomatoes like Tomande (and there's Jetsetter, some German heirloom, Big Boy, and some other varieties mixed into my three rows in the back) will produce pretty well until the first week of July, when the bugs get so bad that I give up. (They stop setting new fruit earlier, sometime in June, when the nighttime low start to hover in the low 70s.) 

Cherry tomatoes--I have Juliette and some Baker Creek in the front garden--continue to set fruit throughout the summer. They're such rampant growers that they can deal with the diseases and bugs. But even those are done by the end of July. 

Let's see... squash is prolific. Green beans are doing well. Peaches, blueberries and plums continue to ripen. I've gotten enough blueberries in the last three days to make a pie. Hmm... cucumbers are doing what cukes do. First peppers of the season should be ready by the end of the week. Been starting sweet potato slips, transferring them out to the patch. Oh, and I planted a long row of yardlong beans today, too. Anna apples look GREAT. Very excited about a nice harvest this year. Persimmons and pomegranates look good. Melons are setting fruit. 

Guess that's about it... Busy time in the office now, so finding time to zip out to the garden and do chores is tough. 

Oh, finally: Damn irrigation system. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Re: [Gardening in Central Florida] New comment on First peaches, plums of the season.

Someone in the comments asked about the flavor of the my Earligrande peaches and the Gulf series plums. This is the first year that I have harvested the peaches, and I chose not to thin them given the relatively small crop. The peaches are smallish. Like all early–season peaches (and these are very early season peaches: they ripened before May!), these peaches lack the rich, full, intensely sweet flavor that I associate with Midwestern and Northern peaches. A couple of years ago I was in New Hampshire in August, and we sneaked into a large orchard late one night and gorged ourselves on perfectly ripe, late season New Hampshire peaches. Unspeakably delicious. The peaches one can grow in Florida will never rival their northern cousins in terms of flavor. With that caveat in mind, I would say that these particular peaches are nonetheless very tasty. Though not quite as sweet as I might like, they have excellent texture and a very honest peach flavor. They are Freestone peaches with reasonably thin skins and fair amount of juice. 

The plums, like all southern plums, are on the small side. Because there is a high ratio of skin to flesh, my kids do not particularly care for them. But if you relish a mix of sour and candy-sweet flesh, then you will love these plums. Very juicy, excellent texture, and straightforward plum flavor.

Sunken-bed vegetable gardening in Central Florida

I've posted previously on sunken bed gardening in arid regions. (Ours isn't arid most of the year, but it shares characteristics with arid regions.) I'd like to say that my sunken bed in front is intentional, but it came about when I needed a few cubic feet of fill for a construction project in my backyard. I filled the large (ten-by-ten) trench with a couple cubic feet of topsoil and compost, but apparently not quite enough. After the soil settled, I ended up with a bed sunken maybe five inches. That bed has been incredibly prolific this season (see the photos below), and very easy to keep watered. Much easier, in any case, than my beds in back, which aren't exactly traditional raised beds, but resemble raised beds. (I have spent several years filling in these beds with compost, leaves, mulch, etc. They appear to be level beds, but that's only because I have raised the entire area by several inches. I was digging in a spot yesterday and found an old brick buried under four inches of soil, mulch, leaves--a couple of years ago, it had lain on the surface of the garden, and somehow gotten inadvertently buried under successive seasonal plantings...)

In any case, the one problem I can see in sunken-bed gardening is our heavy rainfalls causing flooding, erosion, root rot, etc. All the problems that people who garden in heavy, silty soils experience. S far, this hasn't been a problem with our arid spring. We did have torrential rains in early April, and I didn't notice any problems after four or five inches of rain. But time will tell.

I know people in Central Florida who have had some good success with raised-bed gardens, but they have some obvious drawbacks here, including increased transpiration/evaporation that makes proper watering difficult, and the fact that they tend to get infested with pests and diseases. My friend Bill, from whom I learned a lot about gardening in Florida, used raised beds for several years, but ended up dismantling them when the diseases and pests got too bad. He blames the raised beds, specifically, for the mounting problems in his garden.

April flowers, tomatoes & the new garden patch

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How to water a vegetable garden in Central Florida

A followup to my earlier post on watering: The setup: Six feet of PVC riser with a Rainbird flush-head sprinkler head, all of it connected via a short hose to a bib-end timer. Far and away the best way I have found to irrigate the smallish gardens where I grow. The bed it waters is roughly fifteen-by-fifteen, and the sprinkler provides very even watering over the entire surface. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My evergreen seeds order for this spring

I meant to post this back in February, when I ordered these seeds... The Pum Ae squash and Southern Delight cucumbers are fantastic... both of them producing heavily in my garden right now. The Pum Ae can get quite large (two pounds) without forming seeds. Its texture is firm, slightly nutty, somewhat reminiscent of a Luffa or Tromboncino, but still clearly a summer squash (and not a gourd). Beautiful, slightly zonal leaves. Seems to be highly resistant to the rusts and fungus we get. 

The Southern Delight are long, sweet, somewhat spiny, with mild skin. I left one to grow to almost two feet, and it still didn't have pronounced seeds and its texture was dense. I have the melons and watermelons growing in the garden, setting fruit. I grew the Asia Sweet watermelon last year... it produced large crops (for the small space), and set fruit twice... with a tragic end... 

I love Evergreen seeds! Cheap, hybrid seeds, mostly specialized in Asian vegetables.

Watermelon, Hybrid Asia    53201         1   2.50
Sweet: Watermelon, Hybrid
Asia Sweet

Korean Squash, Hybrid Pum  65001         1   2.40
Ae: Korean Squash, Hybrid
Pum Ae

Japanese Cucumber, Hybrid  47301         1   2.50
Southern Delight:
Japanese Cucumber, Hybrid
Southern Delight

Oriental Melon, Hybrid     65801         1   3.00
Arko: Oriental Melon,
Hybrid Arko

Pickled turnips...

I made a large (2 gallon) batch of these pickled turnips earlier this season... they were delicious! The Hakurei turnips that I grow are so tender that I didn't bother blanching them. Just tossed them in the pickle juice and waited a week. I used beets and celery from the garden, so it was really local food...


1 large beet
4 small turnips (or 3 medium-size turnips), quartered
1 beet quarter, cooked
2 to 3 slivers garlic clove
2 to 3 sprigs young celery leaves
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp. coarse salt

Cooking Directions
Boil 1 beet in water until tender; peel, cool, quarter and set aside.Drop quartered turnips into boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove turnips and peel them. They will have a silky texture.Place in hot sterilized 1-pint wide-mouth jar, packing between each turnip: 1 cooked beet quarter, 2 to 3 slivers of garlic clove, and 2 to 3 sprigs young celery leaves. Combine and bring to boil water, vinegar, and salt.

Fill jar with vinegar mixture, seal and store in warm place 10 days. Makes 1 pint.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Watering the garden in Central Florida

A commenter asks about watering. There's a very long answer that I have been articulating in my head for a while that involves various ethical and economical tradeoffs. But the short  answer is easy: You need to water as much as the plants need, and more specifically, you probably need to water a lot more than you currently water. Certainly that has been the case for me: Slowly over the past five years I've realized a simple and obvious truth: Plants need copious water to grow well here, with our (sometimes) arid climate, strong sun, winds, and overly-drained soils. It is, in fact, very difficult to over-water here in Florida (barring the mucky soils we have in certain regions in Central Florida). Water is often the limiting factor in a home garden and dooryard orchards. Most people simply don't water enough, and water-deprived plants are unhealthy plants.

Reading gardening books for northerners, you often read about watering "deeply" rather than often. By watering deeply (so goes the thinking), you take advantage of the holding capacity of the soil, and plants can "help themselves" to the residual water in the soil.

Doesn't work here in Florida. Really, no matter how much organic material you rake in, no matter how thick your mulch, you're going to need to water often, and therefore, don't bother watering deeply. That "deep" watering is wasteful: Most of it drains out of our soils. (If you ever look through a microscope at sandy soil, comparing it with more typical, loamy/clayey soils like the kinds we find in the Midwest, the grains of sand look like boulders next to the tiny particles from "real" garden soil. What makes clayey soil clayey is precisely the particle size. The space among those sand boulders acts like a sieve, flushing water from the soil. When we take the kids up north, they are fascinated by puddles because here in Florida, we just don't have many.)

Especially during our peak growing months in spring (March and April), when rainfall is relatively rare, the air is clear, the moisture-robbing winds are brisk, and the sun is strong, you need to water daily, until the root zone is well saturated. Most days, I stick my finger in the ground when I come home around 6. I expect the soil to be dark and moist.

It takes a lot of water to do that during our hot-dry spells.

I use a mix of microsprinklers and conventional sprinklers. The latter are jerry-rigged: I mount Orbit flush-head sprinkler heads onto six-foot PVC risers in the center of my garden: I get very even, quick coverage over a large-diameter circle. I water my main garden bed about 15 minutes every day, mid-morning. My remaining areas are irrigated using Mister Mister system, which lets me water very precise areas, very precisely. I run lines into my pots and use 360° sprinklers under fruit trees, and then position 90° sprinkler heads so beds get watered "from behind"... There are many arid areas in my garden beds where I plant drought-tolerant plants, but they tend to be in the backs and corners of beds.

Look, water in Florida is cheap (too cheap). One day soon, we'll face some serious capacity issues, but not because of my vegetable garden. Blame the resorts with ten acres of St Augustine, exposed to full sun, and the jackasses with an acre of turf in their private residence who run the sprinklers every morning during the rainy season. (I have one of those neighbors behind me.)

If you garden, balancing real ecological concerns and the natural desire for plentiful blooms, fruit and vegetable is tough, but the alternative to watering sufficiently is (obviously) underwatering, which is itself wasteful, as that insufficient water is itself still a consumed resource, but one without the maximum yield (however you figure it). If you plant a rose bush or a squash plant, you basically commit to watering it enough. Otherwise, don't bother planting it in the first place. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pickled baby squash

First peaches, plums of the season

Something to have along with dessert this Easter day. Earligrande peach and Gulf Blaze plum. The peaches are wee, but that's because I didn't cull them this year. No regrets--they ripened very early, likely because they were so small...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Growing Snapdragons in Central Florida

usi aluminiu has left a new comment on your post "Snapdragons":

In my garden i can`t grow snapdragons. They need something special or i don`t know, some conditions?

Posted by usi aluminiu to Gardening in Central Florida at 8:58 AM

Snaps are a BREEZE for me... they need abundant sun, well-drained soil (no problems there), and sometimes some support (tho i often let them flop and then they grow bushier). timing is probably the hardest thing--they take FOREVER to grow from seed. 

In my garden, all the snaps you see are volunteers from last year's crop. (Consistent irrigation (not TOO much water) is key here: When they germinate, they need damp soil.) They typically infest beds, and I pull out hundreds of seedlings every year. I also collect seed and plant it in windowboxes in September. They take a hundred plus days to mature... and they stay tiny most of the time. but as soon as the weather warms, they take off. The ones that I plant in windowboxes get transplanted throughout the garden.

My experience: They transplant well, are reasonably low in their water needs, bloom from the beginning of March (earlier, sometimes) until mid-June. SAaved seed is HIGHLY variable. But charming in its outcome: I have some peach and yellow picoteed ones out there now.  

At the end of the season, let the seed pods dry thoroughly before ripping them out... 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spring or summer in the Central Florida garden?

The title to this post presents real dilemma. I am sitting in the shade where it is still at least 83° trying to cool off after a morning of picking vegetables and tending my gardens. And on that level at least, it's clearly an early summertime here in Central Florida. We've had abundant rainfall over the last couple of weeks, at least 4 inches. It's seems the rainy season has started early this year after a cold winter. Our spring, in other words, has been cut short on both ends. But the evenings are still dry and cool and the spring flowers are sure bloomy. In the vegetable garden, I'm still harvesting spring and winter vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli and brussels sprouts. This morning I harvested my first small handful of the potatoes. I didn't dig up the plants, I just fumbled around them until I found a good size potatoes. My mother tells me that this is called "scrambling" or "scrabbling" where she grew up in western Kentucky

I tried brussels sprouts for the first time in the winter garden this year. I can't say that I met with a lot of success. They took forever to grow to any good size, and the yield was disappointing, if tasty. I made a simple dish last night of boiled cauliflower and brussels sprouts dressed with a garlicy, mustardy  butter sauce. Tasty.  But, not worth the real estate in the garden when it comes to the brussels sprouts. 

A quick roundup of what's going on in the vegetable garden. The carrots  continue to do well, I still have two long rows of them that need to be pulled sometime before May. I am harvesting the last of the broccoli and cauliflower this week. I planted out the seedlings  in my garden at the end of February and am getting my final harvest in mid April. My squash plants are producing abundantly. The cucumbers are just now starting to set a lot of fruit. Tomatoes are growing vigorously and have a good number of green fruits on them. I might manage a small harvest by the beginning of May, and they'll produce until the beginning of July. (Longer for the small-fruited varieties.) Pepper plants are getting larger although still not flowering. First beans of the season should be ready at the end of this week. Chard and salad greens are still going strong but they will begin to decline by the end of the month. Finally, peaches and plums are rapidly gaining size and starting to color. They might be ready by the beginning of the second week of May.