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.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Quick update

Today in the garden, I picked the first cucumber, and the first head of broccoli that I planted in my new front bed at the end of January. I also picked the last of the seasons peas and ripped out the pea plants to make room for more beans. It looks like my Ranunculus plants will start to bloom in the next few days. A good thing, considering that this steamy week has been very hard on these beautiful but delicate bulbs. Finally, I noticed that my largest tomato plants have begun to set fruit abundantly. In particular, my Tomande plants are producing very well.

First cuke of the season