Friday, October 12, 2012

Sweet potato season!

A beautiful morning here in Central Florida! First day of the dry season. (I'm sure the wet season isn't completely over, but every dry day eats away a little at the wet-season's dominance...)
Out of curiosity, I dug a little around the walk through my sweet potato patch. I found these humdingers about a foot from one another... if this offers a sign of what's in the patch, I think it bodes well... (The beer can is, of course, there for a sense of scale...)

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Persimmon season!

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Monday, October 08, 2012

Some quick shots around the garden...

I need to get back to regular blogging! Dug out my front summer bed and transplanted my (sorry little) seedlings into it. Also planted seeds of the usual suspects: Onions, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, and some hardier salad greens (arugula, cress). 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Very brief update for August...

I've been traveling for the last three weeks, so nothing much going on in the garden. More eggplants than I care to eat. Lots of sweet banana peppers. My Tabasco peppers are finally ripening. Grapes continue to produce well (Nesbit), but they're winding down. Lost some more persimmons with all the rain we've been having (three inches in the last couple of days alone)... and it looks like Isaac might hit next week! Herbs continue to do well, but they're beginning to struggle with the heat, rain, and declining sunshine. (That combination is a perfect trifecta for the fungal problems that knock back my herbs like oregano, thyme, tarragon and parsley.)

Anyway, I managed to get a bunch of onion seeds started at the end of July. My first attempt at cruciferous seedlings failed, predictably. So, today, I started:
a/b: Cassius cauliflower
c/d: Bluewind broccoli
e: Winterbore kale
f: Moneta beets
g: Gonzales early cabbage

We'll see...

Sunday, July 22, 2012


I'm travelling heavily in the coming weeks, so I'm not too optimistic that these seeds will survive the weeks before transplant, but... on the off chance that the bugs don't eat them, the storms don't wash them, the kids don't trample them, and the sun doesn't bake them... I planted White Crown cauliflower, Blue Wind broccoli, Cajun Red onions and Pumba yellow onions today... We'll see.

In any case, it's ideal to have good sized seedlings ready to go into the garden on August 15. Even if these survive the following weeks, I doubt they'll be quite ready for transplant in three weeks. Ah, well, the ideal and all that.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What's going on in the late-July garden?

A few shots of the garden... Besides the eggplants and peppers, I still have a few healthy tomato plants producing cherry tomatoes... The Nesbitt grapes are ripening, and the persimmons should be ready by the end of August at the latest.

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First grapes!

Nesbitt. Very nice muscadine--thinner skin, pips aren't bad (hardly noticeable). Strong Concord/Fox flavor (a good thing for eating grapes). Matures over the course of several weeks. I picked three today. Looks to be a huge harvest. I'll need to use the bird cloth once they notice...

Really sweet this year, though the fruit seems smaller than in the past. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Quick remark on late-season figs...

For the first time, my Alma fig is setting and retaining summer fruit. You'll often see Almas and other southern fig trees described as everbearing. For years, my tree has sporadically set fruit during the summer, only to drop them before they ripened. (And an unripened fig is not a pleasant thing...) Now that I guess it's reached maturity, my tree is pretty regularly holding onto these summer fruit until mature. I ate a couple perfect figs from its branches yesterday morning, and there's another half dozen on the tree. In California, mature trees produce two crops a year. I wonder if my tree will ever produce a second large harvest? I doubt it, given its propensity to develop rust late in the summer and defoliate, but I can hope, right?

Anyway, it's been interesting to cultivate this tree over the past five years, from a tiny cutting in a pot to its present ten-foot height. I need to prune it this winter, as it's growing out of bounds...

Monday, July 09, 2012

Responding to a question...

I try to respond to questions in the comments... Sally from New Orleans asked a question in the comments to an earlier post.

I'm in New Orleans, hot and humid like you are. Do you prefer Johnny's seeds for our areas? I've bought a lot from Burpee and have had reasonable sucess, except for tomatoes. They just like to die. Unless I stop being organic, I have to accept that. I put in various Kales and they'll go almost all year. I put in more flowers this year, half died. It's quite a change from the northeast where I was. I really enjoy your blog, I't helped explain a lot and given me a better idea of how the seasons run. Alien to what I'm used to. Thanks, Sally 
and my quick response...

i like johnnys because they have a large selection of hybrids & reasonable prices. (shipping is steep, though... but probably reflects the true cost.) moreover, i have never been disappointed with the germination and performance of their plants, and never felt that i'd been sold the 'wrong' seed.
that said, i don't tend to buy my tomatoes from them, as tomato growers supply has a much better selection. (i still think they sent me the wrong seeds for sungold this year...)
tomatoes in our climes--just tough to grow. i grow mostly organic (i use chemical fertilizers because i think they are actually more ecologically friendly here in florida). i guess a couple points, based on my experience:
1) hybrids. forget the darn 'heirloom' varieties. NONE OF THEM is as good as an f1. not in terms of flavor, performance, nothing. buy small or medium sized, early or mid-season tomatoes with as many letters after their names as possible. seriously,that's how i tomato shop.
2) better too early than too late. i don't know enough about nola's clime, but here in fla, we have windows. missing the window by a couple of weeks makes a huge difference. tomato seeds are easy and cheap. stagger your seeding schedule so you have some to go in really early, and others in reserve. if you get a freeze, or if the fall-season crop gets blasted by a hurricane--you'll have backups. 

Adding: An interesting and unintended experiment. I had a dozen of "reserve" seedlings at the end of March. Some Mountain Magic and Juliet. Big seedlings, but stressed as they were in small pots. So I transferred them to a somewhat shady corner of the garden with no real expectation that they'd offer much crop. Right now, they are produce heavily and look healthy compared to my almost-dead, nearly-defoliated main crop of tomatoes. I reckon their performance is due a bit to the shade, a bit to being held back. What it tells me, though, is that my main crop of tomatoes is burning out not only because they are suffering from a myriad of diseases and bug issues, but also because they must be reaching the end of their useful lifespan. This discovery lends me to think that there might be a bit more flexibility in planting schedules than I'd long assumed. Maybe a staggered planting scheme is the way to go--the second will surely miss out on the main production time (May and June), but I might be able to eke out a few extra weeks of tomato harvest by planting some seedlings at the end of March. In any case, this strategy would only work with small-fruited tomatoes, which can set fruit during our hot nights. (Larger tomatoes need a few hours of sub-70° temperatures at night to set fruit.)

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Johnnys order...

Getting ready for my winter/spring garden... I'll plant these mid-July for transplant into the garden in mid-August... Of course, half the seedlings will die... it's Florida!

Pumba (F1)-Packet
Vegetables > Onions > Hard Storage > Yellow – Full Size
Desert Sunrise (F1)-Packet
Vegetables > Onions > Hard Storage > Red – Full Size
Alibi (F1)-Mini
Vegetables > Cucumbers > American Pickling
Sweet Mojo (F1)-Mini
Vegetables > Tomatoes > Small-fruited > "Grape"
Vegetables > Beans > Beans, Pole
Chioggia Guardsmark-Packet
Vegetables > Beets > Specialty
Touchstone Gold (OG)-Packet
Vegetables > Beets > Golden Beets
Belstar (F1) (OG)-Packet
Vegetables > Broccoli > Hybrid
Snow Crown (F1)-Packet
Vegetables > Cauliflower > White
Arugula (OG)-Packet
Vegetables > Greens > Arugula/Roquette > Salad
Red Cross Butterhead Lettuce-Packet
Vegetables > Lettuce > Butterhead/Boston > Red
Hakurei (F1)-Packet
Vegetables > Turnips
Vegetables > Greens > Cress
Javelin (F1) (Pelleted)-Packet
Vegetables > Parsnips

Saturday, June 30, 2012


Darn. I seem to have accidentally deleted a post about tomatoes. No time to rewrite the whole thing, but it was a note to myself that Virginia Sweets and Mountain Magic did very well for me. Here's a brief list of tomatoes I have had good luck planting for my spring garden. I'll reiterate: These need to be large seedlings, in the earth no later than March 1. You'll have an abundant harvest all spring, beginning at the end of April, and they'll peter our towards the end of June. The small-fruited ones might make it through the middle of July. Our tomato season is, at best, two months. (We have another season that runs October and November, but I never bother.)
  • Tomande. Pretty, ribbed tomato that produced really well for me last year. Great flavor.
  • Juliet. Hands-down the best for Florida. Small (3/4 ounce) Italian-style plum tomatoes. Very meaty. Can be cooked in a sauce or eaten like a cherry tomato.
  • Jetsetter. Produces early and well. Fine flavor.
  • Sungold. This year, I swear the seeds that TGS sent me aren't the same as the ones in the past. This year, the fruit was very small and they tended to pop and crack. That's not been the case in the past. But, generally, a great little tomato. 
This picture has Virginia Sweets (the gold/red striped), Mountain Magic (Campari-sized), Juliet, Jetsetter (back, right corner) & Sungold:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

High-summer dudgeon...

Harvested the rest of the onions that I started from seed back in August. About forty in all from 10 feet of row, double-cropped. They took six months, but they weren't any trouble.

Debbie sure did a number to my poor persimmon tree-I lost about half the fruit. Typical response for a juvenile tree.

On the plus side, a bumper crop of grapes!

Tomatoes are all but done, though I've managed to harvest a few handfuls every day...Aside from herbs in pots, hot peppers, and sweet potatoes vines... nothing much going on in the garden.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Summer Garden in Florida

Let's see... right now, the only things going on in my garden: More tomatoes than I can eat or give away. Lots of red onions (very happy with these--I started them in August as seeds...). Kale, surprisingly still growing and good. It's Tuscan. Eggplants are setting fruit. Peppers coming along...

Ripped out the squash. Need to rip out the cukes.

Ripped out my old green beans and planted yardlongs (Black Seed) and Calabash Gourd (hyb Lattoo). Cleared some room in my salad spot and sowed amaranth (Green Pointed Leaf) and Oriental Spinach (India Spinach Beet). All from Evergreen.

Summer is here! Sweat! Afternoon showers... I need to fish!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Back home!

Friends kept the garden pretty well picked and tame. I spent an hour this morning weeding and picking... just a few cukes (three or four) and I noticed the #%8*#% PICKLEWORM has already arrived. Squash is done. Beans are mostly done. Eggplants are just now setting fruit; hot peppers are on their way... Lots of persimmons and grapes this year. Plums are done. Figs are still setting fruit, but I hardly think it will ripen. So many red onions! And they look to be very healthy and capable of another few weeks of growth. I left a few broccoli plants in the ground, and, improbably, they are still producing, if fitfully.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Tuesday, May 08, 2012


Great fig harvest. They're not as sweet and juicy as I'd like them, but I'm picking them too early... First time I've been able to harvest more than a handful. The tree is, like, five years old or older. I don't know that I'd recommend figs in the Florida landscape until you've got citrus, plums, and peaches. If you've got enough of those, then, sure, figs and persimmons. But the peaches and plums produce so much, so early, so heavily that it's hard to argue against them. And citrus is just so easy and so prolific that, even in a household where I'm the only one who eats oranges, I'm going to plant a couple more trees.

I'm pulling out my blueberries and plant a Florda Prince peach. Blueberries aren't worth the space, not worth the effort for the meager harvest. (The birds take their share.) The shortcomings of blueberries really hit home recently when we went to a you-pick blueberry patch. It took the four of us an hour to pick three pounds; enough berries for two large pies and plenty of snacking. But we picked HUNDREDS of bushes to get that amount. In the same space as, say, ten bushes, you could plant three or four peach trees. No contest.

I guess bananas should fit in somewhere after peaches but before figs. I yanked out my bananas last year after two years of heavy frost. But if I had the room and protected area (or lived nearer to Orlando), then I'd definitely consider bananas. They produce so heavily and the fruit lasts so long is SO delicious, it's hard to beat them.

Adding... I pulled out all my broccoli plants today. They were still very healthy, still producing, but I'm traveling so much in the next few weeks that I decided they weren't worth it any longer. Interestingly, though they'd been in the ground for several months, I didn't not any nematode damage to the roots. No idea why, but that likely explains their continued health and productivity. I've never left broccoli in the ground so late in the season... I had to pick a few times a week, otherwise the florets would toughen and flower. I wonder how long they would have continued to send up florets?

Oh, and, first red onion of the season! I started the seeds way back in August or September, so, long time in coming. In some respects, they're my best crop, considering how many I can grow in a relatively small space, how inexpensive the seeds were, and how much a red onion sells for in the store. I thinned them throughout the winter for scallions... If you're interested in growing them from seed, just make CERTAIN they're day-length neutral (Southern onions). The only source I'd trust for these seeds is Johnnys.

adding... From the comments. I'm still considering...
You have to consider that most U-picks they have professionals pick over the berries first, then allow the public to pick the "hard to pick" berries leftover. Blue Bayou has an arrangement with Whole foods for a majority of their berries. While it took us over an hour to pick(ten pounds/three), they were outstanding berries. The hard part about u-picks is when you go dramatically impacts your results.
Normally each mature plant produces about four to five pounds. Half of it tends to mature at one time with the rest over the remainder of the month. It will be much easier to pick your own plants. 
It is hard to argue against peach trees, as they are my favorite fruit, but I would reconsider removing blueberries. Especially if they plant is 1-2 years old as you are most of the way there.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Best and easiest peach preserves

Riffing off of a recipe from Cooks Illustrated... The key is to cook small batches of fruit preserves. Small batches allow you to use high heat and carefully control the jelling process. I made two batches of the following...

Peel, pit, and slice or chunk a pound of peaches. Sprinkle the peaches with a scant cup of sugar. Split open half a vanilla bean and scoop the seeds into the peach/sugar mix. Break a small cinnamon stick into three or four pieces. A tiny pinch of salt.

Mix it all together, then go do something else for half an hour.

Pour your mix into a wide skillet (I used a 14" copper skillet with high sides). Turn your heat on medium high, bring to a boil, and stir vigorously and continuously for five or ten minutes until you see traces in the preserves. (Your spoon will leave visible streaks in the jelling fruit syrup.) If you're a nervous sort, test the preserves on a cold plate--it should more or less immediately thicken into a bead that doesn't run. Off the heat, add a couple tablespoons of bourbon. Makes about a pint, store it in the fridge. Eat it.

My preserves rock. Everyone says they've never tasted a fresher preserve. Very redolent of peaches. I love, in particular, to take a couple of tablespoons of preserves and mix them with fresh peaches for a pie.

May in the Central Florida Garden

Still harvesting some winter crops like broccoli, chard, kale, potatoes. But they're burning out during our 90° afternoons. Harvesting the spring/early summer crops right now: green beans, squash, lots of great cukes, figs, so many plums, first full-sized tomatoes of the season, lots of Juliet tomatoes... By the end of June, I'll transition to summer crops like cherry tomatoes, eggplants, hot peppers, peanuts, sweet potatoes...

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Late April in the Central Florida Garden

My tomatoes are still a couple of weeks away from ripening. Plums are almost there--I'll probably pick one tree this week and let them ripen on the countertop. (Well, plums don't get sweeter, but their texture improves after picking so long as they're not mishandled or refrigerated.)

We picked six pounds of peaches and three pounds of blueberries. (Not from my garden! But from local you-picks in Lake County: Valley View Vineyards and Blue Bayou Farm. Both are located near the delightful Yalaha Bakery, itself worthy of a destination drive...) So, sometime today I need to find the time to make a couple pounds of peach preserves. My wife is going to bake my favorite peach pie tonight!

Anyway, very prolific time in the garden. I've been picking vegetables for supper every night. In addition to the crops below, I'm still managing to harvest a decent yield of broccoli, lots of chard, and plenty of Tuscan kale. A few cucumbers, but the season for them is just starting.

All this (and fruit!) from three small garden plots, none of them larger than fifteen by thirty feet.

My fig tree is just packed. I really hope I get a good harvest this year!

I recently planted a few eggplants and peppers... But the garden is full now and I'm going to travel most of the summer again, so I'm not going to do much in the way of a summer garden. Just some crowder peas, eggplants, hot peppers, sweet potatoes and peanuts.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fresh blueberry pie...

We picked out by the Yalaha bakery today. Peaches from Valley View and berries from Blue Bayou. This is the best pie EVER. A mix of cooked and fresh berries.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

More April Garden Pictures... Squash, cucumbers, tomatoes in the Central Florida Garden

 First squash of the season. SlickPik from Johnnys.
 My trellis system for cucumbers and beans and tomatoes...
 Pum ae squash. Very tasty. I don't know where I bought these seeds... 

 One of my Asian Long cukes. I find that "style" of cucumber to do best here in Central Florida. 

 Plums are maybe five days to ripening. So many plums on a five-foot tall tree. 

Lots of fruit, but none of it particularly close to ripening. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

April harvest...

 The large carrots are Navarino, planted at the beginning of November... I pulled about 1/3 of a row. Some large and well-formed... Others, not so much. The smaller carrots (a mix of colors from Johnnys, I think) I planted at the beginning of January. They had gotten completely shaded out by tomatoes. A lot of perfect, finger-long carrots for pickling. The beets should have been picked a month ago. Their foliage was completely devoured and they were suffering from nematodes. Still, they'll be good roasted with the carrots for this week's lunch vegetable...

 Borage. Or bee meth. The leaves are delicious, tasting strongly of celery. The herb (or green--it's quite a vigorous grower) is eaten all over Scandinavia, I'm told. I think I'll make a pie from it when I harvest it in a month. But for now, I'll let the bees enjoy it. Last year, they grew chest-high. Hollow stems, though, so no good for the rainy season. Dead-easy plant to grow.

 The plums should be ready for harvest in the next week or two... Peaches are coming along, too. 

Elderflower cordial...

They're blooming, so, I'm making these classic British refreshers... Cordial and liqueur.