Hello spring. Goodbye fall. Winter? Naw, don’t think we’ll have that this year.
It’s been ages since I have posted here. Life got fairly hectic around August of last year and didn’t really let up. Meanwhile it was far too hot to want to garden back then, and then I sort of missed my start date for cool weather gardening, and ultimately decided it would be less stressful to wait a while.
March 1 is typically the start date for our spring gardens here in Florida, when the last risk of frost is passed. But it’s been in the 80’s nearly daily since the middle of January, and all the perennials believe it’s spring (azaelas blooming in January and early February feels so very wrong!) and I frankly doubt that we’re going to see much winter between now and the end of the month, so I hope to start planting sooner. Perhaps this weekend.
I ordered seeds yesterday for several tasty vegetables, and I have a few seeds I’d saved over from last year. The beds are all prepared already (one nice thing about this long break is that the newest load of manure and mulch, laid down about 3 months ago, has had plenty of time to age and become wonderful). So I get to start right off with the fun stuff – setting in seeds, watering, watching daily for the first signs of life.
In the meantime, I learned this week that the USDA released a new garden hardiness zone map recently. It seems a rather appropriate discovery, in this warm winter. Tampa used to sit right on the border of 9A and 9B; the areas closest to the Bay trending more warmly than the areas further inland (like Temple Terrace). But now the border has shifted northward again, and we are squarely in 9B. It’s certainly true to my own experience gardening in recent years. The winters, overall, aren’t as cold as I remember them in my childhood (and they weren’t terribly cold then, either). This winter has been particularly warm. We’ve had, I think, less than a full week without needing the air conditioning.
But for now, here’s a link to the new map. Go see how things have changed in your area! And expect some spring garden updates, and photos, from me soon.
Spent a few hours out in the garden yesterday. We had our biggest harvest yet:
A couple pounds of green beans, a couple pounds of lima beans, and handful of blackeye peas, five spaghetti squash, five tomatoes, two zucchinis, and 5 serrano peppers, not pictured here as I gathered them later in the day. All together it was just shy of eight POUNDS of food! 😀
Those are the last of the spaghetti squash. After the heavy trimming a few weeks ago, the vines stopped setting new fruit but everything still on them ripened quickly. The rust was back in full force, so I harvested what was left and pulled out the vines. I also trimmed the zucchinis again, removing the infected leaves and leaving what looked healthy. I think they’ll hold out a while longer for me. Where the spaghetti squash had been, I spread a layer of coffee grounds and mulched to prep the bed for the next big thing. Later this week, I’ll plant soybeans there!
I pulled out some of the green bean plants too. I am confident now that my green beans have common bacterial blight. I’m also confident that it has started spreading to my lima beans.
I feel conflicted. I think I ought to pull all the green bean plants to protect the limas and tomatoes… but they’re still producing and I’m reluctant to rip out plants that are creating a couple pounds of food a week! I pulled out the row closest to the limas, the row where the plants are sort of falling over each other, and for now I’ve left the rest of them. When everything is spent – green beans, limas, tomatoes – I’ll solarize this bed through the hottest weeks of the summer and hopefully will head into the fall and winter with healthy disease free soil.
So this is two garden beds that have already experienced disease. Some of that is just life in Florida as hot and humid as it is. But next year I’ll do more to mix different vegetable types together and avoid the big solid patches I have here now, which should help.
In happier news, the new summer crops are doing beautifully. Here are my cowpeas just two weeks after planting:
The calabaza all sprouted, and I thinned them yesterday to one plant per mound.
The sweet potatoes are all growing nicely too.
The okra is doing beautifully, but I neglected to photograph it for you. I suppose that will give me an excuse for another post soon.
The peanuts I planted haven’t sprouted. I suspect a squirrel dug them up. I haven’t decided for sure whether I’ll try again, since I know the squirrels will still be there if I do.
Herbs I started a while back are doing well. Here are baby lemongrasses:
The passionvines that I’m allowing to run wild are blooming.
I haven’t seen many honeybees in the past couple of weeks. There’s still a constant flurry of activity from wasps and solitary bees, and all my veggies are getting pollinated. But I do miss the honeybees and I’m hoping whatever colony had been visiting me before is okay.
I try to do most of my harvesting and cultivating in the beds when the pollinators are less active. Sometimes I can’t help being out there when they’re busy. So far, none of them has stung me (and I’m really hoping they don’t… last time I got a wasp sting I had a welt that lasted a couple of months, so I suspect I’m mildly allergic). I make a point of moving gently and while I’m cautious, I’m becoming less frightened of them as time goes on, which is good.
The gnats are less willing to coexist with me. They insist on flying up my nose when I’m hunched over picking beans. I doubt any of them has survived the vigorous nose blowing that ensues. Not. Fun.
Last but not least, I think my Brandywine tomatoes are beginning to ripen. Very excited about that!
That’s it for the time being. We’re feasting on fresh veggies and I’m already plotting my garden plans several months from now, as I think through where I’m planting now and what I’ll be ready to turn over in the fall. Good stuff. 🙂
After starting my seeds nearly 8 weeks later than ideal, and the long wait that has ensued in the time since, I was finally able to pick my first tomatoes yesterday!
There are many more coming ripe now, as well as new fruits still setting. It’s been hot for a long time but apparently, it’s still cooling enough at night for them to set fruit. Yay!
I was adamant about eating the first one simply, with olive oil and salt, where the flavor of the tomato could shine through. This is the first home grown tomato I’ve eaten ever. This one is a Margherita; I also have Brandywines in the garden but none of them has started to ripen yet.
It was very good. Not quite as mind-blowing as I’d been told to expect, but I may have picked this a day or two sooner than I should have. I’m looking forward to gathering more ‘maters in the days to come! 🙂
I’ve posted before about Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers, but I didn’t have any good photos to share because it was too early in the year for the adults – and because I’m always too rushed to stomp the crowds of nymphs as the emerge to run inside for my camera.
But today I found this guy on my lima beans, and I took the time to take a few photos:
In the brief space of time that I took these photos, he ate his way through two blossoms on this one lima bean plant (not to mention however much he ate while I grabbed my camera). They eat so much… and he was focused on the blooms. Sorry to inform you, fella, but that was supposed to be my future dinner.
On the bright side, I’m only seeing one or two of them a day at this point. The downside is that they’re fully grown now – which means they eat more, freak me out more, and are harder to eliminate.
Hopefully a bit of vigilance this year will mean fewer are laid/hatched in our garden next year.
It’s been busy in the garden the past few weeks, but I officially have the last of the summer crops planted. The sweet potato slips I planted last weekend seem to be doing really well. A few of them lost a leaf earlier in the week when it was blazing hot, but all of them have new growth in the past week, and I feel confident that they’ll take off brilliantly now.
On Tuesday, I planted two varieties of cowpeas, Mississippi Silver and Pinkeye Purple Hull, as well as some calabaza. I also took time to lay out drip lines and a bucket, following this tutorial for gravity fed drip irrigation. I’m hopeful that this will allow me to reduce my water consumption for the garden, and will also allow me to use captured rainwater. (Guess what’s on this girl’s birthday wish list this year? If you said “rain barrel,” you’re correct!)
For the moment I am still running the sprinkler on this bed, to ensure water reaches the seeds while they germinate and until the roots have grown a bit. But I hope to switch to the drip irrigation completely in just a couple of weeks. This morning, we spotted our first baby in this bed – one of the Pinkeye Purple Hull peas. Hello, friend. I look forward to the many Southern dinners you’ll provide me!
Seriously, gardening makes Southern food way more appealing to me than it ever was before. In the past week we’ve eaten home-grown lima beans (with bacon and onions) alongside home made corn bread, and also barbeque chicken with home-grown blackeye peas followed by banana pudding. Fresh ingredients elevate that humble sort of fare to a fabulous experience (where frozen beans send me back to childhood dinnertime trauma).
As for the summer crops, I also planted peanuts. No special area for them, I just stuck them throughout the yard in places where there’s a bit of overspray from the sprinklers but nothing else growing. Maybe a dozen or so of them? I’m told they can largely be ignored until harvest time. Here’s hoping!
In other news, the loquat that I pruned so very heavily at the start of the month is showing lots of new growth. I expect it will produce many new low branches and will hopefully be easier to harvest in future years.
The squash plants that I cut back so heavily earlier in the week are doing great as well. The zucchini plants look especially happy, and there are several young zukes growing. The spaghetti squash vines, despite being nearly completed denuded, are looking good too – the leaves I left behind have all grown larger and so far I haven’t spotted any more rust or powdery mildew (I am checking daily and plan to remove any damaged leaves immediately if I find more).
I planted seeds for lots of herbs a couple weeks ago, and most of them have sprouted now. Thai basil, Mexican mint marigold (a heat tolerant substitute for tarragon), oregano, rosemary (which has not sprouted, and likely won’t, as it turns out it prefers to be started in cool weather). Also, cayenne peppers, two of which have sprouted.
And maybe a month ago I planted seeds from a jacaranda tree we passed in the woods. Only one of them came up (but really, I wouldn’t need more than one of them in my yard as they grow really big in the end). Here’s my little baby jacaranda.
And – my tomatoes are starting to get some color at last! I am hopeful that we’ll be able to harvest these later this week. I started my seeds so much later than is ideal, but it does look like we’ll get to enjoy at least some ‘maters before the heat overtakes them. And in the meantime, the marigolds are doing their job – no worms or other bugs. Just happy tomatoes and the bushiest healthiest marigolds I’ve ever seen!
Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend everyone! Take a moment to remember and honor our fallen servicemen, and to thank any military families you know. Then fire up the grill, grab a cold beer, and enjoy the time with your family. 🙂
We’re eating from the garden daily, which is a real delight.
Yesterday, I went out to pick lima beans for dinner and discovered there were loads of green beans ready to pick as well – and gathered a pound and a half of them! On the advice of a friend, Girly and I made green bean pickles this morning.
Today we gathered blackeye peas for dinner. There’s a ripe spaghetti squash on the counter and a zucchini in the fridge both waiting to be eaten. Our tomatoes are getting there… finally seeing some color, and hoping to start harvesting them in the coming week.
In a word: Yum!
This is my first time growing vegetables in Florida ever. I wanted to as a child, but my grandmother was insisted on growing brightly colored annuals (and basically nothing else). I wanted to a few years ago, but held back knowing we were going to sell our house and move. So this spring is the first season when I’ve planted food and eaten from my garden.
It continues to delight me, and to surprise me. I have known of course that vegetables grow on plants, and that if you plant seeds and water them and tend them, in time they yield edible food. But it continues to feel miraculous. I continue to marvel at the fact that it works, that plants push through the soil where only a dry little bean went in, that they grow into full sized plants, that flowers bloom and bees come and then with a little more time there is food. It’s exciting. I babble about it incessantly to anyone who will listen. I show it off to anyone who comes to my house. I’d show my garden to the mailman if I could get him to leave his truck.
In the past week, a few people have commented that I seem to be having more success than most. One woman said it was the best looking vegetable garden she’d seen in Florida. My neighbor across the street, whose front yard is a stunning Garden of Eden full of trees and blooming perennials said she has never had success growing veggies. I wonder if I’m having beginner’s luck? And then I think perhaps it’s just that I spent three years plotting and reading and figuring out how I wanted to approach the garden before I ever began. I learned a number of problems to watch for, and learned solutions to those problems even before I encountered them in my own yard. I think I’ve avoided some of the early failures folks experience when they try to grow a Northern garden in Florida, just by getting that education ahead of time.
So – for any other Floridians out there who may be reading my blog as they plan their own vegetable gardens, here’s what I’ve learned so far, and how I’ve had a successful first season.
Florida is a great place to garden, but it is very different from up North. Most of the gardening advice you will read in books and online will assume that you have seasons (and that they include things like “Winter” instead of just “dry” and “wet”), that your sunlight is milder than it is, that your soil is better than it is, and that your humidity is less than 90%. Read the Northern gardening guides if you like, but by and large ignore them. This is Florida. Follow recommendations for gardens in Florida (or Hawaii, or maybe Texas, or maybe the tropics) to have the best results. Here’s a few specific ways that we are different from those Northern climes:
1. Florida is made of sand. You can just about guarantee that any native soil anywhere in Florida counts as “well draining” and, in most yards, that it is very low in organic matter and nutrients. This means two things. Firstly, you need to water more frequently (the old recommendation to water deeply but less often assumes soil that holds water; ours doesn’t, so unless you are growing something that is specifically a drought tolerant plant, plan to water daily). Secondly, you need to add organic matter. Sheet mulching is an awesome way to do this, and is what I’ve done in my own garden. Most of my veggies aren’t growing in the sand – they’re growing in horse manure and oak leaves and compost and mulch. They seem to like it. 🙂
2. We don’t have four seasons a year. What Northerners grow in the summer, we grow in the spring. Where they have six months from May to October, we have three from March to June. Then it’s too hot. Really – it’s too hot. And it’s humid. Plants wilt in the sun or succumb to fungal diseases. You need to plant your veggie garden early, and then move on to tropical types of plants for the summer. This means some plants can’t grow here – anything that needs a long cool season (I can’t tell you how sad I am that we’re too far south for garlic and leeks, but I comfort myself by marveling that I can grow passion fruit and avocados). And, on the bright side, you’ll be able to grow a Northern “spring” garden right through the winter, from October through February. You can grow food 12 months a year here, as long as you time things right, and choose the right varieties.
3. The sun is really, really bright here. “Full sun” in New England is not the same as “full sun” in Florida. Some plants do better with a bit of shade (even if they claim not to); keep an open mind and a watchful eye to learn how things fare in your garden. Also – mulch the heck out of your garden so your plants’ roots don’t dry out. Between the sandy soil and the hot, bright sun it doesn’t take long at all for things to dry up.
4. It’s very humid here. That means ideal conditions for fungus and bacteria to thrive. Pick disease resistant varieties when possible. For that matter, pick heat and drought tolerant varieties when you can, too.
5. Root knot nematodes. They’re nasty little microscopic baddies that will suck the life out of your plants through the roots. You can kill them with “soil solarization” (heavy black plastic over your soil in the hottest part of the summer to cook them out) or you can just work to improve your soil quality – sheet mulching and such. The healthier your soil the less root knot nematodes will be an issue. You can also grow marigolds – a chemical in their roots deters the nematodes. The effect is cumulative, so if you incorporate them into your garden each year, you’ll be in better and better shape as time goes on.
Those are the big things. The soil quality, the sunlight, the difference in our seasons, the fungus and bacteria, the root knot nematodes. Plan your timing, choose appropriate plant varieties, sheet mulch with good organic material, rethink the meaning of “full sun”, water daily, plant marigolds, and enjoy your garden all year long.