Archive for March, 2011

New stuff!

The Temple Terrace Garden Club held their 8th Annual Plant Show this past weekend, and I of course went to check it out. It took all my willpower to stick to my planned budget – with all the lovely choices there were, I could easily have spent several times what I did. But I held my ground and selected a few lovely edibles that had been on my garden wish list already. May I introduce you to my newest lovelies – a couple of Gulf Coast blueberry bushes, and an assortment of herbs to expand our current selection.


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This is no watched pot!

I’m amazed by how quickly things are growing. I puttered around the yard a little yesterday, and things changed and progressed even in the short time I was out there. I feel a compulsive urge to run outside every couple of hours just to see what’s new. Definitely having fun with this.

When I first started some seeds in pots, I had to cram them in pretty close together. I’m sure as time goes on I’ll accumulate more nursery pots than I know what to do with, but I haven’t done so  yet and hadn’t bought any. So they were crowded, and in the past few days I’ve been thinning them out and re-potting them separately. Miraculously, it looks like everything is surviving the upheaval (despite a number of seedlings having their delicate roots completely exposed).

Primarily tomato and marigold seedlings in this photo.

They're still so tiny, but they're growing quickly.

Everything we’ve sown directly into the ground is coming up beautifully. I’m amazed by how fast the beans and squashes are growing!

Green beans, one week after sowing.

They seem to get bigger every time I turn my back.


The first of our squash; these little seedings are popping up everywhere we planted.

The store bought plants that I finally planted a month after buying them are all recovering from their long bout of neglect on the patio; they’re settling in and growing and looking healthier in general.

Serrano pepper. 🙂 I am going to eat this.

The peach tree is continuing to (slowly) set out new blooms, as well as leaves. They’re so beautiful; I just love them!

And the citrus trees have progressed in their bloom cycle too. The tangelo has dropped probably half its blossoms now. There’s still a fragrance in the air, but it’s less pronounced than it was last week. That hasn’t deterred the bees; they are still in a flurry of constant activity around the blossoms. And now, each time a little gust of wind picks up, citrus blossom petals fall like confetti to the ground. Beautiful.

My tree knows how to party!

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The first green bean - 4 days after planting


Peach Blossom

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A happy discovery

Girly and I discovered that one of the many self seeded passion vines in our yard – specifically one of the largest ones, that I didn’t attempt to transplant – has been made home to this little guy. I’m hoping he’ll stay in this spot and we’ll get to observe his transition to chrysalis. This is a Gulf Frittilary, and passion vines are their preferred larval food. We’ve seen lots of the adult butterflies flitting about so hopefully there will be more of them to come.

We’ve been enjoying lots of other wildlife as well – tons of birds are about these days. Blue jays, chickadees, mockingbirds, cardinals… and keep an eye out, my Northern friends, the robins are migrating your way already. Lots and lots of honeybees have been in our yard too, buzzing around the citrus trees.

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Gardening in the rain

Yesterday morning my daughter and I set out to finish the work I’d previously started on veggie bed #1. And we were delighted to enjoy working in a light rain – the first rain we’ve had since I started working on the garden! (Which really is to be expected; this is still the dry season in Florida). The rain kept it cooler longer, and also did me the favor of watering everything I’d planted previously.

Veggie bed #1 is sheet mulched. This is a great way to begin building up Florida’s poor sandy soil into something rich and full of life. There are a few different variations, but the fundamental of sheet mulching is to add alternating layers of “green” (nitrogen rich) and “brown” (carbon rich) organic matter into a thick, high mass of amendments. In time, the organic matter breaks down, composts, right there in your veggie bed, producing rich, composty soil. In the meanwhile, a thick enough layer of mulch will serve both to suppress weeds and to hold in moisture (our sandy loam takes “well draining” to a whole new level). I’ve read that the richer soil this ultimately produces can also help with the dreaded root knot nematodes that are the bane of many a Florida gardener. Many of the organic gardeners I’ve talked to or whose blogs I’ve read will add on another couple layers (continuing to alternate greens and browns) of organic material with each new season. Going this route, in a few years’ time I should have soil that can support my plants without much of anything in the way of fertilizers and pest control (because healthy plants in healthy soil are far less prone to bug attacks).

As to the variations – lots of “brown” materials can be used, including natural components like wood mulch and leaves, and more processed components like old newspapers and cardboard boxes (be sure to remove any tape). My friend Iliana tells me she’s a bit of a purist, and likes to avoid cardboard because of the adhesives used in it. Me, I’m less of a purist – and more of an opportunist. If I have it on hand already for free, you’d better believe I’m going to take advantage of that.

So, at last, my moving boxes were laid to rest in veggie bed #1. I don’t know how to describe how awesome this felt. Three and a half years ago, I had just decided that I wanted to start a vegetable garden, and started my first seedlings in pots. And about a month later, before anything went into the ground, my husband and I came to the sobering reality that we were going to have to sell our home – our first home – because we could no longer afford it. I gave up on the garden. We were half-packed in boxes for months before the sale went through, and when we moved to a rental (knowing we wouldn’t stay there permanently) we held onto the boxes in our garage for the next move. We’ve had those boxes with us for the better part of three years and on some level they became a sort of symbol of being in not-my-own-home, in a place I could not stay for long.


I get to stay here. There’s no one and nothing preventing us from staying here for as many happy years as we choose. And, cherry on top, this is a bigger, more beautiful yard than my first – in a community that doesn’t place ridiculous restrictions on what I’m allowed to grow.

So I sheet mulched with those moving boxes on the bottom. The plus side to using cardboard boxes is that they’re thick enough and solid enough to prevent pretty much all the weeds underneath from poking through. You don’t need to dig out the weeds and grass, you don’t need to till, you don’t need to do any sort of backbreaking work to prep the dirt. You just slap the cardboard boxes down and make your own brand new dirt on top of them (and unlike plastic garden “fabric” they eventually break down and join the soil party too – but by that point the weeds beneath are long dead and the dirt above is well composted and several, several inches deep).

The cardboard boxes go on

The downside as I see it, is that it takes a LOT of material on top of them though to have something deep enough for planting things. Some plants placed on top can work their roots down between the gaps, around and under flaps and such. But plants with shallower root systems aren’t likely to do so, so you want at least enough organic material above the cardboard to support them. When I first laid out my moving boxes last month, I quickly discovered that my frankly idealistic purchase of two bags of composted manure and three bags of mulch were really only enough for a couple of square feet, and I’d mapped out an irregular shaped bed that at its largest measures 12′ by 24′. So I had to wait.

In the time since though, I’ve been given tons of bagged oak leaves, a truckload of horse manure, and lots of used coffee grounds (thank you Starbucks “Grounds for your Garden”). I also purchased about a cubic yard of topsoil. And today I layered these elements on top of each other over the cardboard to make a riiiiiiich bed of organic goodness for my veggies to grow! After walking around on top of it, sort of packing things down a bit, it’s a good 7″ deep or more, which is plenty sufficient for the shallow rooted seasonal veggies I am growing there.

I did the lugging in wheelbarrow, dumping, shoveling, spreading myself, mostly because I wanted Girly playing elsewhere until the manure was under a couple other layers of stuff. But once we were ready to plant, my Girly was eager to join me and helped me pile up little mounds of top soil, poked little holes with her finger for me to drop in the seeds, and then helped me pat the dirt in over the seeds – zucchini, spaghetti squash, and cantalopes. She helped me bring little shovels full of coffee grounds to toss on top of them (with her own kid-sized trowel) and helped me gather the oak leaves back over them when that was done. She also insisted on adding little shovels full of native soil from other spots in the garden. I let her – it can’t hurt! Go right ahead and add some soil bacteria to get the composting started. 🙂

Today - with layers of organic goodness, and seeds coming to life inside.

By the time we’d finished the rain had stopped long ago (and it hadn’t rained much to begin with) so I went ahead and ran the sprinkler long enough to be sure the soil was moist around our seeds. We talked about how seeds grow, about how the water was going to “wake up” the seeds and let them know they were in a good place to grow. We pondered how long it might take and how often we might need to water. She was really interested in it all, and I was glad for the opportunity to learn while having fun.

We both still had energy, so we dug up and potted a few more passion vine seedlings before putting away our tools and taking off some *very* muddy (manure-y?) shoes and heading indoors to bathe!

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Updated photos

Well after my post yesterday, I felt compelled to run outdoors and take lots of new photos right away. Here are the updates so far:

This one was actually taken a month ago, my assortment of impulse buys. I went to Home Depot with a Christmas gift card to buy mulch and manure and came back with a variety of plants and no clue whether I’d bought things at the right time of year for the Florida garden. I had the vague impression that leeks and okra really weren’t meant for the same time of year, but everything looked so *pretty* and I felt so inspired and motivated.

Sadly, I then discovered I didn’t have nearly enough materials to sheet mulch the huge veggie bed #1, and then got really busy with work, and these plants sat in pots on my back porch for a full month, until they were mostly looking really, really SAD. And the veggie bed still wasn’t ready, and by that point I’d re-read a few things and knew what I *actually* wanted to plant there. So I stuck them in the ground – unamended Florida sand, with just a small bit of manure and mulch over the top.

Despite the haphazard approach, they’re all looking healthier at least than they did in pots. The weeds are looking happier still at this point, and I plan to do some weeding later this week. This section along the fence, to either side of the loquat tree, has one tomato (Brandywine), basil, cilantro, okra, a serrano pepper, dill, a purple lantana (which will fill in eventually and be allowed to stay permanently) and a handful of brightly colored annuals (petunias, marigolds, cosmos).

In addition, I picked up some onion slips and spinach. Both of these really should be planted a bit earlier in the year in Florida – especially in a year where the weather warms so gosh darned early! I decided to ignore the full sun recommendation and put them in partial shade in the hopes that they’ll survive longer into the warm weather. Not sure if this is the best approach, because it almost certainly means they’ll grow slower too. But, whatever, it was a corner I wasn’t using yet for anything else and they’re better off here than on my porch.

Better planning in the future. Live and learn.

These two pics are everything on my porch at the moment. Tons of seeds merrily sprouting (and at the lower right of that pic, the passion vine seedlings). Also, the rose bush was a housewarming gift which is blooming spectacularly while it awaits a good trim and transplant.

Veggie bed #2, all mulched over with oak leaves. It’s only been two days so of course none of the beans haven’t sprouted yet, but rest assured I’m checking daily LOL! The peach tree is just to the right of the bed in this photo… a little hard to see since it has very few leaves for now. I’ll take better photos of it soon.

These are a couple of the passion vines that I transplanted directly to their new home along the fence, near veggie bed #1. They are doing better now than when I first planted them, and I’m hopeful they’ll settle in nicely.

Small green fruits on the loquat tree. My neighbor’s are ripening now, and my tree has been a few weeks behind there’s all winter (blooming, etc.) so I expect another 3-4 weeks before we start picking these. I’m excited; I haven’t had a loquat since childhood when we used to sneak them from a neighbor’s tree.

Citrus blossoms and more citrus blossoms. Love, love, love this.

This is the avocado seedling my friend gave me, planted in the sandy area to the left of our driveway in the front yard. Full sun and adequate space for it to grow in that spot; plus avocados like well-draining soil. I think it will be happy there. It isn’t really this slanty, by the way; it was just windy when I took the photo.

These are all the photos for now, but you can see a decent amount of change in our garden for such a small space of time. Soon I’ll make a point of heading out to take a couple more pictures; we finished up veggie bed #1 this morning and planted seeds there. I feel *almost* caught up and on target for the season now.

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