Archive for May, 2011

Another post on lubbers

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:

You can see his mouth parts pretty clearly in this photo - he was busy munching.

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.

Enjoy this meal. It will be your last.

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.


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Memorial Day Weekend Garden Update

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. 🙂

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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!

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Success in this Florida garden

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.

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At a glance, my squash plants have looked more and more lush and lovely as time goes on and they continue to grow.

But closer inspection reveals that fungal diseases are beginning to spread. Lots of rust, and some powdery mildew in some spots as well.

Rust on leaves

And more rust...

And even more

I have been debating how to proceed. I sprayed with an organic fungicide a couple of times, but even organic I don’t want to overdo it. I trimmed back the most damaged growth a week or so ago, but it has continued to spread. It’s spreading really quickly, in fact. All of the cantaloupe vines (that have only just started growing at last) contracted rust in a matter of two days.


From what I’ve read, this is normal. It’s Florida. It’s humid, and it’s hot, and these are ideal conditions for fungus to grow. I’ve read in a few places that, for my area of Florida, “Northern” squash varieties can only really be expected to perform midway through June in a good year – and it got hot early this year.

I had halfway planned at this point, so close to the end of the squash season, to just let it run its course. The zucchini have slowed production and the spaghetti squash are all being attacked by pickleworms before I can get to them, and I thought perhaps I’d just shift my focus to the new bed across the garden until I had time to pull the squash plants out.

Then, this morning, I saw four new female blossoms on my zucchini plants, and a couple of baby zucchinis as well. And so, for the sake of another round of zucchinis, I decided to fight the fungus while I can. 🙂

More zucchini? Yes, please!

So I trimmed them. Agressively. Not just the worst-hit leaves, but every single leaf I saw with the smallest hint of rust or powdery mildew. For the zucchinis, it meant about a third of their leaves. I pulled the cantaloupes out altogether. And the spaghetti squash – lost about 90% of their leaves. That’s a lot. I have no clue whether the vines will survive the shock, but I figure even if they don’t I’ve only shortened their lives by a few weeks. And I may have extended my zucchini plants in the process.

Here it is now… not nearly so pretty. Kind of disappointing to have all that work make it look worse, but hopefully it will mean there’s more for me to eat!

I would have harvested what I could and pulled the spaghetti squash plants altogether, but it seems the pickleworms prefer them to my zucchinis, so for the time being I am keeping them around as a decoy.

And in a few weeks or another month, I’ll pull them all out, add a new layer of manure and more mulch, and let the bed rest a couple months, until it’s time for the earliest cool weather crops to start going in.

At least, that’s the plan for now. 🙂

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The summer planting begins!

Yesterday I put in a sweet potato patch! Sweet potatoes are extremely nutritious, more disease resistant than their paler cousins, and heat tolerant enough to grow in the hot, wet summers here in Florida. They’re also, I’m told, ridiculously easy to grow. They like sandy well drained soil, lots of sun, and they don’t need too much water. So basically, stick them in the ground, mulch heavily, water until they’re established, ignore for six months, and dig up the bounty – just in time for Thanksgiving.

Once established, the vines will grow really thickly, crowding out weeds and holding in moisture fairly well on their own. But to help get these guys started, I wanted to eliminate any competition while they’re getting established. So I dug out the bits of grass and weeds in a little section to the side of the veggie bed where my tomatoes are growing.

This part was exhausting!

How did such a small, sparsely grown area yeild a whole barrowful of grass?

Once I had the ground prepped, I got my bucket of sweet potatoes. I tossed a few of them in a pot full of mulch back in March, and set them behind the sprinkler I use for the beans so it gets watered with the over spray. From three potatoes, I got fifteen large slips (so far – I’ve set the pot back where it was and I’ll let it continue to produce).

Not bad for sticking them in a pot and ignoring for two months!

Following instructions I read on this website, I stripped the slips of all but their last leaves, and then covered the lengths of them except those last leaves. I’ve been told it’s best not to over-fertilize sweet potatoes, and to definitely avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers (which will encourage leaf growth but discourage tuber development). Since I was putting them in barren Florida sand, I covered them with a bit of compost, just to get them started, and then I probably won’t fertilize again this year. We’ll see how that goes and I may adjust next year.

Our veggie garden continues to encroach on our lawn... lucky us. 🙂

I should note that I planted the slips closer together than I should have/ needed to. They like a lot of space. They’ll fill in this patch and then, I expect, spread out past it. But I’d already dug out the patch when I went to count up my slips, and I was not about to get back to digging (far too hot and tired). I’ll hope they manage okay, and expand beyond this little patch in time. (Once the tomato season is done, they’re welcome to overtake all of that space…)

Grow my pretties!

So, my extended family – shall we add sweet potato pie to this year’s Thanksgiving line up?

Oh – I saved the leaves I pulled off the slips. Sweet potato leaves are edible and highly nutritious! I wanted to give them a try, since I’m excited to learn about any green leafy vegetable we can grow during our long hot season (it seems like so many of the traditional greens are cool weather crops). Stir fried them with garlic and red pepper flakes for my dinner. Shawn did not care for them at all. I did!

Have a great Sunday everyone. 🙂

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Another bed!

From The Office:

Jim: You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Dwight: You can catch even more with manure; what’s your point?

We put in another bed to make room for the summer crops we’ll plant this weekend. I used all our remaining moving boxes, all the remaining oak leaves from our neighbor, a ton of mulch from our recent delivery, coffee grounds from Starbucks, and an entire truckload of composted manure – and sheet mulched a 16′ by 16′ space where we’ll grow 2 varieties of Southern peas and calabaza.

Before we’d started any gardening, back in February:

The first several layers of organic matter in place; Girly inspects my progress:

Finished! This took several hours over the course of the past three days. I’m exhausted, but giddy to have a home prepared for our next round of veggies!

Whew! This first season of gardening is some hard work. I’m so excited though to see our yard transforming from empty to lush.

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