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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This little beauty grew over the fence from our neighbor’s yard. The leaves looked familiar to me; I was fairly certain it was a pipevine. Since pipevines are a preferred larval food of several species of swallowtail butterflies, I decided to let it be.

And now, here’s proof – our first bloom! Aren’t they just crazy? Big oval, leading into a sort of pitcher shape, with white and purple speckled petals. Yup, that’s a pipevine. 🙂

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The garden continues

There’s been a LOT of activity in our little garden in the past two weeks. Between the delivery of our 40 yards or so of mulch, and the rapid approach of the summer, I’ve had my hands very full out there (to the point that it has resulted in a deep tan and notable weight loss in just the past two weeks of hustling). Photos in this post are from Saturday morning’s gardening; I’ll take more photos for another update today or tomorrow. There are already visible changes since Saturday.

I’ve spent a great deal of time in the past two weeks shoveling and carting mulch around to the backyard. My goal is to add a thin layer to all the areas where grass has (so far) refused to grow. I could plant grass seeds or plugs, fertilize it, water it… but I’m not going to. It takes a lot of resources to make grass grow in our poor soil, drought, and hot temperatures. And the grass we have when we have it isn’t all that pretty. So – if it grows, great, but I’m not pouring effort into a lawn in Florida.

And yet the bare sand we have is ugly, washes out with every rain, and sticks to our shoes each time we garden. Not to mention it reflects light like a mirror, making the bright sun just that much brighter. A layer of mulch – even a very thin layer of mulch – will help all of that. I’ve been trying to avoid covering any grass that is growing, and spreading an inch or so on the bare sand. Hold the moisture, keep the top “soil” in place, and eventually break down and add organic matter to what’s there.

Here’s what it looked like first thing Saturday morning. In the foreground, the bare white sand that makes up most of our yard. In the background, some of the area where I’d already laid down some mulch.

This is what "soil" looks like in Florida

For comparison’s sake, a shot of just the background… isn’t it *better* with a layer of mulch?

Mulching has been the most demanding, intense workout in the garden, but isn’t our only update. Girly wanted to make a “home for the bees” so we planted our remaining annuals in a little garden spot that’s all here own. Here she proudly demonstrates.

She picked the mismatched shoes. 🙂

I spotted a little volunteer plant along the side of the house, and I would love other people’s input… The leaves and the milky sap from this plant look so much like a fig to me. Anyone agree? I would be beyond thrilled if there’s a free fig tree at our house! And I could imagine some plant previously tended by the former owners reviving now that there’s mulch and water to be had. Or it could be something else entirely. I suppose time will tell.

And Girly very much wanted to get to demonstrate this plant as well. 🙂

Now that I’ve planted okra over there, the cantaloupes are finally starting to grow. Go figure. At this rate, I doubt we’ll get any fruit from them before their season ends, but I will give them the chance. 🙂

And, finally – Saturday’s harvest. Green beans, blackeye peas, zucchini (there were two; only one made it in the photo as the other was given to a neighbor by that point) and our first haul of lima beans! Delicious!

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Thank you, little pollinator!

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Squash sex: how zucchinis do the deed

All flowering plants reproduce sexually – pollen from the male flower parts must find its way to ovaries in the female flower parts for fruit and seeds to develop. Some species of plants have “perfect flowers” which contain both male and female parts.  On the far extreme. some species have separate male and female plants, each of which only produces that type of flower (for those in the subtropics, this includes papaya and kiwi). The middle ground between these extremes is home to squash plants, where separate male and female flowers grow on the same plant.

Only the female flowers can develop fruit. You can spot the female flowers pretty easily, by the prominent stigma and the large, visible ovary below the bloom. Here’s a female bloom from one of my spaghetti squash vines:

And a side view, where you can clearly see the ovary, which looks like an undeveloped fruit (because, basically, that’s what it is):

Here’s one of my female zucchini blossoms too, for comparison. The ovary on the zucchini looks like a zucchini; the ovary on the spaghetti squash looks like a spaghetti squash.

Conversely, male flowers have straight slender stems, and anthers covered in pollen:

Squash plants rely on pollinators to help them reproduce. Without help, there’s no way for pollen from the anthers of male flowers to reach the stigma of the female flowers.

When bees come along and help the process, the little ovary behind the blossom will grow and eventually develop into a full sized fruit. Here’s a spaghetti squash a few days after pollination:

Otherwise, if there’s no pollination, the ovary will yellow and slowly shrink away, like this one:

Bees and wasps are the most common pollinators for squash, and if you have plenty of them around the odds are your squash plants will be good and productive. If you’re short on pollinators in your garden, you can always hand pollinate. Pluck a male flower, pull back the petals, and then lightly brush the anthers of the male flower on your female blossoms. Be sure to use a mature male flower with viable pollen – there should be visible yellow pollen on the anthers and maybe a slight dusting of it on the petals. Really it’s very easy to do. But if you’d like to avoid that task in the long term, you can always plant a little bee garden to help lure them to your yard so they’re always nearby when your veggies come into bloom!

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