Posts Tagged vegetables

The good, the bad, and the tasty

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 think this is a solitary bee.

I think this may be a yellow jacket.

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!

See that slight tinge of color? I think we'll start seeing the gradual fade to red soon!

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. 🙂


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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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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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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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Updates: baby ‘maters and fresh cut dinner

Hello all! For your pleasure here’s a garden update full of badly taken photographs. I waited a few minutes too late and there wasn’t enough light to take them without the flash – so now instead they’re all overblown and pale. Enjoy!

Below, my green beans and limas are both doing well. The green beans have been producing prolifically – we’ve picked over 2 lbs of beans in the past couple of weeks! The limas are covered in little babies and I’m expecting to begin harvesting them in a few weeks time. In the foreground of this shot, our tomato plants are growing (I plan to stake them this coming weekend) and the marigolds I planted in between are full and healthy. So far, they’re doing the trick too – no nasty critters on the tomatoes, aside from the lubbers I battle daily.

Beans, tomatoes, and marigolds

And, happy, happy day: I have my first couple of baby tomatoes. Yay!

The squash bed is coming along beautifully on the whole. The spaghetti squash vines are running all over, and the zucchini and our volunteer plants are thriving. The cantaloupes remain in the same condition they’ve been in for a month now. I’m not expecting them to do much of anything at this point, and I’ll probably reclaim that space for okra in a few weeks.

The spaghetti squash vines have several squashes growing; this one is the furthest along.

Here’s one of the zucchini plants, mere moments before I cut this beauty off to bring inside for dinner. By way of explanation: I read on a gardening forum that if you elevate squash off the ground somehow, even just placing a plastic lid under them, it can help prevent fungal problems from beginning. Since we have plenty of fungi in this hot, humid state of ours, I figured I’d give it a shot.

And here it is after harvesting, with a friend. (Aaaaah! Flash attack! Who knew my arms could look even paler!)

These were delicious. Simply awesome. They’re the “raven” hybrid from Park Seeds, which I picked because they claimed to be well suited to hot weather. They also claim to produce later in the season. I certainly hope so: I’ll be delighted to continue eating these. (Much more flavorful than zukes from Publix).

Really, take a moment to marvel with me. This is my first year veggie gardening, and it continues to surprise and delight me that it *works.* Plant seeds, water them, pamper them, and FOOD grows! Ha! This is all organic too. That’s the produce of horse manure and TLC right there, folks. 🙂

Last pic of the evening: our gardenia bush has begun blooming. First blossoms opened on Easter Sunday, which seems beautifully fitting. The bush is simply *covered* in buds so I am looking forward to many more flowers to come.

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And a more current update!

So, as promised, here’s another update – these photos are from this morning, a more accurate reflection of my little garden’s progress. 🙂

Veggie bed with green beans, lima beans, tomatoes, and marigolds - lots of growth since last month!

We picked the first beans a couple of days ago; they were still quite small but that meant they were extremely tender and sweet!

Tasty beans.

Sorry for the poor focus on this one; heres the first okra plant setting some pods. Yum!

The squash bed

Our zucchini plants are doing well. Plenty of blooms, but no zukes yet.

The spaghetti squash is doing GREAT, and our first squash is growing!

I love these blooms! And the big green leaves are very appealing to me as well.

The cantaloupes, on the other hand, are doing poorly. They sprouted and have basically stopped short. Not sure what they are lacking - plenty of water and fertilizer, several hours of sunlight.

That’s pretty much it for now. Happy plants, happy gardener. 🙂

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A long overdue update

Back on March 21st (when I posted the previous blog entry) I had taken tons of photos of the garden, as well as the newly purchased plants. I didn’t want to put up two posts in one day… and then I got very, very distracted by other stuff. So, here are some photos of the garden from four weeks ago! 😛 I plan to update again soon.

Our loquats as of March 21st... they since have ripened and been eaten!

The first serrano peppers on March 21st... they have also ripened and been eaten!

Buds like this one are covering a gardenia bush; I can't wait for the blooms to open.

Jalapeno seedlings.

The green beans on March 21st.

The bean bed on March 21st

Baby peach

Baby grapefruits

New growth on the crepe myrtle

Baby caterpillar

Baby tangelos

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