Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Soap destroys plants' defenses

How to fight aphids on milkweed?

We plant milkweeds to encourage the monarch butterflies, not only for the nectar, but also because milkweed is the ONLY larval food for the monarch caterpillars. But milkweed also attracts aphids...
Non-native scarlet milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)*. Notice all the yellow aphids on the stems.
I was focused on the monarch when I took the above photo, but it's obvious that my milkweeds had become infested with aphids. I just allowed the aphids to stay. Eventually some ladybugs came in, but the plant is better off without any "treatment" from the gardener.

Often the "expert" advice is to spray homemade concoctions with soap or detergent to get rid of the aphids. Don't do it! 


Monday, July 18, 2016

Malabar spinach: a hot weather crop


Malabar spinach
The standard spinach varieties (Spinacea oleracea) are cool-weather annuals that are a little temperamental in Florida. Spinach is a member of the amaranth family (Amaranthaceae), which also includes chard, beets, and quinoa. All members of this family contain oxalate crystals in their leaves which can cause problems with kidney stones when eaten raw. Cooking or vinegar dressing will break down the crystals.

Malabar spinach

Malabar spinach (Basella rubra and B. alba) is a heat-tolerant, vining plant with leaves that taste like spinach. The two species differ in stem color--red or green. The red is striking--an ornamental edible. It's a perennial in frost-free zones and a freely seeding annual in the rest of the state.

This crop is a member of the basella family (Basellaceae) and is not closely related to spinach and has no oxalate crystals.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A failed onion crop

My onions failed to form bulbs. Were they a long-day variety?
I've had some wonderful onion harvests in the past, but not this year. See my post A sweet onion harvest to see what a successful onion crop looks like. Note: that crop was harvested in May.

So what happened? 


Well, I was distracted this fall with my #floweredshirttour for my third book, The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape—35 events in 11 weeks from September 1 to November 15th. Instead of taking the time to order my short-day onion plants, I just bought a package of onion sets, which I'd used before, with reasonable success. See my post, The skinny on onions, back when I was just figuring out what to do in Florida. The information I found at the time said that only short-day onions, which is what we need in Florida because we grow onions through the winter, were available as sets.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Growing edibles has saved us 15% on our food budget

I've been sharing our harvests here on the blog and on
Facebook to show people what they could be harvesting, too.
This is a tabbouleh harvest includes lots of curly parsley.
We started growing food successfully a few years after we moved to North Florida in 2004. So we have a good record of our food costs both before and after growing crops. Our annual food budget is at least 15% less than it was before.

Actually, two things changed:
1) Obviously, we save money when we don't have to purchase as much food.
2) More importantly, cooking to our harvests has changed the way we eat. Our whole diet has become more plant based and we also purchase much less pre-prepared food. Why would we purchase salad dressing full of preservatives and other stuff when I have frozen containers of yummy, home-made pesto that we can use as a base for salad dressings? Also, we've found or invented some interesting recipes to consume an abundant harvest and not get tired of it. See below for a new recipe adapted from one I'd found on Facebook.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

May crops and more...

It's zucchini season. I planted various types of squash
 at the beginning of March. The zucchinis
 win the race with fruit on the table by the end of April.

It's zucchini season!

I planted Green Tiger Zucchini Hybrid seeds by Burpee at the beginning of March along with 3 other types of squash—butternut, summer, and one called Delicata, which is white with green stripes on the outside, but orange on the inside. The others are just beginning to form fruit, while the zucchini harvest began at the end of April.

I used less than 1/4 of one in a stir fry, but since more are on the way, I decided to grate the rest of these 2 zucchinis for bread and for freezing. This produced 8 cups of zucchini strings—4 for bread and 4 for freezing in two 2-cup packages.

I combined 2 different recipes for the zucchini bread and it was delicious, so here's the combined recipe...

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mulch is NOT the point of a no-lawn landscape

So you've removed your lawn... Yay! So now what?

All too often I've seen lawns replaced with vast areas of mulch instead of dense plantings of natives or other sustainable plants. Yes, we must plan ahead for mature sizes of trees and shrubs, but that doesn't mean that you need to lay down only mulch while you wait for your trees to grow. Look at this example:

Sad case study


A too-much-mulch landscape.  The same landscape from the other end.
I visit this particular location on a fairly regular basis and was pleased when the lawn was ripped out last year. They also pruned away the bottom branches of the shrubs. I wondered what the plans were, but surprisingly the plan seems to be mulch and little else. Upon closer inspection I could see that they used a black plastic weed barrier cloth, but only a few weeks later the weeds popped up anyway. (See below for my note on weed barrier cloth.) Eventually they installed two fountains with crotons at each of the four corners and some other plants with colorful leaves, At one point the mulch was pulled aside where the weeds were the thickest. On the next visit, the mulch was back in place. Months later, nothing has changed. So I'm guessing that this is their planned landscape. I'm sorry, but this is just a sad situation. I my opinion, their raggedy lawn was better looking than this and easier to maintain.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Mâche or corn salad, an easy-to-grow spinach substitute

The honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae) contains a single edible crop—mâche or corn salad.

When we wrote Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida, we arranged the crops by plant family (not the alphabet) so readers could have a better grasp on how to rotate crops to reduce problems with pests and to even out soil depletion and enrichment. There were not many families with only one crop. Corn salad fell into this category.

Grow corn salad (center row) along with other cool-weather crops. Here it's growing with some black-seeded Simpson lettuce, a reddish lettuce and dill. 

Here the corn salad is growing in a wide row with red-stemmed spinach
and next to some garlic.
Mâche or corn salad (Valerianella spp) is a fast growing cool weather vegetable with a mild spinach taste. A European weed, it often grows in wheat fields and peasants foraged it for their salads. The British sometimes call wheat corn, so it was the salad in the cornfield. There are a couple of different species. It's best to choose those with most heat tolerance.

Since it is basically a weed, it has a high germination rate. In both of these photos, I probably planted it a little too densely, but the quality was not affected.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Review: The Water-Saving Garden

Buy a copy on Amazon
When Pan Penick asked me to review her new book, I was somewhat reluctant knowing that it was written for gardeners in the whole country and not just Florida. But once I received her gorgeous book, I was entranced by all her cool water-saving ideas and innovative designs.


Florida is NOT a desert!

First let me say that since Florida averages 50 to 60 inches of rainfall annually, it is not a desert and so we cannot have xeriscapes. The stone-scaping that works so well in arid climates, doesn't work that well here. Our climate and rainfall ensures that any bed of stone will be filled with weeds before too long. On the other hand, we do have a 7-month dry season which can make us feel like we live in a desert. So we DO need water-saving ideas.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

GMOs, food safety, and what we need to be concerned about

Weber and Ginny Stibolt probably discussing food or farming
at Thanksgiving in 2015. (Much of the feast was vegan!)
By Weber Stibolt
Food Science and chemistry major at University of Delaware

For seasoned veterans of this blog, you will remember my guest posts from back when I worked on a farm in 2014 in southern Delaware helping with food safety. Down on the Farm and Harvesting Corn. In brief, I helped this farm through an advanced USDA produce audit for the first time. It was the first time that I had done something like that, so it certainly was a learning experience for us both. Since that internship, I have continued my studies in food science and will be graduating from the University of Delaware in May.

Recognition of work


Recently, I was awarded a scholarship from the Food Marketing Institute Foundation for my work in the past with food safety and for aspiring to go into this field when I graduate. As an extra bonus to the scholarship, I was able to get to go to the annual Safe Quality Food Institute Conference in Indianapolis. While I was there, I learned so much about the hidden world of food safety and met many people who specialize in this type of work.
What has prompted this post in particular was a comment that I made on Facebook regarding the Chipotle outbreak following my attendance at this conference:

Crazy idea. How about instead of pushing for GMO labeling - which is inherently pointless considering that GMOs are ubiquitous - we instead push for labeling of food safety certifications of manufacturers. Something like "SQF Level 3 Certified" or "USDA GAP & GHP Certified Produce" would be much more beneficial to consumers than GMO labeling.

Chipotle has had many outbreaks - 2009 outbreak of E. coli. O157:H7 in Colorado, 2015 Salmonella outbreak in Minnesota, a 2015 norovirus outbreak in California, and now this O26 outbreak across Seattle and Portland. So think about that.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Using subprime produce deliciously

Red bell peppers!!


Red bell peppers are delicious, but quite expensive because their shelf life is so short. These are fully ripened and are ready to begin rotting. Sometimes you can find them at bargain prices when they've passed the point of looking good. I took advantage of this the other day and bought 2 peppers wrapped in packaging so we could not examine the whole fruits. When we got them home, I unwrapped them and other than some slightly wrinkled skin, they were fine. I can relate, because my skin is wrinkled as well.

The plan was to use them that night for dinner so they would not deteriorate any further.

Cornbread-stuffed red peppers

OMG, was this delicious!
I'd made some cornbread a few days ago to go with some some fish/vegetable soup that my husband made on one of those really cold days. (Fish from our neighbor and vegetables from the garden) So when I considered my options for the peppers, I decided that the last 3 pieces of cornbread would be perfect to make stuffing for the peppers. So here are the recipes for the stuffed peppers and my cornbread. Enjoy!