Saturday, August 30, 2014

Garlic chives, a bountiful evergreen crop

The evergreen garlic chives supplies plenty of fresh greens all year. At the top of the photo on the left, you can see how big the spaghetti squash plants are that I talked about last time and the okra just is going nuts. We are harvesting several each day, which is a good thing...
Harvest with a sharp knife or scissors with a cut near the soil level.

Garlic chives!

A few years back when researching crops for Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida, I bought some garlic chives seeds (Allium tuberosum) and planted them next to my meadow garlic bed. (2 perennial crops together makes sense when everything else in my edible beds is changed up several times a year.) At first I was disappointed that only 3 or 4 seeds sprouted, but now I don't know what I'd do with any more. It's been amazing. We can use it all year long.

We use it in soups, salads, stir fries, dips, pestos, and more.  The other day I needed a pesto, but most of my lime basil* had been harvested, so I made up the difference with 7 or 8 bunches of garlic chives. It turned out very well. My recipe for pesto is in the Organic Methods book, it is more of a pesto sauce that's ready to use than the standard pestos. (*The lime basil seems to last better in our summers than the standard sweet basil and its citrusy flavor works well for our recipes.)

While the common name, garlic chives, is descriptive of the onion/garlic taste, this is on the garlic side of the genus with its flat leaves. Chives is on the onion side and its leaves are hollow. I grow chives as well and we love the subtle flavor, but chives does not take to cooking at all. It's always good to have some choices.

I cut off whole sections to use. There's plenty for us throughout the year.

I planted some of my cool-weather crops the other day after several mornings with temperatures well below 70 degrees. It's probably a little early, but I'm anxious to see how these rainbow carrots do. Very cute packaging, but will the carrots live up to their wrapper?

Predators in the yard!

So I was out back working to clear some encroaching vegetation from the path and caught a movement out of the corner of my eye into this mound of sand at the edge of the lawn area. Of course I had my camera in my pocket, so I hunkered down with my camera ready to shoot whatever emerged from the hole. It was not surprising that it was a huge cicada killer when you look at the size of her sand mound.

There were several nests lined up along the edge of the lawn out back. To host these beneficial insects in your landscape, use no landscape-wide insecticide of any kind and leave some of your property unplanted and unmulched. For more information on cicada killers see this post from IFAS

A cicada killer female emerges from her expansive underground nest.
The volume of soil removed for the nest is amazing. See the runway across the top of the mound just above the tips of my fingers. Nests can be up to 4' long with 16 cells—one for each egg/larva.
And while we are talking about wasps...
Paper wasps are also effective predators in the landscape, but their nests are well above the ground. This nest hangs on a dog fennel stem in a vacant lot across the street.

As seen in Clay Today...

My fungus article for Clay Today's Oakleaf Magazine is on page 23.

Sunrise at Jacksonville Beach the other day. I loved the reddish sunlight on the sea oats.

A Florida moon shot... 2 flyers. As I was snapping a shot of this heron, a mullet jumped just at the right time. :-)

I hope you're ready for your cool weather crops and I strongly urge you to try some garlic chives so you can always have something fresh from the garden for your salads, pestos, and stir fries.

Happy Labor Day and I hope that any labor your are doing for the holiday is in the garden.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Spaghetti squash recipes & planting

A store-bought spaghetti squash contained a bunch of sprouted seeds.
How long had it been sitting there in the store?
I was craving a spaghetti squash, so we bought one. The rind seemed unusually hard and quite a number of the seeds had sprouted. I try not to waste squash seeds of any kind, so if I'm not saving them for growing, I prepare them for eating. In this case I planted some of the sprouted seeds, dried 20 or so for future planting, and the rest I fixed for snacking.

Squash seed recipe

This seed recipe works for any of the winter squashes: including butternut, acorn, pumpkin, & spaghetti.
- Scoop out the seedy squash center and separate out the seeds.
- Place the cleaned seeds in a pan with 1/2 inch of heavily-salted water.(You could also use seasoned salt or maybe add some rosemary leaves for a different flavor.)
- Cook over medium heat until most of the water boils away—about 10 minutes.
- Dump the contents of the pan onto a cookie sheet and spread the seeds out.
- Dry in a 200-degree oven for 15 minutes or out in the sun for several hours.
- Ready to eat: eat them by themselves or mix with other seeds & nuts in a trail mix.

Easy microwave spaghetti squash

- Turn cleaned squash halves, split side down in a flat dish with 1/2 inch of water. (I use a 9"x12" glass dish so I can fit both halves in one dish. I stop the turntable from rotating for this dish.)
- Nuke for 10 minutes at full power.
- Take the pan from the microwave, turn the halves cut side up and test the squash with a fork to make sure that it's soft.
- Prop up the halves into the corners of the dish so they are level and pour spaghetti sauce into the seed cavities (I used half a 24-oz jar of store-bought sauce for both halves.)
- Top with freshly ground pepper, oregano & parsley flakes and then grated Pamesan cheese.
- There should still be some water in the bottom of the dish. Nuke for 5 minutes.
- Serve whole in a bowl. Eat right from the rind or turn it out into the bowl.
A delicious, filling, and gluten-free meal.
Prepared squash it ready to turn out of its shell. The meat of the squash is stringy and fills the role of pasta.

Sprouted seeds

The beginning of August is a little early for planting the fall squash crops, but with sprouted seeds, I couldn't really wait. My long bed opposite from the garage was turned and mulched 6 weeks ago, so it was ready. I planted several of the sprouted seeds on one side of the squash swale and some summer squash seeds on the other side. The spaghetti squash seedlings are in a row above my name in this triangular-shaped swale as shown in the photo below right. The summer squash is to the left. The vines are likely to grow out from the area so this section of lawn will host the runners and we'll mow around them until they are done.
The sprouted squash perked right up when planted.
For more details on how I prepare the squash mounds see my post, From compost to dinners
My squash swale is at the far end of the outer bed. In addition to the spaghetti squash, I also planted some summer squash.

Ooh my rainbow carrots!

Rainbow carrots

I grow a lot of carrots from fall, through the winter, and into spring. We've enjoyed the cosmic purple  carrots over the last couple of years, but this time, I decided to branch out with more colors. I'm not sure if I have any purple carrots seeds left over, but I do have some orange carrot seeds so I'll have a more complete rainbow.

This seed pack includes deep purple carrot, yellow carrot, white Kutiger carrot, and nutri-red carrot seeds.

It's not quite time to plant these, but
I am looking forward to my
Only the worms can see it.




Integrated pest management

It's a wasp eat caterpillar world out on our front porch step. This is why landscape-wide poisons are not used in our sustainably-managed property. You want Mother Nature to send out the troops when there are too many caterpillars in the area.
A potter's wasp found a caterpillar. It ate part of it, but then they disappeared. The wasp probably flew it to the nest, laid eggs on it and sealed it up.

Trouble in paradise

For 3 years we tried physical removal methods to knock back this invasive fern from our front pond.
See what we did to get rid of this invasive floating fern from our front pond in my post over on Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens blog, "Managing a native pond." Finally, we have a clear pond again.

More than a hundred crows gathered in the trees around our yard the other day. They all hung around for quite a while having a noisy ongoing conversation, and then, they all flew off. We've seen large groups of crows before, but not very often.

Summer's winding down, I can hardly wait to start planting more crops in my edible gardens again. What about you—are you ready for cool-weather edibles? In our book, "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida," there are 3 monthly calendars—one for each section of the state. Order your copy today.

Special Summer Appearance:
My presentation is "Organic GardeningYou can do it!"
Aug. 12th 10am at Fleming Island Library in Clay County.
1895 Town Center Blvd, Orange Park, FL 32003
(about 7.5 miles south of I295 & Rt 17 exit)
This event
is open to the public and has been coordinated
by The Garden Club of Fleming Island.

Green Gardening Matters, 
Ginny Stibolt

Monday, July 28, 2014

6 reasons to use pine needle mulch in edible gardens

I use pine needles in between my wide rows in the edible gardens.
Here are some of the reasons for using pines needles in wide-row edible gardens. (Read my post "Wide row planting & trench composting" for the details on this planting method.)

Pine needle mulch:
1) does a good job at limiting weeds.
2) doesn't form a crust, so even a light rain filters to the soil and doesn't roll away.
3) is easy to handle and remove when it's time for a crop change.
4) lasts for 2 or more years.
5) does not significantly acidify the soil below.
6) is free if there are pine trees in your neighborhood.

Corn salad, red-stemmed spinach, and garlic growing in wide rows in a winter bed. The pine needle mulch is 4 or 5 inches thick in the trenches between the rows. For crops like onions or garlic I mulch the whole row with about an inch of pine needles—the crop will grow right through it.
Use a very light layer of pine needles over the area where you've planted seeds. Here  I removed the smaller okra seedling and left just one to grow in this space around my okra swales, because you don't want to crowd okra. I always plant 2 or 3 seeds in each spot to make sure I get at least 1 good plant, especially when the seeds are older.
When ready to plant, use a leaf rake to clear the pine needles away. For this garlic, I'm ready to create the wide rows and to dump my kitchen scraps in the bottom of the trench between the rows. Note the wood chips on the path next to the garden.

This batch of needles contained a fair amount of soil after I removed it from the bed, so I raked the whole wad of needles across the lawn to clean them up. As a bonus, the freedom lawn receives an addition of compost.
I collect pine needles from the neighborhood
streets--after a storm is especially fruitful.
Then I keep a pile of them near my gardens.
Down by the lake, a longleaf pine drops its foot-long needles. Easy to rake and great for mulch. My husband mows every other week, so before he mows, I often head down there to collect a new batch.

Why not wood chips?

I've written before about using arborists' woodchips in the landscape, but I don't use them in my edible gardens for two reasons.

Wood chip mulch:
1) is impossible to remove completely once it's laid down. For other uses, like paths and more stable gardens, that's not a problem, but it doesn't work well with all the activity of changing crops at the end of the season.
2) depletes nutrients as it comes in contact with the soil microbes. Again for path mulches, this is an advantage for keeping down weeds, but we work so hard to increase the nutrient level in our edible gardens, why compromise it in any way? Eventually, the chips decompose and add nutrients and humus to the soil, but not at first.

Getting ready for fall...

Yes, it will be 6 weeks or more until I'm ready to start planting the cool weather crops, but there will be some end of summer crops like squashes, cucumbers, sugar snap peas and maybe tomatoes. It was time to turn under my marigold cover crops into their beds, so they'll be ready for the next set of crops. Read about my multi-year marigold experiment: Results: the nematode experiment. 

These two vegetable beds (with their marigold cover crop) are ready to be turned.

There is a Chinese fringe bush at the north end of this bed. Each year I remove its roots that are encroaching into the garden space.
I lay in unfinished compost on top of the marigolds and then
I'll add back the original soil.

First I pull the marigolds and weeds, and then I rake away the pine needles with a leaf rake. I raked the pine needles from this bed across the lawn as shown in a photo above to get rid of the embedded soil. Then I dug out about 5 or 6 inches of soil from the whole bed into the big cart. This bed is about 6.5 ' by 5' and I filled the whole cart. I laid in the marigolds, some grass clippings, topped it with a wheel barrel load of almost finished compost. (Completed or finished compost will not have any recognizable pieces of the original materials. This batch still has some leaf mold and small sticks and chips.)

Then I shoveled the original soil back in place and smoothed it out. I added another half load of compost on top of the soil. Finally, I covered it with pine needles and added wood chips in the walking areas around the bed.

In a few days, I'll turn the next bed.

After burying the marigolds, compost, grass clippings and layering back the original soil, I mulched the whole bed with pine needles. It will sit until fall when it'll be time to start the cool-weather crops. FYI, the downspout shown here, runs into a French drain that runs next to the sidewalk and is released into one of my rain gardens. The rain water then heads down to the lake in an open ravine.

The squash is done, so it was time to turn the marigolds into this bed, too.

I started near the okra (by the bench) and had a load of kitchen scraps ready to compost, so those went into the bottom of this bed for some extra nutrients.

Except for the okra, garlic chives, and the Greek oregano in the foreground, the beds have been turned. The outside bed was turned a couple of weeks ago and so I will probably start planting in that bed first when it's time.

Early in the spring pines also drop their male catkins (sex organs). These break down much more quickly than the pine needles, so if I rake them up, I use them to mulch my blueberries or in the compost pile where their acidity will be neutralized.

For further reading on pine needle mulch:
From Dave's Garden: Pine Needle Acidity: Myth or reality?
On Wildlife Gardeners' website: Pine Straw (Pine Needle) Mulch Acidity: Separating Fact From Fiction Through Analytical Testing

Amazing summer clouds just before sunset last week.

I hope you are enjoying the summer clouds and are planning for your fall garden of edibles. Why not purchase my book to help you get started? Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Harvesting corn: Down on the farm

A guest post from my grandson Weber who is working on a farm in Delaware this summer. 

Summer at Magee Farms: Part Two

(Summer at Magee Farms: Part One)

Hi everyone – I would have sent in another post sooner, but once we started the sweet corn harvest, I have been working 12-hour days and haven’t had time to sit down and write this. I certainly was not expecting how busy it was going to get. After these first two weeks of harvest, I have much greater appreciation of all the work that goes into large-scale farming. In this post I am going to talk about the life of the corn – how it’s harvested, what happens to it at the packingshed where I work, and where it goes to be sold. 


The corn starts here out at the field. I usually stop by wherever they are picking a few times a week just to make sure everything is up to par in terms of food safety.

This is called a mule train, and it is an incredibly efficient set-up. I wasn’t able to get a good picture of this apparatus because the workers are not too keen on having their picture taken. This mule train is essentially a tractor with two “wings” like an airplane. Workers follow the wings to harvest the corn by hand. They then throw the corn up into the “wing” where packers put the corn into crates. The crates are then stacked on the truck that is towed behind the mule train.

Before the pickers are sent into the field, the tassels of the corn are cut off by a topper, which is an elevated tractor with rotating blades underneath it. This way, the workers can be seen and it makes it easier for them to do their job. Trying to get through all of the large leaves on a plant taller than the workers is a nuisance, especially after it has rained. In addition, the "wings" on the mule train have a certain clearance as well

A cornfield shorn of its tops is being hand-picked by people walking behind the mule.
Note: Usually there is just one ear per stalk, or maybe two.

Once the truck is full, it disassembles from the mule train and arrives here at the packingshed where I work. The corn is unloaded onto the dock of the packingshed and awaits labels. I’ll get more into these labels in my next post.

A field truck is ready to unload at the packingshed.
The crates of corn are strapped to pallets.

These are the pallets of wood crates filled with fresh corn. There are usually 18-20 pallets on each truck that comes to the packingshed. Each pallet has around 42 crates and each crate has around 48 ears. On a typical day, we can see 5-7 of these trucks - it’s a lot of corn!


Once the corn arrives at the packingshed, it has to be cooled down. When the corn has been sitting outside in 90-degree weather, the heat that is left in the corn can cause it to spoil quickly. The corn is in this cold water bath for around 50 minutes to an hour to get the internal temperature to 50-55 degrees.
Corn is cooled with cold water and once they are cooled, they must be refrigerated.


After the hydrocooler, the corn is loaded into refrigerated tractor-trailers to get shipped all over the east coast - even all the way to Texas!

The corn is quickly transferred to these refrigerated trucks after cooling.

In my next post, I’ll be going more in-depth about my role in all of this as a Food Safety Officer, and I’ll show you a bit more of what goes on behind-the-scenes.

Weber Stibolt, University of Delaware '16

Thanks for sharing, Weber! 

Green Gardening Matters, 
Ginny Stibolt

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Terrible taro and other invasives

The taro removed from the bulkhead garden.

Removing invasives, sooner rather than later

Just this last April, we redid this weird bulkhead space to fix a slumping problem. At the time, I thought I'd removed all the taro roots and corms (Colocasia esculenta) and the soil we used to fill in the space was from another area of the property with no taros. So in just these few months, they've rebounded. I pulled this whole bouquet from this space which is approximately 4' x 4'.  I'll have to check for new growth more often. I also pulled out some native elderberry  (Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis) volunteers, which are small trees.

Note on taro (aka dasheen): it was brought from Africa by slaves and then again in 1910 by the US Dept. of Agriculture as a potato substitute for the south. Big mistake. Several people suggested that we include it as a crop in "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida," but I refused. If it's invasive, we should not be encouraging people to grow it. Another interesting feature of this plant as a crop, is that every part contains calcium oxalate crystals, which can irritate your mouth and other tissues. To prepare the corms to eat, you have to boil it in at least three waters and then grind it to a powder.

While I was working on the taro removal, my husband was cleaning out the area between the intake pipe for the irrigation system and the bulkhead. A nice stand of ferns had colonized the area. I decided to replant them along the bulkhead where the turf grass didn't grow well. After standing back to look at the reconfigured space, we decided to remove the turf from the whole area for easier mowing. And here I thought we got to scratch a small item from the giant gardening to-do list, but no, it became a bigger task. Has that ever happened to you?

After my husband cleared out the ferns and other plants that were growing between the intake pipe of the irrigation system and the bulkhead, he cleaned out as much of the built up soil to make this space less attractive for new plants to set up camp there. You can see the pump in the background. A few of the removed ferns with their squished roots and rhizomes.
After looking critically at this space, my husband and I
decided to remove this ridiculous chunk of lawn between our boat-lift bulkhead and the neighbor's concrete pad.
The sticky clay soil under the grass made this job much more difficult.
I had some tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) that needed to be removed from the edible gardens where I will be turning them under with marigolds in a couple of weeks. (See below.) So I added them in front of the previous garden space to make this more of a butterfly garden. There is no gutter for the boat lift bay roof, so we placed a board along the drip line for easy access to the bed and to protect the soil. We mulched the whole area with about three inches of arborists' wood chips. We've had them since September, so they are well-composted.
Testing the placement of the drip board with a hose attached to the irrigation pump. The finished product—for now. Yay!

A couple of side adventures from the bulkhead task...

Whenever we see these invasive snails in the lake, we smash them with a shovel and add them to the compost pile. Just think of all that nice calcium. Treasures found in the chip pile.

In the edible beds

Our come again cabbage is still going strong after 7 months of harvests. I first wrote about this stub of a store bought cabbage in January. I harvested four medium-sized heads and an untold number of leaves. While it looks a little moth-eaten now, the leaves are still sweet! A volunteer tropical sage amongst the okra. I allow these pollinator-attracting plants to grow pretty much where they sprout in our edible gardens. I transplanted a bunch of volunteers from a bed that's ready to be turned to the new bulkhead garden space.

Even though it's been shown to be invasive,
nandina is still for sale and widely planted.

Are you harboring this invasive in your yard? 

Get rid of it now, not only is it displacing native plants in natural habitats, it's also poisoning birds like the cedar waxwings. It's also poisonous to your pets.

I posted this photo on Facebook and it was shared by more than 100 people and seen by more than 5,000 people. There were many comments including people who said that their nandina had never hurt anything and birds even make their nests in it.

The thing is that if a plant has been determined to be invasive, it has already done damage in natural ecosystems. It's not someone's idealistic whim, but a rigorous procedure. See the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Counsel's (FLEPPC) website for more information.

As homeowners we can do our part by keeping them out of our yards so that our birds don't carry their seeds to nearby wild areas. Invasives, both plant and animal, have cost billions of dollars (both pubic and private monies) annually. Don't be part of the problem: don't buy invasive plants, and remove them ASAP from your property.

Beautiful Florida natives!

A beautiful flatwoods sunflower planted itself in my
wildflower garden.
The first beautiful scarlet rosemallow of the season at the edge of our front pond.

Summer skies in Florida!

A hazy beginning to the day after a heavy rain. This is a color photo, but you'd hardly guess that.

After a hazy sunrise (see above) the sunset over the lake was beautiful.

Summer clouds before the storms

Summer clouds on the same day...

A sepia-toned sunrise preceded a day of rain. No gardening took place on this day.
I hope to see you soon at my presentation at the Fleming Island Library in Clay County on August 12th at 10am. the Fleming Island Garden Club coordinated this event, but it's open to all.

Garden early in the day during the summer!

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt