Sunday, October 19, 2014

Gardeners know when to "fold"

Gardeners are gamblers

We plant seeds or seedlings and we bet that we'll end up with a bountiful harvest, but it doesn't always happen that way. So when a crop is in distress, we need to yank it out and move on to something else. Case in point: our fall cucumber crop that I talked about last time. We had a pretty good harvest of 20 or so crispy cukes, but the vines got hit with a blight, so it was time to pull them out even though there were small fruits coming along and frost will not come until late December. The vines would not be able to overcome this fungus, and the longer you leave an ailing plant in the garden, the more likely it is to leave tainted soil behind. So I pulled the vines, gathered all the fallen leaves, and put them out with the yard trash. I never put diseased plants in the compost. We have to know when to fold, just like the old gambler...
"You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em
"Know when to walk away and know when to run..."

Even though there were more cukes coming, I ripped them out. Fall blight...

Eat your seeds!

Eat the seeds!
We enjoyed a lovely acorn squash for dinner the other night and I also prepared the seeds for eating.
Separate from the squash flesh, cook for 10 minutes in about a half an inch of salted water, and then place the seed/saltwater slurry on a cookie sheet to dry. I turn my oven to 300 degrees for 10 minutes and then turn it off, leaving the seeds in the warm oven for an hour. You can also dry the seeds in the hot afternoon sun. Of course, this is also fun to do with pumpkin seeds, which you may have on hand very soon.
Add a little salt to about 1/2 an inch of water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour the seeds onto a cookie sheet or pizza pan. Put in a cold oven, turn the heat to 300 degrees for 10 minutes and then turn off. After an hour, delicious seeds to eat.

Snags are so important for bluebirds and other wildlife.


Snags, stumps, and logs

Whenever possible leave this deadwood in your landscape to provide food and shelter for bluebirds and other wildlife.

I covered this in my upcoming book, "The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape." Marjorie Shropshire, my excellent illustrator, created a lovely drawing to illustrate the concept.

I turned in all the drawings and their captions into University Press of Florida this week. This was the last piece of the puzzle; I'd already turned in the final draft, the color photos and captions, the B&W photos and captions, and a collection of possible cover photos, so now the ball is in their court. Yay!

I hope you are enjoying the excellent gardening weather. Just remember, if you are planting trees or shrubs that this is the beginning of our dry season and extra irrigation will be needed for the best success.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Sunrise this morning. How can you not love Florida sunrises?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Cole crops

Don't plant too many cabbages at one time.
While they are easy enough to grow, do you and
your family need 20 of these beauties all at once?

Do you know cabbage?

Cole crops are all the cabbage crops derived from a single species of Brassica oleracea. (Kohl is the German word for cabbage.)

The cultivars are divided into seven or eight major groups (depending upon the authority) that are grouped according to form.
-Acephala group--kale, collard greens and ornamental cabbages.
-Alboglabra group--Chinese broccoli and obscure pot herbs.
-Botrytis group--cauliflower, broccoli and broccoflower
-Capitata group--cabbages: red, green and Savoy
-Gemmifera group--Brussels sprouts
-Gongylodes group--kohlrabi (German for cabbage apple)
-Italica group--Italian broccoli, sprouting broccoli, purple cauliflower. This group includes the looser headed varieties.
-Tronchuda group--tronchuda kale and cabbage, Portuguese kale, braganza.

This is probably more than you wanted to know, but there it is and now you know why a cabbage salad is called cole slaw.

The main curd of broccoli is only the start... Leave the plant in place for...
come-again broccoli for the rest of the season. Cabbages can grow back after harvesting or
like this plant grown from a cabbage heart.

While we are waiting for the winter crops, we are enjoying the
fall cucumbers, sugar snap peas and the last of the okra..
Organic Methods for Vegetable
 Gardening in Florida

Now is the time to start your fall/winter crops in Florida.

Cole crops are only one group of plants to start now, you can also start lettuces, beets, chards, carrots, dill, and more. For more details, buy the book.

I'm a tree hugger, for sure!

Tree hugger!

In case it hasn't been obvious, I have been a tree hugger my whole life, so I will be voting "YES" on Florida's Amendment #1 in November. Monies that had been set aside in a trust by Jeb Bush in 1999 to purchase important and environmentally significant lands in Florida have been used for other expenditures by our current governor and legislature. Plus some of the lands that had already been set aside in the Florida Forever program, were put up for sale. Amendment #1 will change things so that politicians will not be able to do this again.Please join me in this vote--it's extremely important for the future of Florida's fragile ecosystems.

Green Gardening Matters,

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