Saturday, May 1, 2021

Our freedom lawn

We let our lawn go wild!

When we first moved into our house, the lawn-care guys who had worked for the former owner stopped by to offer to continue their services. When I refused, they said that without their poisons (fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides) and their specially-formulated fertilizer and weed & feed applications that our lawn would die. Well, as it turns out, a few months later some brown spots did develop, but they were soon taken over by other plants, which those lawn guys would probably have condemned as "weeds."

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Science-based companion planting

Buy your own copy of Plant Partners
by Jessica Walliser
 at Amazon.

Much has been written about which plants work well together, and often the various human emotions, such as love and hate, accompany these descriptions. Extension agents, university professors, and other scientists had debunked most of the anecdotal benefits of traditional companion planting. 

But now there is new science on using various plants to:
- act as trap crops to lure pests away from crops,
- attract predatory insects that will reduce pest problems on crops,
- add diversity, which may confuse pest organisms.
- reduce weeds,
- increase pollinator populations,
- add nutrients, and more.

Jessica Walliser's new book, "Plant  Partners: Science-Based Companion Strategies for the Vegetable Garden" (published by Storey Publishing) is the winner of a 2021 The American Horticultural Society Book Award. Jessica is a rare two-time winner of this prestigious award and her book compiles this latest research on using plants to accomplish several benefits in vegetable gardens. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The lettuces

Lettuces: fast, easy-to-grow, cool-weather crops

I planted four types of lettuce in this bed: oakleaf,
black-seeded Simpson, drunken woman, & romaine.

Here in North Florida, we grow our cool-weather crops right through the winter. At the end of September, I planted four types of lettuces in a bed next to the house and also planted a curly parsley row there as well. The lettuces were oakleaf, black-seeded Simpson, drunken woman (which was new for us), and romaine. They all did very well, but the romaine gave us the longest and best harvest. I was remiss in not taking any good photos of this bed while it was in its peak. 

With leaf lettuces, you can harvest the outer leaves as needed or you can cut the plant off just above ground level with the hope that the plant would produce new leaves for a second or maybe a third harvest while the weather is still cool, This works best in Florida with varieties of lettuce that are more tolerant of warm weather or ones that are described as "slow-to-bolt."

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The history of tomatoes as a crop and growing tomatoes in Florida

Tomatoes: this Peruvian native is now a world-wide favorite

Tomatoes are native to Peru, but
are now a major crop world-wide
The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) is a classic crop plant that every gardener wants to grow because store-bought tomatoes, which are bred to withstand harsh handling, are often less than delicious. 

BUT... The acceptance of tomatoes as an edible crop was a bit rocky.

The tomato is native to Peru. It’s a member of the nightshade family, which includes some famously poisonous plants such as belladonna, which is native to the Mediterranean area. So, acceptance of tomatoes as an edible crop in Europe was slow. In addition, some of the first tomato cuisine was served to European upper-class people on pewter dishes or with pewter cutlery and the acid in the tomatoes released the lead from that metal, which did actually poison some people. Many people called it the love apple and thought they would die if they ate it.

Friday, January 1, 2021

One good thing about 2020!

The New York Times asked people to submit essays no longer than 200 words describing one good thing about 2020. I wrote about how more people started growing some of their own food during 2020 and as a result some large seed companies sold out on some seeds and garden supplies. They received more than 1,400 entries and published about a dozen of them. Mine was not chosen. so I thought I'd share it here:

One good thing about 2020

People are growing more food in response to:
- more time at home, 
- worries about food safety, 
- food shortages in grocery stores, and 
- searching for educational and fun projects for their children around the home. Kids should know that carrots grow in the soil and don't just come in plastic bags.

This year several large seed companies have run out of seeds and gardening supplies. Also, there has been a significant uptick in the sales of vegetable gardening books, including mine: "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida." Plus, the chatter on gardening groups on social media and my personal contacts has been more centered on growing food. This fall, I was a guest on a local NPR radio station program when I talked about growing food and how people can get started. 

Victory gardens of World War II

This movement seems a bit like the Victory Gardens of World War II, but without the urging by Uncle Sam. Homeowners are doing it on their own to add resiliency to their family's food supply, budget, and well-being. I hope this movement continues well beyond the pandemic so people will have control of their food from seed to table.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Celebrate Winter Solstice 2020

The winter solstice for the Northern Hemisphere occurs on
Monday, December 21, 2020 at 5:02 a.m. EST.

Sunrise over the St. John's River from
Spring Park in Green Cove Springs.

Winter Solstice is the astronomical moment when the Sun reaches the Tropic of Capricorn, which here in the  Northern Hemisphere produces our shortest day and longest night of the year and marks the official start of winter.

At the winter solstice, the sun appears at its southernmost position and at the lowest point in the sky, and its noontime elevation seems to stay the same for several days before and after this day. The sun’s gradual decrease in the sky reverses after the winter solstice and as the hours of daylight become longer, marking what many cultures believe to be a “rebirth” of the Sun.

The term “solstice” is derived from Latin: sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still) because, during the solstice, the sun appears to stand still.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Lichen: a three-way symbiotic organism

Last week, a neighbor knocked on our door. He was holding a twig covered with lichens. He wanted to know what heck they were and how could he get rid of them, because they were killing his tree. I explained that no, these were not killing his tree, but because the twigs were bare, their spores had germinated there to take advantage of the good light (without the leaves). He's not alone in thinking the the lichens are causing harm to trees, so I thought I should provide some needed background.

Monday, October 12, 2020

An unexpected drainage project

A complex location, with a raised sprinkler head, a newly
reinstalled downspout, and the access to the septic system.

Rain barrels on the move

We moved the three rain barrels that we'd installed at the back of the garage. Initially, years ago, they were elevated on a wooden platform, but when the wood gave out due to stress from all that weight, we reinstalled them in the same place on separate cinderblock towers. I wrote about them here: Three more rain barrels and here: Reworking the elevated rain barrels.

Well, since there was no cross bracing between the towers, the cinderblocks tipped and sank into the soil at different rates. This caused a problem with the plumbing since the barrels are connected together to have one spigot. 

My husband disassembled barrels and reinstalled the downspout for this end of the gutter that runs along two sides of the garage. The other end feeds into two different rain barrels. 

The three barrels sat unused through the summer, but the dry season was coming and I'd be growing a large selection of cool-weather crops and I'd need the capacity of those three barrels. In looking at this location we could not install a concrete pad to provide more stability because the main septic pipe from the house runs through the area. We decided to move barrels to the north side of the garage where there was already a concrete pad and to move the ten-foot gutter to gather the water.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Seminole pumpkin & onion upside-down cornbread

The cornbread as it came from the oven. 
It needs to "rest" for 15 minutes like this.

Cooking to the harvest

Years ago, I'd seen a recipe for upside-down cornbread, so I decided to modify it to include two cups of grated Seminole pumpkin that I needed to use. That old recipe called for baking the cornbread in a cast iron skillet and that would have made it the right shape to flip onto a plate. But my 9" X 12" glass baking dish worked fine and we flipped it onto a cutting board.

I used my standard buttermilk cornbread recipe as a base.  

Friday, August 28, 2020

Growing Florida's wildflowers from seed

 Fall is the best seed-sowing season for Florida's native wildflowers

I used a vegetable bed that would be fallow from late fall
through winter as a nursery for the wildflower seeds. 

We were going to be out of the country from January through March of 2020, so I had not planted any winter crops. After the warm-weather crops had been harvested, I mulched those beds with a thick layer of pine needles to allow them to remain fallow. There were some beds that I'd used as pollinator gardens during the summer, so those I left in place. They were filled with mostly scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea).

I had some native wildflower seeds from the Florida Wildflowers Growers Cooperative (, but I didn't have any particular areas where I was ready to plant them. So took advantage of the largest fallow bed and planted them there. This way, they'd have good soil and little competition with existing plants. Plus, I'd be able to keep track of them. So when we returned, I could figure out what to do with them.