Monday, December 29, 2014

A wish for a greener 2015

I wish you and yours a wonderful and bountiful New Year!!

A frosty reddish leaf lettuce.

Winter vegetables

Here in Florida, even here in North Florida where we receive several killing frosts each winter, we can grow most cool weather crops right through the winter. In most of the country, gardeners spend winter wishing they could garden, while we enjoying our "Salad Days."

One of the main reasons we wrote "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida" was to alleviate frustration of gardeners new to Florida trying to use their old, general garden books written for Anywhere, U.S.A. They just don't work here.

Growing some of your vegetables is good for you and your family, plus it helps to make Mother Earth a little greener.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Speaking out

Senator Rob Bradley and me.

The 2014 Clay County Delegation hearing

Each year the 3 elected officials to the Florida legislature representing Clay County—a senator and 2 representatives—hold a hearing before the legislative session begins. This year the committee work begins in January and the general session begins on March 4th. (The only date during the year that calls for action. Get it? March 4th.)

After introductions of the delegation members and their staff people, the normal agenda was interrupted for a heart-rending testimony of a mother holding her child with brain cancer pleading for more freedom in choosing medicines including restricted substances.

Then came the parade of the local elected officials from the county, the 3 incorporated towns, the school board, the clerk of court, and the supervisor of elections. They all made cases for more money for their various projects. The one surprise was the clerk of court's problem of the lower crime rate meaning less money in fines that are normally used to run the court.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Yard critters

A green treefrog (Hyla cinerea) jumped out of the beggar ticks (Bidens alba) that I had pulled from the front garden.
A bagworm (Oiketicus abbotii) is overwintering on a beautyberry bush.

Managing exuberance carefully

I allow some beggar ticks (Bidens alba) and snow squarestem (Melanthera nivea) to grow in restricted areas to attract all those pollinators. But in the fall, I harvest those that have escaped to other places in the landscape to reduce the population and weeding the next year, at least to some degree. So last week I started pulling and a cute green treefrog that was using these stems for shelter jumped out of the cart. And the frog is just the wildlife that is evident. There could be hundreds of bugs snuggled inside these stems for the winter. Instead of leaving these stalks out with the yard waste, I add them to various brush piles, so those insects will have a chance to make it through the winter. The songbirds also use the brush piles for shelter, so they may appreciate the seeds, and maybe even some of those hidden bugs. 

Nearby, I spotted this bagworm (probably Oiketicus abbotii) hanging from a beautyberry branch. This moth is different than most, in that it gathers plant parts to stick to itself as a caterpillar to build protection. When its ready to pupate, it glues its portable shelter to a secure location and seals itself inside. When the female reaches the adult phase, she will be flightless and will emit pheromones to attract males. When a male arrives, they mate inside her sack where she lays her eggs and dies. The new larvae feed on her remains and other food that she's stored there. When ready, the new larvae head out on their own, often on a long strings of silk that balloon in the wind so the larvae swing away from each other. Isn't Mother Nature amazing?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Lime basil

Lime basil took over my early lettuce rows. I'd grown it here last year and now I know that it's an abundant reseeder. I'd let it grow since early September when I set up these 2 rows, but now it was time to give the lettuce and the beets more room.
Abundant harvest of lime basil! I shared some with 2
new neighbors and then made a pesto with the rest of it.
The standard sweet Italian basil doesn't do well here with our hot, humid summers. It is prone to various wilt and fungal diseases, which forces growers to harvest it early. So on a whim I bought some lime basil seed from Burpee Seeds a couple of years ago. It not only makes it through the summers, it also reseeds, so it's unlikely that I'll need to purchase more seed any time soon.

The taste really does have a distinct lime overtone. I use it in the same as I do for regular basil, but since its flavor is strong, there are some dishes that I have learned to use less of it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Beautyberry bread

Gathering the berries. I used only the ones at the ends of the branches because they
are the last to ripen.

I robbed the birds!

Many birds feast on our beautyberries (Callicarpa americana) including mockingbirds, catbirds, and cardinals.  So I felt guilty removing even one cup of their winter berry supplies, even though I have a dozen bushes plus more berries on the wax myrtles. But I saw a recipe for beautyberry cake in Peggy Lantz's new book, Florida's Edible Wild Plants and wanted to try it. I tasted a few berries right off the bush. They were fairly bland and only slightly sweet.

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...

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Removing lawn and other adventures

Clearing the rest of this section of lawn.

Digging grass...

After putting it off for some time now, I finally finished removing the lawn in front of the shed. I started removing this part of the lawn last fall when I planted the coreopsis. My post on fall seedlings shows the beginning of this project.

It's not an easy task to rip up well-established turfgrass, but I was side-tracked numerous times.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Harvest-based tempura and more...

The harvest for some tempura.

The harvest & recipe

I had some okra, but not enough for good-sized batch of fried okra, so I supplemented it with 5 little sweet onions, some zucchini, and not shown here, about half of a garlic bulb.

I don't have a deep fryer, but this method for tempura works pretty well.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Results: the nematode experiment

In looking at all the broccoli & parsley roots, there was very little damage
by root-knot nematodes. Yay!

The problem...

For the last several years, the root-knot nematodes have damaged roots of several of our crops, but we were not aware of it until they were pulled up. Most of the time the crops had been producing well anyway, but why not take all the organic precautions we could to prevent the damage?

I took action last year and planted a dense cover crop of marigolds and dug them into the soil. See my post Nematodes, marigolds & crop rotation for the details. Last fall I planted my cool weather crops hoping for the best, because previously marigold plants scattered around the garden had not had any effect.

Success! Today we pulled the parsley and broccoli, both of which had been seriously affected the last few years. The roots were clean! No lumpy knobs caused by the nematodes.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Zucchinis, garlic, and kites: summer is here!

Oooh tiger zucchinis.

Changing seasons for our edibles

The tiger zucchinis are doing very well this year and I scramble to harvest them before they get too big. Half of one of these beauties was grated into a tuna salad, while the other half was sliced and was added last to a stir fry featuring onions, garlic, garlic chives, parsley from our garden, plus store-bought celery & 2 Boca Burgers (our favorite non-meat patties). The other one and maybe an additional one still growing in the garden will be the key ingredient in some zucchini bread. Yummy.

The last lettuce crop and the parsley have bolted and the broccoli is done after many months of come-again picking. My husband made a nice tabbouleh from the last of the parsley crop. I've allowed the plants to remain in the garden so their blooms will attract pollinators.
The parsley has bolted so this may be our last tabbouleh of the season. :-(
After a few days without rain last week, it was dry enough to harvest the garlic. It's now hanging in the garage to dry. The onions that I harvested last month had dried fully, so we cut off their leaves and roots and stored them in 2 cloth bags in the floor of the pantry. The garlic will also be stored in the same manner in a few weeks. The bulb that had split apart was used right away—it would not have been a good candidate for drying. I'll add some compost to the onion and garlic beds, cover them with pine needles and let them sit for the summer.
A bountiful garlic harvest this year. One garlic bulb had divided itself and was starting to grow.

A gator adventure

We had an alligator is our pond for a couple of weeks.
The trappers used an underhand casting technique.
A few weeks ago, we noticed a small (30") alligator in our pond. We've lived here for 10 years and had never seen one before. My husband called Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to report the gator and for information on what to do. We learned that a gator is not a nuisance until it reaches 4' and that sooner or later every body of water in Florida will host a gator.

A few days later we got a call from these gator trappers saying that a permit had been issued on our gator. They brought their fishing poles with heavy weights and treble hooks. This way they could hook onto the back of the gator and haul it to shore where they could haul it out with a noose-like tool. They deftly used an underhanded casting method to probe the pond. The gator was not found that day. They came back a few days later when they were in the area after trapping a gator from a golf course. Still no gator. We haven't seen it since then, so it probably has moved on—either back to the lake or to another pond in the neighborhood. We wish it well, but our pond frogs and fish are probably relieved.
A gator from a golf course.

Swallow-tailed kites

We love that our neighborhood supports these graceful birds. They are efficient flyers that use only a few beats of their wings when taking off, but then they glide with only twitches of their tails to keep aloft or to change directions. The Audubon Society's website says that they are our most aerial predators. They lift our spirits for sure.
A swallow-tailed kite on a snag. Kites use very few wing movements in flight.

Fire in the sky

Florida's 5-month wet season begins in June.  This means that our cloud formations are more spectacular during these months. 
An amazing sunset. This is the season for Florida's spectacular cloud formations.
This sunrise  was beautiful when viewed from our front yard or reflected in our pond.
A reflected sunrise in our newly cleared pond. More on the pond soon.
I hope you are enjoying the beginning of summer whether you are enjoying the sky, watching birds, or working in your gardens. 

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Down on the farm

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

Summer at Magee Farms: Part One

Hi! My name is Weber Stibolt, and I’m one of Ginny’s grandchildren. This summer I am working at a produce farm in southern Delaware, and she asked me to write a few columns for you to show you a little bit about what goes on behind the scenes. I am a rising junior and am studying Food Science at the University of Delaware. 

Although there are many paths that I can take with this degree, one of the aspects that interests me the most is food safety. With increased capability to detect foodborne pathogens and an increase in food safety regulations like the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, there is and will be an increased demand for specialists to help producers of food ensure that they are taking the necessary steps in order to reduce the risk of microbial contamination. 

A family farm

Magee Farms has been a family farm since 1865 and this is the fifth generation farming the land. 

I have been hired as a Food Safety Manager to assist the produce farm in keeping records and making sure everything is in order for the annual food safety audit. I will mainly be overseeing the packinghouse where the watermelons and sweet corn that the farm produces are packed and put onto trucks to be sold at local supermarkets. 

The picture below shows just some of the paperwork that goes in to all of this! The government agency completing the audit is the USDA. The paperwork isn't necessarily being turned in - it's being reviewed by them to make sure we are in compliance with everything that needs to be done and is just a means for collecting data like temperatures of water and proper levels of chlorination and a whole list of other things that I will cover in more detail in later posts.

More pictures and posts to come. ~Weber


Have you thanked your farmers today?

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A sweet onion harvest, Frostproof, and more...

A sweet onion harvest

The sweet Granex onion harvest was variable from 5 inches across to less than an inch.
Last week (before the rains came) most of the Granex onion leaves had fallen over, so it was time to harvest them and hang them to dry in the garage. Earlier this week I harvested the short-day onion sampler crop. I talked before about rogue onions that bloomed instead of going dormant--most of the blooming onions came from the sampler crop, especially the purple ones. I made some more rogue onion soup, but this time I used some leftover rice instead of potatoes and pureed it in the food processor. It still tasted great and was so good served cold on these warm days. I planted the onions last November, so it's a long growing season, but we go through a lot of onions, so it's worth the effort. Sweet!  

Onions not suitable for drying included some blooming onions, ones without a enough leaf to hang by, and those that were too small to bother with. I pureed the rogue onion soup this time.

A hairy chickpea pod
The cycle of crops continues with the sugar snap peas turning brown with the warmer weather, the third and last crop of leaf lettuces is beginning to bolt, the third and last crop of carrots is almost ready, and we are still enjoying our come-again broccoli and cabbages, but they'll begin to fade soon. The chickpeas and cucumbers are beginning to bear fruit. The butternut squash and zucchinis are coming along, too. Some of the okra plants have already set their first buds, so maybe we'll get a crop in a few weeks. I love our edibles--there is something new to enjoy every day.

Cucumber vines in a container and the chickpeas next door. The Ashley cucumbers are fat.

A Mother's Day (Re)Treat

My daughter proposed a meetup in central Florida for Mother's Day. I headed south and she headed north and we met at 8:30am in Frostproof, an historic town set between 2 large lakes. The plan was to hike in 2 preserves and then have lunch before heading back to our respective homes. She knows me well. What a great day.

Frostproof, Florida mural at the unlikely-sounding intersection of Wall St. and Scenic Hwy.
Scrub morning-glory

We met at the Frostproof library, left my car there, and headed out together to Hickory Lake Scrub where there are 14 rare and endangered plants. Some are endemic only to the scrubs on the Lake Wales Ridge in the center of Florida's peninsula.

I learned a few new plants for me, including this beautiful scrub morning-glory with its soft pastel blue color. I also liked the Feay's palafox shrub--such beautiful flower heads. I could have spent more time there, because there is so much to see in a scrub if you just slow down to observe.
Feay's palafox (Palafoxia feayi), a Florida endemic shrub in the aster family with a beautiful flower head. 

Dori on the bank of the Peace River.
Our second hiking spot was the Peace River Hammock, which was more heavily wooded and more mosquitoed, but still some interesting plants including this beautiful spring-run spiderlily. The Peace River has a pretty good current. It would be fun to float down it sometime.

After the 2 hikes, it was time for lunch. Dori had scoped out a cool 50's diner called Frostbite, where you can get "ice cream and more." I enjoyed my apple, pecan, & chicken salad; Dori liked her shrimp & chips; and then we did of course order ice cream sundaes. What fun.
A spider lily in the Peace River Hammock.
I stopped on the way home to admire the cloud formations in the Ocala National Forest. A storm was on the way, but it didn't start raining until about the last 10 minutes of my drive.
Clouds outline the landscape in the Ocala National Forest, the 2nd largest forest in Florida.

Do you know your snails?

Rosy wolf snails doing their thing on our sidewalk. Another view of the snail sex.
These rosy wolf snails (Euglandina rosea) are predatory and will feed on slugs, other snails, worms, and other small critters in your gardens. You don't want to kill these helpful snails, so use caution in fighting plant-eating slugs and snails. After taking these photos, we gave them privacy so they could continue their procreation duties.

It runs in the family: my grandson Weber is majoring in chemistry and food science at University of Delaware. He'll be putting his education to good use at his summer job at a Delaware farm.

Ooh, the Stoke's asters (Stokesia laevis) are attracting the native bees.
Summer's upon us. Sustainable gardeners know to get out in the garden only in the early morning hours when it's cool enough to be comfortable.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Monday, May 5, 2014

A field trip, a Florida native plant hero, & pasta salad

I traveled over to Gainesville on May Day to meet with my editor at University Press of Florida and Marjorie Shropshire who will be illustrating my third book, "The Art of Maintaining a Native Landscape." It was a productive meeting and good progress is being made on the book--it's currently out for review. We discussed likely photos for the book and looked at Marjorie's drawings so far. (Marjorie also did the illustrations for "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida.")

Marjorie and I had more work to do on the drawings, so the plan was that she would come back to my house and spend the night before she headed back to south Florida. On the way back to my house we stopped to talk to David Chiappini in Putnam County, but were interrupted by this gorgeous wildflower meadow.

Wow what a great-looking roadside wildflower field.

Barbed wire study...

A Florida native plant hero

We had a great time talking with David Chiappini, a native plant wholesaler. He has done so much to advance the Florida native plant availability. In addition to supplying native plant nurseries with authentic Florida stock, he also co-wrote (with Gil Nelson), and arranged the funding for "Florida's Best Native Landscape Plants: 200 Readily Available Species for Homeowners and Professionals."

This important book includes multiple photos and detailed drawings of each plant and it also provides details on size, where to plant, type of soil, and what to plant with each of the 200 plants. If you are interested in being successful with natives in Florida, this book should be on your bookshelf. David said he is happy to talk to people when they bring his book for reference, especially when it has obviously been well-used with notes, bookmarks, and dog-eared pages.

When I first met David at the Morningside native plant sale last month, he said that he had ideas he'd like to share on what he'd like to see in my book. He was generous with his time and we spent more than an hour talking about native plants and the native plant nursery business. He offered up some great ideas for how it could be of more use from his point of view.

A fieldtrip

After a dinner of Mediterranean pasta salad (See below.), Marjorie and I spent the evening going over the illustrations to make sure they were clear and presented the material accurately. The next morning we put on our hiking shoes and headed out to the Ravines Black Creek Conservation Preserve. It was gray and threatened to rain, but we saw some great plants before the rains came. The preserve had been burned since I'd been here 6 weeks ago. Fire maintenance is an important tool to keep the ecosystem healthy.
Looking over Marjorie's shoulder at a pawpaw flower.

Pinewoods milkweed with a notch-tipped flower longhorn beetle (Typocerus sinuatus). I love the pink veins.

A longleaf pine seedling (Pinus palustris) after a fire. You can see how it survives with its terminal bud protected from damage.A follow up on the mystery of the mossy patch that I wrote about last month in Mother Nature's Mysteries. This post also has more general views of the conservation area.

Marjorie explores the mysterious square patch in the mossy spot. Some of the moss had browned around the edges, but it was still in relatively good shape. I understand how it survives the fires now since it is so moist, but how it got started is indeed still a mystery.

Wow, what beautiful fungi and lichen on this downed log.

Mediterranean pasta salad

I knew that Marjorie would be here for dinner and that we would be arriving at dinner time, so I fixed this hearty salad the day before. We included a detailed recipe for this salad in "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida."

An eclectic harvest including (clockwise from my thumb) 3 rogue onions, leaf lettuces, come-again broccoli, meadow garlic, garlic chives, small zucchinis, sugar snap peas, Swiss chard, dill, rosemary, & curly parsley. In the bottom out of sight are the last few carrots from the second carrot crop. The pesto dressing made from the onions, garlic, garlic chives, parsley, dill plus, olive oil, cider vinegar, sunflower seeds, plain yogurt, mayonnaise, rosemary leaves, & freshly ground pepper. 
I mix the pesto into the salad before I add in the pasta. Here's the salad served on a bed of luttuces. Yummy

The okra swales are planted...

The okra is off and running for the hot summer season. I planted them around 2 swales that I'd enriched with kitchen scraps and then mulched with fresh marigold cuttings to reduce the nematodes. For more details see one of my most popular posts: Okra Swales.

A 10-year retrospective on our front meadow

It started when I posted this photo of my native pinxter azalea on Facebook a couple of weeks ago with the comment that most of the area in the background used to be lawn.
People wanted more information on how the lawn became a wooded area, so I posted From lawn to woods: a retrospective. Someone commented that we had done a lot of work, but in reality, Mother Nature herself did most of the heavy lifting--we just modified her planting scheme.

I hope your landscape is also being transformed into a lower maintenance design that also offers great habitat to birds and butterflies.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt