Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Tropical sage: a Florida native wildflower

A tattered gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)
feeding on a tropical sage.

Tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) is a beautiful, easy-to-grow Florida native wildflower in the mint family, Lamiaceae. It has a long blooming cycle and its flowers are usually scarlet red, but sometimes are pink, even in natural areas. In addition to attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and native bees, tropical sage is the larval host for several sphynx moths. 

It's considered to be an annual, but I've had many that have lasted for two seasons and it's a prolific reseeder. So this plant is a wonderful addition to your pollinator gardens and wildflower meadows.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Roselle: Florida's cranberry

Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

The calyces subtend and support the petals. The flower lasts for only one day and when the petals fall off, the sepals begin to swell to surround the developing fruit. 

The five overlapping petals of the roselle flower are pale yellow tinged with burgundy on the edges and becoming deep burgundy in the center of the flower where the pistil emerges.

The mallow family: Malvaceae

Friday, October 1, 2021

Removing invasive plants costs Florida $45 million per year

Mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin),
a Category I invasive in all of Florida.

Yet, many of these plants are still for sale

How did we get into this situation?

A few hundred years ago, once world travel was readily available, many plants and animals were transported from their native habitats where natural checks and balances evolved over millennia so that predator & food sources were in balance. (I will be talking about plants in this post, but invasive animal species are also a huge problem in Florida.) 

People moved thousands of plant species for a number of reasons:
- to bring food crops with them as they settled into new places.
- they collected beautiful plants from around the world to plant in gardens as a novelty or for prestige.
- Some plants were imported for their utility such as stopping erosion (such as kudzu (Pueraria montana)) or building fast-growing hedges (such as, Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolia)).
- Many non-native plants have been favored in the landscaping industry because most local insects and other critters do not feed on them, so they are easier to grow and sell, because they "look good."
- Sometimes the plants were introduced to new regions by accident as hitchhikers with other plants or with other products that were being transported.

What is "invasive" and how is that status determined?

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Wild sweet basil

Wild sweet basil has lavender flowers
unlike sweet basil and lime basil which
have white flowers.

Florida's native basil

Update Feb. 2024: It turns out that the basil I described here in this article had been misidentfied and had been in the native plant trade for some years. But it turns out that it was holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) native to Asia and Australia. When I obtain the REAL Florida native, I'll update this article. Sorry.

Wild sweet basil (Ocimum campechianum) is warm-weather herb related to sweet basil (O. basilicum) and lime basil (O. americanum). (Lime basil can tolerate Florida's hot wet summers, which I wrote about in two previous posts.) Unlike those traditional basils so popular in the Mediterranean cooking, which are native to India, Africa and Southeast Asia, this wild basil is native to the southernmost Florida counties, the Caribbean islands, Mexico, Central America, and most of South America.

Since we live in northeast Florida, this plant is not a true native here, but South Florida is MUCH closer to home than Africa or India, so this species of basil would be a regional native that should be better adapted to our climate with our hot, wet summers. Sweet basil often suffers from fungal diseases during our wet summers. 

Monday, July 5, 2021

Leeks: Growing and using this garlic relative

Freshly harvested leeks have had most of
their leaves chopped off above their fat stems.

Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum) are native to the Mediterranean region and were developed as a crop in Europe and their mild taste makes them a favorite for soups. They form a thick stem at the base that continues fairly high into the plant. The flat, solid leaves are folded and grow on opposite sides of the stem, but no true bulb is formed. Because the leaves are flat, leeks are on the garlic side of this genus and indeed elephant garlic is a cultivar of this species (A. ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum). The onion side of this genus has hollow leaves like chives.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Bountiful harvests of early summer

Bountiful harvest for a tabbouleh--made
possible because of the pandemic travel ban.
Yellow banana peppers, assorted tomatoes,
curly parsley, purple and white onions,
garlic chives, and bunching onion leaves.

Cooking to the harvests

Because of the pandemic, we haven't been traveling since March 2020, which has resulted in many more crops and harvests that would not have been possible otherwise. Normally, we would have been traveling at various times during this period--mostly to be a guest presenter on cruise ships--so we would not have been able to accomplish this.

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.