Thursday, November 23, 2023

Pumpkin, carrot, onion soup recipe

A delicious, rich, thick pumpkin carrot soup

This is a delicious, hardy soup using one of our many Seminole pumpkins. My husband and I worked together on this soup, which was three dinners for the two of us and two lunch servings. (See my Seminole pumpkin article, which has more recipes for this versatile squash.)


1 small pumpkin, seeded, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes*
6 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes 
2 large sweet onions, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup grated radishes*
1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary leaves, chopped*
1 teaspoon of fresh oregano leaves*
1/3 cup of garlic chives, chopped*
1/2 teaspoon of dill seed*
1 cup plain Greek yogurt added to the soup and more as garnish
8 cups of water
2 eggs, beaten
enough olive oil to sauté the herbs and the onions
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons of dill, chopped for garnish*

*Fresh from the garden (except for the dill seed, which collected last spring)

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Florida's goldenrods

Goldenrods do Not cause allergies

The insect-pollinated goldenrods (Solidago spp.) with their beautiful flowers have erroneously been blamed for fall allergy season when it's the wind-pollinated ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) with the unnoticeable green flowers that are filling the air with pollen when the goldenrods are blooming. The ragweeds do not need to put any energy into creating beautiful flowers or sweet nectar because the wind will blow anyway. As I understand it, some allergy doctors test people to see if they are allergic to goldenrod pollen even though that pollen is too heavy and sticky to float in the air and there is zero chance of its getting into anyone's nose. 

A swallowtail butterfly is pale in comparison to
the very yellow goldenrod.
Ragweed, the source of the air-borne pollen that gives people hay fever.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Why talking about native plant landscapes is so important

Consumers are presented with this array of mostly
nonnative plants in full bloom to plant so their yards can
decorated with plants at peak bloom all the time.

Where are the native plants?

New homeowners and beginning gardeners find displays similar to this photo that I took at a big box store a few years ago. It's filled with mostly nonnative annuals in full bloom. Each tray is not too expensive, but after they fade in a couple of months, people are expected to come back to replace them with the next set. 

Examples in garden magazines and gardening TV shows with their instant landscapes imply that garden installations are events, and not ongoing projects that develop over the years.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Hurricane-scaping in Florida

Hurricane Idalia 2023

Florida's hurricane season is from June 1 to November 30. These five months are also the wet season here when we receive up to 70% of our annual rainfall. Our hot wet summers make it difficult to grow some vegetables like sweet basiltomatoes and most members of the squash family, but growing crops is not the topic for this post.

As I'm writing this, Hurricane Idalia is pummeling the west coast of Florida. Florida is subjected to more hurricane activity than other states because the 1,350 mile-long coastline, which is surrounded by warm waters. When sea surface temperatures are above 82˚F, this warm water sustains and intensifies tropical storms that may strengthen into hurricanes. This year the Atlantic Ocean temperatures reached as high as 101˚F just off the east coast of Florida. So it's not surprising that we have been struck by a Category 4 hurricane.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Starry rosinweed is a star in Florida yards

Starry rosinweed is a star in your garden not only
for its beauty and long blooming cycle, but also because
of the wide variety of pollinators that it attracts.

Starry Rosinweed (Silphium asteriscus) is a member of the aster or daisy family, Asteraceae and is a wonderful choice for Florida's wildflower meadows and for pollinator gardens. It's a beautiful, tall, long-lived, drought tolerant, easy-to-care-for wildflower. (See below for more information on how it behaves in gardens and meadows.)

Botanically, the starry rosinweed is an outlier in the aster family. Yes, its flower head has the typical arrangement of disk florets in the center surrounded by showy ray florets that each have one outsized petal. 

In most aster family plants with this typical flower head arrangement such as sunflowers, only the tiny, cylindrical disk florets in the center produce fruits or seeds, while the petal-like ray florets around the outside of the center are sterile and produce no fruits. The starry rosinweed is exactly the opposite with its ray florets producing fruits and the disk florets being sterile.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Why do plants produce caffeine?

I've covered this topic on my cruise ship presentations on coffee.
A bit of plant science for this post...

Caffeine is the most widely consumed psycho-active substance in the world!

Caffeine is not the work of Satan, nor the product of some mad scientists working in a chemistry lab; rather, it’s the result of millions of years of plant evolution. 

All plants build a variety of compounds including enzymes. Many of these molecules serve as a defense against enemies of the plants—large and small. 

Building caffeine is an expensive process (energy-wise) for the plant, so why do they do it? 

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Dill is a beautiful, easy-to-grow herb in Florida

Pollinators love dill flowers.

Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a fast-growing, cool-weather annual with a long taproot. It provides both a classic herb and a spice--the leaves are called dill weed, and used fresh or dried as a herb in salads or as a garnish, while the seeds are used as a spice for pickling or in potato and pasta salads. Dill is native to the Mediterranean region, but it's grown world wide.

The majestic dill flower heads can reach fourteen inches across. They attract a wide variety of pollinators, and importantly for organic gardeners, dill attracts the small parasitoid wasps that prey on tomato worms and other garden pests. 

All the above-ground parts of the dill plant are edible. The leaves and the seeds are most often harvested, but you can also eat the flowers and the stems. 

Taxonomic note: The Kew Garden's Plants of the World Online database considers dill (Anethum graveolens) and several other related species to be synonyms of false fennel (Ridolfia segetum). I have not found other organizations joining in on this lumping of species as yet, but there may be a dill name change in the future.

Monday, May 1, 2023

Hibiscus: Plants with the most beautiful flowers

A scarlet rosemallow (Hibiscus coccineus):
 a Florida native

There are 432 Hibiscus species that are found worldwide, and with their beautiful flowers, many are grown in gardens and some are even used as crops. In general, the flowers are large and showy.

For example, see the scarlet rosemallow in the lead photo. Here there are five green sepals subtending five large red petals. The pistil, the female reproductive part of a plant, is attached to the center of the flower. The pistil is made up of a five-chambered ovary where seeds develop, the style that is a long tube between the ovary and five round stigmas where the pollen is absorbed. A stamen, the male reproductive structure, consists of the anther that holds the pollen, and a stalk called the filament. In hibiscus flowers, the filaments fuse into a tube that surrounds the style. Numerous anthers stick out from the filaments below the five stigmas at the top of the style. The prominent pistil with all those anthers is one reason the hibiscus flowers are so showy.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Netted chain ferns

Netted chain fern: sterile fronds.

The netted chain fern (Woodwardia areolata) is native to eastern North America including most of Florida. It spreads via rhizomes and acts as a ground cover in partially shaded areas with some moisture. 

Leaves or fronds are dimorphic with the sterile leaves being flat and relatively broad for a fern, while the fertile fronds (those bearing the spores in structures called sori. (Sorus is the singular.)) are taller and have very little green leafy area. For this fern, sori are oblong and are arranged in neat lines, this is the characteristic that gives the chain ferns their name. In North Florida and in more northerly areas in its range, the green sterile fronds die back in the winter, while the fertile fronds persist through the winter.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Green-eyes: beautiful and resilient Florida wildflowers

Florida greeneyes bloom nearly year-round and attract
many types of pollinators. Notice how showy the
disk florets are with their extra-long stamens
and their folded-down top edges. 

The greeneyes (Berlandiera spp.) are in the daisy family (Asteraceae) and have the typical flower head arrangement of this family with fertile central disk florets that produce the seeds surrounded by sterile showy ray florets that look and act like petals. They are perennials with a long tap root.

In the case of greeneyes, the flower heads consist of about eight bright yellow ray florets, each with a notched tip, surrounding a head of greenish-yellow tubular disk florets, which is, of course,  why they are called greeneyes. When disk florets open, they reveal maroon anthers and a long yellow stigma, and they smell like chocolate. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The hand of the gardener in native landscapes

Plant more natives!

In 2013, a volunteer beautyberry shrub near the edge of the
lawn is surrounded by several water oaks.

Ecologists and environmental organizations have been urging people to plant more native plants, to build bird-friendly and pollinator-friendly habitat, and to do this by removing at least some of their lawn.

One prime example is Doug Tallamy's HomeGrown National Park where you can register your yard to be part of of this park by replacing at least half of the lawn with native plants.

This is great and I hope that millions of homeowners and other property managers take this step to build native habitat, but there are some important steps to take, especially in urban and suburban areas, to increase the acceptability of these native landscapes. Our yards and our community landscapes, even if they have a good portion of native plants are not wild spaces and will need some regular care. (Actually, I wrote a book on this topic. See below.)

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida: 2nd Edition

Order directly from our publisher:
University Press of Florida 

Melissa and I worked with University Press of Florida to improve, update, and reorganize our book. The photos, including many new ones, are now located throughout the book, not just in the center, which will make it much easier to read. We've explained our process in the new preface included here for your information.

Preface to the Second Edition 

Much has happened in plant science and organic gardening techniques in the almost 10 years since we began researching and writing the first edition of this book, so we agreed to spend some time to revisit and update the content for this edition. We were eager to work on this project so that Florida’s vegetable gardeners would have easy access to this new information. 

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Red cedar: an important habitat tree

A female red cedar with fruit.

Red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is medium-sized, dioecious evergreen conifer with female trees that bear waxy, berry-like cones, which many types of birds will eat as the weather grows colder.

While most botanists agree that there is one species of red cedar that's native to most of eastern North America, the old precedent recognized coastal red cedar (J. silicicola) and eastern red cedar (J. virginiana) a bit inland, with a big range from Texas to southern Ontario. This old protocol meant that except for the northern border of Florida's Panhandle, the red cedars native to Florida were the coastal species.

Red cedar is in the cypress family (Cupressaceae), which has world-wide distribution--except for Antarctica. Other members of this family found in Florida are two cypresses: pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens) and bald cypress (T. distichum); Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides); plus the non-natives: oriental arborvitae (Platycladus orientalis) and white cypress-pine (Callitris glaucophylla).