Last season I wrote a post explaining how we go about preparing the soil for planting which you can find here. Well…. this is a new season, with “more water under the bridge” – and new knowledge gained through experience, the advice of experts and our own research and reflections. Therefore I want to update last year’s post with what new ways we are preparing “soil” – or better said “growing media” – to start and grow our veggies. Don’t get me wrong – most of what I said last year still stands. Where we’ve significantly changed a practice that I touted back then, I will indicate it here and in that post as well.
We are pleased to announce our 2019 Garden-to-Table Dinner Under The Stars #1
January 19th (Sat) from 6:30 PM – 9:30 PM
Fellowship Garden-Coconut Grove
(Exact location in the Grove will be disclosed upon registration; for more info you may email us.)
Miami, Florida 33133
$100.00 Dinner with Paired Wines, PP by advance reservation
We are a nonprofit organization and 100% of the proceeds from this event go to the furtherance of our gardening project.
So here is a picture essay, highlighting some of what we are growing now as each plant glistens in the morning dew. What could be more uplifting than to greet our seedlings and plants in the crispness and solitude of the early morning? It certainly opens our hearts to the gratitude befitting of this Thanksgiving season.
Here’s hoping you enjoy these takes, “fresh from Florida”!
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!! Hope this is a time when you will enjoy the love of family and friends (and some good food too!).
-Several varieties of tomatoes have gotten off to a nice start this year (it’s often touch and go), most of them started from seed.
We have four or five varieties of heirlooms – normally we wouldn’t do that many heirlooms because they are difficult to grow organically here in South Florida, but some seedlings were donated to us. Luckily, we’ve got a few types of cherry tomatoes started as well and doing great.
-In the brassica family, so far: lacinato kale, curly kale, Chinese cabbage, broccoli raab, broccoli, bok choy, and kohlrabi.
-Other young crops already going in our beds include various radishes, zucchini, green beans, onions, lettuce (plants were donated), and some really nice beets! (golden and red). Our early salad greens – mizuna and arugula – are ready to start harvesting!
-Herbs planted include basil, rosemary, lemon balm, sage (doing really well!), parsley (not liking the heat up til now), and of course our carryovers of tarragon, mint, Cuban oregano and garlic chives.
-Current sprouts just coming up from seed for the new season, or just being transplanted to pots, include cabbages, bunching onions, red kale, escarole, eggplant and spinach.
Normally we get our cabbages going earlier but we had a few mishaps with potting mixtures and some failed seeds starting out this year. Somehow every year we have calamities starting our plants and then get things straightened out. Now we’re off to a solid start!
So, speaking of calamities, our next topic is: (drum roll please!) PEACOCKS! They roam rampantly in the area where we garden, though up until now we’ve had only a couple of incidents of destroyed crops.
Please don’t tell me peacocks are cute, at least not when they invade a garden and eat our hard-earned veggies! It’s disheartening to put so much effort into cultivating our young crops for the new season, and have them really taking off, only to find this:
So of course we had to research how to deal with them. We certainly don’t want to harm them, just deter them. So we tried a variety of remedies: as an emergency, stop-gap measure, spraying a very mild pepper, water and soap mixture on the plants they seemed attracted to (brassicas seem to be their favorites, peppers a close second); in addition, sprinkling red pepper flakes in the soil, having read that they will scratch and pick at the soil as well. A few days later, when our purchase of colorful party-type flag banners arrived, we surrounded the beds they had invaded with these. Hopefully, they’re not party animals! Seriously, we read that they are scared away by bright colors.
Checking the next day, there may have been just a few more leaves munched on (not sure). So if they did come in the garden they were deterred. Four peacocks were hanging around outside the fence the day before, seemingly waiting for us to leave; one even walked in, feeling quite entitled!
So we do suspect they must have visited after-hours and were deterred. Time will tell on this strategy. We would really like to have them forget about our garden asap as we have much to plant now and can’t be surrounding every bed with flags.
By the way, if you think peacocks don’t fly, think again. They can fly quite high, and take off without running. It’s startling to see! So our fully fenced garden and hedges do not keep them out, though we are thinking about “flagging” just the entryway where the hedge is lower.
So those are the plants we have started, and the serious pest issue we are dealing with right now in this new season. Stay tuned for an updated discussion on soil mediums we use for different phases of planting.
Starting mid-summer, we have been solarizing our beds for the first time, using (almost) clear plastic and creating a “greenhouse effect” by tucking it in at the edges. This has minimized our weekly weeding and more importantly, has provided the heat needed to kill off the weeds and any unwanted microorganisms/pests lingering in the soil. We are especially hopeful that it will help to eliminate or at least reduce our nematode population in the soil, as discussed below.
As our fall planting gets underway, we will leave the beds covered right up until the time we need to use each of them (which is ideal given our late start on solarizing). Here is a very useful, concise set of directions for solarizing from the Univ of Florida’s Gardening Solutions website; it contains some good tips which will help us improve our method next season: Soil Solarization.
It is also pond cleaning time – removing all the fish (quite a task!) and relocating them to other viable ponds, emptying the pond, cleaning out algae, trying to get the fountain working again, and researching the right pump/filter system to replace the old one. We are still in the process, as you can see.
One nice thing is that the sides of the pond have been perfectly purged of all the algae growth as it dried out in the sun, and the stonework looks beautiful. We can’t wait to refill it and put new fish in, which will include goldfish, algae eaters and a new addition (based on an expert’s recommendation, which should help with algae) called bamboosia – if we can find some; and last but not least, we’ll add pond plants to provide shade and prevent algae growth. We look forward to having a clean and lively pond to start off our new season, and hopefully a working fountain again!
We will be experimenting with watering a different way in the garden this fall season. Again based on expert advice, we will be cutting way back on the frequency of our watering.
Our beds are on a drip irrigation system, which has been watering five days a week for very short periods of time. We will be watering only on an as needed basis, and will water deeply each time – which has several benefits, including better root growth and less weed growth. In addition, we have been installing valves on several of our beds to manage the varied moisture needs of specific crops. Since over-watering and watering on a shallow basis are hindrances to plant health, we are looking forward to seeing the effects of our change in practices. It’s an experiment!
Proper drainage has been an issue in several of our raised beds since the garden was built. For the first time we completely emptied out one of the beds to assess the drainage (or lack thereof!) and how we might address it. What we found: no drainage was provided for, just hard solid ground at the bottom.
In addition, our garden bed walls are comprised of concrete block which were stuccoed and painted over (for aesthetics) on the outside, so any possible drainage there is completely blocked. This results in the beds remaining too wet and densely packed, which of course adversely affects our plants – most of which thrive in well-drained soil!
To remedy this situation, we will fill the bottom several inches of the bed with small rocks, covered by sturdy, porous landscaping fabric and then approximately 10 inches of potting soil mixed with compost.
Also, if needed, we will drill holes around the bottom of the bed through the stuccoed bricks to increase drainage. Now, for the fall season we plan to do this to just three or four beds as an experiment to see what impact this has on our plantings. Our hope is that all of this work, along with cutting back on watering, will improve the health and growth of our veggies. We shall see!
We learned a whole lot about nematodes this summer after discovering that we have them, probably in many if not all of our garden beds. Nematodes are microscopic organisms that you cannot see in the soil; some nematodes are beneficial or harmless; others are quite destructive. One harmful type (that we apparently have plenty of) are evidenced in the “root knots” that can be found on mature plants, especially certain ones like okras and tomatoes. Nematodes wreak havoc on the root systems of plants, thereby weakening the entire plant. Crops will be stunted in growth and production, and generally look unhealthy. Examining the roots of a sick plant will confirm (or negate) the presence of nematodes.
There is not a lot that can be done to eliminate nematodes; one can take care not to spread them in the garden, and you can be aware of plants that tend to attract them and choose what you plant thereby. As mentioned above, solarizing the beds in the summer is one method for reducing nematodes. Once the plastic sheets are removed, we will refrain from our usual digging and turning the soil, as we don’t want the deeper layers that may still contain nematodes to be brought to the top where new plantings will grow. The prevalence of nematodes in South Florida soils is one reason not to use topsoil for planting and to create a barrier (such as cardboard) between topsoil and the potting media in raised beds. Another strategy we will employ to minimize nematodes is in the beds we have completely emptied of soil – scrubbing the sides of the bed with bleach and then allowing it sufficient time to air out. Dealing with this pest will require diligence and ongoing effort…
So while our garden looks quite dormant at this time of the year, there’s been a lot going on behind the scenes. While the pictures here are not as exciting as the beautiful veggies we grow, you can see that there is a lot of planning, preparation and even experimentation to continue having a successful garden. And now comes that very exciting time, when we start planting for the new fall season! Hurray! Stay tuned!
Well, it’s summer, so you just gotta expect to find some mention of okra on a South Florida gardening blog! There are a lot of crops we’ve tried growing in the heat of summer over the years, from long beans to loofah (for real!), to bitter melon and cowpeas and various summer “spinaches,” among others. None of those are particular favorites, so we don’t put much effort into them any more. Or with certain crops that we do like, such as cowpeas and sweet potatoes, the insects they’ve attracted in our hot summers (i.e. aphids and whiteflies) make them just not worth growing.
I needed a side dish for dinner, and there was a bunch of kale and a handful of cherry tomatoes (freshly picked) sitting in front of me. Remembering that I had a package of whole wheat orzo in the fridge, I googled these ingredients I had and found a great recipe to adapt for my purposes! kalynskitchen-orzo salad
So I settled on making an orzo salad with kale, feta cheese and cherry tomatoes. The original recipe called for chickpeas as well, but I didn’t think they were needed – perhaps if we weren’t having meat as the main course, I’d have been more inclined to add them. The recipe also did not call for cherry tomatoes, but I honestly think they really enhanced this dish – their sweetness added such a nice contrast of flavor to the hearty kale, the lemon, and the salty feta. I happened to have these beautiful and intensely sweet golden cherries, but red cherry tomatoes would work well too.
Last year a child in the garden walked up to the kale, pointed to a leaf and said, “This looks like a reptile.” OMG, I thought, so that must be why it’s called “dinosaur kale.” It had never dawned on me before!
This salad was so refreshing and delicious; my family loved it. It’s definitely a “keeper” that I know we will enjoy again!
So this is what we have in our garden as our regular (fall-winter-spring) growing season is drawing to a close:
WHAT’S STILL THRIVING:
A few plants in the brassica family tend to weather the heat better than others, namely collard greens and lacinato (dinosaur) kale. We fully expect the collards to last through the summer and well into next season.
The kale may or may not make it through the summer, but I think it will hold up for at least another month. Luckily, one of the beds it’s planted in is partially shaded, so those will likely last longer. We are also diligently picking bottom leaves on all our kale varieties, so we avoid waste and help the plants stay healthy/bug-free. We do have to watch for aphids, and we treat for snails more at this time of year which we use OMRI certified Sluggo for.
We are pleasantly surprised to see our strawberries still going strong. It’s amazing! The berries are smaller now, and not always ripening well, but we’re still managing to get some sweet treats off of these vines.
Here is another surprise – our Swiss chard seems to be thriving in some of the beds (yet withering in others). The more shaded areas are doing well, and again especially at this time of year, it’s important to keep the plants trimmed of the larger bottom leaves as they’re ready. Otherwise they will wither on us and be wasted.
Cherry tomatoes always last longer than the larger heirloom tomatoes – usually well into June. We are beginning to notice a little less sweetness in some of them taste-wise – which is attributable to the heat. However, we are still picking a full basket each gardening session and enjoying them! We have a great crop of golden cherries this year, which we will save some seeds from for next season. And of course our die-hard little Everglades cherry tomatoes just keep on giving!
You would not typically find green beans growing in May in our garden. We took a chance and planted a combination of three colors (yellow, green and purple) rather late – i.e. in mid-April, and another crop just a few weeks ago. Well the first ones are beginning to bear beans, and the younger plants are thriving. Now we don’t expect to get the usual second crop from these, but that’s okay, we’re happy to get any beans now! It’s been a useful experiment.
We have one small crop of leeks that is pretty much ready, which has hung in there beautifully through this hot and rainy weather lately. They don’t seem fazed by it, at all.
We tend to plant celery where there is a little less sun than most of the other beds, and this year’s crop is a beauty and holding its own for now. We love clipping off the outer stems and using these for some intense stock/soup flavoring. The ones we grow here are a little tough for eating raw.
Our “magical bed” of French sorrel (see this post) is still going strong. The jury is out on whether it will make it through the summer, which would be very unusual here in South Florida – if it can anywhere in our garden, it will in its present location of a semi-shaded bed.
Currently there are poblano and shishito peppers producing fairly well in the garden. The problem we anticipate over the summer is not the heat but the rain – and whiteflies, which just love pepper plants.
WHAT’S ON ITS WAY OUT:
Just a couple of fennel plants left, in addition to the two which we are allowing to “go to seed.” Have you ever tasted fresh fennel seeds? They’re incredible – intensely flavorful, and keep for a long time. Great to just munch on or add to recipes calling for it. And to plant next year’s crops with!
Some late harvest lettuces are ready but are actually beginning to turn a little bitter in the heat, so we don’t have many takers for that. One of our garden members does feed our old lettuces to his turtles
Butterhead lettuce – getting bitter!
Our tatsoi (aka Asian spinach) has a little left to give, it’s almost done – and too delicate to make it any longer into the warmer season.
A few herbs that are still hanging in there that we typically lose for the summer are parsley, thyme and oregano – only to plant them anew in the fall. It’s surprising that the thyme is even still growing in May as it doesn’t typically take the heat well.
Curly kale does not last as long for us as lacinato/dinosaur kale. Even though we give it a lot of attention and care at this time of year, picking bottom leaves continuously, it is waning in production and health – just can’t take the heat!
We’ve been pulling out our last carrot crops – not as big and robust as former crops. It’s time for most of them to go because we found a few rotting from the excessive moisture in the soil right now. We do have one small crop still growing in a semi-shaded area and will be interested in seeing how they produce. Our youngest garden member was delighted to bring one of our carrots to her preschool park’s horse.
I was never particularly a fan of steamed vegetables, until I went on a special diet to improve my health a year and a half ago – which was basically eating mostly steamed organic veggies along with certain types of protein. I stuck to this diet pretty religiously as I was facing some surgeries and wanted to be in tip-top shape. Well, it worked! Within a month, I felt much stronger, had more energy and as a side effect I had lost 10 pounds! I did not set out to lose that weight, but it was a welcome bonus.
I would guess that most South Florida vegetable gardeners grow kale. It has become so popular over the last decade, whether people are putting it in smoothies, making kale chips, massaging it for raw salads or producing a wide range of cooked dishes with it. Kale is incredibly nutritious, is a very hardy and long-lasting crop, and offers so many versatile uses in the kitchen.
In our organic garden, we typically grow three kinds of kale, as seen pictured: the most popular among our gardeners is the dinosaur or lacinato kale – I prefer this one for many of the cooked dishes I make with kale. We also grow two types of curly kale plants (my favorites for raw kale salads) – the green leafy curly kale and the Siberian or red kale. All three kinds are delicious both raw and cooked and all three are used enthusiastically from our garden. I often add kale to soups and stew (even if not called for in the recipe) as they add a nice, healthy boost. For example, butternut squash, kale and chorizo soup incorporates kale beautifully. And some of us are delighted just to make freshly picked kale a part of our daily steamed veggie regimen.
Kale is a brassica (in the cabbage family), so South Florida is a good home for it throughout the fall-winter-spring season. We have actually managed to keep the lacinato variety going into mid-June or longer some seasons. The biggest issue we have with our brassicas is the infestation of aphids whenever the weather gets a little warm (including now in early April!). Our remedy: spray immediately and repeatedly as needed with a neem oil based mixture; aphids spread quite rapidly but can be stopped with diligent applications.
Fennel is such a delightful crop to grow and harvest! First of all, it’s just pretty – having a whole bed of those fronds so full and fluffy. And the reason we have a whole bed of them is this: fennel does not companion well with other plants. Of course we learned this the hard way, when we tried growing it with various veggies and neither the fennel nor the accompanying plants did well. It gets its own bed in our garden, the only such crop, and just thrives that way.
This is a popular item as it’s such a lovely vegetable. While some of our members will cook fennel, I strongly prefer it raw as I believe it loses so much of its wonderful anise-y flavor when cooked. I just love it cut up for salads or in the fennel-walnut dip or wrapped-in-prosciutto appetizers we make. Some of us even use the fronds in recipes.
It’s really cool to let a few of the plants go to seed. That way we get the beautiful flower growth, the pollen (a trendy item these days), and our own seeds to season/cook with, or just plain eat, or to plant next season for a new crop. If you’ve never had fresh fennel seeds – all I can say is, wow! So flavorful and fun to harvest.
I do not have a lot to say about growing strawberries other than, as quite the amateur with this fruit, “We did it!” – because we have tried growing them during a few other seasons and have only gotten a few stunted strawberries. However, now is the time (before the coming fall season) to research the best methods for growing them, and how to do so organically in our climate. We seemed to do fine with our lack of knowledge about growing methods for them this year – and have gotten some nice beautifully ripe berries. Onwards to growing more next year and doing a better job at it!
Just to note: We did start them from plants that we bought at Tree Amigos Plant Nursery in Davie. The starters took right away to our organic soil and thrived without any issues all season. We want to learn how to plant them in rows and mounds and care for them properly so that we get a good yield. I can’t tell you how fun it is to see them grow, how when we enter the garden we all race right to the strawberry bed to check on their progress and hopefully snatch a fresh berry. Having grown up here in South Florida, and picking loads of strawberries with my Mom every season, I have the fondest memories of those big, juicy, ripe berries. Now to achieve that organically would be a feat!
Chard is a beautiful plant that grows fairly well here in South Florida. We’ve found that it works to get it going both in starter flats and directly seeded into our garden beds. Starting them in flats and then transplanting to four inch pots tends to give them a leg up in their beginning growth, and the transplants then do well in the garden. It is a slow-growing plant overall, well worth the wait to maturity.
When harvesting chard, we take the outer, larger leaves and leave the inner smaller ones to further mature. That way, each plant can give us a harvest for at least a few months. Leaves are clipped near the bottom of the stem. Chard plants benefit from a moderate amount of watering, and occasional fertilizing or “dressing” with compost around the roots of the plant to add nutrients to the soil.
Chard has not really taken off in popularity among our gardeners in general, though a few of us like it a lot. I think that is partly due to not knowing what to do with chard as it is not as commonly found in dishes as are spinach, kale, cabbage, etc. Chard has what I would call an “earthy” taste; I love to eat it sauteed, either alone (with lots of chopped onions) or in a mix with other greens. Chard cooks down quite a bit, like spinach, so you need a lot to have a solo dish of it. The stems, however, are often cooked and used as well – when you have rainbow chard, the stems and leaves combined make quite a colorful dish.
A few of my favorite recipes come from Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Plenty. This is a fabulous cookbook for vegetarians or just plain vegetable lovers. I’ve made his “chard cakes with sorrel sauce” – what’s cool is that we grow sorrel too (though you can easily vary the sauce). My absolute favorite (and my family’s) is his “Swiss chard, chickpea and tamarind stew” – which has a wonderful, unique flavor. Another tasty use of this leafy vegetable is to make a bacon & chard frittata – such a flavorful combo. Of course, there are many different ways to use chard – there’s a whole new world to explore out there for the curious minded!
STRIPED HEIRLOOM TOMATOES
Yes, more tomatoes! Though I wrote about tomatoes in my last post about spring harvest, I just cannot resist showing off these beautiful striped heirlooms – I mean, you just get inspired when you pick them, they’re such a beauty of nature! And tasty too!
Heirlooms tend to be difficult to grow if you want to do it organically here in South Florida – it’s a lot easier when you douse them with chemicals but we don’t go there. For some reason, we’ve had a fairly good run with these crops this year without much trouble, though admittedly we got some type of wilt (fusarium?) midway through harvesting time. We cleaned them up repeatedly and they hung in there to give us a good harvest, despite the loss of much of their leaves. Overall, it has shortened their season somewhat, but we were grateful for the beauties we did get. And just yesterday, we did find that one of the plants is mysteriously still setting fruit in spite of our rapidly warming climate!
The yellowish-green ones in the photo (green zebras) are very interesting. They grow as beautiful bright green fruits, and then start to turn yellowish – an indication of ripening. They’re harvested when turning yellowish and just beginning to soften; wait too long and they will be mushy.
After our last gardening session, I found myself with enough tomatoes (adding in a few harvested at home as well as some canned San Marzanos) to make some roasted tomato soup. It was delicious! I will say, though, that I don’t make it too often because peeling the roasted tomatoes is quite laborious – a labor of love, as they say. My fellow gardeners chided me for actually peeling them, instead of throwing it all into the blender. Well, maybe I’ll try that next time & see how I like it, “we’ll see.”
First of all, the reason I’ve titled this onions/scallions is because we grow something in between the two. We would like for them to be onions but they honestly end up as more like very large scallions without a distinctive bulb. There is a reason for this, which I believe is the level of pH in our soil. Our pH is notoriously high, which is very common for south Florida by the way – and that is not conducive to growing root vegetables. We have given up on beets and turnips, for example, as a result of this – we get the tiniest root vegetables and it’s so not worth wasting the space for this consistently disappointing outcome.
Yes, we have tried to lower the pH – but this is a long process and cannot be achieved instantaneously. There are many crops that do well in the pH level we have, so that we’ve pretty much resigned ourselves to what grows best here. Although I must say I get very jealous when my sister, who spends her summers in Maine, sends me pics of beets you could practically bowl with. She even shipped me some last year to make me feel better! So yummy!
So back to our onions/scallions – we grew a respectable crop this year and enjoy cooking with them. The are a great addition to our mid-spring harvest; you know they’re ready when they begin popping out of the ground, almost begging to be picked. You can use them as either a scallion or an onion; I find the taste tends more towards scallion (not sweet).
How to start them? We order onion “sets” (which are just the tiniest little onions) online – a variety of colors if we can. It used to be that we couldn’t find sets anywhere, in stores or online, in the fall. South Florida’s planting season which begins in the fall is the reverse of the rest of the country, which is very frustrating sometimes when ordering seeds and looking for starter plants! But we luckily found them at Gurney’s Seeds – two years in a row now – where we can purchase them in the early fall. Now, this season’s few leftover sets will keep in the refrigerator until next season as long as they are kept dry.
When planting the sets, you put them directly into the bed root down and leave just the tiny little sprout at the top peeking out of the soil, and water well. It’s amazing that within a day or two they really take off, shooting straight up towards the sky!