South Florida Gardening

Preparing the Soil – Update

by , on
Feb 19, 2019

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. continue reading »

Veggies in the Morning Dew

by , on
Nov 21, 2018
Tomato plant leaves with dew on the tips

Mid-to-late November is such a thrilling time in a South Florida garden – when the seedlings have taken off and are on their way to becoming established as full-fledged plants. It won’t be long before we are beginning to harvest and enjoy our organic vegetables and herbs.

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!).




Fall Gardening – Action!

by , on
Nov 6, 2018
Young brassica family plants in pots

It’s early November here in South Florida, prime time for planting our organic garden for the new season. We have just gotten a real break in the weather, with some cooler mornings last week (not quite cool enough for us South Floridians to get our boots and scarves out, though it’s tempting, right?) This cooling does make us enthused about being outside and getting our garden going! So, to give a rundown on how we’ve started with either seedlings or direct plantings, here goes:

-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.


Fall Season – New Gardening Strategies

by , on
Oct 11, 2018
Garden bed with plastic cover

As we embark upon our fall season for organic gardening, we’re implementing new strategies based upon past experiences and knowledge we’ve recently gained.

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!




Orzo Salad with Kale, Feta and Cherry Tomatoes

by , on
Jun 19, 2018
Orzo salad with kale, feta cheese and golden cherry tomatoes

It might seem odd to be writing about making a salad out of the garden with kale and cherry tomatoes at this time of the year in South Florida. But we just happen to have both of these lovely organic vegetables still growing. And what better time of year to make a cold or room temperature pasta salad with a fresh tasting lemony vinaigrette than when the heat of summer is rolling in?

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!


Steamed Vegetables with Miso Tahini Sauce

by , on
May 13, 2018

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. continue reading »

Hearty Kale, Butternut Squash, and Chorizo Soup

by , on
Jun 21, 2017
Butternut squash & kale soup

Our blistering South Florida summer heat is setting in and sadly, our spring crops are wilting. So I needed a way to use some of our kale that had to be harvested before we lose it. Since I love butternut squash soup (who doesn’t??), and know that kale and chorizo combine well, this seemed like a perfect thing to put together.

I didn’t have quite enough squash and wasn’t sure how it would combine with sweet potato; it actually added extra thickness and a depth of flavor, so this combo is a definite keeper (of course you can just use squash). I also used both lacinato (aka dinosaur or black kale) and curly kale as that’s what was on hand and it worked very well. Before I add kale to a recipe, I steam or parboil it first for a few minutes to remove its bitterness – then it has a neutral to sweet flavor.

We are very lucky to have an artisan pork shop near us, where I can get the best chorizo around – uncooked, and so tasty! The heat in it is pretty mild, so I realized the next time around I would add some red pepper flakes or a medium-heat pepper to the mix. Also, despite what many recipes say, I never add chorizo at the beginning of a dish where it is going to be boiled for a while – I’ve done this in the past and it leaves the chorizo dry and flavorless. So as you’ll see in the directions I add a tiny bit at the start, then brown the chorizo separately and add it near the end (with its wonderful oily rendered liquid) for maximum flavor and texture.

I wanted to make this a creamy soup yet still have the contrast in color between the starches and the kale, and to retain the nice bits of meat from the chorizo to bite into. So I decided to blend the squash/potato/onion mixture first, and then add the kale and chorizo. This turned out to be such a rich and creamy soup packed with nutrition and flavor – resulting in a unanimous and enthusiastic seal of approval from my family!

Adapted from Lindaraxa.

Writing and Photo by DK 

Long Beans Are Back

by , on
Jun 19, 2017
florida asian long beans eggplant

Long beans love South Florida in the summer! Planted less than two months ago, these nutritious gems are already producing more than we can keep up with. Also known as yardlong beans or asparagus beans, they typically grow 12 to 18 inches long. Harvesting should be done before the beans turn light green and soft.

Long beans are markedly different from your ordinary bush or pole beans. They are typically used in Asian recipes, and stir-frying seems to be the go-to method for cooking them (they’re not conducive to steaming or boiling). Here are a few of our tried and tested favorite recipes:

Asian eggplants come in many shapes and sizes. This one is new to us, it’s called “Thai Ribbed.” It was added (cut in large bite-sized chunks) to the beans in the first recipe above – delicious!

Seeds for the Thai Ribbed were purchased from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. You can also check out our favorite Asian seed supplier for a large variety of Asian style eggplants: Evergreen Seeds 

Photo by Tracy Elliott