Don’t Toss the Microgreens from Your Organic Garden!

Hey, all, I was doing some gardening today when I realized how many times I’ve tossed seedlings that I’ve thinned. About a year ago, I realized that I was just tossing nutrient-rich microgreens. From arugula to kale to spinach, and all types of lettuce, they’re all edible and delicious! I especially love beet seedlings. I used to toss them because I only got about a handful. But that’s more than enough to use as a garnish on top of seared salmon or to add to a salad. They’re loaded with vitamins, nutrients, and flavor. I’ll keep this short: don’t toss the microgreens. Just wash and enjoy.

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Big Things are Growing in our Tiny, Urban Garden

Spring is upon us. The birds are chirping, the bees are buzzing, the trees are nearly filled in with lush, green leaves, and the garden is a-growin’. I’m always so hopeful in April. While I’ve already seen aphids, I’m not yet disappointed. (Click here for how to fight them organically.) Why? Because we’ve got gorgeous things happening:

Kentucky Wonder Bean plants, although tiny, are strong as can be…

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Stunning little heirloom crookneck squash babies are beginning…

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Heirloom tomato plants, all 23 of them, are green and working their way toward greatness. Some of them aren’t as grand as others, but they’re trying…

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I’m even pushing forward with several varieties of heirloom lettuce which is a bit questionable for this time of year in Florida…

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The carrots are looking good, the kale appears happy, the basil, sage, and parsley are enjoying the weather, and the onions and garlic should be ready to harvest soon. And what’s more is that we’ve already harvested one cucumber (oddly shaped little guy) and a handful of strawberries!

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Unfortunately, the swiss chard looks more like Swiss cheese, but…

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I can’t really complain about the minor gardening failures. Perfect is impossible, and I’d never expect as much; gardening is a set of learning experiences, wild experiments, and notes-to-selves.

I will say that, overall, the Spring has been good to us! How is your Spring going, fellow gardeners of the blogosphere? I’d love to hear from you!

Until then, happy sowing, digging, and playing in the dirt,

Jenna

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It’s December and We Finally Grew a Cucumber!

I probably shouldn’t jinx us, but this is too good not to share. Ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, I think we have a cucumber! So maybe it’s only about three inches long and it’s not ready to be picked, but it’s there nonetheless! And there’s about ten other tiny guys that appear to have been pollinated and on their way to full-on pickle status.

Now I understand what some of you might be thinking. What’s the big deal, right? You see, those of you who live in places that get a winter, you have far less pest issues than we do in sunny Florida. My honey’s family is in Michigan, amd they strike harvest gold nearly every year. Me? Not so much. Sure we can technically garden year-round, but there are soooo many issues to combat. And doing it organically is even harder. So this one cuke? It’s a huge deal. (disgruntled Floridian rant over…for now. ;))

We’ve spent the last eight months trying and failing, trying and failing, crying (well that’s just me), whining, begging and pleading with the melon worms and pickle worms to just leave us alone. And finally, we have a smidge of success. Isn’t he cute?

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This variety is called Homemade Pickles and the seeds come from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange or SESE. I’ve been longing to try them; will I finally get the chance?

The plants stay fairly compact, so they’re great for containers, too.

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Happy gardening, my friends, wherever you are!

-Jenna

Florida Fall Gardening: Growing Organic Heirloom Lettuce in a Container

It’s a sad state of affairs, but I’ve yet to figure out how to grow lettuce in the Florida summer. Now, however, that it’s the fall, I’m giving it a go. As with last winter, I sewed a whole bunch of Southern Exposure’s Wild Garden Lettuce Mix seeds. I like this mix because there’s 60 types of seeds in one packet! You never know what you’ll get, but it’s always interesting and beautiful.

I sewed them in a 15″ pot about two weeks ago. I made sure to use good compost with some loose organic potting mix in a pot that drains really well. Last week, they started coming up. As you can see, I also had some tomato volunteers (that I shortly thereafter removed).

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As of five minutes ago when I took this photo, they look happy and healthy.

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They get about five hours of sun per day, mostly in the mid to late afternoon. Most guides say to grow lettuce between September and March in Florida, but it still feels so warm. I’ll be watching the delicate, tender leaves closely over the next few days as to see if they’re getting too much or not enough sun. The guides also say to be sure it gets at least eight hours of sun per day, but I’ve never had that much exposure, and the plants, no matter head or looseleaf, have always produced vigorously and grown quickly.

We’ll see what happens. I’ll be sure to post an update as to their progress. Until then, I’ll be spending a fortune on store-bought organic lettuce…

Safely Transplanting Indoor-Raised Plant Babies to the Great Outdoors

They grow up so fast, don’t they? Just a month ago, my little windowsill basil babies looked like this:

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Within one week…

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In three more weeks…

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They were getting too big for the pot. They all couldn’t stay in the same place or none of them would thrive. I had to eat them or transplant a few. I opted for the latter. I’m sure a lot of you avid gardeners have faced the pricking out and transplant dance…especially for things like lettuces and herbs that have tiny seeds. I’ve tangoed with this myself a time or two, and this was my first flawless performance. It’s been two days and they’re all in fantastic shape. (Feel free to applaud.)

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If you’ve never done this before or have done this with poor results, here are a few tips that might help:

  1. “Harden off” the plants before the 24-7 outdoor exposure. Start off with an hour or so, and then gradually increase the time outside. By the time you get to a full day’s worth of outside time, they’re ready to make the move.
  2. Choose an appropriate location that gets the right amount of sunlight, and prepare the soil by loosening it and removing any weeds.
  3. If they’re not in their own containers and in a clump like mine, carefully prick out the plants. Do this at the new site because you’ll want to get them in the ground ASAP.
  4. Dig a hole for each plant, and bury at least half the stem. Gently back fill the soil around the plant. Lightly tamp it down.
  5. Label each seedling if you’d like, and give it a good watering.

Of course Mother Nature can throw curve balls our way, but following these easy steps should help your plants to thrive in the great outdoors.

Let me know if you have any questions, and happy gardening!

Starting Pepper Plants Indoors for Florida Fall Gardening

Florida gardening is unique. We don’t winter over, so pests run rampant for most of the year. Starting seeds outdoors for things like peppers and tomatoes have proved unsuccessful (for me, at least). So I’ve really taken to starting plants indoors to make sure I’m planting healthy, hardened off, and well-adjusted plants in my garden. I like to give them a lot of TLC as I give them a head start. Also, I don’t have a lot of space, so I’ve got little room for error.

About three weeks ago, I began the indoor seed-starting project. Using a clean and sterilized a clean egg carton, I put some Miracle Gro seed starting mix in each compartment. I sewed four heirloom non-GMO Jupiter pepper seeds from Southern a Exposure Seed Co., four heirloom non-GMO Doe Hill pepper seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Co., and four California Wonder pepper seeds from Ferry-Morse. I marked the varieties with used wine corks on a bamboo skewer, so I’d know what I had growing. Yay, upcycling!

Humidity is very beneficial for seed germination, so I used a tray with a humidity dome that I got from my local gardening supply store. I placed the egg carton inside, sprayed each compartment with water from a clean spray bottle, put on the humidity dome, and placed the whole shebang in a sunny indoor location. I checked them and watered them lightly each day. This was the first adorable sprout that came up after about a week:

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I removed the dome after mostly all of the seeds germinated and popped up their little green heads. Sunlight would be their ally at this point. This is them two weeks later on my windowsill:

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As you can see, not all of the seeds germinated. All of the California Wonder seeds came up, though. I really wonder why they’re so dependable (maybe I should be afraid to ask?). Here are photos of each seedling variety:

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I’ll be potting up each of the babies this weekend, and when they’re about 6-8 inches above the soil line, I’ll start hardening them off little by little to get them acclimated to the outdoors. I’ll be sure to post on their progress, and, please, wish me luck in the meantime!

Happy gardening, everyone!

Successful Indoor Herb Gardening Experiment #1: Sweet Basil

The summer is very challenging for Florida gardening. Too much rain, too much humidity, and too much heat makes for very unhappy plants (and even less happy gardeners). About three weeks ago, I decided to try growing sweet Italian basil indoors because I just need to have fresh, organic herbs. I use basil a lot, so I decided to start with that.

I have a great south-facing window that lets lots of light in for at least six hours a day, several great planters with built-in drainage, potting mix, and plenty of viable seeds. There was absolutely no reason not to try.

I filled a small 8″ planter with a mixture of potting soil and a bit of homemade compost. I put about 20 seeds scattered along the top, and covered the seeds with about 1/4″ of soil. I watered lightly with a spray bottle because I didn’t want the seeds to rot and then I covered the pot over with a plastic bag. I’ve always found the humidity is very helpful for seed germination. I put the pot on a windowsill in a warm, sunlit room and every day, I checked to see if it needed water. I watered it once. In about five days, I had babies:

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I kept the bag off because I had plenty of germinated seeds. I then placed the pot in a south-facing, sunny window. In less than a week, they looked like this:

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I had to thin some of the seedlings to avoid crowding (and, quite honestly, I can’t believe they did as well with such a great germination rate), and after about two more weeks, here’s what they looked like (I took this photo this morning):

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I’ll have to thin them out again because there are way too many plants for this size pot. I may just use them in a recipe or salad and even try transplanting a few. I’ll be sure to post about the transplant. It seems like this indoor herb gardening experiment has gone well thus far. I think I’ll give parsley a go, too. I’ve even considered lettuce! Dare I?

If you try this at home, here are some tips to make your herby endeavor successful:

  • Pots with drainage holes are your friends
  • Make sure to use viable seeds that haven’t expired
  • Humidity is helpful for germination
  • Choose a bright, sunny location for your pots
  • Water regularly and keep evenly moist, not soaked, soil
  • Rotate the pot every day to make sure it gets even sunlight exposure
  • Don’t harvest until the plants get at least 6″ tall

I’d love to hear about your indoor gardening projects! Please feel free to share. I learn the most from those around me. 🙂

Happy gardening, everyone!

Heirloom Kentucky Wonder Beans Love the Florida Heat

I think I’ve found a bean that doesn’t hate the Florida summer! The Kentucky Wonder heirloom bean is a magical variety that appears to grow in extreme heat coupled with onslaughts of rain and icky humidity. What’s more is that I’m even growing them in a container. I’ve tried many other varieties in the past like Buff Contender Valentine, Golden Wax, and Selma Zesta, but they start strong and then putter out after a couple of weeks. Summer is tough around here. These babies, however, are climbing like crazy, and should start flowering before long. I built a simple structure from bamboo stakes and twine.

A week after sewing the seeds:

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Three weeks later:

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I’ll be sure to post updates about the growth and production of the plants. Wish me good green thumb luck!

Growing Organic Heirloom Buff Contender Valentine Beans in a Container

Great success! I harvested the first mini-batch of Buff Contender Valentine beans this morning.

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They’re perfectly firm, evenly colored, and super sweet. They’re the perfect bean for vegans and vegetarian dishes because they have a robust flavor and hearty texture that can really take center stage. And, what’s even better is that they grow amazingly well in a container. For those of us who have smaller-than-ideal yards, this is a major bonus. And for those of us who have absurdly hot and wet summers, these bean plants don’t seem to flinch.

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They don’t need to be supported with stakes, although I used a cage because of how windy it gets beachside. Oh, did I mention that they seem fairly pest and disease resistant?

The excellent flavor and ease of growing makes these a winner. You can get the seeds from Southern Exposure.
Happy gardening!

Trying to Grow Heirloom Lemon Cucumbers…Again.

This is the third time we’re trying to grow heirloom lemon cucumbers. The first time was last spring. We sewed ten seeds, watched them sprout, watched them begin to climb the bamboo stakes, and then die. The second time was in late spring. We tried a different location in the garden that got more sun, later sun. They sprouted, started to climb, and then a week of torrential downpours rotted their little roots, and they, too, died. Now we’re trying again. This time, in a container. Container gardening is easier. It’s actually how I first learned to garden. It’s easier to control; the soil can be amended quicker, fertilizing can happen on a more local level, and each micro-system can be managed individually without fear of stuff leaching from one area to another. That’s why I decided to kick it old school with a container. It’s my go-to for difficult, fickle, or sensitive plants. Besides, pots can be moved when the weather is awful, and the plants can be protected in a hurry. It’s a win-win…I hope.

These are my little seedlings:

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They’re off to a good start. I hope they stay the course.