The Little Gardener that Could…Stop Being So Darn Stubborn

Happy Spring, everyone! I hope you’re all having lots of organic gardening successes and very few failures this season. But, if you’ve had one or two boo boos, I hope you’re writing them down as to not repeat them next year. I talk from experience, and I’ve certainly had my share of wretched mistakes. Occasionally, I’m stubborn (*wink wink*). But I’m growing as a gardener, steward of our planet, and as a rational human being. Learning from past failure is the reason for this post. Truthfully, I was afraid to write about this too soon. There was no way I’d jinx our success. But it happened, everyone, it finally happened. Houston, we have cucumbers…two kinds!

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This is a truly momentous occasion.

The Cross-Country Hybrids and Poinsett 76 cucumbers started out like any other: little, teeny tiny, cukes with unpollinated flowers at the end.

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Isn’t it cute?

We were excited. But we knew, oh, we knew, not to get too excited. You see, we’ve tried this three years in a row at different times of the year, different gardening seasons, and different locations in our gardens. Every time (except for the one freak-volunteer-plant-in-January incident), we get both pickleworm and melonworm plus a lovely case of downy mildew. And this time was looking to be no different.

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See the little jerks? Pickleworms were already invading.

But, as several people have told me to do, I finally broke down and got some Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT). And it’s my hero, my knight in shining armor, and my bestest buddy. BT a soil-dwelling bacteria that kills the worm larvae that make growing anything in the curcurbita family nearly impossible in our region. From squash to melons to cucumbers, it’ll work. And it’s OK for organic gardening, safe to beneficial insects (including bees), humans, and other animals. The one drawback that I see is that it degrades in sunlight and has to be reapplied often. It’s time consuming, but it’s saved our cucumber crops.

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Cucumber Vines Basking in the Florida Sunshine

To treat, I spray all areas of the plants, but I especially focus on the new growth and flowers because that’s where we’ve found the most damage in the past. The pickleworm and melonworm moths lay their eggs around sundown and are active for only a few hours, but they lay enough eggs that hatch enough larvae to really cause some serious damage. Most of the time, the damage is so bad by the time it’s noticed that there’s no solution other than to rip out and discard the infested plants. I’ve literally cried over this. But not this year (not yet, anyway).

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Cross-Country Hybrid Cucumber

We’ve been harvesting quite a few perfectly shaped, sweet as sugar cukes a couple times a week. It almost seems too good to be true. I’ll bask in this glory for as long as I can. I’ll show off my cucumbers to my fellow vendors at the farmers market, and bite into one every single day. So, friends, the moral of this little story is to stop being stubborn. Don’t repeat the same mistakes season after season, and don’t give up! Listen to the seasoned gardeners around you and take their advice. And enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of your labor.

With dirty fingernails and an armful of cucumbers,

Jenna

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Sowing the Seeds of Love…and Tomatoes.

It’s about that time, my friends. For Floridians (or maybe just overeager ones like yours truly), late January is when a lot of us start sewing seeds indoors. It goes a little something like this: sow, sow, sow, pot up, pot up, pot up, harden off, harden off, harden off, plant in the garden, and pray we don’t get a freakish March frost.

Last year, I went a bit bonkers with purchasing heirloom seeds from Tomatofest. I’m a sucker for the pretty colors and vivid descriptions. And i may be a smidgeon indecisive. For my small garden, I purchased around 15 varieties of determinate and indeterminate tomatoes from tiny to mammoth, Thailand to Arkansas, yellow to black, and tart to sweet. Now I feel compelled to use them all before they expire. I act like it’s a sacrifice, but I’m a square foot gardener who loves a challenge. Spacing? What’s that?

In my favorite seed starting tray and using my favorite seed starting mix, I sowed Chadwick Cherry, Thai Pink Egg, Black Zebra, Arkansas Traveler, Healani, Martino’s Roma, Yellow Ripple Currant, and Hawaiian Currant tomatoes.

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Based on my last post entitled “My Tomato Cheers and Jeers of 2013,” I’m betting that the Thai Pink Egg and Healani tomatoes will do well. And if 2012-13 is any indication,  I’ll inevitably fail with the Black Zebras and won’t get a single one. Lousy, stinking, son of a…. I digress.

It’s a new beginning! This is every gardener’s most hopeful, positive Pollyanna-ish moment of the year. I’m feeling good. We’ve got a ton of good compost, lots of Azomite, and we’ve starting using bone meal (which, by the way, is fantastic for lots and lots of big, beautiful blooms). Here’s to a prolific tomato 2014!

Until next time, my fellow gardeners,

Jenna

My Tomato Cheers and Jeers of 2013

Eating the last garden-fresh tomato is bittersweet. It’s sad because it’s the last tomato. I eat it slowly and savor ever single bite. I use it sparingly and thank the heavens my boyfriend hates tomatoes. Eating the last tomato is also a happy time because I know I’m one moment closer to the new season and will get to do it all over again soon. I fantasize about what seeds I’ll start and reflect on the season’s tomato successes and failures. Here’s a summary of my tomato-related pain and joy of 2013:

Miserable Failures:

  • Moving a five foot Thai Pink Egg plant that was doing fantastically into a place where it would get more sun is a terrible decision. Dragging a perfectly happy plant to a new location is stupid. The plant was miserable, it turned a sickly yellow-brown and then proceeded to die.
  • Hot and cold and hot and cold and so on…. Plants hate this, but it’s out of our control. Things died.
  • Too much rain and humidity leads to mildew and oodles of aphids.

Successes:

Thai Pink Egg tomatoes proliferated…

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Chadwick Cherry tomatoes were super hearty…

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Healani plants, although difficult and fickle, provided me with quite a few delicious tomatoes…

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Overall, I can’t really complain. Gardening is a series of events, both wonderful and tragic, which lead to a greater understanding of our environment and how we can live in harmony with it. Gardening organically is challenging; I won’t say it’s not. But it’s worth it, both for our planet and our health. And, besides, it’s a blast, and I can’t think of any better excuse to play in the dirt.

Happy gardening, my friends.

 

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

Pickled Organic Heirloom Tomatoes

My tomato season is nearing its end in sunny coastal Florida, and I’m finding myself with lots of little tomatoes that just won’t have a chance to ripen. I’m not sad, though, because this Jewish girl knows exactly what to do. Pickled tomatoes with garlic and dill was a staple in my grandparents’ refrigerator as well as in every kosher delicatessen from here to Timbuktu. For me, it’s the no-brainer way to preserve my beautiful heirlooms that had to be plucked before their time.

For this recipe, I used a combination of Thai Pink Egg, Healani, and Chadwick Cherry tomatoes, but you could use whatever variety or varieties you like.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 pound organic green tomatoes, washed and cut into halves or quarters
  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 5  garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons dried dill (use fresh if you have it on hand)
  • 1/2 tablespoon whole black or multi-colored peppercorns

Method:

Make sure to have a spotlessly clean lid and jar. I love to use my mason jars for this, but any good jar will do.

Place the tomatoes in the jar leaving about 1/2 of room at the top.

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Put the garlic, dill, and peppercorns in the jar.

Make the brine. Combine vinegar, water, and salt in a non-reactive pot. Bring the contents to a boil and stir until all the salt is dissolved.

Carefully pour the hot brine over the tomatoes being sure to leave room at the top. Wipe the top, put on the lid on and tighten.

Some recipes say to wait just a day or two before the pickled goodies will be ready for eating, but I disagree. I think they need between two and three weeks to achieve pickled perfection. And, of course, I think they’ll taste better if you serve them from a little metal bowl with tongs. It’s the kosher deli way.

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Happy noshing, everyone,

Jenna

NOTE: This recipe was partially adapted from a Huffington Post article. I consulted with my pickle-loving family for the adjustments.

Florida Fall Gardening: Starting Lettuce and Brassica Seeds Indoors

I’m quite fond of starting seeds indoors. Why? Because it’s easier. And because I have a small garden and can’t afford to waste precious space on things that might not even germinate. In the past, I’ve started all of my heirloom tomatoes and peppers indoors, then hardened them off appropriately before sending them out into the cruel, cruel world. This time, however, I’m trying something new. About 10 days ago, I sewed seeds for major hybrid broccoli, lime green brocoverde cauliflower, sweet Valentine romaine, and black seeded Simpson leaf lettuce.

I placed good quality organic seed starting mix in each compartment, and, initially, I thought I’d just put one seed in each compartment. Then I added a few more thinking I could tip the scale in my favor. I didn’t go overboard, though…I think. I labeled each row, watered gently with a spray bottle, and placed them in my sunroom. It’s the most humid and warm area of the house. I watered only when the mix felt dry-ish because seeds hate too much water.

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In about a week, this is what sprouted:

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There was a good show from the broccoli and cauliflower, but less from the lettuces. I wonder if I should have used a humidity dome. I wonder if the seeds from the black seeded Simpson lettuce were too old  (they were six months from expiring) as only one reared its cute little head. I wonder if the seeds are too finicky for the potting mix I used. I wonder if I could learn to communicate with seeds. (You think I’m kidding…)

I’d like to increase the seed germination rate next time. Thoughts? Advice? Words of wisdom?  I’m calling out to you, the big, beautiful blogosphere, for help.

Love and happy gardening,

Jenna

To All Organic Gardeners: I Need Your Help!

Every day when I get home from work, I putz around in the garden and examine all of my plants. Not only do I get the chance to pluck a lot of harmful caterpillars and worms from the leaves, but I get a chance to just sit and enjoy my blessings. Today, though, I’m stumped.

This is the front and back view of a Chadwick Cherry heirloom tomato plant leaf:

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These black, shiny, bean-shaped things are actually embedded inside of the leaf. They look like seeds of some sort…maybe? Of all the years I’ve been a Zone 9 Florida organic gardener, I’ve never seen this. Please, please, please, gardeners, friends, bloggers, I beg you, help me.

Thanks in advance,

Jenna

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!