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!

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 9.53.50 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 9.54.36 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 9.54.58 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 9.54.09 AM

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).

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 9.54.24 AM

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

Advertisements

Why do we garden?

“Of the seven deadly sins, surely it is pride that most afflicts the gardener.”

― Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education

the salad I speak of

Why do I have a garden? I started thinking about that very question as I enthusiastically told a coworker what was in my bowl: Red Russian Kale, Louisiana Pink Tomatoes, Cosmic Purple Carrots, roasted Detroit Dark Red beets, etc. Do people often get this excited about salad? Why was I so overjoyed?

I think there’s something extremely gratifying about seeing something go from seed to plate. It’s more fun than farm to table. It’s labor. It’s nurture. It’s my urban garden.

It’s a lot of work. My back gets sore, my legs ache, and I always have dirt under my nails. Wearing gloves just doesn’t cut it. I like to feel what I’m doing because, well, gardening is intimate. It’s a kinesthetic art just as much as it’s visual. I love it so much that I’m always posting photos of my little backyard farm. As I look back through my Instagram feed, I see just how proud I am. Sometimes, I even take selfies with veggies (don’t judge).

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 3.32.57 PM

crazy kohlrabi

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 3.33.26 PM

so much kale

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 3.33.42 PM

heirloom tomatoes after the rain

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 3.34.12 PM

cosmically awesome

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 3.34.35 PM

my first spinach leaves

But is it cheaper to grow your own? Some people think that we save a lot of money by growing our own veggies. It’s quite the contrary, actually. I’m sure I spend more. The veggies cost nearly nothing to raise from seed, but it’s the soil, the water (our rain barrel never has enough), the organic amendments, and the time. Oh my gosh, if time really were money…

In the end of the day, it’s amazing to say “this was a seed and now it’s in my tummy.” I love to share with my neighbors and friends, and I really love to talk to other gardeners. There really is a sense of pride, joy, and commitment to playing in the dirt. It’s a way of life, and I wouldn’t trade my shovel and dirty fingernails for anything.

Until next time, my gardening friends. It’s Spring! Go get dirty.

my happy place

How Does Our Organic, Urban Garden Grow: An Update

20140603-221047-79847218.jpg

Things are looking pretty good around here! I posted a while back about how Spring was treating us in sunny Zone 9, and now it’s time for an update. A month is like a jillion years to a gardener, so here goes…

The Kentucky Wonder beans have been nothing but amazing. For the past two weeks, I’ve gotten a small handful every day. For three plants, that’s pretty good! The wax beans are also going strong.

20140603-220605-79565876.jpg

The heirloom crookneck squash, on the other hand, was a total bust. Powdery mildew invaded and stunted the growth of the plants. I waved the white flag pretty early because I knew the pot could be put to better use. This is the best they’d ever look.

Crookneck Squash Babies

The same failure goes for our cukes. I swear I’m going to give up on even trying to grow them. The only time we have luck is when the plants are volunteers. I don’t know what it is. I suspect the humidity and salt air is the downfall, but who knows? This was our one delicious, crunchy, crowning jewel:

20140603-220031-79231070.jpg

I also grew an “onion.” Laugh it up. It’s OK.

20140603-220134-79294766.jpg

The heirloom lettuces and Swiss chard ended up in the compost heap after a good run. I tried to save seeds from some of the bitter, bolted babies, but it didn’t work out. Perhaps they’ll self-seed in the fall.

20140603-220345-79425078.jpg

But, the tomatoes. The TOMATOES. I’m pleased as punch. And, I know, a gardener should never count their peppers before their picked, but I’ve got to toot this horn! I’ve been harvesting a bunch of yellow currant tomatoes every single day.

20140603-220502-79502222.jpg

I even harvested the first Thai Pink Egg yesterday. All of our 24 plants are doing pretty well. A few have yellowing leaves here and there, and the tomatoes from one of our Martino’s Roma plants have blossom end rot (none of the others do, even in the same bed), but still, I’ve never had such a successful season. I guess I should knock on some wood.

And, surprisingly, the carrots are still going strong. Succession planting has been our best friend.

Here’s yesterday’s harvest:

20140603-220951-79791277.jpg

All in all, this is our best season yet. Disaster could certainly strike at any minute, but for now, I’ll bask in the glory of our organic gardening endeavors.

 

 

 

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…

20140419-080059.jpg

Stunning little heirloom crookneck squash babies are beginning…

20140422-090816.jpg

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…

20140422-090523.jpg

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

20140419-080506.jpg

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!

20140422-091050.jpg

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

20140419-175653.jpg

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

20140422-091530.jpg

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?

20131219-150402.jpg

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.

20131219-151309.jpg

 

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).

20131015-173359.jpg

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

20131015-172422.jpg

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…

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:

20131007-183002.jpg

20131007-183011.jpg

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

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:

20130928-193950.jpg

Within one week…

20130928-194135.jpg

In three more weeks…

20130928-194226.jpg

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.)

20130929-094832.jpg

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:

20130926-094716.jpg

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:

20130926-094939.jpg

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:

20130926-100230.jpg

20130926-100241.jpg

20130926-100257.jpg

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!

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.

20130816-150646.jpg
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.

20130816-145019.jpg
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!