Friday, October 31, 2008

Just Planted... and Seed Orders

Broccoli Di Cicco - '09 (Johnny's)
Sweet Alyssum (white)

The broccoli seeds arrived earlier this week from Johnny's along with three other seed packages: komasuna summerfest greens (asian), cherokee purple tomatoes, and hakurei turnip. All but the tomatoes are new to us. I learned that the komasuna greens are a Japanese variety which does well both in hot and cool weather. I will be saving those for Spring. The turnips will go in the ground later this week, after I look up its growing needs.

Broccoli Di Cicco is an heirloom broccoli from Italy that's supposed to do well with warm temperatures, plus they say you can continue harvesting side shoots after the main head is picked. I learned in Gardening When It Counts that the hybrids produced for commercial farms are not worth keeping in the ground after harvesting the top head, they don't keep on producing. Aside from lower production, the seeds can't be saved for future planting either.

I started noticing a couple of weeks ago that some seed companies were out of some of the seeds we need for our Spring garden. Also, I received a note from Johnny's with my order that said their seed prices will be going up on Nov. 15th, and last week I saw this at Victory Seeds:
Oct. 1 Update: Since people are feeling so much uncertainty about the economy and the future, we are receiving an unexpected volume of orders.

I usually don't order seeds till early December. After reading that notice, I decided it was time to finish up my list and place our seed order for next year. I now have orders pending at Seeds of Change, Tomato Growers, Eon Seeds (a FL based family bussiness I'm trying for the first time), and Johnny's. I did end up finding what I needed. With my small order from Johnny's last week came a free shipping coupon for any order placed until mid-November. :)

Baking Bread - frugal challenge

This week, for my frugal challenge, I am restarting our weekly bread baking. For the last few years, our oldest daughter had been baking most of our bread. Now that she is in college, she doesn't have much time for baking. Everyone was happy to see these loaves back in the oven again and smell the fresh baked bread.

Several years ago, I had done the math and calculated the cost of baking vs. buying bread at the store. It came out to be a good savings, around $30 to $40 per month. But the best thing about baking our own bread is the taste. Homemade bread doesn't have the chemical smell and taste that storebought has. Storebought bread contains chemical additives, hydrogenated oils, unhealthy preservatives, and fattening sweeteners.

Homemade Sandwich Bread

2 cups warm water (110F)
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups white bread flour
3 cups whole wheat flour

1. In a large bowl, dissolve the honey in the warm water, add yeast. Allow to proof until yeast resembles a creamy foam, about 10 minutes.
2. Mix salt and oil into the yeast. Work in 6 cups of flour. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth (or use your mixer with a dough hook). Use a little more flour if needed. Place in well oiled bowl, and turn once to coat the entire surface of the dough with oil. Cover with a clean damp cotton cloth. Allow dough to rise until double in size., about an hour.
3. Punch dough down. Knead for a few minutes, and divide in half. Shape into loaves and place into two well oiled 9x5 loaf pans. Allow to rise for 30 minutes.
4. Bake in a 350F oven for 25 minutes. When you thump the top of the bread it should sound hollow.
For a buttery crust, brush hot loaves with butter. Cool on a rack and enjoy

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What's Blooming

We are having record lows this morning in Central Florida. Our thermometer by the back door showed 41 degrees, lower than the official 42 record low for Tampa this morning. Plant City is always a couple of degrees lower. It was so nice to go out and breathe in the crisp morning air.

The pumpkins are still blooming profusely. This little moth sat very still inside this flower maybe hoping to catch some warmth from the sun. I didn't see much bug activity out there, even the bees seem to be waiting for the temperature to rise. They have been out in droves lately harvesting pumpkin pollen.

This Salvia lives in a pot by the vegetable garden gate. Even though it is one of the bees' favorites, they are not visiting. Maybe they are too busy with the pumpkins to bother. I also have a volunteer Everglades tomato growing in this pot.
Belinda's Dream is a Floribunda rose bush that produces these beautiful pink roses year-round. It is my low maintenance rose. It performs with very little care. I discovered it at a u-pick farm a couple of years ago. It sat apart from the other roses, looking gorgeous. I had to ask the lady there what it was. She directed me to a family-owned rose seller in Plant City. I've found that with roses, as with most other non-natives, it is best to see how they grow in the ground in our area before committing to planting one. I've heard many times that roses are too difficult to grow in Florida, and that is true for certain varieties, but not all.
This is another great low-maintenance rose that does well for me. Is is an old-garden rose I ordered from Pickering years ago. I will have to dig out my rose records to find the name, because it is a survivor. I am planning to plant a moon garden around this bush. It looks so beautiful by the light of the moon. I will start by spreading out some white Sweet Alyssum seeds around its feet today. I also have some white Morning Glory seeds waiting to be planted.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Growing Cucumbers

I have had mixed success growing cucumbers in the past. I always planted cucumbers in my spring garden. They would grow well the first couple of months but would only produce a few cucumbers before succumbing to mildew when the rains started.

This Fall, I planted three cucumber plants in hydroponics buckets. They grew and sprawled over the ground then produced the largest crop of cucumbers we've ever had. I think one of my conclusions here is that they really like the regular watering they get with the automatic irrigation, plus the constant source of fertilizer. Our soil is just very poor, so we have been working on building it up with peat and compost. Hopefully, by next Spring, we will have it in better shape.

These seedlings were planted back on Oct. 2nd, just over three weeks ago. I put four seeds in a black pot that had been growing tomatoes last Spring and added compost to it, and they all came up. I have been using COF* (Home-made Complete Organic fertilizer) in my garden this fall, so they've had two side-dressings of COF. I've also sprayed them with kelp and fish emulsion twice.

This is what the plants looked like this morning. Cucumbers and others from this family (pumpkins, squash...) are not worth buying as seedlings. They sprout and grow so easily and quickly when seeded directly in the soil.

I'm hoping that these will do ok in the cooler Fall weather, since they are in this black pot. The sun should keep the soil warm until the plants are mature, and they should do better now that the daily rains have stopped. I decided risk it and ignore the suggested planting date for cucumbers in Central Florida, which only goes through August. It is unlikely we will have a freeze before Christmas; and even if we did, we could try to cover them up. We've enjoyed our cucumbers so much, I couldn't bear to see the last of them.

I just finished harvesting the last of the cucumbers from the plants in the hydro-buckets. The plants are done, mainly because of the mildew growing on them due to all the rain we had in September. I will have to work more diligently to keep the fungus off these types of plants during the rainy season come Spring.

* COF is a homemade Complete Organic Fertilizer. The formula was created by Steven Solomon, the author of gardening when it counts. The basic ingredients I use in COF are: seed meal, lime (gypsum & garden lime), phosphate rock, and kelp (if possible). I finished reading gardening when it counts last week and cannot recommend it highly enough for anyone trying to grow vegetables at home. Steven Solomon is the founder of Territorial Seed Company; and although he no longer owns it, he has many years of experience growing vegetables organically.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The bees are back :)

I've been happy to see the bees buzzing around in greater numbers every morning this week. Our hand pollination of last week worked. All the female flowers we pollinated are now growing fat little pumpkins, so that was an easy success.

I sat near one of the flowers this morning trying to capture a picture of the bees flying in and out of this flower. I probably need to adjust the shutter speed, but here is a picture of one of them anyway.

This is the first calabaza pumpkin we hand-pollinated nine days ago. It is about 8" long now. I like to place the young ones on a clay pot dish while their skin thickens. There are some caterpillars that like to dig into them when they are young and tender-skinned. I've never had one chewed up since I started doing this.

This eggplant has only one fruit set now. For some reason it started dropping some of its blooms last week. The weather has been fine, and it is self-pollinating. I need to look up eggplants and see if I can figure out what is wrong with it.

I found this little garden friend growing inside a lettuce head I was getting ready to pick for dinner last night. Frogs like to make our lettuce heads their home. They grow nice and fat, so they must be doing a good job eating up the moths that love to lay eggs on all the greens. I've actually grown to like these garden helpers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Frugal Challenge

Today I have decided that I need a couple of challenges for myself, so I've taken on a frugal challenge - find one way to cut back on expenses each week.
This week's find is homemade laundry detergent. I loved this idea and spent the weekend pricing laundry detergents and the ingredients in a recipe. I came up with a price of less than 7 cents per load. That is a substantial savings over the regular price, even for the cheapest powder laundry you can find in bulk at a place like Sam's.
I have been making handmade soap for years. This recipe is a lot easier than making soap from scratch, and you don't have any cleanup afterwards, just a quick rinse and everything will be clean - easy!
Here's the recipe:

Liquid Laundry Detergent

2-one gallon jugs
1 Funnel
4 quarts of water
Ivory or Fels Naptha bar soap - I used Fels Naptha.
1/4 cup 20 Mule Team Borax
1/4 cup Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda

I found all these things at our local grocery store (Publix). Note that the Washing Soda is not the same as Baking Soda - Washing Soda is Calcium Carbonate and Baking Soda is Calcium Bicarbonate.

Pour 4 quarts of water in your pot on medium heat.

With a food processor or a grater, shave one-half to three-fourths of the bar soap into the pot.

Stir and allow the soap to completely dissolve before the next step. Soap chunks will not dissolve after this step, this only takes a few minutes.

When your soap is sufficiently dissolved, slowly pour in 1/4 cup of 20 Mule Team Borax and 1/4 cup Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda.

Make sure you don't pour these into a pot of boiling soap, or you will have a soapy mess all over the stove.

stir and let it all dissolve together. The mixture will not be thick so don't expect laundry detergent consistently yet. Let the detergent cool until you feel comfortable pouring it into the gallons jugs.

A funnel is a life-saver for this. PLEASE USE ONE. :o)

Fill each gallon jug 1/4 to 2/3 with the detergent mixture, then fill the rest of the way with water, put the lid on (very important!) and shake, shake, shake.

And that is all!
I washed my whites with it this afternoon and they came out nice and clean!

If you like to have scent in your laundry detergent, you can add a couple of drops of essential oil to each bottle.

From start to finish, it took me 20 minutes to make 2 gallons of laundry detergent, good for 64 washes. I have calculated that I do about 18 loads of laundry per week (family of six). The two gallons should last us more than three weeks.

One bar of soap costs $.99, a box of borax is about $3.80, and a box of washing soda is about $3. This is very cheap! I will continue to use OXY for soaking ugly stained soccer socks, etc. I buy OXY at Sam's, that's the cheapest ($8.50 for 12.5 lbs.), or take advantage of the rare BOGO w/ coupon.

If you have a frugal idea, I would love to hear about it!

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Gardening Birthday

For my birthday, last week, Don gave me some blueberry bushes. Since I wasn't expecting this nice surprise, they will have to wait three weeks to go in the ground; while we lower the pH of the planting area with sulfur. Blueberries like an acid soil.
Highbush blueberries do very well in our part of Florida, so long as you buy the right variety. This variety was bred at the University of Florida to have a lower chill requirement, so they will produce fruit with fewer hours of cold weather; like we have in Central Florida, south of Ocala. Rabbiteyes grow well for those living in the northern parts of the state. We used to take a trip every year up to the Ocala area for our blueberry picking and really enjoyed the berries from the tall Rabbiteye bushes; but lately, since gas has gone through the roof, we've been picking locally and have enjoyed the Highbush berries just as well. Until a few years ago, there were no blueberry picking farms in our area. So, we are thankful to the folks at the University of Florida who created these hybrids for us. Blueberries freeze very well. We use them through the year in smoothies, pies, blueberry corn bread, pancakes... They really are a healthy food, loaded with vitamins and minerals. Plus, they are a pretty bush that will look just fine in any landscape. Why plant barren bushes when you can have blueberries?

Don also gave me these two gardening books - Seed to Seed and Seed Sowing and Saving. I had been borrowing the Seed to Seed book from the library for years, but a few weeks ago I noticed that the library did away with its only copy. This is where I learned how to save my pumpkin seeds. It's a very good book and worth adding to our garden library. Seed Sowing and Saving will be a new read for me. I am especially hoping to save seed from my Chinese kale this winter, since I hear it is one of the easiest of its family to save and a great favorite of mine.

Gabi brought home this tangelo tree and the little purple iris from the USF Botanical Garden sale last week. They will be going in the ground tonight. It should be a nice addition to our citrus orchard. :)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Just Planted

Another sowing of:

Spinach (Gro - Mor) '08
Chinese Kale Kailaan Queen (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) '06
Parsley (Wal-Mart) '05
Collards (Lowes) '05
Pak-Choi (Gro - Mor) '08

In the beds we prepared last week. Don installed microsprinklers on half of the beds, next weekend he'll finish the rest - more planting then!

Gro - Mor is a Plant City based wholesale seed and chemical fertilizer business that has been around for many years. They sell seeds by the ounce at very reduced prices. Their selection is very limited and what they sell is just whatever the large farms around the area are planting. I was surprised to find the Pak-Choi there. They don't refrigerate their seeds, and the place isn't even air conditioned, but the seed I've bought from them has always done well for me. I don't save their seeds in my refrigerator like I do the ones I order from my favorite seed suppliers online, because I know they have been in the heat and probably won't last as long.
The Chinese Kale is my favorite. I've been using the same envelope of seeds for two years, and it has done beautifully. I have only tried this variety and the store bought kale, and this one is much better. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has a wonderful catalogue with lots of gardening advice and good recipes.

The Food Issue...

An interesting article in the NY Times this week.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Edible Landscaping

As our pumpkin patch continues to grow, I think it may not be the best choice for a border. Its vines are sprawling and expanding into a large area now, and they like to climb up bushes too. So, next year, the patch will be confined to the back yard, near the vegetable garden.

I have been reading about sweet potatoes and am thinking that this will be next summer's experiment. Tom recommends the 'beauregard' variety in his post about sweet potatoes. Sarah, of Edible Landscape, mentioned George’s Plant Farm for ordering the bareroot vines. George's Plant Farm seems to have reasonable prices and good planting instructions.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Just Planted...

Ruben's red romaine lettuce
Jericho lettuce
Detroit dark red beet
French breakfast radish
Slow bolt cilantro

All from Seeds of Change.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pollinating Pumpkins

Don and I were up at the crack of dawn this morning to do our deed with the pumpkin flowers...
Here are the males loaded with pollen, ready to go.
Let's hope it worked!

Saturday, October 11, 2008


I am convinced that the bees have abandoned my pumpkin patch. I think one must have ventured in it shortly a few weeks ago, because I have ONE pumpkin growing there. Normally, I would have at least a dozen in a patch this size. I think there just aren't many bees around since the new development went up where there once were acres of orange trees. Looking over the fence in that direction, all I see now is concrete and St. Augustine grass. :(

We have considered beekeeping for years and have studied it on and off for at least ten years. I found an interesting e-book (free) that describes an affordable way to build a hive.

I will be moving the potted salvia right next to the pumpkin patch to see if the bees come. I am also going to try my hand at pollinating the pumpkins myself.

Friday, October 10, 2008

It's a Slug Party Tonight

I almost didn't go check on the garden this morning. Fridays are hectic around here with piano lessons and other errands to run. Yet, I have been telling myself I have to check on the garden every morning because of the pests. I have also told myself that I have to go out with the camera every morning, since that's part of the fun! So, I ran out the back door with camera in tow fully expecting to find nothing new. Yesterday morning, I harvested six cucumbers and didn't see any that looked close to being ripe. Well, it seems that cucumbers get huge overnight, and we did have a good rain here last night... I was looking around, everything looked just fine. I walked to the backside of the cucumber pots and saw a big one, so picked it. I saw another one, then another one... I reached down for the last one and what do I feel? SLIME... I do not like slime... I'm thinking, has this one gone bad? I lift it up, and there it was *shudder*. Another stop on my errands route this afternoon - Publix for beer. I am setting out a nice platefull of it this evening. It's a SLUG PARTY, and they are all invited!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


This morning, I found this guy chomping on one of the tomato plants. Out of curiosity, I searched and found it is the Tomato Fruitworm moth Larva (Heliothis zea).
I found the same kind on Monday on my broccoli seedlings. I sprayed the entire garden this morning with Bt. That should get rid of them all.
Last year, I wasn't as persisted at the beginning of the season, and these little beasts really damaged our crops. I am now out there checking every morning, trying to catch them before the damage gets out of control. I am hoping the weather will turn cooler soon, they seem to love the heat and humidity.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sprouts & Babies

Our giant pumpkin finally has a baby. The calabaza growing in the same patch has a 12" pumpkin already. This one is about 2" long.

Here is another one, but this little fuzzy one still has a flower bud attached to it. The female pumpkin flowers all start out this way. If it is pollinated, it will develop its fruit and we'll have a pumpkin in a few days.

Lettuce sprouts coming along...

and sweet peas in the hydro-stackers.

I tossed a few cucumber seeds in a pot last week, hoping to catch the tail-end of the cucumber planting season. The other cucumbers, planted back in August, are producing well. Maybe we'll still have cucumbers for Thanksgiving and Christmas.


We finally found the bareroot strawberries at Parkesdale today. They are in the hydroponic stackers now. I am hoping for the best because they really didn't look very nice. We couldn't beat the price though, we paid $18 for 75 plants. I just hope that they perk up in a few days.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Compost Happens

I attended a Compost Happens workshop at the Hillsborough County Extension office on Saturday. It was free ($20 for non-residents) and well worth the time. The classes for '08 are full, but there is still space in the '09 classes. The most important thing I got out of it was the inspiration to make composting a top priority in our garden. Here in Florida, especially, composting is a must because our soil is so poor and needs as much organic matter as we can find. Another reason is that purchasing compost can get expensive if you are trying to grow a vegetable garden of any significance. The good news is that there are many things, readily available, that can be added to a compost pile - torn newspapers, shredded junk mail, all kitchen scraps (except for meats or fats), manure of herbivores (cows, horses, rabbits, chickens...), leaves, grass clippings, egg shells, brush, twigs, tea bags, hay, coffee, wood residuals, etc.
In the class, we were taught the sandwich method: brown - green - brown. The browns stand for materials that provide carbon to the pile, and the green are nitrogen rich materials. It is important to keep a good ratio of Carbon (C) and Nitrogen (N) for the pile to compost quickly. Browns (C) would be: dry leaves, newspaper, twigs, hay, etc. Greens (N) would be: manure, fresh grass clippings, fruit and vegetables, coffee grounds, etc. Each layer should be about 3"-4" thick.
The two other necessary ingredients for a compost pile are air and water. Mixing the pile periodically gives enough air to the microorganisms that decompose everything, and adding water whenever the pile looks dry will also keep them working away happily.
Aside from some interesting literature, we received a simple compost bin and a nice composting thermometer. Ideally, the temperature of a compost pile should reach about 120 degrees after a couple of days. This means that the bacteria are working away at breaking down the debris. :)
We took a short tour of the Extension office's garden and looked at several different types of compost bins. The Master Gardener explained the benefits and disadvantages of each kind.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Early Morning in the Garden

I love taking pictures early in the early morning. Looking at the dew on a spiderweb, hearing the busyness of the birds, and capturing the soft light are a relaxing way to start the day.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Neem Oil

I have been doing some research on Neem Oil, since one Gardening Fool suggested that it might be harmful to beneficial insects. I found that the Neem sold at Lowes is harmful but not the real Neem sold at organic garden stores. So, I’m going to stop by Worm’s Way in Tampa tomorrow and pick up some of the real stuff along with some real Bt. Oh yes, Home Depot sells bottles of Thuricide that are contaminated with nasty stuff as well. It’s sickening to me that we can’t trust these big stores. Lowes charges $6 for their 16 oz. bottle of Neem, the organic store is charging $8 for a 8 oz. bottle of the 100% Neem. So, some companies dilute these good organic solutions and mess them up with nasties that are cheaper – their products are cheaper but harmful to your garden in the long-run. Who needs a garden with no pollinators?

Just Planted

Seeds in the raised bed:

carrots: thumbellina, scarlet nantes, touchon, sweet treat hybrid (burpee)
mesclum lettuce
herbs: parsley, basil, dill

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Okra, growing and eating it too!

I used to think I didn't like okra, but a friend talked me into giving it another chance. This summer, I tentatively planted a few seeds near our back door. They all sprouted and grew into beautiful plants. We have been eating okra and liking it, although I am still not a fan of fried okra. Okra in tomato sauce, it's a good thing! Here's how: I sautee onions and garlic, then add chopped tomatoes, and okra, plus a couple of pinches of sea salt.
Planting dates for okra are March - August for Central Florida, add or take two weeks for the north and south. My Vegetable Gardening in Florida book says to plant them 6-12 inches apart, but I learned that 6 inches is all the separation they need.
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