Time to order seeds

With Summer as the Florida gardener’s off-season, the time to prepare for the start of our Autumn season is now. Gather up the seed catalogs that were mailed months ago, compare products and prices, and pick your favorite crops.

 

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Here in Central Florida, I look to the end of the rainy season, sometime in late September, as the time to start planting to our garden growing beds. Since most of our crops are started as transplants from seedlings started in the greenhouse, 4-6 weeks of germination and initial growth must be accounted for. Simple math decrees that by mid-August, seeds should start hitting the dirt.

The only crops we directly seed to the garden soil are beans, carrots, and radishes. Carrots will not grow in the heat and wet soil of late Summer, so we usually wait until mid-October to start seeding them. Risking continued monsoon conditions of early September, try a planting smaller patches of beans and radishes to get the growing season started. Don’t procrastinate on the beans; the cold of Winter has been known to arrive as early as Thanksgiving, so for a 50-60 day crop that is cold sensitive, starting as early as possible is imperative.

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Salad Herbs

The full spectrum of salad herbs are what make lettuce a real meal. Garden fresh heads of leafy green, red, and Romaine are at their prime at this time of year (February in Florida). img_0877Take advantage by adding even more goodness while keeping the simplicity of the harvest at hand.

img_0888Arugula, Italian dandelions, French sorrel, dill, watercress, parsley, and nasturtium leaves and flowers are all easy to grow and harvest. Quantity has a quality all its own, so if store bought bunches are too much, consider growing a container garden for the selection if not the bulk. (And no, I’m not talking about clamshells of week old micro-greens from a farm on the other side of the continent. )

img_0900Etymology 101: Salad/salivation. Bitter herbs induce salivation. Add a few Italian dandelion leaves to your salad to aid in digestion by providing even more saliva than a mouth watering salad would normally.

img_0541Let the fun begin by topping off your salad with the addition of nasturtium flowers. Although quite peppery (hence their nickname of ‘Nasties’) on their own, as a part of the whole, a fine addition. Another peppery addition would be watercress, but nowhere near as pretty.

Knee High by 4th of July

I’ll come right out and say it: corn is a very unproductive crop for home gardeners in Florida. It produces poorly for the amount of space required, demands large amounts of fertilizer and water, and is susceptible to every pest imaginable. And don’t get me started on the ‘3 sisters’ method (which I have never seen successfully practiced).

Of course, fresh eating corn-on-the-cob is a completely different crops from the commodity grain grown on millions of acres and marketed through the largest distribution systems imaginable, but the price on store bought ears is still linked to the wholesale availability of its industrially produced twin. Organic corn is the only way to knowingly avoid direct contact with a more than likely GMO product and chemical pesticides.

As a kid, we grew it in our garden in Illinois, where the deep black topsoil guaranteed a bumper crop. And the only way anyone from the Land of Lincoln considered cooking it was fresh from the stalks directly into a kettle of boiling water then to the table in a matter of mere minutes. But that was before most of the aforementioned chaos tainted every purchase decision. So, as the saying goes “Knee high by 4th of July”, but not in my Florida garden.

Farm Stand Fun

Activities at our farm stand, Saturdays 9am-1pm and Tuesday 3pm-6pm, are fun for the whole family. Many of our crops are picked to order, so take a walk into the garden while we harvest them as fresh as they can get. Sample and smell what herbs are supposed to taste like before they’ve been dried, processed, and package. Stay in touch with our ‘Harvest Gardener’ membership for a one-time $20, to receive weekly email newsletter and crop list, invites to our special events, and half price on workshops and tours. Our most popular activity is a visit to the rabbit paddock, an outdoor colony where our rabbits are free to live like rabbits should. Visits to the bunnies are $10/family, or $5/members. Hope to see you in the garden.

Summer Gardening if Florida

(Gleaned from my July 12, 2011 Seminole Voice newspaper column.)

Florida vegetable gardeners’ off-season is never well bracketed by the debilitating freezes or blankets of snow that schedule definition to most temperate regions. My crops of peppers, eggplant, collard greens, okra, scallions and herbs planted in early spring don’t stop producing just because the calendar clicked over to July and August. Barring lake-effect monsoons, I expect these crops to continue producing until first frost. In the mean time, we’re back into the throes of autumn planting. I’m almost envious of the iconic scenario of curling up in front of the wood stove with a seed catalog and imagining the world as it’s not.

If you are the least bit organized, taking it easy in the garden in summer is part of the plan. Never one to leave well enough alone, preparing for the next season fills every available moment. But if the power goes out, the thunder is growling, and the mosquitoes are biting, it is time to hunker down with a selection of seed catalogs.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds of Winslow, Maine, is one of my primary seed sources. Although Maine is not a regional partner, Johnny’s seeds have grown consistently well in my garden. The catalog from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply of Grass Valley, Calif., is always close to the top of my stack. Another classic source is Bountiful Gardens of Willits, Calif. The home of Ecology Action and John Jeavons’ pioneering efforts at sustainable food production have been groundbreaking. Redwood City Seed Company, also from California, is an eclectic source for unique crop seeds, especially peppers.

A little closer to home, Tomato Growers Supply Company of Ft. Myers’ name speaks for itself. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange of Mineral, Va., offers a full spectrum of open pollinated seed choices. The Park Seed Company of Greenwood, S.C., encyclopedic catalog has been a reference in my library since the beginning.

July 2016 update: We’ve not seen a drop of rain, let alone the occasional monsoon for over a week. The near 100F temperatures are even more extreme to the remaining crops without some moderating moistureIMG_8784. Our compiled memories of daily thunderstorms are merely a social expectation of the good old days. So I’ll use the fear of sunstroke instead of lightening as my excuse to peruse through my stacks of catalogs

. Weather only a gardener could love?

Saturday Morning Farm Stand

Open 8-Noon Saturday mornings

Please visit our Sundew Gardens farm stand open Saturday mornings, 8-Noon, for the freshest produce you can possibly find. We’re only providing what we grow; the selection and quantities can vary weekly, so visit early and visit often. This week we’re providing cherry and Roma tomatoes, sweet banana peppers, Asian eggplant, scallion onions, yellow wax beans, purple daikon radishes, fennel, several varieties of herbs, cucumbers, and eggs. Please bear with us as we enter our Summer growing season, which is always a challenge, but your support will encourage even greater efforts.

Batch Gardening

From my Seminole Voice newpaper column from a few years back:

When I started my modern gardening career using methods delineated in Mel Bartholomew’s book “Square Foot Gardening,” I eagerly built my 4-foot by 4-foot plot and planted as many varieties of vegetables as would fit into each of the 16 squares. I grew food with precision and devotion, eventually reaping a harvest of exactly as many radishes, carrots, beans and numerous other crops as would each fit into their respective 144-square-inch fields. The learning paradigm was priceless, the carrots tasted great, but the value of the food approached pennies per hour. Figurative starvation was on the horizon, so the next step was to line up multiples of the square plots into long growing beds and plant more of everything.

We have been brainwashed into believing eating fresh produce is best, no matter what the cost. Since shipping out-of-season beans or fruit all the way from California or Chile is cheaper than many homegrown preservation and pickling methods, why not eat fresh everything from everywhere forever? But if our garden production is of such limited quantities that fresh eating leaves none for the pickling crock when Florida’s multiple off-seasons roll around again, we are back to grocery land paying cash for someone else’s productivity.

Choose four to six basic crops your family wantonly consumes and write the plan to be the benefactor of these specific choices. Learn a few recipes and food storage techniques that will fill the coffers for the guaranteed seasonal dearth of homegrown freshness. Blanching and freezing, lacto-fermentation, canning or dehydrating are all viable ways to save those special foods you grew yourself.

Now is the time to plan for our long autumn growing season. Guesstimate the space to grow enough carrots, scallion onions, beans, and greens based on an average tallied from store bought receipts. Research the expected yield from available garden area, plan a little extra to share (the bugs always take their remittance), count the number of harvests expected from a season, do the math, obtain enough seeds, and hit the dirt. Instead of planting a little bit of everything, you can grow enough of those few things to really make a difference to a hungry belly.

In the kitchen during the cooler months, the ever-present cauldron of simmering soup wholeheartedly accepts more from the garden. Plan to add more of the basic crops to the kettle creating quantities to stock the freezer beyond tonight’s dinner. Heroism earned by procuring enough food to feed the family is now as simple as growing a batch of beans and radishes.