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.

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.

Click this link to ‘Put some South in your mouth’. Collard Greens are the best!

Collards are the best!
Collards are the best!

Put some South in your mouth: Collard Greens are the best!

Collards are a photosynthesis machine. Not one to wait for flower, fruit, seed, or root development; collards produce the food we need without any distractions. And they taste great.

Best Harvest Methods

To get the most from all your efforts,  harvesting is as important as planting, watering, or fertilizing.

IMG_0491http://www.seminolevoice.com/news/2013/nov/27/tom-carey-thanksgiving-harvest/

Seasonal Gardening in Florida

Here’s an article I actually spent time writing for the Simple Living Institute’s Central Florida Food Guide. The Food Guide is a carbon based paper booklet available around town describing various venues.

The bottom line is our seasons are warped by our almost frost free Winters, but  Summers which are ungrowably hot and wet. We end up with 4 distinct seasons of blurred multi-week transitional phases. Most crops that we can grow are short term annuals,

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with a few multi-seasonal exceptions (kale, collards, herbs). Very few perennial (food forest) crops will grow here in the Orlando/Central Florida area (sorry Permies).

If you would like to learn more about gardening in Florida, or the Sundew Gardens upick ‘Harvest Gardening’ CSA, please plan to attend our free weekly tours, offered every Friday and Saturday at Noon. Hope to see you in the garden!

Seasonal Gardening at Sundew Gardens, Oviedo, Florida

by Tom Carey 081713

Although homesteaders in Central Florida do not experience the extremes of seasonal change as do our cousins in temperate latitudes, recognizing and respecting the palette of weather conditions Mother Earth dishes out over the course of a year will help us on our way to becoming more productive in our self reliant endeavors.  Consider gardeners living under a climate that encounters snow every Winter; their off-season is well defined, pest control is assured, weed pressures are capped under a frozen blanket. In contrast, our off-season is an extension of the not cold Spring merely sweating into Summer, cooled only by random thunderstorms. Yes, we can grow crops in the Summer’s jungle-esque humidity, hyper-growth weeds, wack-a-mole pests, and the ever present danger of random ground stroke lightning bolts, but any lurking productivity is easily thwarted. And then one week in mid-September, coincidentally around the celestial Equinox, we overlook the missed storms but temperatures still peg out under 90F. Time to start gardening, non-stop until 4th of July!

To get a head start on the outdoor growing seasons, prepare seedlings and transplants in a greenhouse space in mid-August beginning with cherry tomatoes, then greens, salad fixings, herbs, scallion onions. Do not start peppers, squash, or eggplant; there is not enough time before the shorter days and cooler nights of later Autumn which will damage them before harvest. And pest populations are at their maximum.

Hopefully over the Summer, the garden site was protected from rampant weed growth with an impenetrable layer of cardboard, newspaper, and/or mulch. Muck out the site leaving only soil, then till/turn/double-dig and achieve a finished grade. Start Autumn crops by planting bean, carrot, beet, and radish seeds to the garden soil. Once directly seeded crops are on their way to germinating, start transplanting seedlings, starting with tomatoes.

Counting backwards from our inevitable Christmas frost/freeze/coldsnap should mark up our growing calendars significantly. Beans take 60 days during the longer nights of November, so plant them no later than Halloween (but I always do). The cherry tomatoes will start to ripen around Thanksgiving.

Most of the cool-season crops that grow during Autumn/Winter/early-Spring will tolerate almost any low temperatures heading our way. Profusely re-plant them all; waves of carrots, the next batch of beets, a never-ending stream of radishes. To upset soil pests, thoroughly till/turn/double-dig growing areas after each harvest and leave the plot fallow between crops for as long as possible.

Keep the longevity of the crop in mind. Heading crops like lettuce or Asian greens (Pac Choi, Mizuna) are harvested whole, tying up space for only a few weeks. Collards and Dinosaur kale started as seedlings in September, transplanted in October, thinned in November, and enjoyed for Thanksgiving might still be included in a Memorial Day coleslaw recipe.

Covering plants with blankets during a cold snap will effectively protect cool season crops, but beans and tomatoes subject to stunting cold, if not from this cold front, then the next or the next, will no longer thrive. Tomatoes grown up a trellis, covered with sheets and blankets in a raging cold front, will sail beyond any hope of repair. Harvest the fruit and welcome the next crop. Always adjacent with frontal weather and its signaling wind is the following night of dead calm star-filled freezing skies.

Right after the Holidays is the time to start transplants for Spring. It is hard work to get tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, squash, basil, zinnias germinated in the chilly weeks surrounding Winter Solstice. Heat and lighting requirements to start seedlings are a show stopper until a dollop of handyman construction is invested.

Saint Patrik’s Day is approximately the last frost date I have ever experienced. Pest prone cucumber and squash will now have a chance with bug populations reduced after Winter. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant transplants will thrive as the days get warmer and longer. Plant batches of beans until Summer heat throttles them back. The cool season crops will start to sputter as April does not rain until May, if even then.

I shoot for 4th of July to maintain the spectrum of crops already growing. Tomato plants will die from the bottom up; once the tops stop setting new fruit, harvest any lagging fruit as it shows the slightest sign of ripened color. Summer is our off-season; maybe nurture a few surviving eggplant, peppers, or herbs. A fallow period controls many soil conditions. And a little down time for the gardener never hurts either.

(This article is written for the Simple Living Institute’s Central Florida Sustainable Food Guide. Tom Carey 407-430-2178, sundewgardens@gmail.com)