Posts Tagged ‘Gardening’

Wordless Wednesday Legumes

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Can You Dig It?

If you live in the United States, chances are that you have heard the admonition to “call before you dig.” As a gardener, you may or may not have given it a second thought. For those of you who may not be familiar with it, this is a nationwide program to coordinate utility notification services for the purpose of assisting people with locating the placement of underground utility lines. I can’t speak for how this is done outside the US, but I would imagine that practically everywhere in the developed world has something similar.

Across the US, regulations vary regarding the extent to which home gardeners are required to use the service, but generally speaking, anyone who damages an underground utility line is liable for the cost of repair, and possibly for secondary damages as well. More importantly, when dealing with buried power lines, it can be a matter of personal safety, so why risk it? Keep in mind that digging is digging, even if you only use hand tools. I can’t think of very many things less pleasant than the prospect of using a spading fork to determine the exact placement of an electrical cable. In fact, I suspect that would qualify as a very bad day.

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I recently decided that whether it was required or not, it would certainly be a good idea for me to use this free service before putting the plant shown above into the ground. The plant is a variety of Duranta erecta known as Saphire Showers. A broadleaf evergreen member of the Verbena family, this plant produces flowers during the spring and summer months, and then produces small yellow fruits popular among birds. The flowers attract both butterflies and hummingbirds. For a period of time in late summer, it will often have both fruits and flowers. It is native to the West Indies, but not Florida, with the possible exception of the Keys (the evidence is contradictory). However, there are no documented cases of it escaping cultivation in Florida. Since it feeds native wildlife without invading wild habitats, it has been deemed “Florida friendly” by the state agricultural extension service. To me, that’s a green light for use in my landscaping.

This plant can grow to about 15 to 20 feet tall, but can also be shaped by regular pruning. It also spreads out about as wide as it is tall. For this reason, I’m seeing it as a nice addition to my butterfly garden, in particular in a place where I would like to obscure the unattractive electric meter and telephone and cable TV connections, which happen to be on the wall right behind the butterfly garden. A portion of that garden has gone bare in recent months, due to some plants dying back. That bare patch is located such that a tall plant there would not block too much sun from the other plants, although it should still get enough for itself. Planting the Duranta in that patch would fill the bare spot, attract butterflies and birds, and grow to hide the eyesores on the wall. But that brings us back to the issue of underground utilities. Where, exactly, are those cables? Do they run straight out from the equipment? Or do they run alongside the wall and then pop straight up to their respective service interfaces?

To make a long story short, I’m glad I called. As you can see from the picture below, the electrical cable (marked in red) runs along the edge of the bare patch, making a wide, sweeping curve before angling across the neighbor’s yard. The phone and cable TV cables, on the other hand (marked in orange), run out from the wall in straight lines but at a slight angle, and then turn toward the back fence, keeping about a one foot spacing between them all the way. I would not have guessed either one of those routings. In the end, I can still use this patch, but I need to alter my plans slightly. I plan to think about it for a few days before sticking my shovel in the ground.

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As a footnote, I also had the technician mark the routes to the edges of the property, even though I don’t have immediate plans in this area. In the picture below, you can see the orange markings heading toward the white fence in the back. I will be taking careful measurements over the next few days before the markings wash away. That way, when I do make plans, I will know what challenges I’m facing.

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So, remember to call before you dig. It’s not just for people with backhoes!

Happy gardening!!

Cowpeas — here, there, everywhere!

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The first wave of cowpeas has now yielded the first cowpea harvest of the season! And given that this is the first time I have ever tried growing them, this was my first cowpea harvest ever!! Aside from the “firsts” involved, there wasn’t all that much that was noteworthy about them. The total yield is shown in the picture above. These came from the pods in the picture below. That’s it.

As you can see, they were a mixture of black-eyed and pink-eyed (actually somewhat purplish, but they appear almost brown in this picture). Some of them were green, while others were cream colored. The pods included various shades of green, brown, and purple. If you are familiar with cowpeas or if you have been following my blog posts regularly, you will recognize that the purple pods yielded the pink-eyed peas, given that one of the varieties I planted was Pinkeyed Purple Hull. The others were all California Blackeyed #46.

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The small yield was not a surprise to me, as I had only planted a few seeds of each kind for the first wave. I did that largely to see how they did with the tight spacing prescribed for the SFG method. As best I can tell, they did just fine. Other than their tendency to lean toward any open space nearby, I didn’t detect any signs of stress due to crowding. To compensate for the small quantity, we added them to a batch of cream peas that we bought at the farmers market and had mixed cowpeas with our dinner. We enjoyed them very much.

What surprised me was that the black-eyes ripened up all at once, but the pink-eyes ripened one or two pods at a time. The black-eyed plants mostly died as the pods matured; the pink-eyed plants are still growing and are still producing a few pods every day or two. You can see them in the picture below, nestled in between marigolds and a tomato.

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I planted considerably more seeds for the second wave, so I should get a much bigger yield. For this wave, I planted three varieties: Mississippi Silver, Red Ripper, and SaDandy. They have all grown enough to where I can see significant differences in their characteristics now. The Mississippi Silvers are shown in the picture below. About a week ago, they very suddenly displayed a tendency to get very floppy, for lack of a better word. They haven’t produced vines or had a tendency to run along the ground; they simply flopped over and didn’t stand back up. I ended up rigging a support out of bamboo stakes and stretchy plant tie tape — partly to get them up off the ground, but mostly to give myself room to walk, so I could get to my zucchini and tomato containers.

Other than the floppiness, they appear perfectly healthy. They are producing pods, which should be ready in another week or two. As I understand it, the pods are supposed to turn silver when they ripen, which is where they get their name. I’m looking forward to seeing them.

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Of all the varieties, the Mississippi Silver had by far the prettiest flower. You can see one of the blossoms below.

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The second variety of wave two is the Red Ripper. This is the one that is supposed to vine, and they have now started doing just that. Many of the plants needed help finding the trellis that I placed along the center. Instead, they lay down outward, away from the trellis and started running along the ground. As with the Mississippi Silver, I rigged up some supports to help guide them toward the trellis and to give me room to walk. They are not showing signs of producing peas yet, but this is consistent with what I have read about them.

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The last of the wave two varieties is SaDandy, a traditional Southern variety of cream pea with a reputation for excellent taste. These plants are still standing very erect with no signs of flopping over or producing runners. They are producing many pods which, as you can see below, are being held up above the foliage. Based on the size of the pods, I will not be surprised if these are ready to pick before the others.

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The third wave consists mostly of California Blackeyed #46 and Pinkeyed Purple Hull, with just a few Mississippi Silver, as I finished off that seed packet with this planting. There is nothing spectacular to report about this wave. They are simply growing as I would expect. Here’s a picture of how they look now.

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As you may recall, I pretty much ran out of room when I planted wave three. Well, it just so happened that I had a flower bed that had basically fizzled. The last of the sunflowers had gotten ripped down by one of our infamous summer thunderstorms, other varieties had never done much, and the weeds were beginning to take over. Here’s what it looked like:

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So, I decided to replant that flower bed and use it for more cowpeas at the same time. I saved the few remaining healthy flowers, but mostly did a complete restart. After cleaning out the weeds, I planted alternating patches of cowpeas and flowers. The cowpeas include the remaining SaDandy (only a handful), the remaining Pinkeyed Purple Hull (a few short rows), and the remaining Red Ripper (about three short rows along the fence, so they can climb), with California Blackeyed #46 everywhere else. The flowers include two varieties of sunflower (Autumn Beauty and Irish Eyes) and three varieties of native Florida wildflower (scarlet sage, gaillardia, and coreopsis). All of these are good nectar sources for butterflies and other beneficial insects. As you can see below, the cowpeas have gotten off to a good start. Some of the wildflowers are also beginning to appear but are hard to see here. I have not seen any signs of sunflowers yet.

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As a postscript to all this, I am hoping to continue with a wave five. I just need to figure out where to plant it. In addition to the black-eyed peas I have remaining, I have also gotten my hands on another variety, which my wife and I found at the farmers market and have been enjoying very much all summer: Zipper Cream peas. They are a type of crowder cream peas, in that they have the mild, smooth taste of cream peas, but the peas grow very large in the pod, literally crowding against one another. I am looking forward to growing some. I just need to find a space!

Happy Gardening!

Odds and Ends

This past week was one of those weeks. I’m sure you’re familiar with the kind of week that happens now and then when some of life’s other priorities demand time and attention that you much would rather spend gardening. It was one of those. As such, my gardening activities dropped off to a minimum over the last few days. Fortunately, this weekend has provided the opportunity to finally get back into the garden, so I spent some time on odds and ends — literally.

But first, an update on the status of my fall garden starts …

The first wave tomatoes and peppers, detailed here, are doing quite nicely as you can see in the picture below. All of them are looking strong and healthy, with one exception. At the time I transplanted them recently, I noticed that one of the large red cherry tomato plants was nearly severed close to the base of the stem. I do not know how this happened. Because of this, I buried it pretty deeply when I transplanted it, so that the damaged part of the stem was below ground. It lay weakly on the soil at first, but now it is beginning to stand up on its own. I wouldn’t say it’s in the clear yet, but it does look promising. The rest are doing as I would expect at this stage. I’ve been taking them outside the screened enclosure for a few hours a day to help them get accustomed to the full, unfiltered sun.

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My second wave plants, detailed here, are also coming along nicely. Nearly all of them have sprouted, as you can see below, so it’s about time to start putting them in more direct sunlight. Although the sun looks bright in this picture, the place where they’re sitting is shady most of the day. This picture was taken in the late afternoon, during a period of maybe half an hour a day when the sun shines on them directly.

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The odds.

Now, on to the odds and ends, starting with the odds. In this week’s mail, I received my last set of tomato seeds (for now, anyway). I only got three varieties this time, but each one is a bit of an oddball. I planted two of each yesterday.

  • Carbon — Heirloom aficionados often rave about the taste of black tomatoes, yet many people have never heard of them and would very likely pass them up if offered. If you expect tomatoes to be red or if you tolerate the occasional well-maybe-okay-I-guess-so-yellow, then a black tomato will look just plain wrong to you. It will be largely red, but will also have dark splotches here and there on the surface and on the inside. To the aficionado, a black tomato represents the kind of rich, complex, subtle combinations of flavor you just can’t find in ordinary reds. By way of analogy, the black tomato is a bottle of red wine from the reserve list, whereas a red tomato is the house red. Grocery store tomatoes are more like a cheap white Zinfandel. The Carbon tomato, as the name suggests, is a black tomato that produces well, yields uniformly round, mid-sized fruits, and often wins taste awards. I have never grown a black tomato before, so I figured I would start with this one.
  • Kewalo — There is nothing odd looking about this tomato, which produces a medium sized, round, red fruit. What is unusual, though, is that it is one of the few open pollinated (i.e., non-hybrid) varieties developed specifically to do well in hot climates. Not only does it tolerate heat, it is resistant to several tomato diseases common to this area. It was developed at the University of Hawaii. I decided to try this one to see how well it does for me in Central Florida.
  • White Beauty — This tomato is probably the most unusual of the three. White tomatoes are fairly rare, and this one even more so. The White Beauty is said to be the whitest of the white tomatoes (which are typically more of an ivory color). White tomatoes are not well known for their taste, and this is no exception. They tend to be high in sugars and low in acid, giving them a sweet taste, quite unlike the taste we generally associate with tomatoes. I’m growing this one more out of curiosity than anything else.

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The ends.

As for the “ends,” I started rooting the top ends of two edible bromeliads, more commonly known as pineapples. There is a vendor at our local farmers market who sells fresh pineapples. He cuts the top off with a knife and then uses a nifty little gadget to core and slice a whole pineapple with just a few twists of his wrist. I bought one yesterday morning and then asked him if I could have the top. He said, “Sure! How many would you like?” So, I took two.

From what I have read, it’s really easy to take a fresh top and turn it into a new plant. You place it in a pan of water about half way up to the bottom of the leaves, and you leave it there for three days. After that (whether you see roots or not) you plant it in good soil. It does the rest. It takes anywhere from 24 to 36 months to produce another pineapple, but in the meantime, you have a nice tropical plant. The picture below shows these two sitting in a tray lid with about an inch of water. Perhaps I should name them Mutt and Jeff. Better yet, maybe I’ll call them Odd and End.

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Happy Gardening!

Wordless Wednesday Waiting Game

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Impulse Gardening

Regular readers of this blog have undoubtedly discovered by now that I tend to be somewhat methodical when it comes to my garden. But that’s not always the case. Over the course of the last few days, I brought home a total of six plants (five different kinds) on occasions when I had gone out specifically to get something else.

On the first occasion, I had gone out to buy nursery pots so that I could transplant the first wave of fall plant starts, as detailed in the blog post, Seasons in the Sunshine State. Now, you would think that in a town the size of Orlando, there would be plenty of stores at which to buy plain old, ordinary, plastic, cheap plant pots. But, no. So far, I have found a grand total of one place where I can buy them. Had I planned ahead, I could have ordered some online, but I didn’t, so I made the trip across town to Urban Sunshine, a retailer that specializes in organics and hydroponics. It just so happens that they also carry nursery pots. The size I wanted was a whopping 50 cents apiece, so I was happy.

But, wouldn’t it be silly to drive all the way across town and come home with nothing but fifty-cent plastic pots? Of course it would. It would also be silly to pass up the gorgeous zucchini plants that were only $1.95 apiece, right? It would be even sillier, given that I had the organics experts right there to tell me how to address my squash vine borer problem! Right? I thought you’d agree. Never mind that at $9.95, the bottle of Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew with Spinosad, which is what they recommended, cost more than the zucchini plants and the pots put together.

So, I came home that day with two brand new zucchini plants, a bottle of organic insecticide, and of course, my nursery pots. I didn’t really have good places available in my garden for the zucchini, but I did have some unused 7-gallon containers, so that is where the new plants ended up. I didn’t think to take a picture of the zucchini up close, but you can see them in the picture below. They are in the second and fourth pots along the fence.

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After making enough Mel’s Mix to fill the two 7-gallon containers and enough to fill 32 small pots, I realized I was getting low on vermiculite. Since I buy it in 4 cubit foot bags, such as the one Emma is inspecting below, I don’t have to buy it very often. Fortunately, I have found a local supplier who always seems to have that size bag in stock, and they sell it at a good price. Unfortunately, that supplier is the one I had just come from, Urban Sunshine. Alas, back I headed across town.

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As expected, they had the 4 cubit foot bags in stock, so I got one. I was so pleased with the zucchini, I just had to look around again. What caught my eye was the cayenne pepper plant shown below. At only $1.95, I thought that was hard to beat. Before sundown, it was nestled into its new home in one of my raised beds.

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This time, rather than plan a trip across town for just one thing, I decided to stop by Home Depot on my way home to get that other raised bed kit I’ve been thinking about. After finding exactly what I was looking for, I thought I would look at the tomato plants to see if they had any interesting heirlooms that I wasn’t already growing. Not only did they have 1-gallon pots of two different varieties that I was interested in, their 1-gallon plants were on sale at 3 for $10. So, I came home with two heirlooms and a hybrid developed specifically to perform well in the hot Florida summer. The heirlooms are a Mr. Stripey and a Yellow Pear. The hybrid is a Solar Fire.

I planted the heirlooms in my remaining two 7-gallon containers (first and third containers along the fence row above). The Solar Fire ended up in the raised bed near the Cayenne. Here’s a picture of the Mr. Stripey:

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Here’s a picture of the Yellow Pear:

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And here’s a close-up of the Yellow Pear’s tomatoes, already on the vine:

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Happy gardening!

Sixty-Four Promises

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This morning I planted the second wave of tomatoes and peppers for my fall garden. The first wave was planted in early June, and those plants have all been moved from their starter tray into medium-sized pots filled with nutritious Mel’s Mix. They’re spending all day in the filtered sunlight of our screened-in pool enclosure now. They’re still small enough to where I pull them in under a shelter if it looks like we’ll get a heavy downpour. Soon, I will start exposing them a few hours at a time to full-strength sunlight in the yard. Before you know it, they will be out there full time.

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This morning’s planting is part of my continuing quest to find the best time of year to start fall plantings. As I reported previously, last year I started my tomatoes and peppers in early August, but didn’t see the first ripe fruits until New Year’s Day. Is it asking too much to harvest my fall garden during the fall?

Logic suggests that the first wave should be ready around the October/November timeframe, and that today’s plants should start to yield fruit in the November/December range. But then, I have been gardening long enough to know that gardens follow their own logic and do not always conform themselves to the human perspective. The bottom line is that these plants will be ready when they’re ready, assuming I do my part and Mother Nature doesn’t come up with any unwelcome surprises.

Today’s planting very nearly duplicates the first wave planting, as described in my earlier blog post, Seasons in the Sunshine State. In that wave, I planted two each of six varieties of pepper and 10 varieties of tomato, each of which is described in detail in that earlier post. Today I changed up the mixture a bit (three of some varieties, two of others, and some with only one), plus I added an eleventh tomato variety:

  • Virginia’s Yellow Tommy Toe — Although most written accounts credit their origin to the Ozarks, Tommy Toe tomatoes are frequently found growing as volunteers along the periphery or even outside of gardens throughout southern Appalachia. Given the patterns of human migration in recent centuries, I can’t help but give more credence to the oral history version that places the origin farther east. Unlike their more refined cherry and grape tomato cousins, Tommy Toes have not been selected for their sweetness. Instead, they tend to have more of the tangy flavor characteristic of full sized tomato varieties. They also tend to be disease resistant and to continue yielding fruit late into the fall, both of which are attractive qualities to me here in Central Florida. Tommy Toes are also commonly saved as heirlooms and passed down from one generation to the next. This particular variety is from Lee County, Virginia, which is the westernmost county in the state, bordering on both Kentucky and Tennessee where the three states meet at the Cumberland Gap. Although I don’t have any childhood memories of that region, many of my ancestors just a few generations back either lived in or near Lee County or passed through the region while migrating to Kentucky. I purchased these seeds from the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center.

The full list of varieties for today is as follows:

  • Peppers
    • Black Hungarian (2)
    • California Wonder Sweet (2)
    • Fish (2)
    • Jalapeño M (1)
    • Jalapeño Traveler (1)
    • Long Red Cayenne (1)
  • Tomatoes
    • Amish Paste (3)
    • Brandywine (1)
    • Brandywine Suddath’s Strain (1)
    • Cherokee Purple (3)
    • Large Red Cherry (2)
    • Lemon Drop (2)
    • Riesentraube (2)
    • Super Sioux 2011 (2)
    • Super Sioux 2012 (2)
    • Vinson Watts (2)
    • Virginia’s Tommy Toe (3)

Taken together, this adds up to 32 starter tray compartments. Each compartment holds the promise of a season’s worth of growth, leading to whatever yield is within that plant’s potential. In turn, as I dropped the seeds into each compartment, I made a promise to nurture the tender seedlings and to tend to the plants as best I can throughout their lives in my garden. This seasonal ritual represents an interspecies pact as old as civilization itself. Yet, for me it’s as fresh as this morning’s planting.

Happy gardening!

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