As the Winter Solstice approaches, the chances that cold weather will strike, even here in Florida, are increasing. Our Wild Bird populations typically count on their native habitats to provide food for the Winter – and increased fat and protein intake is essential for keeping birds warm.
But as their native habitats are being given over to development, and developed land is being wiped clean of their natural food sources (berries, insects, etc.), it’s a good idea to give wild birds a little helping hand, especially if you enjoy bird watching.
Today I’ll give you my Top 3 Tips for Feeding Wild Birds in Winter. Think of it as a holiday gift for your feathered friends.
Tip #1: Increase the number of wild bird feeders (and your stock of wild bird food)
Wild Birds needs MORE food to keep warm on cold days. They stay warm by retaining their body heat within their fluffed feathers. They generate body heat through movement, shivering (quick flexing & relaxing of muscles over and over again), and increasing their heart rate.
Birds burn fat and protein for warmth.
This activity of warming themselves burns more fat and uses up a lot of protein to keep them at optimal temperature, so having extra fat and protein calories available from you is super helpful to wild birds on those cold days.
One way to give them more food is to position more feeders in your yard. Add a few larger feeders this time of year so that you don’t have to refill as often.
Can birds survive without your help? Sure. Nature finds a way. But the benefits of feeding wild birds aren’t just for them, they’re for you too! The joy of watching these small creatures is immense – and better than television!
There’s even a workshop this Saturday 12/14/19 from 9a-1p to decorate your own, and learn about what birds like which seeds too! Link below in the text.
Attend our Holiday Maker’s Workshop this Saturday, December 14th, from 9a-1p (come any time during that time) to Decorate a Bird Feeder. See more details here. We’ll be showcasing our feeders and wild bird homes too, and letting you know about our Bulk Seed Weigh Station, where you can learn about making custom seed blends for your backyard critters!
Tip #2: Use Suet & All-Natural Peanut Butter as Wild Bird Supplements
Suet – a natural fat source
Adding more seed is great for wild birds, but during the coldest days of the year, additional fat is definitely helpful. Using suet – which is like lard, the remnants of beef fat after processing – and all natural peanut butter (NO ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS OR HONEY! TOXIC TO BIRDS!) is a great way to add extra fat to your feathered friends’ diets.
Commercial suet is the safest form of suet – it contains the proper ingredients to keep it from turning into a liquid a higher temperatures.
In a state where the temperature can fluctuate nearly 60 degrees in a day (from freezing to the 80s isn’t uncommon, right?) commercially-produced suet blocks are the best bet. And here’s a cage to put it in.
Peanut Butter, Fat & Protein Source
For peanut butter, you can use things like pine cones to load up with a peanut butter and seed mix to place out into the yard – they’re easy to hang on tree limbs or from other feeders. There’s lots of recipes for peanut butter bird mixes online and ways to present them to the birds too.
A couple of other fun DIY ideas:
Take an apple, cut it in half, scoop out the core, and fill with peanut butter and seed mix. Some birds really like fruit so nothing goes to waste! Place on a flat surface for birds to enjoy. Or, you can use the stem to hang it, or use a stainless steel screw and screw it in (it can be used again in the future!)
Another idea: Use a paper towel or toilet paper roll to coat with peanut butter, then roll it through a seed mixture. The more peanut butter you have on there the more seeds will stick to it. Then string a string through the tube and hang!
Use a jar or tin can or an old coffee cup to make different variations of bird seed feeders!
Tip #3: Wild Birds Need Consistent Access to Clean Water
Seems counter-intuitive to us, since we don’t typically bathe outside when it’s cold out, but birds require access to clean water on a consistent basis, not just for drinking, but for bathing too.
Regular bathing keeps their feathers working properly, allows them to fluff and retain the heat that they generate to keep warm. If their feathers are not clean and fluffy, this doesn’t work.
Luckily for us here in Florida, we don’t usually get enough long cold freezes to ice over a bird bath or pond for long periods of time. But, you will need to still keep the water clean and debris-free during the winter so that your birdie friends can come take a sip, or a nice bath, whenever they need it.
Those are my Top 3 Tips for Feeding Wild Birds in Winter! I hope this was helpful to you.
We want you to share the love of bird watching with us! It could easily become your newest favorite past time.
We here at Shell’s have an extensive variety of seeds for your bird friends as well as different kinds of feeders for you to present that seed mix.
In honor of the City of Tampa fertilizer ban ending this week, I thought it might be fun to answer one of our most asked questions:
“What fertilizers am I supposed use in my garden, and how do I know which ones are needed for each plant?”
Gosh, this is a fun one – and we get asked questions similar to this all the time. So, I’m ready to dive in to decoding fertilizers today.
The first thing I think you need to know about fertilizers is what the 3 numbers on the front of the container mean. These numbers indicate the amounts of the Macronutrients of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium in the formula.
Often called the “N-P-K”, which stands for “Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium,” this fertilizer indicator shows you two things: 1) The ratios of nutrients relative to each other; and 2) How many pounds of this product you would need to add 1 pound of that nutrient to the soil.
N-P-K Indicates Relative Ratios
The N-P-K numbers give you what is called “guaranteed analysis” that shows the amounts of the macro nutrients in each bag. It sets the standard for the contents of each bag.
For the ratios, a 10-10-10, or 3-3-3, will have the same exact amounts of all 3 nutrients throughout the entire bag. A 12-6-8, or 6-4-6, will have different amounts of nutrients throughout the entire bag. Higher numbers mean more of that nutrient was added to that formulation, in relation to the relative amounts of the other nutrients.
Since all these different formulations exist, it stands to reason that different ratios of nutrients are good for different plants. In fact, specialty ratios have been developed for certain types of plants. This is why you see specialty fertilizers such as Rose, Azalea, Palm, Citrus, Strawberry, Blueberry, and more.
These special formulations have been shown to increase the growth and production of these specific plants because of the ratios of the three main nutrients. It is based on how those plants assimilate nutrients, how they use them, and observational studies of which nutrients give the maximum amount of the desired result. Yep. it’s science.
Often, these specialty fertilizers will also have additional ingredients too, like micronutrients, humates, mycorrhyzae, etc – check out the back of the bag to see what goodies are in there for those special types of plants.
Alright, up next, it’s time for some math. Ugh, adulting is hard.
N-P-K Indicates Relative Weight
Now, speaking about the second characteristic of the N-P-K rating, the amount to apply to reach 1 pound of that nutrient in the soil, we need to do a little math.
Here’s a simple example: Shell’s 10-10-10 N-P-K fertilizer indicates that you will need 10 pounds of the fertilizer to add 1 pound of each of the nutrients into the soil. You do this math by taking 100 (indicating 100%) and dividing it by 10.
100 / 10 = 10 lbs of fertilizer is needed to yield 1 pound of nutrient applied to soil.
If the N-P-K numbers are all different, like our Shell’s 4-6-8 Citrus Fertilizer, then you’d take each of those numbers and divide them into 100. Your answers will tell you how many pounds of that fertilizer you’d need to put 1 pound of that nutrient into the soil, like this:
So basically the N-P-K numbers are “weights” in a ratio format. Basically the higher the number, the LESS fertilizer you need to achieve the same result.
I know, it’s a little confusing sometimes, especially when you’re dealing with the N-P-K’s with different values for each nutrient.
What Nitrogen Does for Plants
Nitrogen is essential for healthy plant growth. It is an essential component in the process of photosynthesis, and as such it is needed to grow leaves and the stems to support them.
Plants with not enough nitrogen will show yellowing leaves that fall off easily. Plants with too much nitrogen will have leaves that yellow then brown and become “crispy” as the whole plant shrivels and dies (nitrogen burn). So nitrogen has to be in the right balance to help plants.
What Phosphorus Does for Plants
Phosphorus helps plants convert nutrients taken in by the roots and converting them into building block for the plants in their growth process – for example, making proteins that keep stems strong. Phosphorus is essential for root development.
Plants with not enough Phosphorus will have a classic “failure to thrive” identity – they will be small, and will have difficulty flowering or fruiting. Their root systems will be under-developed. They may have either a very bright green or a purple hue to them – these are both signs of Phosphorus deficiency.
What Potassium Does for Plants
Even in modern science today, the specific interactions of Potassium with plants remains a mystery. That said, we know what happens with plants when they don’t have enough, so we can extrapolate from that.
Potassium increases the rate of growth of the whole plant. It makes them use water more efficiently and makes them more drought resistant. With the correct amount of potassium plants are able to fight off disease and pests. They also produce more flowers, and fruits.
Potassium deficiency is hard to spot, but sometimes in the older leaves there will be brown spots, yellow edges of the leaves, yellow or brown veins. Overall the plant will not perform well.
How Do I Know If My Soil Has What My Plants Need?
Well, that’s pretty simple, really. Soil can be tested!
There are soil test kits – we carry them. There is also your local UF Extension office – they can test your soil for you, and if you need further testing, they have resources where you can have a more full analysis of your soil done for you.
If you’re serious about finding out a full analysis of your soil with a full report of what you can do to make it ideal, there are private and/or commercial facilities that will take your soil and test it with full reports.
I found a small list of providers at Fine Gardening’s website, edited to remove links that no longer work.
Woods End Research Laboratory PO Box 297, Mt. Vernon, ME 04352; 207-293-2457 www.woodsend.com
I definitely suggest starting with the local Extension service. They’re there to help!
Diagram of Plants and How Macronutrients Help Them
Side by Side Comparison of Nutrient Deficiencies
What Do I Use For My Vegetable Garden?
Now that you know all of this great information, the choice should be easy.
A well balanced fertilizer is great for your vegetables and herbs to help promote growth of the whole plant. Formulas like Shell’s 6-6-6, 8-8-8, and 10-10-10 are great for gardens. If you love the idea of organic food growing, Shell’s 3-3-3 Organic Garden Mix Fertilizer is AMAZING for gardens, lawns, landscapes, ornamentals…really anything you want to grow.
For your trees, ornamentals and specialty plants, there are a wide variety of specialty fertilizers available for them. Ask us when you get to the store and we’ll point you in the right direction.
I will say that it is very beneficial to have your soil tested for the Macronutrients. Your soil may not need fertilizer, and adding more would contribute to leaching of these nutrients in the the ground water and our beautiful Gulf of Mexico. When we add too much nitrogen, our porous soil allows the nitrogen to leach out, adding lots of nitrogen to our water table and our ocean. Then algae get a growth boost, and we have what’s called “red tide.”
“It’s like the old adage – too much of a good thing can be bad.”
The fertilizer ban legislation happened because of humans using too much chemical fertilizer in the environment and not planting plants that are native to Florida which tolerate the “challenging” soil we have here. Our soil is just fine for Florida native and naturalized plants – we only find it challenging because we try to grow things that normally wouldn’t grow here, and chemically force them to survive.
Compost, clean dry leaf litter, pine bark or needles, straw/hay, old mulch, and wood chips are all great organic matter to add to your soil. As it decomposes over time, all of the NPK nutrients in that plant matter is eaten by the critters and microbes in the soil. The Nitrogens, Phosphorus, and Potassium in those materials are thus made available to the plants that are growing now.
It takes time, but amending with organic material is the best long term way to ensure that your soil has plenty of N-P-K and other nutrients for your plants. And…organic materials can be collected from your yard either for free, or it’s kitchen scraps and other waste that would have gone to the landfill…which you can collect and compost yourself.
I hope this fertilizer tutorial was helpful to you! Let me know if you have any questions.
If you’ve been to our store, you know that in our garden amendments section we have LOTS of bags and bottles of stuff with funny names, maybe even funny smells, and not a lot of information written on them. I call it the “Garden Aisle of Mystery,” even in my own store.
I know that this section of our store, or any garden store really, can be kind of intimidating, and I want to fix that! So, I’m writing this series as a reference for you. This is the very first of a “mostly monthly” series I want to do to help you figure out what you might need for your lawn, landscape, and/or garden.
So, I’m going to go “mostly alphabetical” as I name and describe a few items per Episode. As I move forward I will probably do some video snippets to embed here on the website as a useful visual guide. Until then, well, you’re stuck with my writing and pictures. If you want some more quick definitions, check out our Garden Glossary.
DISCLAIMER: Before you read about a product and just guess that your lawn, garden, and/or landscape need something, I urge you to take the necessary proper steps: 1) have your soil tested, either with a test kit or through your local UF IFAS County Extension Office; 2) make sure that your plants really have the issue you think they have before treating with anything. We can help.
Also called Calcific Limestone, Dolomite, Dolomitic Lime, Ag Lime, Garden Lime – Agricultural Limestone is a powdery substance made of pulverized limestone. Limestone is mainly made up of Calcium Carbonate, but can also include Calcium Oxide, Magnesium Oxide, and Magnesium Carbonate.
Agricultural Limestone is used in soil to counteract acidity for plants that need a more neutral or alkaline soil to absorb nutrients. It increased the pH to make the soil more alkaline. Some plants require alkalinity or neutral pH to take up water and nutrients through the root systems. Also, for plants such as hydrangeas, often the pH of the soil dictates what colors the flowers will be.
In vegetable gardening, Agricultural Limestone is used to help combat diseases such as Blossom End Rot. This problem is very common in tomatoes and peppers where the soil does not have sufficient calcium and/or magnesium to complete the transformation of the flower into the fruit.
Blossom end rot is not your friend, make sure you add lime to your beds with veggies!!
Aluminum Sulfate, as with most powdered sulfur compounds, will decrease the pH of soil making it more acidic. This is useful when the soil is already too alkaline for the type of plants you want to plant in a particular place.
Aluminum Sulfate can be used for plants that like acidity, such has roses, blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons, and blackberries or raspberries. Also, again with hydrangeas, it will change the color of the flowers. It is an acidifier that doesn’t have to break down to provide the acidity. The pH will change instantly once it’s added to the soil.
This amendment should be worked into the top 6″ of soil with a shovel or rototiller for best results, and if you’re planting a lot of plants that require acidity in an area you can add it to the whole area to instantly provide the acidity the plants will need.
You know on regular bags of fertilizer there’s that 3-digit listing on the front, like 12-6-8 or 3-3-3? That’s your N-P-K indication required on all fertilizers. N = Nitrogen, P = Phophorus, K = Potassium.
Ammonium Nitrate is pretty much straight up Nitrogen. It gives your plants a boost when it’s bloom time and fruiting time. Plants use nitrogen to grow leaves and flowers and fruits.
This is also one of the things that we cannot sell during the June-September fertilizer ban because it will wash out of the soil and into our beautiful Tampa Bay and Gulf of Mexico during summer rains.
If you’re needing some nitrogen in this form, we’ll have it back on the shelves by October 1. In the meantime we have other organic solutions for you that are not subject to the City of Tampa’s fertilizer ban. Just ask us, we’ll help you out.
Blood meal is exactly what it sounds like. Blood from animals is dried into a powder. It is an excellent source of nitrogen and iron , and works as a soil acidifier too.
It is a dry powder because it is dehydrated, meaning all liquid is removed.
There are alternatives to blood meal, namely alfalfa meal and feather meal, which are also exactly what they sound like – ground alfalfa and ground feathers.
Bone meal is dried and pulverized bones from animals (and/or fish). When used in vegetable gardening it increases the flowering of the plants very quickly.
This is because bone meal is a great source of Phosphorus (the P in NPK), which is necessary to make flowers.
Alternatives to this are soft rock phosphate, urine, and manure. Manure will have to break down before it can offer phosphate, but bone meal, soft rock phosphate and urine all have it immediately available.
I know, I know, you’re thinking “urine, that can’t be right” but I promise, you read it correctly. If you can get over the possible “ick” factor you’re feeling right now, fresh urine is high in nitrogen, moderate in phosphorus and low in potassium and can act as an excellent high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer or as a compost accelerator.
So go ahead, pee in the garden! (C’mon, I had to say it, how often does anyone get to say it?)
Alright, that’s what I’ve got for this blog. I’ll go over more of the items in my Solving the Aisle of Mystery series as we move forward in time, so stay tuned for that.
In the meantime if you have questions about something on our shelves, don’t hesitate to ask.
Relocating your plant to a new home can be a little stressful to your plant. It’s suddenly got a new home, with new light, a new container, and room to grow. If you were a plant, what would you do first? Grow more leaves? Grow more roots? Just sit for awhile and ponder the meaning of this new life?
I know, I’m being silly, but in honor of our Fall Starter Plants arriving this week, I wanted to do a quick reference article to give you some Transplanting Tips for our starter plants.
All around the internet you’ll find gardener’s best transplanting tips, and a LOT of them are very different. That’s ok! The beautiful part about gardening is that we all have different experiences…we live with different soils…we have different plants. My best suggestion? Read as much as you can and figure out the best way for yourself. These are my tips that work for me.
Please note: This article is mostly referring to small vegetable and annual plants. Trees and shrubs have a different planting process, so make sure you know what to do with those!
Transplanting Tip #1 – Amend Your Soil First
Before you put your plant where you want it to be, prepare the area first. Whether your plant’s new home is a bigger container, in a raised bed, a square foot garden, a hay bale, or in the ground for a landscape, soil matters.
If you’re using fluffy potting soil in a container, you’ll need to add a bit more water at first. If you don’t, you’ll find that when you water your container for the first time, the soil will sink down. Now what looked like a full container will only be half to two-thirds full, and when you refill it you’ll bury your starter plant. That’s not good.
For in-ground and raised bed gardens, weed the area, pull back any mulching to expose the soil. Mix a palm-full of fertilizer (I like Shell’s Organic 3-3-3 – specially formulated for Florida Soil) into the top 6-10″ of soil with a trowel to aerate and loosen the soil. You want the bottom of the hole to be loose, un-compacted soil for several inches below where your plant’s root ball will be.
The little bit of fertilizer will help your plant through its initial period of adjustment, sometimes called “transplant shock”. Don’t use a lot, just mix in a small pile on your palm in about a 6″ x 6″ area.
If the soil is really dry, add a little water to help the soil reach a “crumbly” consistency, not muddy. This will help you with Step 2.
Transplanting Tip #2 – Make a Hole That’s Juuuuust Right
Goldilocks wasn’t a plant, but she had the right idea – she wanted everything “just so.” Plants do too, which is why we fuss over them, right?
I usually guesstimate the size of the root ball by the size of the container the plant is in. Using that approximation, I use 2-3 fingers on each hand to reach into the loosened, crumbly dirt. I then pull back the dirt into a hole that’s approximately the same width and depth as the root ball.
If you have a spare container laying around that’s the same size as the one for the plant you’re planting, you can use it to check your depth, but it’s not truly necessary.
The point of making the hole in this way is to keep you from burying the root ball too deep. You also don’t want to leave air pockets. Soil needs to touch roots to do its job.
Transplanting Tip #3 – Check Your Roots
OK, now it’s showtime. Grasp your plant loosely at the base of the stem with one hand, and the container with the other.
Lightly squeeze the soil inside the container, then lift the stem. If your container is flexible enough, you can also push the root ball up from the bottom.
Now look at your plant’s roots. Are there lots of visible roots that are thick and matted? Or is it mostly dirt showing there? Here’s an example of a root-bound plant versus a normal starter.
If your plant is severely root bound, you’ll need to squeeze and pull the roots gently apart to get them a little untangled. It’s a starter plant, so you don’t have to go crazy with this step, but they need a little separation so that they can find their new path into the soil’s ecosystem. Sometimes a couple of small slices with a pointed trowel will do the trick.
Transplanting Tip #4 – Place Your Plant In Its New Home
Alright, you’ve arrived ahead of time and put all your plant’s favorite things in its new home. You opened the door. Now it’s time to welcome your plant home!
Place the root ball gently into the hole you made. Your starter plant’s soil from its original growing container should just about line up with the soil of the plant’s new home.
Gently but firmly press the root ball and the new home’s soil together to get them acquainted. You want to make sure the big air pockets are eliminated and that your soil won’t sink too far when you perform the next step.
Don’t press so hard that you break the connection between the stem and the roots! I’ve done it. That’s why I wanted to mention it.
Transplanting Tip #5 – Water It In
Whether you’re planting one plant into a new container, or an entire bed or row of them, the last step is to water them in.
Watering helps eliminate the remaining air pockets from the transplanting process and helps the roots shift into a position to grow in a downward direction like you want them to.
You don’t need to water a lot at first. Do the initial watering of the soil, avoiding the stem and leaves if possible, until the soil is wet but no puddles remain. Give them a day to get adjusted to their new environment.
The next day you can add them to your normal watering routine. I will say that most starter plants will need to be watered a bit more until they get established. The soil doesn’t have to be drowning, but it shouldn’t completely dry out either (unless you’re dealing with succulents or cacti – that’s a whole new ball game right there).
I hope my transplanting tips are helpful to you as you plant your garden this season! What are your favorite tips and tricks for transplanting new plants into your garden? Tell me in the comments below.
Gardening in the Fall has been a favorite of mine ever since I was a child.
My dad grew 2 main gardens a year – Spring & Fall – which provided produce to eat for most of the year. When something died, he popped in a new seed or seedling, utilizing all his garden space to feed himself.
The garden was his main source of food.
Knowing that seedlings can get off to a great start with the bright sun & high rainfall in August/September, Fall really is a great time to plant a garden in Florida.
Also knowing that cooler weather is coming to help us work longer hours in the garden (without heat stroke!) is definitely something to look forward to.
A bit of a rewind…
Did you know we started this blog in August of 2017? That means the blog is 2 years old this month! WOW, does time fly.
In honor of the blog turning 2, & Marissa’s birthday coming up TOMORROW (yikes another one!), we’re doing a review of a few articles already written on Fall Gardening in Florida here in the blog.
So often the answers to your garden questions are all RIGHT HERE. For free.
Most of you reading today weren’t even aware of the blog when it started; you may not know how much information is already here, ready & waiting for you to discover. Let’s show you a few, shall we?
Wow, looking back at these articles that were written right at the beginning of Spring season 2019, they were JAM-PACKED full of great garden planning. Much of that content was re-purposed into the 5-Day Challenge that just ran in our Facebook group earlier this month (mentioned in the section above)
If you prefer to read print info rather than watching videos, that’s cool. These two articles really break it down into actionable steps to take to plan a garden, save money, record your successes, failures & the entire enjoyable journey!
Part 1 covers using the almanac to assist you in your planning, why your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone is so important to know, deciding what you want to grow, analyzing the hours of sunshine you get in your selected growing spot, deciding your basic garden structure, & why a garden journal is so helpful to you.
Part 2 covers starting your garden from seeds versus starter plants, the importance of planning your water source for the garden, making sure that you have the time to take care of the garden you are planting, soil amendment, journaling, & some helpful tips like companion planting. I even have pictures of the plan for the garden I planted this past Spring in there for your reference.
A crash course in container plantings that have a theme, these Simple Container Plantings were created as a fun back-to-school project so that busy parents could have a Moment of Zen to relax via gardening, make something pretty, & get their hands dirty after they drop off the kids.
It includes plant-o-grams (you like that? I made it up!) for insect-repelling containers, a cooking & garnish garden, and a lovely leafy greens planting with simple coleus for color. Also a few tips on why containers are planted like they are, & what you really need to do to take care of them, and keep them thriving as long as possible.
We have a lot of information that is here for you, anytime you need it. To see the entire library, click this link and scroll through the entry “stubs” and images to see what might interest you. I’d love to hear your feedback.
**quick note** I am currently working on conforming to changes in the WordPress website blog formatting which has left some of my blogs difficult to read. If you are having issues with a particular blog please let me know right away – I see and respond to article comments, or you can email me: marissa at shellsfeed dot com (make that into and email address 🙂 )
Thanks for being a great customer and/or fan of our store (I realize some of you might be too far away to stop in and say hi).
We strive every day to be a fantastic community resource for gardening, urban farming, and pet supplies as well as having knowledgeable staff to help you out with your questions.
We’ll see you soon for your Fall Gardening supplies list!
You want a garden. You want to be proud of that garden.
Growing your own anything is an accomplishment in itself. It’s an exercise in patience, temperance, perseverence, observation, and getting your hands dirty, aka, sweat equity.
Not every person is cut out to be a gardener. It takes a special kind of human to give the kind of love that plants need.
Now, if you’re a beginner, there’s some things to know that will set you up for success every time.
Even if you’re a seasoned pro, these tips are often forgotten because “we got this” and just dive in and see what happens…often costing extra time, money, and precious resources.
There are 3 items that should be on your To-Do list to get that garden into TA-DAAA! shape before you even begin. Let’s get started!
#1: Decide Your WHY
It’s always good to sit down and decide what it is you want to accomplish. To know your “why”, you need to know a few things about yourself. Here’s the questions to ask:
Why do I want to garden?
Knowing your WHY is essential to defining your garden type.
For example, you want low maintenance houseplants that clean the air.
Or, you want to grow herbs to use in your cooking or crafts.
Maybe it is to grow healthy organic food for your family.
Or you want to grow cutting flowers for your hobby of making flower arrangements.
You will have different needs depending on your “why”. And depending on the other factors below, you may have multiple “whys”.
How much physical space do I have to garden?
Knowing your “WHERE” is important to discover.
This answer will vary for people. Some are gardening on a 3rd floor apartment balcony. Some garden in a community garden plot. Some on a 2 acre suburban farm. Others on a skyscraper rooftop. Maybe you just have space for a few containers.
Wherever you are, you can garden. So figure out what space you are dedicating to growing a garden.
A little side note here: If you have a big yard and you’re just starting out, pick ONE small corner or area to start. Tackling a huge space will only overwhelm you.
How much time do I have to garden?
It’s time for a quick check-in with reality.
The question of time is on everyone’s minds, right? You have to decide how much time you have to garden each day or each week.
My suggestion has always been this: Take the number of hours each week you think you can dedicate to gardening, and cut that in half.
Why, you ask? Because we always think we have more time than we actually do.
For instance, if you think that you can dedicate an hour a day every day, that’s 7 hours in a week. Cut that in half, that would be 3.5 hours a week.
With this example number in mind, look at the rest of your life with your “reality check” goggles on. Are you ACTUALLY able to carve out 3.5 hours in a week, every single week, throughout the season? Answer honestly.
Another way to look at it is to ask yourself, “Do I have 3.5 hours that I would carve out for ANYTHING ELSE that could be considered a chore, like going to the gym? Am I really dedicated to doing this gardening thing? Can I share the responsibility of garden care, like watering and picking veggies, with a spouse, partner, friend, or child, to help me out?”
Only you can answer these questions. I’m just here to ask them. And I hope you say YES!
Having a garden is a little like having a pet. You have to care for it consistently, maintain it’s “training” (weeding, clipping, pruning), and feed and water it on a regular basis too.
But the rewards are endless. I promise.
#2: Make A Garden Plan
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘plan your work and work your plan’? Well, that addage applies to gardening as much as it does any other large project in your life or work.
For example, Let’s say you’ve decided to accentuate your house with plants, you will need a plan for that. Some of the questions you’ll need to answer are:
How much care will they take?
How much light and water will each plant need?
Do I have the materials to repot my plants if they outgrow their current container?
How to I keep them from being messy tenants?
Do I have the essential tools & resources to take care of my plants?
As another example, if you’ve decided to grow your own tomatoes, you definitely need a plan for that. Some of the questions you’ll need to answer are:
What variety/varieties of tomatoes do I want to eat?
Where will my tomatoes get 8 hours of sunlight?
Is that area near my water source?
What kind of planting will I be doing? Container? Raised Bed?
Do I have enough soil & amendments to produce healthy tomatoes?
In these two examples, as you can see, your final goal determined what questions you needed to answer for yourself.
For those 5 days, Monday through Friday, I’ll be giving you one tip per day to create your garden plan in a Facebook Live video. I would love for you to join me live so we can interact and I can answer your questions right there.
Here’s another old saying that applies here: “If you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it.”
The proof of your successes, and the records of your failures, are very important to gardening. It helps you recreate the successes and build upon them. It also helps you avoid making the same mistakes over and over again (think: the definition of INSANITY).
The Garden Journal is where you plan out and record your observations of your garden. It’s where you photograph, sketch, write observations, record harvests. Heck, some people write down weather conditions and inches of rain received each day.
For some folks, it’s a simple spiral bound notebook or paper composition notebook with written daily or weekly entries.
For others, it’s an elaborate scrapbook of photos, sketches, notes, etc and bound up in a fancy album or book.
Whatever you like to do, I recommend keeping a journal for each year. If your journal book of choice has too few pages, one for each 6 months of your growing season, like Spring/Summer 2019 and then Fall/Winter 2019, will work just fine.
Possible things to record in a journal include:
The Garden Plan (see #1)
What you planted (and in what form, seed or starter plant)
Where you planted it
When you planted it (date)
How you planted it (did you add nutrients to the soil? did you mulch? is it a container planting? etc.)
Periodic observations of the planting – pick a period (daily/weekly) or decide that “3 times a week” is good and then see what works out in your schedule – either way, each entry should have a date on it.
When the plants first flower (for flowers and veggies)
When the plants first fruit (if you’re growing food)
When you harvested (again, for food)
When you collected seeds (if you do that)
Any pest problems and how you solved them (good opportunity for photos!)
Extra details like rainfall, soil amendments added during the growing season, how they performed where they were located, and any other observations
You get to decide how detailed you want to be, but I would at least make sure to record a minimum of the things listed above in order for the journal to serve as a guide to future success (or, avoidance of failure).
To get started with Creating a Garden Plan of your very own, join me in the Shell’s Garden Community group July 29-August 2 for Facebook Live videos where I walk you through the process. I’ll give you tips, tricks, and advice, and answer questions live during the video as well.
Please join me!
Until then, think about your WHY – and let’s get ready for some gardening!
We’re going to talk about recipes with ingredients that are still probably ready to pick in your yard right now. But if your Spring veggie plants are already gone, I totally understand. I live in West Central Florida, where right now, when it’s not raining, we’ve been having Heat Index days topping 108, 109, 110 degrees Fahrenheit. This is instant sweating, flip-flop melting, HOT weather.
Because of the heat my Spring garden is pretty much on its last legs – the tomato “understory” (lower leaves) is dying out while the tips of the plants are still healthy looking and flowering/fruiting. When I do get some tomatoes they are usually split from the rain deluges before I get a chance to let them grow to full size or ripen. But, my hot pepper plants seem to be doing just fine.
When life gives you green tomatoes, of course being a Southern girl, there’s only one thing to do: you fry them. It’s one of my favs so I’ll share it with you! We’ll also do some yummy things with jalapenos which you might not have thought of doing. Finally, to help cool you off after all that heat, we’ll use some Mint that’s going crazy trying to find its way out of the container it’s planted in right now to make some Mint Lemonade.
Fried Green Tomatoes
Yes, Fried Green Tomatoes is the title of a wonderful and famous movie. But it’s also a great way to use up tomatoes that may not make it to ripening (usually because they have split at the top). The rest of the tomato is fine when they split, they’re just not pretty, and they tend to eventually dry up or get mold growing on them if they didn’t heal their split before picking.
Sometimes, though, you just want to take a regular healthy green tomato and make this dish. And that’s OK too. Let’s get to it!
Green tomatoes, sliced in 1/3-1/2 inch crosswise slices (depending on how big your tomatoes are) – see example photo
Eggs, whisked – number of eggs will vary depending on how many tomatoes you are preparing
Corn meal – finely ground – if you don’t have this, I’ve also had good luck with bread crumbs or crushed plain cornflakes (not the sugary kind).
Paprika – season to taste
Salt – season to taste
Pepper – season to taste
Slice your tomatoes as described above, and place on a plate. Sprinkle with salt & pepper, and set aside.
Whisk one egg in a shallow bowl. Place an additional shallow bowl in an “assembly line” on the counter. You will place the corn meal & paprika in the second bowl, and mix these dry ingredients together well.
Take a heavy skillet, cast iron if you have it, and fill to 1/2″ full with vegetable oil. Set it over medium-high heat. Allow the oil to heat up to just before smoking point (the surface will usually shimmer slightly just before starting to burn). If you don’t know if it’s ready, take a pinch of corn meal and toss into the oil – it should readily sizzle and start to brown right away.
When the oil is warmed up, dip your tomatoes one at a time in egg, and then coat in the corn meal mixture, making sure the tomato is well coated. Place the coated tomatoes carefully into the oil, making sure they don’t touch, stack, or overlap (and be careful not to splash yourself!). Allow them to cook in the oil until they are nicely browned, about 2 minutes per side if the oil is hot enough.
As you move through the sliced green tomatoes, refill the egg and corn meal mixture in your shallow bowls as needed through this process.
Transfer the golden-brown tomato slices to a paper-towel lined platter. The aluminum “disposable” baking tins lined with paper towels are really handy for this too if you’re cooking a lot of them, as the tall sides keep your stacks of tomatoes and paper towels from falling over.
Repeat this process until you finish all of your tomato frying. Serve warm or room temperature (I even like them cold…).
Suggestions for serving:
Make a toasted Bacon, Lettuce, & Fried Green Tomato Sandwich (otherwise known to me as a BLFGT) with mayo, or for a little spice you can use the Roasted Jalapeno Sauce I make (recipe below).
Use a Fried Green Tomato as the base for a stackable snack, such as a layered FGT, goat cheese, and prosciutto appetizer!
Ever had a Grilled FGT & Cheese sandwich? Works as a panini too!
Start with a FGT, add a thin layer of marinara, some diced pepperoni or crumbled italian sausage, top with some shredded mozzarella. Toast them in a toaster oven for 2 minutes, and make a FGT pizza bite!
FGT Cheeseburger. You’re welcome.
The possibilities are endless!
Some people just can’t get enough heat in their food. If you want to make your own hot stuff and use up the jalapenos that are going bananas on your pepper plants right now, it’s actually pretty easy to roast them! Then you can put them on your burgers, your sandwiches, your hotdogs, or even make a spicy aioli/sauce with them.
I like to use a grill for this purpose, but you could do the oven. The instructions below are for the grill, but an oven at 400 degrees would give you a similar result I think.
Green and/or red jalapenos
salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste (or a pre-mixed seasoning like a Steak or Chicken seasoning if that’s all you have – if you’ve got some Latin ingredients, Completa or Adobo with Pepper works well too).
Heavy duty Aluminum foil sheets, 2 of the same approximate size
Take your fresh-picked jalapenos and cut off the stem, then cut them in half longways (stem to point). Open them up into two halves. Remove the seeds (dry and save them for next growing season if you like!).
Take one sheet of aluminum foil and lay it out flat, then fold up the edges about 1″ around. Arrange your halved jalapenos on your aluminum sheet inside the folded edges, the insides of the jalapenos facing you (skin facing the aluminum). Drizzle (or brush, if you prefer, but I like extra oil) these jalapeno “boats” with olive oil and then sprinkle your salt, pepper, garlic or other spice mixtures over all of them. You don’t need a lot, but you don’t want to be skimpy either.
The second sheet of aluminum covers the jalapenos and the turned-up edges of the foil are crimped into the top piece of foil, making a foil pouch. No openings are necessary for venting, but you can leave a small one if you like (I find the steam buildup helps the roasting process).
On your hot grill, place your foil packet on direct medium heat for 15 minutes and then lower the heat to low or move to indirect heat for another 15 minutes. Check your work after you move it off of the direct heat to see where you’re at roasting-wise. When done, your Jalapenos should look “flat” and a bit “soft” with a nice brown roast mark on the skin, but not be burnt or completely destroyed. You should still be able to take a fork or pair of tongs and lift them up in one piece. Remove from heat when they get to this point.
And that’s really it! Depending on your grill type you might need to experiment with time on the heat for the cooking part.
This is a good dish to make alongside other things you’re grilling, like burgers, hot dogs, corn, or whatever you’re making for your summer BBQs.
Put one or two on a burger for a great spicy kick!
Dice a roasted pepper and mix into sweet relish for a kickin’ hot dog!
Take a few peppers and make a spicy condiment for great pepper flavor in a creamy sauce (the next section below).
Add roasted jalapenos to homemade hummus for an unexpected twist! Also great to add a few roasted red sweet bell peppers for added sweetness.
Roasted Jalapeno Aioli/Sauce
I struggle with what to call this mixture, but I love it because it can be adapted to different uses. It has spice, and then the cooling effect of the dairy, so you can taste the pepper flavor without burning your face off. It seems the hotter the weather gets, the hotter my jalapenos get!
4-6 Roasted Jalapeno Peppers, prepared as above
1 cup Sour Cream, brand and fat content of your choice
1/2 cup Mayonnaise, Hellmans or Dukes or the like, NOT Miracle Whip (I love MW but it has the wrong flavor for this)
Optional: 1 tsp Cumin, cilantro leaves, lime juice
Use 4-6 roasted jalapenos per 1 cup Sour Cream, depending on how spicy you want it. Add the jalapenos, the sour cream, the mayonnaise, and any optional ingredients, into a food processor. Puree these items together, ensuring they are blended well and not chunky.
Use liberally on burger buns, dollop onto tacos in place of sour cream, spread on a Bacon, Lettuce & Fried Green Tomato sandwich – or wherever you think a little spice would taste delicious!
I use the Cumin when I’m making a sauce for tacos, it adds some great flavor! You could also add cilantro leaves and/or lime juice for even more flavor. You have permission to play with your food!!!
You should be able to store this sauce in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, and I haven’t found that it freezes well, but you could try.
So Fresh So Clean Mint Lemonade
When you think you’ve had all the hot and spicy you can stand, nothing cools you down like Mint Lemonade. I call Mint “the wonder herb” because not only is it an aggressive grower in the garden, but it helps with digestion, headaches, and it takes the sting out of spices. Mint oil also has a cooling sensation, so when added to drinks it’s like eating a really flavorful ice cube. And we all need something cooling when it gets this hot. Get ready to get refreshed!
P.S. Those familiar with Middle Eastern culture might see a resemblance to Limonana here! Yum!
6 fresh Lemons, 5 halved, one for garnish – you can use regular or Meyer lemons
Mint sprigs with leaves, about 1/2 cup of leaves with extra “pretty” sprigs set aside for garnish
2 cups granulated Sugar
6 cups water
A large pitcher
A muddler (or wood spoon)
A citrus reamer, if you have one, otherwise a fork and some elbow grease
First you need to make a simple syrup: Add 2 cups water and 2 cups sugar into a saucepan, heat over low to medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until all the sugar has dissolved. A clear syrup, or a golden yellow syrup is fine, but you don’t want a brown or tar-like syrup, so don’t let it burn! When it turns brown the sugar is caramelizing, and that has a different flavor profile. When the sugar is dissolved, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
While that syrup is happening, cut your lemons in half crosswise. If you have a reamer tool or simple juicer contraption, you can juice your lemons and the seeds will be removed during that process and the juice collected. If not, you can use a bowl and a mesh strainer to squeeze your lemons into – the mesh will catch the seeds and the big chunks of pulp. Use a fork to squeeze out as much juice from the lemons as possible. When you’re done squeezing the 5 lemons, you should have about 8 ounces of lemon juice, and some nice rinds for zesting (lemon bars, anyone?), and/or for the compost pile. You could also fill the rinds with a peanut butter and birdseed and set it out for the birdies to munch on…but I digress.
In your pitcher, sprinkle the bottom with about 2 Tablespoons of sugar and add about 1 Tablespoon of water. Mix it around to get the sugar wet and clumpy.
Harvest some leaves from your mint sprigs, a nice handful (about a 1/3-1/2 cup), and place in the bottom of your pitcher. Take your muddler and press the mint into the sugar until it’s crushed. This part is kind of like making a mojito! You don’t have to completely destroy the leaves but know that as you press you are releasing the mint oils that have the cooling and refreshing taste you’re looking for.
Once that’s done, pour the lemon juice and 4 cups of water over your mint mash. Stir. Your lemon juice and sugar and mint leaves will make a green-ish liquid. While stirring, add 1 cup of the simple syrup. Taste. If you want it sweeter, slowly add more sweetness to taste. You will probably have some syrup left over, which you can store in an airtight container for future use (like in mojitos! I might be obsessed).
To serve, fill glasses with cube ice and pour your lemonade over the ice. If you don’t want ice, refrigerate your lemonade until cold, an hour or two, and then serve. Some folks might want to pour through a strainer to catch the crushed leaf pieces; if you don’t mind some leafy greens in your lemonade, feel free to just pour. Add a sprig of mint and a lemon wedge to the glass. Enjoy!
I suggest keeping the mixture refrigerated and you should probably consume each batch within about 24 hours, as the fresh mint will lose it’s “mintyness” over time and turn brown in the drink.
I’ve been asking around, and found Summer Garden Veggies that will survive the heat – some I know you’ve heard of, and some that you maybe haven’t.
So lets expand our Summer food fare and try some new things, shall we? Here they are, in alphabetical order!
Cow Peas (aka Black-Eyed Peas)
Also called Field Peas, Zipper Peas, and a few other names, the many varieties of Cow Peas attest to their value as a crop. They are delicious and high in fiber, like most peas and beans.
Planted in June here in Florida, during the summer months they tolerate the heat (as long as they’re watered! Hunters have used them for a long time to plant their deer grazing plots, as deer LOVE them, and they are inexpensive seeds (we offer them in bulk packaging). They are also used as a cover crop to keep fields from going fallow. Cow Peas are nitrogen-fixers, which means that they naturally put nitrogen, one of the main ingredients in fertilizers, back into the soil, just by being themselves.
And when you get ready to plant in the Fall, just pick all the pods off, and till these babies under about 2 weeks in advance of your Fall planting to add even more nitrogen (and other organic matter) into your soil. Your garden will thank you.
These are small, currant-sized, flavorful tomatoes that have been naturalized to the Florida climate. You can find these growing wild in some areas, especially swampy sites. But I’ve also seen them growing out of sidewalks, so their hardiness seems to know no bounds.
The further South you are, the more likelihood that you’ll have fruit all year round. They will continually produce under the right conditions, and they will take the HEAT. Also, they re-seed themselves very readily, so if your initial plant stops producing, most likely one of the tomatoes has fallen off somewhere and you’ll have another plant very soon in some random spot. Just ask the Seminole Heights Community Garden here in Tampa, they have Everglades Tomato seedlings pop up everywhere.
Yes, they are small, but they are MIGHTY. Like other tomatoes, they are high in nutrients such as lycopene, Vitamins, alpha- and beta-carotenes, and many trace minerals too.
The Jerusalem Artichoke is a tuber-producing plant with bright yellow flowers. It’s almost like a potato plant mixed with a sunflower. That’s probably why they’re called “Sunchokes” in some places. Also called the Earth Apple, or Sunroot, it is, in fact, in the Sunflower family (Helianthus), not related to the artichoke, and is native to Central America, but grows wild all over the US as well.
It’s super easy to grow! You can buy the tubers from the grocery and plant those. It can make a nice tall flower row in your veggie garden, or get a special hybrid dwarf variety for ornamental flower beds.
The tuber can be used like a potato. It contains inulin, which is a carbohydrate that directly feeds your gut flora, and it is LOW in calories. You can easily make chips, hashbrowns, mashed sunchokes, vegetable soup, and more using the tuber. You can eat it raw or cooked, and the plants are really pretty when they flower! They are usually planted in early summer and can be harvested in Winter.
As a side note, several sources have advised that this veggie causes a bit of gaseous discomfort, so just keep that in mind and don’t make it the main course!
Jicama, pronounced “hee-kuh-muh” (actually there are multiple ways to pronounce it!), is a wonderful tuber native to Mexico. It’s sometimes called a Mexican Potato, Mexican Turnip, or Yam Bean. It’s not related to the yam. It is very rich in fiber, Vitamin C, and only 25 calories per half cup. It is used traditionally as a condiment, marinated in lime juice and chili powder and added to dishes for extra crunch and flavor.
But you can also cook with it! You can make potato dishes like fries or hashbrowns, put it in salad raw for crunch kind of like a water chestnut. I’ve used it in stir fry (I know, totally crossing cultures there!) in place of bamboo shoots because I didn’t have any and I loved it!
Jicama is the taproot of the legume plant it comes from, and is the only edible part of the plant. The leaves, seed pods, and flowers are all toxic and should not be eaten. It takes about 5-9 months to be ready for harvest, so if you plant in June, it will probably be ready by December or January.
Ah, here’s one you might not have heard of. Katuk, nicknamed the Sweetleaf bush (not *that* kind of “sweetleaf” ya’ll) is an Asian-native edible shrub that grows in the tropical rainforests of Cambodia, Vietnam, and other Asian rainforest climates. I’ve also seen them called “Star Gooseberry” plants, but less often.
It prefers moist shaded areas, but will tolerate full sun if it’s kept wet, and in either condition it loves hot and humid weather. One of the most amazing things about Katuk is that nearly the entire shrub is edible! Leaves, flowers, seeds, and tender shoots or the last 4-5 inches of the stems are all edible. The tender stems are like Asparagus. You can eat any of these parts of the plant raw or cooked.
One of the most remarkable things about Katuk is that nutritionally it’s about 50% protein – the older leaves holding the most nutrition. It is a very common dish in Asian cultures because of this. Isn’t nature AMAZING?
Malabar Spinach is a heat-tolerant vine native to Asia. Not related at all to traditional spinach, it has beautiful broad green heart-shaped leaves and a bright red to crimson stem (there is another variety that has a green stem), and grows up a trellis, mailbox, or flagpole quite nicely (up to 33 feet!)! It will take the heat and full sun with it’s semi-succulent leaves.
Ever had a Philipino dish called Utan? That’s Malabar Spinach cooked in sardines, garlic, onion, and parsley over rice. Yum!
Malabar Spinach is one of the only spinach-like plants that will thrive in the summer, and there are several other benefits to using this spinach in place of the cool-season varieties. First, the leaves are not “slimy” when cooked like traditional spinach. Next, the leaves are quite mild in flavor, not bitter or “peppery”, and so can be eaten raw or cooked, and are often a preferred way to get kids to eat their greens. Finally, it’s a great source of Vitamin A, C, Iron, and Calcium, and is high in protein per calorie.
These should be started from seed in the Spring, or you can start with rooted cuttings in June, and it will grow all summer long. If there’s no freeze, or if you can bring it inside on frosty nights, it will survive the Winter and keep on growing for you year-round. I’ve seen them come back after a mild freeze too! Many people I’ve talked to like Malabar more than Okinawa Spinach, another warm-season spinach “replacement”.
Moringa is called the Tree of Life, or the Miracle Tree, for many reasons. The leaves, bark, roots, flowers, and seeds are edible, and provide a LOT of nutrition. They are also used to make medicine in their native areas of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. According to several sources, the Moringa leaves and seeds have large amounts of Potassium, Vitamin C, Calcium, Protein, Vitamin A, Fiber, and Iron.
According to WebMD:
“Moringa is used for anemia, arthritis and other joint pain (rheumatism), asthma, cancer, constipation, diabetes, diarrhea, epilepsy, stomach pain, stomach and intestinal ulcers, intestinal spasms, headache, heart problems, high blood pressure, kidney stones, fluid retention, thyroid disorders, and bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic infections. Moringa is also used to reduce swelling, increase sex drive (as an aphrodisiac), prevent pregnancy, boost the immune system, and increase breast milk production. Some people use it as a nutritional supplement or tonic. Moringa is sometimes applied directly to the skin as a germ-killer or drying agent (astringent). It is also used topically for treating pockets of infection (abscesses), athlete’s foot, dandruff, gum disease (gingivitis), snakebites, warts, and wounds. Oil from moringa seeds is used in foods, perfume, and hair care products, and as a machine lubricant. Moringa is an important food source in some parts of the world. Because it can be grown cheaply and easily, and the leaves retain lots of vitamins and minerals when dried, moringa is used in India and Africa in feeding programs to fight malnutrition. The immature green pods (drumsticks) are prepared similarly to green beans, while the seeds are removed from more mature pods and cooked like peas or roasted like nuts. The leaves are cooked and used like spinach, and they are also dried and powdered for use as a condiment. The seed cake remaining after oil extraction is used as a fertilizer and also to purify well water and to remove salt from seawater.”
Wow!!! It’s easy to grow, takes the heat, and is good for you. What are you waiting for?
A beautiful, heat-loving flower, the Nasturtium is a common garden flower that comes in a variety of colors like yellows, oranges, and reds. They have a beautiful mounding habit with large round green or variegated leaves that provide the perfect backdrop to show off their flowers.
They have a wonderful fragrance and work well as a cut flower. The best part is, they’re edible! The leaves and flowers have a peppery taste that go well in a salad (in place of arugula which went to seed at the beginning to middle of Spring for most people in Florida.
Further, they are packed with nutrition and medicinal properties. Vitamin C, Manganese, Iron, Flavinoids, and Beta Carotene are all packed into this lovely package. Nasturtiums have been used to treat colds, bacterial and fungal infections, coughs, and even hair loss.
Once they start to flower, you really have to stay on top of the harvest, because if the pods grow too long they get fibrous and tough, and won’t taste good at all. If that happens, you can let them dry and harvest the seeds for next year’s crop.
Okra is used in a lot of Southern food, like cajun gumbos and creole stews, where it’s slick, moist nature really adds thickness to the dishes. You can also bake or fry sliced okra rings with corn meal, spices and salt for a wonderful side dish.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better food producer that’s this easy to grow.
Take me out to the ballgame…or the garden, actually, because you can grow your own Peanuts! Peanuts are a legume, like a bean, and they have an interesting way of growing.
Each of the pretty yellow to orange flowers of an edible peanut, not to be confused with the landscaping “flowering peanut”, makes a peanut. Once fertilized by pollination (usually bees or native wasps), the flower transforms into a “peg” on a stem that droops over to touch the ground. That peg then grows roots and nodules that become peanuts underground. How cool is that?
Peanuts are also nitrogen fixers. They take the heat, and add nitrogen back into the soil, so of course they make a great summer cover crop for Florida gardens. Once you harvest the peanuts by uprooting, put the plants and remaining roots back onto the soil and till it under, they’ll decompose and be a great source of organic nutrients for your Fall garden if done a couple of weeks before planting. Awesome!
You already know about peppers, but did you know that they do well in the heat? Many people have peppers that keep producing all year long!
Even if you don’t eat the hot peppers, they can ripen in so many different beautiful colors, it’s worth keeping them around. Maybe even give them to your hot-sauce loving neighbors. There are also ornamental peppers that have beautiful long-lasting colored fruits, just for decoration.
Full sun, and keep them watered! That’s pretty much all you need to know. If they wilt in the afternoon no matter what you do, maybe give them some afternoon shade to help them cope with our over 100 degree days. I will say that peppers native to tropical climates, like many of the hot peppers, do better in the heat than ones that have been bred for more temperate climates (like many bell peppers).
Purslane is a small, flowering succulent that grows wild in much of the US and other continents. Also called Wild Portulaca, it is very hardy, and many people for years have considered it an aggressive weed. But you can EAT IT – so why not control it by munching on it?
Purslane takes crunchy with a bit of a lemon tang. It’s been likened to watercress or even spinach, and can be a replacement for either. You can use it to thicken soups and stews because if its high levels of pectin. This also makes it good to partially substitute out oil in a pesto – you can use less oil when you add purslane.
Nutritionally, Purslane is high in Omega-3 fatty acid Alpha Linolenic Acid, or ALA, surprisingly enough, so it’s great for veggie lovers to get that extra boost of fatty acid. It also contains high amounts of Vitamin E, beta-carotene, Vitamin C, magnesium, riboflavin, potassium, and phosphorus.
Purslane also been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years in traditional medicines around the world to ensure healthy growth and development of children, for weight loss, to improve heart health, and to treat certain gastrointestinal diseases. It also has anti-cancer potential, protects the skin, boosts vision, strengthens the immune system, builds strong bones, and increases circulation. Strong anti-oxidant properties seem to be a prevalent factor in its medicinal use.
Sweet potatoes are a sweet treat that take the heat. You plant between April and early June for late Fall harvest, just in time for big holiday meals. We already have a Sweet Potato growing guide here on our site, and I gave some extra tips here in the blog in an article I wrote last year, so check that out if you’re wanting to know some tips and tricks for growing a great crop of sweet potatoes.
While they grow tubers underground to satisfy our holiday sweet tooth (with some brown sugar and butter), the young leaves can also be eaten in salads – they’re delicious!
As you may know, sweet potatoes are great for nutrition. With hefty amounts of beta carotene, they will raise the blood levels of Vitamin A quickly, especially in children, making that more available for growth and development. It’s also rich in Fiber, and this makes it very filling. Other nutrients present in significant amounts include Vitamin C, Potassium, Manganese, Vitamin B6 & B5, and Vitamin E. That’s even sweeter!
Wow, Yard Long beans, also called Asparagus beans, live up to their name! These are super-long beans that you can snap and eat like green beans, and they are a wonderful addition to your summer heat-tolerant garden.
I suggest you grow them on a trellis, as this will allow you to get the longest beans! If you can grow them on an arched trellis, point the beans downward in the “tunnel” and you’ll have an easier harvest…and a conversation piece too!
They are similar in texture to regular green beans, you’ll just need to chop them shorter to cook them (many won’t fit in your pan if left long!). You can also roast them like asparagus, thus their alternate name, though they are not a fibrous as asparagus. If you have eaten wild asparagus that grows along the fence lines of Montana pastureland, it is more like that – not chewy or woody at all, just a sweet young asparagus flavor, without the funny smelling side effect (you know what I’m talking about, right?).
OK, I’ll give you one more Florida Summer Garden plant as a bonus. It’s an herb and it has many relatives. I think that it’s relevant for Summer because it’s refreshing on a hot summer day.
There are so many kinds of mint, I can’t even begin to list them all. Remember in Forest Gump where Bubba (aka Buford Blue) talks about all the kinds of shrimp he wants to make? You can do that with Mint species. Some of the species in the Mint family are Peppermint, Spearmint, Chocolate Mint, Horsemint, and Catnip.
You can grow nearly any of them through the summer. I usually give mine some afternoon shade if I can, just to help them out. If you keep them watered, they’ll keep going! They are aggressive, but I think that’s a good thing. A friend of mine replaced her grass with Mint, which vined out and went everywhere. Every time she mowed the front yard the whole block smelled like fresh mint. That’s not a bad thing, is it? If you don’t want it to spread, keep it in a pot, and keep trailing ends from touching the ground, or it will root and take off.
Some would argue the best use of mint in Tampa is for Mojitos. Anyone else agree?
Alright, thanks for reading – I hope this helps you find some great growing options for your Florida Summer Garden!
Are you feeling it yet? That blistering white-hot H-E-A-T that signals that Summer is actually here already?
Yeah, me too. It’s starting to feel like a muggy oven out there, and actually, the heat can be dangerous if you don’t stay covered and hydrated appropriately. I know if I overheat and don’t drink enough water I get “wicked headaches” (borrowed that term from a Boston friend). So don’t do that!!
For most gardeners, summertime is a time to move some plants to areas that get a bit of afternoon shade, and to pull other plants out entirely when they can’t take the heat. I know that my compost pile is happy at this time of year. It’s also a brutal time if you’re battling powdery mildew (on top of the leaf), downy mildew (under the leaf), or other such funguses. Even if you’re only watering in the mornings so the sun can dry your crops, afternoon showers can ruin that attempt to keep your plant leaves dry and leave them soaking wet all night long…and you’ve lost Battle Fungus.
I’m not complaining – the weather here is actually why we have such success growing food, ornamentals, shrubs, & trees. But learning how to adapt to the weather we’re given is a key strategy for gardening success. Funny thing is…the rules change every single year. But there are some general Summertime planting guidelines that will help you get through the season that feels like we’re sitting on the surface of the sun!
Summer Gardening Tip #1 – Let The Healthy Spring Crops Keep Producing
Just because it’s Summer doesn’t mean that you necessarily MUST pull a plant. If the plant is healthy, disease-free, and still producing flowers, edible leaves, fruits, and/or veggies, let it be. Keep taking care of it, harvesting as needed, treating for pests as needed (hand-picking, organic, or regular methods all apply).
As we transition from Spring to Summer, worms become a huge issue, and you’ll need to be diligent picking them off and/or applying BT regularly.
Some of the crops that might transition well from Spring to Summer include:
Tomatoes, especially the smaller cherry, grape, and Everglades Florida Native variety tomatoes
Peppers – from Sweet Bells to Mild Poblano Anchos, to Jalapenos, Habeneros, Serranos and more, peppers have always grown really well for me in the Summertime.
Georgia Collards – they were REALLY hard to get ahold of this year from our grower (they had some issues with powdery mildew and had to discontinue them), but if you were lucky enough to pick up some Collards in early February from our plant shelves, they’re still producing great greens right now.
Onions – you can still grow great green and bulbing onions this time of year. Want some onion-growing tips? Here you go.
Sunflowers and some other annuals, such as marigolds, geraniums, pentas, pom pom flowers, zinnias, sunpatiens (in partial to full shade), coleus (in full shade), and some types of begonias too.
Woody-stemmed herbs like Rosemary and English Thyme (I know that last one is debateable, but my English Thyme grows really well partially shaded).
Herbs in the Mint Family – if not potted they can become aggressive, so they’re pretty hardy!! These include Mint, Peppermint, Spearmint, Chocolate Mint, and Catnip, among others.
Summer Gardening Tip #2 – Plant for the Heat
Maybe this seems obvious, maybe it doesn’t. This time of year, big box stores will sell you winter/early Spring crops, because they don’t really care that those plants most likely won’t survive. So, things like lettuces, broccoli, leafy greens & herbs, cabbages, squash, and more are sold to you in May in Florida, when their chances of survival are slim, at best. Don’t fall for it, unless you’re a really experienced gardener or have a microclimate in your yard that allows for survival of these delicate plants!
Lettuces for the most part are too fragile for the heat and would require almost constant shade this time of year to even possibly survive. Broccoli, cabbages, and many leafy greens require cold to be flavorful, which is why they make great winter crops. And with the heat, these plants will sing their final opera and send up their flower shoots and go to seed right away, seeing the writing on the wall…or rather, the thermometer.
For Summer, there are still some great crops you can grow, and you should!!
Sunflowers and native wildflowers will grow really well in our regular soil (without amending – but a top dressing of compost is really helpful!). If you’re looking to produce Sunflower Seeds, we have a lot of options for you, including bulk seed that has a decent germination rate, come check out our selection! Both of these are great for our local butterflies and pollinators. See flawildflowers.org for more details and species that will help!
Okra is a high-heat rock star, producing beautiful flowers followed by many, many tender pods for eating or pickling (pick them young – they get very tough when they’re older!). They will produce well even in 100+ degree heat – just make sure they are sufficiently watered! They are water hogs, and you’ll see why when you plant them – they make enormously thick stalks!
Cowpeas and black-eyed peas are awesome nitrogen-fixers for the soil – you can grow them all summer, eat the delicious peas, and then till the stalks/leaves under a couple of weeks before your fall planting.
Sweet potatoes LOVE the heat and will flourish all summer. You can eat the youngest tender leaves in salad, a bonus treat for you while you wait on the tubers to finish up at the first cold snap in the Fall/Winter. Need more sweet potato growing tips? Take a look here.
Summer Gardening Tip #3 – Increase Your Watering As Needed & Cover Soil to Hold Water
Your plants will need more water as it gets hotter, just like us humans. And just like our own skin, when a plant gets too hot, their leaf pores open and they release water vapor to cool the air immediately around them. If they don’t have enough water to replace what they release, they will wilt, which is characterized by leaves shriveling and stems bending/curling.
One of the ways to help plants hold on to some of the water from your irrigation is to mulch over the soil to help cool the soil and prevent evaporation from the sun. This can be done with compost, wood mulch, pine straw (fresh), dry leaves, hay, etc. Covering the soil is one of the key concepts of the Earthbox system – and one of the reasons these boxes are so successful. In a ground garden or raised bed, your mulch can be tilled under at your next planting, adding organic material to your soil that will break down over time and provide a steady stream of nutrients to your plants as well as increase water retention. Over time, continuing to add organic materials to your soil will make your garden area soil very nutrient dense and loamy, and less sandy.
Another way to conserve water is to use an organic-grower safe product called Hydretain. Hydretain, when applied in your next watering, helps bind water to the roots of your plants/turf/ornamentals and keeps it available to the plants for longer. It can save up to 50% of your normal irrigation water usage – it’s completely worth it, and really helps with that late-afternoon wilt that is so prevalent in Florida Summer gardens.
Summer Gardening Tip #4 – Observe & Report
Ever been part of a neighborhood watch group? The police contact for a neighborhood watch group will tell you that your job as a participant is to observe and report.
Well, it’s the same for your garden. Observe your garden daily, and at different times of day, to see where the sun and shade areas are, what plants wilt in the afternoon, what plants are no longer producing fruits and can be pulled, etc.
A garden journal is a helpful tool for this – if you’ve read my blog over time you’ll see this suggestion often because it’s really great to have records of what works, what didn’t, and brilliant ideas that come to you over your gardening career.
Summer Gardening Tip #5 – Solarize if You’ve Got Soil Issues
So, your garden got Fusarium Wilt, or Root-Knot Nematodes, or is just overrun with a horrendous invasive weed problem. Or, it’s just too dang hot to be out there working in the veggie garden.
One thing you can do to use that heat and eliminate those problems is to Solarize your soil. I wrote an article about that some time ago, and I invite you to go see it now if you’re interested in the particulars. Solarize Your Soil.
Note: You don’t need to Solarize your soil if you don’t have problems that are soil-borne. Solarizing will sterilize the top couple of inches of your soil, including the good organisms, so only use it if you’ve been overrun with problems.
Do you have any great Summer gardening tips? Feel free to share them in the comments below!
I hope this article was helpful to you for navigating our fiercely hot Summers while still having gardening fun.
As a reminder, Our last Monthly Community Seed Swap of the Spring 2019 season happens this Saturday, May 18, 2019, from 8:30-10:30 am. This is a free event – more details on the swap right here.
To Compost or Not to Compost – is it really a question? It’s the week before our EXCITING new class – Composting 101 on 4/27/19 at 10 am – and I wanted to write a blog about this amazing topic to entice you to take our super-informative class!
But first, maybe you aren’t really familiar with the term. So here’s a little help on that front.
What is composting?
Composting is taking organic matter and, through the natural process of aerobic (requiring oxygen) decomposition, making nutritious healthy soil for the garden, yard and landscape.
Composting is a great idea for many different reasons. As a kid, the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” program and slogan was instituted, and was very popular. That idea still exists today, but has been adapted in many different ways. Here’s the three best reasons to get composting today!
Reason #1: Composting Makes Great Soil to Grow Better Plants
The native soil here in Florida is great for native Florida plants, but as you probably know it is not the greatest for planting vegetable gardens and other non-native ornamentals. Us gardeners spend a lot of time adding soil amendments to try to make our desired plants happy and it’s a LOT of work.
One of the easiest ways to change the quality of the soil is by adding compost to the existing soil. You can make your own compost! Composting your food waste, vegetation scraps, dead leaves, small twigs, wood chips, paper waste, pulled weeds (no seeds), and more. The compost that is created by the decomposition of these materials makes a great organic addition to the native sandy soil, making it better for the kinds of plants that vegetable gardeners want to grow for food.
That means it’s possible that what we’ve thought all along that synthetic materials that help plant growth reverse the greenhouse gas effect…when in fact it could be making it worse. When you compost, you don’t have to worry about that…all the nutrients come from natural sources and work to benefit the soil they are placed in.
Reason #2: Composting Is A Great Way To Reduce Waste in the Landfill
One of the best reasons for composting is that our landfills are just bursting at the seams as far as everything that we throw away.
WHAT IF YOU COULD ELIMINATE 40% OF THAT GARBAGE RIGHT NOW? Would you do it? About 40% of the trash that goes to the landfill is compostable – which means that we could return all the nutrients from discarded food and plant-based materials to the earth quickly and efficiently.
One of the great side benefits of composting is that you realize how much of your purchased produce goes to the landfill. Being aware of what you toss into your compost makes you buy less at the grocery, so you save money! What a great bonus, right?
Reason #3: Composting Reduces Our Impact on the Planet
As if you needed a third reason to compost…but wait – there’s more.
Much of the food waste that goes to the landfill doesn’t decompose with oxygen. It gets buried and undergoes anaerobic decomposition, which produces methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is causing global warming, and landfills are a major contributor. You could do your part to keep food waste out of the landfill…enough people do that and we could literally save the world!
You will learn EVERYTHING you need to get started right away from this 90 minutes, and you can have all your questions answered! Plus there will be freebies and a giveaway…this class will pay for itself many times over. Seats are $10 a piece (she normally charges double that or more, but she is excited to get her message out – this is probably a one-time price!). Join us!!